The third time was the charm for paraeducators at Lyons Township High School. After overwhelmingly rejecting two previous contract offers, paraeducators overwhelmingly approved a new four-year deal that gives them the raises that they were looking for.

All paraeducators at LTHS will get a $3.25 per hour raise in the first year of the contract, which will be retroactive to the start of this school year since they have been working without a contract all year. Paraeducators will get 3.75-percent raises in each of the final three years of the contract.

“It’s a fair contract and I think it will resolve the issues the school has been having in terms of retaining paraeducators,” said Nick Castiglione, a LTHS paraeducator and spokesman for the union negotiating team. “I think that problem should likely be resolved by the contract and the general consensus among the paraeducators is that we got a real good deal. We’re satisfied.”

Castiglione said that more than 90 percent of the members of the Lyons Township Paraeducators voted to approve the contract.

“I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but it was overwhelming,” Castiglione said.

The LTHS Board of Education unanimously approved the new contract at their March 21 meeting. At recent meetings, paraeducators have aired their dissatisfaction, making public comments about being vastly underpaid compared to their peers at other schools. School board members said they were happy to have the matter resolved after months of negotiations.

“I’m excited and thrilled that we’re done and we reached our agreement,” said LTHS school board President Kari Dillon. “We love our paras and we’re glad we got there.”

Board Vice President Alison Kelly, like Dillon a member of the administration’s negotiating team, was also thrilled to have a new contract in place.

 “I’m really happy that we can move forward,” Kelly said.

LTHS Superintendent Brian Waterman said the contract shows the school district appreciates the paraeducators and recognizes that the school can’t run without them.

“We certainly value the work that they do,” Waterman said. “We feel that this honors that commitment and the work that they do. We’re certainly appreciative of the work that they put in.”

The starting salary for a paraeducator jumps from $15.45 an hour in the 2020-21 school year to $18.45 this year and $18.89 next year. The deal gives paraeducators what amounts to a 32-percent average raise over four years.

The contract also gives credit for up to five years of previous paraeducator or teaching experience in other school districts. This credit will be immediately applied to current LTHS paraeducators who qualify. 

The deal also calls for longevity payments. A paraeducator who has worked for LTHS for 15 to 19 consecutive years and has a satisfactory performance review will receive an annual longevity bonus of $350. 

A paraeducator with 20 to 24 years of consecutive service at LTHS will receive an annual bonus of $450 and a para who has worked at LTHS for 25 or more years will get an annual bonus of $500. 

In addition, paraeducators will be eligible for stipends for complex or additional assignments as well as be given opportunities for coaching and summer school work.

Under the new contract, a paraeducator with 10 years of experience will be paid $21.32 an hour this year, while a paraeducator with 25 years of experience will be make $30.14 an hour.

The new contract represents a significant increase, especially in the first year, from the board’s previous offers. Last fall, paraeducators rejected the offer of a $1 per hour raise in the first year and 3 percent annual raises after that.

In January the paras rejected an offer of a first year raise of $1.55 an hour in the first year followed by 3 percent raises.

After those two rejections, a federal mediator got involved and the board significantly sweetened its offer to give the paras the kind of raises they were looking for.  

“Good things take time,” Dillon said.