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Instructional Assistants (IAs) are an important part of the educator team, working under the direction of the special education teacher and/or the special education program head and in collaboration with classroom teachers. IAs assist students with self-help tasks designed to enhance learning, behavior, social-emotional development, activities-of-daily-living, and access to the general curriculum by and for students with identified educational disabilities. In Andover, IAs are not assigned to classrooms or teachers, but rather assigned to individual students through the IEP process. The notable exception is that each kindergarten classroom includes an IA to facilitate learning as part of the classroom team. In some districts, employees in similar positions may hold the title of Paraprofessional or Education Support Professional (ESP).
There are no specific licensing or DESE requirements to become an IA. The qualifications for the role are listed in the job description as: 1. Minimum of two years of college or equivalent two years’ experience working with children, 2. Ability to understand student curriculum and to implement multiple teacher-directed activities, and 3. Knowledge of use of computers, including the application of classroom and adaptive technologies.
Through an agreement reached in 2019, IAs in Andover also have an opportunity to receive training and earn qualification for the roles of Registered Behavior Technician (RBT) and Literacy Tutor. There are plans to expand this program and to add an Applied Behavior Analyst (ABA) role, though this work has been delayed during the pandemic. These differentiated job roles include additional financial compensation.
The FY2022 operating budget (2021/22 school year) supports 230.48 FTEs (“full time equivalents”) of Instructional Assistants. There approximately 240 employees serving in the IA role, and as of November 1, 2021, approximately 76% were full-time 1.0 FTEs.
Table 1 shows the number of IA FTEs budgeted compared to student enrollment. Note the number of IAs has not decreased despite a decline in student enrollment. This was an intentional decision of the School Committee in the FY2022 budget in order to address potential learning loss as a result of the pandemic and remote learning. The increase of IA FTEs between FY2019 and FY2020 was to accommodate additional learning time in the student school day, and while FTE increased, the number of IA staff filling those roles did not.
Per the IA collective bargaining agreement (Article IV), full-time (1.0 FTE) union members work 7 hours per day for either 184 (employees hired before July 1, 2014) or 182 days per year, for a total of 1,288 or 1,274 hours per year.
The School Committee and the Union had a collective bargaining agreement in effect from September 1, 2017 to August 31, 2020. The parties had scheduled negotiations for a successor agreement to start in March of 2020, but this schedule was disrupted when school districts across Massachusetts closed to in-person instruction because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Negotiations between the parties began in August of 2020 but were paused to allow the Union and the Committee to engage in negotiations regarding the impacts of operating during the pandemic and the impacts associated with implementing hybrid and remote models of instruction. Negotiations for a successor IA agreement resumed in November of 2020. Between August of 2020 and May of 2021, the parties held eight bargaining sessions.
With the 2021 fiscal year deadline approaching (June 30, 2021) and no bargaining progress being made, an impasse was reached, affording the parties an opportunity for state assistance in reaching an agreement. The Massachusetts Department of Labor Relations (DLR) appointed a mediator, and he held five sessions in June and July of 2021. When these mediation sessions were unsuccessful at bringing negotiations to resolution, the DLR moved the parties to fact-finding.
The fact-finding hearing was held in Andover on November 9, 2021. Post-hearing briefs were originally due from each party on December 23, 2021, however the Union asked for and received two extensions on the submission of their brief. Ultimately, the fact-finder received the information necessary to inform her report on January 15, 2022, and issued her report on February 18, 2021.
As outlined on the DLR website, "At the conclusion of fact-finding, the fact-finder must submit his or her report to the parties and the DLR. The recommendations contained in the report are advisory and do not bind the parties." The School Committee and Union have bargaining sessions planned the week after February vacation to continue working toward an agreement.
As is typical in union contracts, Instructional Assistant hourly rates vary based on an employee’s “step,” where employees start at step 1 and move up a single step with each year of earned experience in the district. For the current 2021/22 school year, Andover IAs have been offered hourly rates between $18.24 and $27.41, depending on tenure with the district.
However, by law, the district cannot pay union employees increases without a signed collective bargaining agreement (CBA). Because the CBA expired in August 2020 and there is no successor agreement in place, Andover IAs are still being paid at the negotiated 2019/20 school year rate, which is between $16.45 and $26.31 per hour.
The hourly rates proposed by the School Committee for each of the three years of the contract can be found in Table 2. Note the salary rate proposal includes the addition of a new step 10, and also increases the 16+ year longevity bonus from $650 per year to $750 per year paid as part of the hourly rate. (This longevity increase is in addition to the longevity bonuses of 2.5%, 3.0%, 3.5% and 4.0 % of total hourly pay provided after 10, 15, 20 and 25 years of service, respectively. For example, a full-time IA with 17 years in the district would receive $1,235 in longevity bonus pay in addition to the pay rate on the top/asterisk step.)
As part of the bargaining process, both the Union and School Committee were required to provide their last-best offers to a state fact-finder. In comparing those last-best offers, the School Committee’s offer is more generous than what the Union proposed in the first two years of the contract (the 2020/21 and 2021/22 school years), and the Union’s proposal exceeds the School Committee’s offer in the third year (2022/23).
Specifically, Table 3 shows the difference in hourly rate proposals. The yellow highlights show where the School Committee has offered a higher hourly rate than the Union requested.
IAs have been offered rate increases on each step of the salary table between 12.5% (bottom step) and 6.7% (top step), whereas the IA union proposed increases between 21.9% (bottom step) and 13.1% (top step) over the term of the contract. However, this does not consider the annual automatic step increases IAs receive with each year of earned experience.
When step increases are also considered, under the School Committee’s proposal, an IA who was on step 1 during the 2019/20 school year and travels to step 4 over the course of the three-year contract would earn an additional $5.97 per hour, which is an increase of 36.3%; an IA on step 2 that travels to step 5 would earn an additional $6.05 per hour, which is a 33.8% increase; and so on until you get to the top of the proposed scale where Andover’s most tenured IAs would go from $26.31 to $28.08 per hour, an increase of $1.77 per hour or 6.7%.
Table 4 shows the percentage pay increase offered to IAs over the three-year term of the contract.
The IA proposal exceeds settlements agreed to by other Andover school and town unions including teachers, administrators, occupational and physical therapists, secretaries, licensed practical nurses, custodians, and food services (SEIU 888), town firefighters (Local 1658), facilities and public works (AFSCME 1704), police patrol (NEPBA Local 9), police superior (NEPBA Local 99), public safety communicators (NEPBA Local 109), and Independent employees.
Cost-of-living (COLA) salary adjustments agreed to with school unions are described in Table 5.
Yes. Andover Public Schools consistently looks to two sets of districts for pay and benefit comparisons:
For the 2021/22 school year, the average starting salary for IAs within Andover’s demographically comparable districts is $18.73 per hour and the average top salary is $23.14 per hour (versus $18.24 and $27.41 offered in Andover).
Table 6 is a graphical depiction how Andover’s offer compares on each step to hourly rates in demographically comparable districts. Andover rates are indicated by the yellow line with blue dots.
For the 2021/22 school year, the average starting salary for IAs within Andover’s geographically competitive districts is $17.35 per hour and the average top salary is $23.46 per hour (versus $18.24 and $27.41 offered in Andover).
Table 7 is a graphical depiction how Andover’s offer compares on each step to hourly rates in geographically competitive district. Andover rates are indicated by the yellow line with blue dots.
No. The School Committee investigated this possibility as negotiations approached the last week of the 2021 fiscal year (June 2021). By law, the school department cannot carry funds from one fiscal year to the next, so the deadline to provide retroactive pay increases for the 2020/21 school year was June 30, 2021. The School Committee’s labor counsel clarified it is illegal to change pay for union employees without agreement from the Union, even if that change is for more money.
Yes. While hourly base wages are important and the most significant component of earnings, it is not the full breadth of compensation offered to Andover’s Instructional Assistants and funded by Andover’s taxpayers.
Additional pay and benefit components include:
Yes, IAs who works 20 or more hours per week (0.57 FTE or greater) during the school year are offered a full year of health insurance benefits, matching the benefit offered to all other union and non-union town and school employees. More than 99% of IAs at Andover Public Schools have access to health insurance benefits.
Employees can choose from individual and family plans, and the town pays either 81.1% (hired before July 1, 2017) or 70.0% (hired after July 1, 2017) of the total Network Blue New England health care premium. For Andover Instructional Assistants, the average annual health care benefit (town cost) is $6,991 for those on individual plans, and $19,466 for those who on family plans.
Further, IAs who are retired from Andover Public Schools receive health insurance benefits for themselves and their families until they reach the age of 65 and become Medicare eligible.
More information on town and school health insurance benefits can be found on the Human Resources website.
Yes, IAs have an opportunity to earn a pension from the Town of Andover through the Andover Contributory Retirement System. (Note, this is unlike teachers, who receive pension benefits from the Massachusetts Teachers’ Retirement System).
The Andover Retirement Board is the sole authority to set employee eligibility and retiree benefits. Andover retirement plan information can be found on their website. As a summary, employees hired before July 1, 2021 earn retirement eligibly and corresponding pension benefits for working 20 or more hours per week. In April 2021, the Retirement Board changed the threshold to 30 hours per week for employees hired since July 1, 2021.
No. The terms and conditions of the most recent collective bargaining agreement – which expired August 31, 2020 – remain in full effect until a successor agreement is reached.
The School Committee understands that every individual constituent group will advocate for budget spending that aligns with their highest priorities, including the focused support IAs are putting toward higher pay for their important roles.
There are numerous funding requests for School Committee consideration as they weigh which areas of investment which will provide the best possible educational opportunities for 5,600 Andover Public School students. Significant community input from a wide range of stakeholders informs the school budget, and the School Committee and superintendent develop a package of spending that is ultimately recommended to Andover voters for their consideration at Annual Town Meeting.
As of early February 2022, operating budget has been discussed at more than a half-dozen public meetings, and the School Committee voted to recommend a FY2023 operating budget increase of 3.68% higher than FY2022. The proposed budget allows for the fair and competitive IA pay increases proposed by the School Committee, and also provides investment in other critical areas including social-emotional learning, core math curriculum, instructional technology, staff professional development, and reduction of student fees. It also supports a plan to address long-standing facility needs at Doherty Middle School and Andover High School. More detail on the FY2023 school operating budget is on the APS website.
Yes, the School Committee has heard the request to pay Instructional Assistants a “living wage,” and responded with an offer that exceeds that threshold.
In the negotiations process, Andover IAs pointed to the MIT Living Wage calculator to provide the definition of a “living wage.” This calculator broadly considers a number of important factors and ultimately determines a per-hour living wage rate.
Per MIT, the living wage for an individual employee is $17.74 per hour statewide or $18.88 per hour for Essex county. In addition to other financial components, the School Committee has proposed hourly rates for the current school year of between $18.24 per hour (step 1) and $27.41 per hour (top step).
There are some nuances to the MIT methodology that are not directly comparable to Andover Instructional Assistants. For example, it would not be appropriate to translate MIT’s hourly rate into an expected annual living wage for Andover IA because MIT “consider(s) full-time work to be year-round, 40 hours per week for 52 weeks, per adult,” or 2,080 hours per year. IAs work approximately 62% of those total hours (1,288 or 1,274 hours per school year). Additionally, MIT estimates the typical Essex County employee pays $847 more per year on health insurance than the average Andover IA. Nonetheless, the MIT calculator provides a helpful metric in roughly defining an hourly living wage.