Rebecca Karabus

New Haven Public Schools’ proposed 2017 budget calls for significant increases to teacher and paraprofessional salaries, amounting to a total of $3.7 million in raises.

NHPS Chief Financial Officer Victor De La Paz presented a preliminary budget estimate for fiscal year 2017 — totaling roughly $265 million — at Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting. De La Paz recommended an increase of $7.5 million from the city to cover a number of investments and initiatives, including alternative school redesign, more than half of which would fund proposed salary raises. Mayor Toni Harp initially proposed a 35 percent raise to paraprofessionals’ salaries during a January radio interview with WNHH. Under the proposed budget, paraprofessionals would see a 40 percent increase in salary. The final budget will not be submitted for the Board of Alders’ approval until June 2016.

“You have people who we expect to be professional with our children not making enough to demand a market-level rent in our town — that is unacceptable to me,” Harp said at the meeting. “We ought to be ashamed.”

Harp noted that paraprofessionals — teachers’ aides who support instruction, work individually with small groups of children and assist with special education — typically earn between $18,000 and $21,000 in NHPS. Under the new budget, the approximately 500 paraprofessionals currently employed by NHPS would receive a 40 percent raise, which would accompany enhanced responsibilities in classrooms.

NHPS’s Director of Human Resources and Labor Relations Donna Aiello said that in order to gain employment as a district paraprofessional, applicants must have 60 college credits, an associate’s degree or pass the ParaPro Assessment, a standardized test administered by national nonprofit Educational Testing Services. But many paraprofessionals have bachelor’s or associate’s degrees, and some have more advanced degrees, Aiello added.

Harp said paraprofessionals with advanced degrees are essentially working for “slave wages.” De La Paz noted these paraprofessionals are generally charged with the most “fragile and delicate students” in the district — including those with special needs.

But BOE member Darnell Goldson questioned the rationale behind raising salaries for paraprofessionals amid large numbers of districtwide teacher vacancies. Superintendent Garth Harries ’95 noted that there were 40 unfilled teaching positions throughout 48 NHPS schools as of Jan. 20.

“Our job is to make sure our kids are being educated,” Goldson said. “So how does increasing [paraprofessional] salaries by 40 percent improve educational outcomes in the system?”

NHPS Director of Student Services Typhanie Jackson said that increasing paraprofessionals’ pay would allow the district to attract high-quality applicants who could then be channeled into a teacher pipeline, providing the district with more well-qualified teachers.

Jackson added that NHPS is currently preparing a number of paraprofessionals to become special education teachers. 170 of NHPS’ 500 paraprofessionals work in special education, Aiello said.

“We oftentimes look towards our paraprofessionals as being those folks who are in line for teaching positions,” Jackson said. “There’s an opportunity from my vantage point to attract high-quality people who we can groom to put into teacher vacancies.”

De La Paz also proposed increases to substitute teachers’ salaries, which would amount to $765,887 in raises for the year. In total, the proposed teacher and paraprofessional increases would lead to the district paying over $105 million toward school professionals’ salaries, which currently amount to around $102 million, De La Paz said.

Amid these proposed increases and a requested $2.2 million to redesign the four alternative schools in the district — which are available to at-risk students with severe behavioral or psychiatric disorders — De La Paz also said his office is working toward a 7 percent internal reduction in spending across all central-office services. He said these cuts would not come at the expense of individual NHPS schools.

“We have cost increases that are coming down the line across the district, but our intent is to absorb the increases by reductions to the central office,” De La Paz said.

NHPS asked the city for a $10.6 million budget for the 2016 fiscal year.