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The Mitchell School District has about 50 paraeducators. They just got a pay bump

Wages boost important for recruiting, retaining ‘extremely valuable’ employees

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MITCHELL — The Mitchell Board of Education approved a boost in pay Monday that school officials hope will improve the district’s competitiveness in hiring paraeducators.

The board approved the move at its meeting Monday, May 23.

Joe Graves, superintendent for the Mitchell School District, told the board at the meeting that school officials began looking at possibly increasing paraeducator pay after researching the local labor market and how the district compared to other employers in the area in terms of pay.

“With the very volatile labor market we’ve been experiencing the last couple of years, we were looking at all our different positions trying to make sure that we were competitive in all of them,” Graves told the board. “But we noticed this spring that we had become quite non-competitive in the area of paraeducators.”

After that study, Graves recommended the board approve an additional $1 per hour to employees who were employed prior to Jan. 1, 2022, with those hired after that date receiving at least $13.75 per hour for the 2022-23 school year. That brought the total wage increase to a total of $2.25 per hour for paraeducators.

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“The (original) intended raise was $1.25 per hour, but the hiring level base was $12.75, and that wasn’t cutting it to hire the people we wanted to hire,” Graves said.

Graves said that the increase had been worked into the budget and the district is ready to make the change.

The district’s negotiation committee worked with the Mitchell Classified Education Association (MCEA) to make the pay hike a reality. Graves said the increase had precedent after similar moves were made in past years for custodial, maintenance and food service employees with the district.

“We went to the MCEA and said we want to make an increase just for (the paraeducators). We’ve done that in the past with custodial, maintenance and we’ve also done it with food service. And the MCEA was gracious enough after talking to their people in allowing that to happen for just a single group,” Graves said.

The MCEA represents classified staff in the district, including custodial, food service, maintenance, secretarial and paraeducator positions.

Shawn Ruml, a member of the board, asked if the increase would bring paraeducator pay more in line with similarly-sized school districts in the state. Graves said the raise would still have the Mitchell district below the median for such employees at other schools, but the district tends to compare classified staff pay to the local labor market as opposed to what other schools are paying, as they do with some employees. Classified staff are generally less likely to move to other far-off communities to seek high wages as is sometimes the case with administration or faculty.

Benefits are also factored into the equation, Graves said.

“(Compared to other similar districts) we are definitely at the lower end of it, but this catches us up quite a bit,” Graves said. “What we need to do is compare ourselves to our own labor market. When we look at $13.75 per hour or something better if they have other accomplishments, we think we’re pretty good because we also offer insurance immediately and retirement.”

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Paraeducators, like all district employees, are crucial to helping the district provide the best educational experience it can for its students, especially in the classroom, Graves later told the Mitchell Republic. That can be especially true in the area of special education, where one teacher is teaching several students working through their own individual education program.

“(Paraeducators are extremely valuable. It’s not the only area, but a big area is special education. In special education, one teacher will have six or eight or 12 kids and each on their own individual education program, which means the teacher orchestrates what the child will be taught, but they’re often working with that paraducators so the paraeducator becomes extremely important,” Graves said.

Graves said the district employs approximately 45 to 50 paraeducators.

The move follows a 6% raise for teachers and administrators that was initiated earlier this year.

More details from the May 23 meeting of the board of education can be found at /www.mitchellrepublic.com/education/new-mitchell-high-school-plans-taking-shape.

Erik Kaufman joined the Mitchell Republic in July of 2019 as an education and features reporter. He grew up in Freeman, S.D., graduating from Freeman High School. He graduated from the University of South Dakota in 1999 with a major in English and a minor in computer science. He can be reached at ekaufman@mitchellrepublic.com.
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