Haverhill Schools Ratify New Pact with Educational Support Staff; Issue Centered on Future Hires

Executive Assistant Beverly Cassano, School Committee member Gail M. Sullivan, Superintendent Margaret Marotta and Assistant Superintendent Michael Pfifferling at a Haverhill School Committee meeting. (WHAV News file photograph.)

Correction: The initial version of this story reported School Committee members voted 4-2 Thursday to ratify an agreement with educational support professionals. School Committee Vice Chairman Scott W. Wood Jr. told WHAV he and one other member voted against the contract. It turns out two votes were taken—one in private session and another in public session. According to others present at the meeting, including City Solicitor William D. Cox Jr., the second vote was 5-1 in favor of ratifying the contract with Wood opposed.

After nearly a year and a half of back-and-forth negotiations, the Haverhill School Committee and Haverhill Education Association reached agreement last week on pay increases and other benefits for the school’s educational support professionals.

School Committee members voted 5-1 in public session last Thursday to ratify a memorandum of understanding that provides ESPs a 2% increase for the current year, paid retroactively to last July 1; another 1.5% increase to take effect July 1, 2022; and a three-step pay scale for the next school year beginning at $21 per hour for one to three years of service, $24 per hour for four to nine years of service and $27 per hour for 10 or more years of service. New hires with bachelors’ degrees start at the second step. In addition, the number of work days increase from 181 to 182 and the schools will allocate $20,000 annually for tuition reimbursement.

The road to the agreement was rocky with heated rhetoric from both sides. At one point, Haverhill Education Association President Anthony J. Parolisi charged the School Committee with paying “poverty wages,” while Mayor James J. Fiorentini accused the union of discouraging student enrollment by putting shoes and coffins on the steps of Haverhill City Hall during the height of COVID-19. In an email to union members May 13, Maureen Zuber, union ESP bargaining chair and unit representative, also accused the School Committee of “betrayal” and backing out of a tentative pact.

The new contract terms are essentially the same as agreed to by both parties in April, but negotiations became bogged down over whether they also apply to new hires. Parolisi said the matter was ultimately resolved.

“When we left the bargaining table with a tentative agreement, we believed everybody in the room had the same understanding, that we were negotiating a contract for all ESPs not just those who currently work for the city. Apparently, once the full committee began asking questions of their bargaining team, there was confusion about that and that’s why they kind of pumped the brakes a little bit. Thankfully, everything remained as it was when we left the bargaining table a couple of weeks ago and so, the right thing happened and that’s all that matters,” he told WHAV Friday.

Parolisi added the employees agreed to accept more responsibilities.

School Committee Vice Chairman Scott W. Wood Jr. and Committee member Paul A. Magliocchetti challenged the union’s understanding of what caused the delay.

“Anthony Parolisi is, once again, misrepresenting what the real issue was and misleading his group and the public as to what the issue was and who is to blame and this is why he is to blame and why the group doesn’t already have the money in their pockets from the raise,” he said.

Magliocchetti said the delay came because a last-minute line was added to the finished agreement and the Committee wanted clarity.

Wood elaborated on the disputed language. He said the School Committee sought to follow the recommendations of its Diversity subcommittee by providing incentives for new employees to become teachers. In the end, however, that’s not what happened.

“It left the steps as, as long as you’re here, as long as you work here, you’ll be guaranteed those step raises. Where the full School Committee wanted for new employees for those step raises to be incentivized on education,” he explained.

The contract still must be ratified by union members.

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