NISKAYUNA -- The starting hourly pay for Niskayuna’s teaching assistants will rise from $14.91 to $18.41 over the next four years, under a new union contract the school board adopted Tuesday night.
All staff members represented by the Niskayuna Educational Support Personnel Association, which also includes clerical assistants, other classroom assistants and certified occupational therapy assistants, will see their hourly pay increase 95 cents in July and 85 cents each of the following three years. The contract also increases by as much as $200 longevity payments assistants qualify for in five year-increments. The contract extends through June 2023.
The approved assistants' contract comes about six weeks after the leaders of all five of the district's staff bargaining units warned the school board about a mounting staff morale “crisis,” outlining what they argued was poor communication between district leaders and staff.
Members of the teachers union grew frustrated throughout the year as negotiations over its contract dragged months past the end date of the previous contract. Mary Eads, president of the teachers association, earlier this month urged the board to table a five-year extension of Superintendent Cosimo Tangorra Jr.'s contract; the board approved Tangorra's contract that night.
But district officials and the head of the assistants union on Tuesday night struck a tone of comity in statements at the meeting and in a joint press release.
“We appreciate them working with us and acknowledging that we really need to step up, and we [the assistants] deserved what we are going to get,” Carol Ann Townsend, president of the support personnel association, said after the school board approved the contract.
Even with the increased pay, Townsend said it's difficult if not impossible to live on a school assistant's salary alone. But most of the district's support staff, she said, continue their work because of a passion for working with students.
“[They] love to be with the children, they love what they do,” she said.
The contract sets the hourly wages for five different types of school assistants working in the district: clerical assistants, supervisional clerical assistants, educational assistants, teaching assistants, and certified occupational therapy assistants. The base hourly pay next school year for clerical assistants starts at $11.75, rising to $14.30 in July 2022, under the contract. The base hourly pay next school year for certified occupational therapy assistants starts at $21.70, rising to $24.25 in July 2022, under the contract.
Tangorra on Tuesday noted the contract had been negotiated in relatively short order, earning union membership and board approval prior to June 30, the end of the current contract. He said the contract outlined was a recognition of the challenging work that school assistants do on a daily basis.
“We recognize just like every other position in education things have changed over time and the jobs are very difficult,” Tangorra said. “We feel this is a representation of our appreciation and acknowledgment of the great work and tough work they do.”
District officials promoted the approved contract in a press release, which also highlighted the district had negotiated new contracts with all of its five bargaining units in the past two years, contracts that now extend to 2020 at the earliest and 2023 at the latest.
Tangorra in the release said the agreements are a sign of staff's and administrators' shared commitment to students and suggested all employees could still improve on internal relationships.
“These contracts are in essence partnership agreements representing our mutual commitment to work together on behalf of our students,” Tangorra said in the release. “I'm pleased that we have reached these agreements and confident that we will continue to strengthen these partnerships as we move forward together.”