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Despite Paraprofessional Rallies, Cambridge School Committee Passes New Budget

People stand with signs at a rally against the new Cambridge Public Schools budget. The Cambridge School Committee voted to pass the new FY25 budget.
People stand with signs at a rally against the new Cambridge Public Schools budget. The Cambridge School Committee voted to pass the new FY25 budget. By Elyse C. Goncalves
By Elyse C. Goncalves and Darcy G Lin, Crimson Staff Writers

The Cambridge School Committee voted 6-1 to pass the $268 million Cambridge Public Schools budget for fiscal year 2025 during a Tuesday meeting, over the objection of nearly 30 educators and Cambridge residents who demanded better pay for paraprofessionals.

Around 5 p.m., a crowd of educators and residents donned red Cambridge Education Association shirts and carried signs protesting the budget, before funneling into Cambridge Rindge and Latin School for the 6 p.m. meeting.

During the meeting, 29 paraprofessionals, teachers, and Cambridge residents urged School Committee members to vote against the FY25 budget due to “inadequate” salaries for paraprofessionals, who support teachers and provide one-on-one and small group support to students.

Though all but one member of the committee voted to pass the budget — a record high for Cambridge — several members said they supported the calls for higher pay for paraprofessionals. The meeting comes amid ongoing negotiations between the district and the CEA on behalf of paraprofessionals and other school support staff.

Many educators who spoke at the meeting said the current salary for paraprofessionals does not meet living wage standards and called for at least an 11 percent increase in the budget.

According to CPS spokesperson Sujata Wycoff, for a 6.5 hour workday, the starting annual salary for paraprofessionals ranges from $26,214 to $38,990.

“Many including myself take on second and our third jobs just to make ends meet. One job should be enough,” said Marissa Fried, a paraprofessional at Peabody School.

“We cannot provide adequate support for the education of our students unless you enable us to first support ourselves and our families,” she added.

Kristin Newton, a CRLS physics teacher whose son is a CPS paraprofessional, echoed concerns that educational service providers — a category that includes paraprofessionals — were forced to take on additional jobs “to make ends meet.”

“This is unsustainable and contributes to the high turnover of these positions,” she said.

According to a human resources presentation from the Jan. 2 School Committee meeting, during the 2022-2023 school year, CPS had a 22.2 percent turnover rate for paraprofessionals, 13.8 percentage points higher than the teacher turnover rate.

“It’s time for our ESPs to be seen as the vital community members that they are,” said Andrew R. King, who narrowly lost a race for the School Committee last November.

After nearly thirty paraprofessionals and residents delivered public comment, no School Committee member immediately stepped up to speak first.

“Your silence is deafening,” joked Mayor E. Denise Simmons.

While School Committee Member Richard Harding Jr. said he supported higher wages for paraprofessionals during the meeting, he took aim at CEA president Dan Monahan, whom he accused of disrupting the contract negotiations with the protest.

“A union president who should be working with us should have articulated that to his membership,” Harding said. “That’s not fair for the president of the union to knowingly — knowingly, let’s be clear — knowingly disrupt the negotiations when you have a school committee, which really see seven members of a school committee, or at least six, that are saying ‘We’re with you.’”

“You’re actually working against yourself, because we actually agree with you, quite frankly,” Harding added.

In response to comments made against him by Harding, Monahan said, “It’s unfortunate that they attacked me personally.”

However, he said he was happy that members of the School Committee “supported a living wage for paraprofessionals.”

“I hope they bring that to the table,” Monihan said.

Ultimately, all members of the committee but Elizabeth C.P. Hudson voted in favor of the budget,

School Committee member David Weinstein shared excitement for Cambridge’s universal preschool program which is set to launch in the fall, a “renewed commitment to menstrual equity,” an extended school day, and new “strong” curricula.

“These are some major, major leaps that we’re making,” he added.

School Committee member José Luis Rojas Villarreal said this budget increase was beneficial for teachers, marking a major increase in budget allocations.

“This budget represents one of the largest increases in terms of percentage,” Rojas said, “in the last two years. Nearly all of this increase is a reflection on the new contract negotiated between the school committee and our teachers.”

After more than a year of negotiations, the CEA and the district ratified a new Unit A & B teacher contract in December. The contract increased teacher salaries by 17 percent and extended the school day by 30 minutes.

The total FY25 budget is a 9.5 percent increase from the previous fiscal year.

But member Hudson raised concern that — notwithstanding allocations made from the teacher contract negotiation and the longer school day — the budget did not differ substantially from previous years’ budgets.

“There are a lot of places where we know we want to make progress,” said Hudson. “I don’t understand how we’re going to get a different outcome if we’re not changing how we’re allocating our capital.”

The School Committee also appointed Ivy Washington — who has served as interim chief financial officer for CPS since November 2023 — permanently to the position.

After budget discussions elapsed, the committee took a recess before reconvening to receive CPS Superintendent Victoria L. Greer’s highly-awaited midpoint evaluation, which had been delayed from the March 19 School Committee meeting.

Just a minute later, members unanimously voted to adjourn.

—Staff writer Elyse C. Goncalves can be reached at elyse.goncalves@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @e1ysegoncalves or on Threads @elyse.goncalves.

—Staff writer Darcy G Lin can be reached at darcy.lin@thecrimson.com.

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