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Paraeducators Look for Recognition, Livable Wages as School Returns

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Paraeducators perform a range of tasks to help teachers in the classroom, including signing for students with hearing impairments. (Ellen Banner)
Paraeducators perform a range of tasks to help teachers in the classroom, including signing for students with hearing impairments. (Ellen Banner)
 By Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA - Producer, Contact
August 31, 2018

Tacoma, WA - A low-paid group of educators known as paraeducators (or "paras") say it's time they received livable wages. Paras assist teachers in the classroom, often working with students with disabilities and in the special education department. Comments from Barbara Randall-Saleh ("suh-LEE"), president, Tacoma Federation of Paraeducators.

As kids in Washington state head back to school, an often-overlooked group of educators wants recognition for the work they do in the classroom. Paraeducators or "paras" assist teachers, helping students with disabilities and in special-education departments, as well as monitoring playgrounds and even changing diapers. But paras aren't paid much, sometimes relying on food banks for meals. So they, like other teachers striking across the state this week, feel it's time they're paid a living wage. Barbara Randall-Saleh heads the Tacoma Federation of Paraeducators and has been a para for more than 40 years.

"It seems like the district is constantly balancing the budgets on the backs of paras. So, we seem to be the easiest to cut and to eliminate, and so, that makes it very hard."

Teachers have approved strikes in Seattle, Vancouver and other cities over contract disputes after the Washington Legislature authorized funding this year to address the McCleary court decision, requiring the state to do more to adequately fund schools.

Even though teachers are represented by the Washington Education Association and paras are part of the American Federation of Teachers, Randall-Saleh says they've been supporting each other at school board meetings. She says paras are integral to keep schools running.

"Without our assistance in the classroom, teachers wouldn't be able to do their jobs efficiently and, to be honest, I think without paraeducators, the schools wouldn't be able to function at all."

While educators across the state were offered raises, they say more is needed to keep pay in their field competitive. School districts counter that their funds aren't limitless. Unions striking across the state continue to negotiate with their local districts.

As kids in Washington state head back to school, an often-overlooked group of educators wants recognition for the work they do in the classroom. Eric Tegethoff (TEG-it-off) explains.

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Reach Randall-Saleh at 253-473-2033.

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