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Paraeducators Protest Work Cutbacks – and Win

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August 15, 2011

TACOMA, Wash. - As many schools ponder cutting another ten percent from their budgets in the coming months at the governor's request, the Tacoma School District's decision not to cut some employees' hours is a stark contrast. Those employees are paraeducators, who work one-on-one with students with severe physical or learning disabilities. Already some of the lowest-paid workers at schools, their hours were going to be trimmed by 30 minutes a day.

Paraeducator Barbara Randall-Saleh, who is president of the Tacoma Federation of Paraeducators, says the cuts would have made them part-timers, affecting not only their paychecks, but also their health insurance.

"It just meant for several people that they would have to be looking for another job, because they just couldn't make ends meet with half an hour being cut, plus the increase in cost to their medical benefits. So, it's a great boost for everybody."

Randall-Saleh says there's already not enough time in the school day for many special-needs students, and her colleagues often stay at school longer - without pay - although they've been told that is technically against the law.

"It's the paraeducator that's with 'em in the morning when they get them off the bus. They're with 'em in the afternoon when they put 'em back on the bus to send them home. One concern is their safety. We do it because we care about the students."

She credits the paraeducators, and also the teachers who voiced support for them, for convincing the district not to cut their hours. They wrote letters, testified and even picketed at school board meetings over the summer, suggesting that the district could look for savings in non-instructional areas instead.

There are about 600 paraeducators in the Tacoma school district.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA