Three School Committee Members Say They Support Living Wages for ESPs; Some Question Sincerity

Educators asked for public support during demonstrations in 2022 at Haverhill City Hall. (WHAV News photograph.)

To submit school announcements, click on image.

Negotiators representing Haverhilll schools’ education support professionals say they welcome a pay raise endorsement from three members of the Haverhill School Committee, but want to see if “there is any teeth to it.”

School Committee members Scott W. Wood Jr., Toni Sapienza-Donais and Maura Ryan-Ciardiello said in release Monday they are calling for higher pay for the district’s approximately 230 teacher aides.

“As dedicated members of the Haverhill School Committee, we are proud to voice our support for a well-deserved salary increase for our valuable education support professionals in the school system,” the three said in a joint press release.

The last contract for staff members, known as ESPs, for short, ended July 1. Negotiators on the city side are School Committee members Richard J. Rosa, chair, and Gail M. Sullivan. In their own statement, Rosa and Sullivan said they “look forward to the details of their (colleagues’) plan and specifics regarding hourly rates for each step in the contract.”

Haverhill Education Association President Barry Davis told WHAV, “ESPs of Haverhill don’t make a living wage and they should. I question the validity of it (the endorsement) because they have all been longstanding members of the Haverhill School Committee and I believe one of them voted against the living wage contract last time.” As WHAV reported in June of 2021, School Committee members took two votes at the time on a proposed contract with the second vote being 5-1 in favor of ratifying the contract with Wood opposed.

Wood, Toni Sapienza-Donais and Ryan-Ciardiello said starting pay for an ESP in Haverhill is currently around $19,000 per year for a person with an associate degree or who has passed the state para-professional exam. They added most Haverhill ESPs make between $20,000 and $25,000 annually, but noted “A living wage for a single person with no children is generally considered to be around $34,000 per year.”

Rosa pointed out ESPs work different total hours per day, the contract has three steps and a fourth is proposed. He said he would like details on what hourly rate and on what step his colleagues suggest.

Rosa and Sullivan said they are pleased Wood, Toni Sapienza-Donais and Ryan-Ciardiello “have decided to join us in providing the ESPs with a fair agreement and living wage.” They said they will meet with the union for the seventh time on Thursday and “continue to do the hard work of crafting an agreement that addresses ESPs’ concerns and provides these valued employees with a fair and fiscally responsible contract.” They added they were pleased to give ESPs a nearly 14% raise on average over the three years of the previous contract.

Wood, who is also running for Haverhill mayor as well as the Ward 4 School Committee seat said, “Sapienza-Donais and I both have a personal connection to this cause…My mother served as an ESP in Haverhill for many years, and during Toni Donais’ career, she has had the privilege of working alongside many outstanding ESPs.”

Donais, who is seeking both the Ward 2 School Committee and City Council seats, added, “Witnessing first-hand the unwavering commitment and dedication that ESPs demonstrate every day, we can attest to the vital role they play in creating a conducive learning environment for our students,” added, a former teacher and principal in the Haverhill school system.

Wood, Sapienza-Donais and Ryan-Ciardello said the role of ESP has evolved in recent years and employees deserve to be “duly compensated for their indispensable roles in the lives and academic success of the district’s students.”

Comments are closed.