As the Newton teachers strike enters its third week, one of the key sticking points in the negotiations has been pay increases for paraprofessionals, or teachers’ aides.
The annual starting salary for a part-time teachers’ aide in Newton schools is $27,000, and $32,300 for full-time aides.
“This is a longstanding problem,” Massachusetts Teachers Association President Max Page said Thursday. “We’ve been lifting this issue up for years, and yet far too many paraprofessionals still get poverty wages — or just above poverty wages.”
Teachers’ aides serve a vital function, reviewing lessons with students individually and helping students with disabilities and English learners. Although Newton is not an outlier in paying low wages for aides, it currently pays aides about $23 an hour. That’s more than Waltham, where aides make $21 an hour, and less than Wellesley ($30 an hour) and Brookline and Dedham ($25 an hour).
Newton School Committee Chair Christopher Brezski said raising paraprofessional pay has been a priority.
“We increased the wages of paraprofessionals at a far greater rate than we're increasing the rate of pay for our classroom teachers,” Brezski said. “Recognizing that classroom teachers are paid a higher salary and typically work longer hours than paraprofessionals, we're responding to what we're hearing from the other side of the table.”
On Tuesday night, the school committee proposed 14% to 15% age increases for aides, depending on their experience, over the next few years.
That means a Newton paraprofessional making $22.81 an hour would make $32.20 an hour, or an estimated $66,000 a year, in 2027.
According to the MIT Living Wage calculator, the annual income before taxes that one adult without children needs to live in Middlesex County is $48,779.
Jasmine Kerrissey, director of the Labor Center at UMass Amherst, said all workers should be paid a livable wage in Newton as a matter of principle.
That can be even trickier in a wealthy place like Newton, where the median household income was $176,380 in 2022.
“For Newton to be paying paraprofessionals less than $30,000, it’s sort of against those general principles,” Kerrissey said.
Greg Reibman, CEO at the Charles River Regional Chamber in Needham, questioned Newton's ability to pay more.
“We're really concerned that an unsustainable contract might get teachers back to classes now, and that sounds great, but it really could mean that there are layoffs and other financial ramifications,” he said.
Newton needs to live within its means, he said.