Easthampton union: Schools illegally using contracted behavior technicians over in-house staff

Staff Writer
Published: 5/24/2023 4:10:13 PM
Modified: 5/24/2023 4:07:43 PM

EASTHAMPTON — City educators are accusing the school district of illegal hiring practices after the city schools contracted registered behavior technicians through the Fields Center.

At Tuesday’s virtual School Committee meeting, members of the Easthampton Education Association — the district’s union of teachers, professional staff and paraeducators — questioned why the district would be contracting this service through an outside organization rather than looking toward its in-house staff.

“I feel like they’re doing our job,” said Michelle Downer, a paraprofessional at Mountain View School.

Registered behavior technicians are credentialed paraprofessionals who provide direct behavioral intervention in a one-on-one or small group setting.

The district currently pays its paraeducators between $18 and $20 per hour, according to Shawn Sheehan, president of the union. To perform this job, the staff has received applied behavior analysis training with the May Institute, he added.

However, Sheehan claims that the district has paid $24,000 to three registered behavior technicians who are making more than $50 per hour. The Fields Center, located in Northampton, is an autism support center that offers a space for neurodiverse individuals and their families.

“I find it insulting that the district contracted out paraeducator jobs for registered behavior technicians with the Fields Center,” he said. “The union is demanding that Easthampton Public Schools stop using contracted staff to work with students in violation of the contract it has with educators.”

Superintendent Allison LeClair said in an email that no grievance has been filed with her office. She did note that the district did not hire anyone and that it was a contracted service. If a district does not have the appropriate staff to meet the needs of students, they contract the role out, she added.

“This is a common practice across the state,” she said.

Sheehan said in a statement to the Gazette that the district failed to notify the union about this contracted service and maintains that the work falls within the scope of its membership. In response, he said that the union is also preparing a charge against the district, which will be filed with the state Department of Labor Relations, alleging violations of the contract and state labor law.

He further alleged that no negotiations or communications were made to the union, which violates the union’s “recognition clause,” which establishes which positions are included in the bargaining unit and are covered by the terms of the agreement.

“The district’s attempt to privatize the city’s education force is not in the best interest of our students. A revolving staff is not conducive to creating a comfortable, supportive, and nurturing learning environment,” Sheehan said. “Bringing in contracted workers at much higher pay rates than those offered to full-time staff is damaging to morale and a blatant attempt to bust our union. The district needs to demonstrate more respect for Easthampton students and educators.”

Emily Thurlow can be reached at ethurlow@gazettenet.com.
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