Thursday, September 25, 2008

A letter to Classified Camas Public School Employees

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Dear Camas Classified Public School Employees,

I have seen your signs all over town. I get a lump in my throat each time I see them. Yes, classified work has value. Yes, classified workers care about our kids. You are not paid what you are worth, and I don’t buy the district’s argument that your pay is less than Evergreen or Vancouver school district because Camas is smaller than these districts. I am in solidarity with you, except for the “yet”….and the “yet” is about those seniority rights….

You see, my nine-year old son with autism is what the district calls a High Needs student. The para-educators (we call them “paras”) who work with high needs children like him gain valuable on-the-job training from the teachers they are assigned to. I have seen a number of you with great skills and a knack for getting our children to learn. I have seen class rooms where the paras and the teacher get into a great groove together.

Yet, each spring there is this mystical “bidding” meeting to determine the next year assignments for classified employees. From what I understand, this process is based solely on seniority. At this meeting, para-professionals choose their assignments for the following year. The position they are now in may or may not still be open for next year when their turn comes.

So, let us say that “Miss Betty” works great with Teacher Smith in the high needs elementary school class room. Teacher Smith has provided her with specialized training regarding communication tools, positive behavior strategies, learning techniques and so on. The two of them mesh and make each other more effective at teaching children and managing the class room. This makes for a smooth running class room where students learn and parents are happy. What’s not to love??

Yet, under current rules, “Miss Betty” will not be able to work with Teacher Smith the next year if she is “out bid” by another para-professional with more years of seniority, even if that para has worked for ten years as a play ground monitor but has never stepped foot in a special education class room (let alone one for high needs children.)

And this benefits who? Union members, I just don’t understand. The district has recognized this problem and is proposing a change to this system, which I will present here in their own words:

The second proposed seniority modification relates to Class III High Needs Para-educators and Class III Professional-Technical positions. These positions are usually highly specialized or student specific. Many of the positions involve high needs students. As such, they require particular training and/or skills. The district is proposing that these positions be awarded initially by the interview/qualifications process. However, once a person is assigned one of these specialized positions, he or she would have seniority rights for a similar position in the future. For example, if a high-needs para position with more hours opened, and a current paraprofessional in a similar position was interested, the open job would be awarded based on seniority.

Yes, I am union sympathizer and no, I of course do not want a strike. But I am also a parent of a special needs child and do not want union rules to directly interfere with the quality of my child’s education – which I have seen happen.

I am also a woman who supports the professionalization of women employees– and let’s be honest; almost all of the special ed paras in Camas are women. I honestly can’t understand why some of you would oppose a modification that recognizes and respects your special education skills and expertise? Maybe your union fears that this would open the door to a further crumbling of seniority rules?

Good luck to all of you in your contract negotiations. You can never be paid what you are really worth, but please consider accepting the school district’s proposed seniority modification regarding high needs para-educators.


A Special Ed Mom


Anonymous said...

Hi Carol, I agree with all you have said. Team building in a classroom takes time and it benfits no one when effective teams are broken up. Yearly bidding for positions does not seem to be the way to go.

On a different tangent, an experience from the world I work in, which is Head Start: in one classroom in Oregon that had a high percentage of children with disabilites, the room was staffed with two fully trained teachers (instead of one teacher and two paras). The students in that class had amazing acheivement at no extra program cost. I believe that there are creative ways to educate that do not always involve one on one supervsion. I have seen very effective small group learning situations set up by skilled teachers that hit the ground running. In too many cases, students become dependent on one particular person. It is a gift when they can relate to more than one adult and can work with other students. Happy weekend, and keep fighting for fair pay.........Pam

Pseudonymous High School Teacher said...

First time here, but great post. I wish I could get the same people to work in my classroom each year. I'm not so happy with my assisstant this year. She is in the office too often working on her college papers....

Carol said...


Good point about having two teachers. Probably since there is such a shortage of special ed teachers it isn't much of an option.

Nice thinking outside the box, though!

Carol said...

Hello high school teacher incognito,

Thanks for your comment. It is always great to get a teacher's perspective. Come by again!

Anonymous said...

Hi Caorl, thanks for the comment. I do believe we waste incredible amounts of time training and retraining parss. The credentialed teacher, even if it is in regular ed, usualy has a quicker learning curve. And we do have lots of regular ed teachers in this area looking for work..........moving on: PBS this morning around 9:30 am. had an excellent program on stress. A respected reseacher stated that having a child with a disability (any kind; not just autism) dercreases life expectancy in the mom by six years. The good news is that emotionall support, such as your blog, can provide measureable, microscopic changes in our nervous system for the keep us going. So thanks for the blog and yoru work for families. Pam

Anonymous said...

It's interesting you should post this. I was just talking to one of my son's preschool paras from last year (he's in a special ed preschool, but typical)...she said to me, "they spent five years training me and now I am here (on the playground)".

I am trying to stay neutral on the whole's just said about what's going one wins in a strike (speaking from someone who came from a district that had the teachers on for the longest strike in state history). Feelings get so hurt on every end and they don't get repaired even years after the fact.


Carol said...

I sure do hope they don't strike. I think I'm in denial about that.

Pam said...

Hi Carol, I agree that strikes are terrible and the effects linger for a long, long time. Just curious; does the district have a plan to care for the students if a strike occurs? Is there a way the Special Ed PTSA can help (we support both staff and kids)?. Are there things parents can do to have things ultra ready in the event of a strike (I'm thinking written supports such as detailed positive behavior support plans; I am a big fan of the You See , You do charts that anyone can follow easily0...........good thoughts all around for a good outcome TO the situation. Pam

Anonymous said...

Should I ask Brian's teacher...what's in place in case of a strike? I feel like I should add "non-IEP compliant' in the next sentence...


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