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Rochester Public Schools raises pay for paraprofessionals and nurses

The pay increases for paraprofessionals and school nurses come at a time when the school district is under a lot of scrutiny for its budget.

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Nan Peters speaks during a forum to share stories of what it is like to work in schools with large paraprofessional shortages Monday, Oct. 18, 2021, at Century High School in Rochester.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin file photo
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ROCHESTER — Rochester Public Schools is increasing the pay for education support professionals, formerly known as paraprofessionals, as well as for school nurses in an effort to stay competitive in a tight labor market.

The School Board voted on the issue Tuesday night after discussing labor issues in a closed session. The changes, which were approved with a unanimous vote, went into effect Sept. 21, 2022.

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“An Education Support Professional has a vital role in the success of the mission of the Rochester Public Schools,” Laura Denny, the union rep for ESPs, said in a statement. “It is our hope that the gains in this contract will help us to retain our valuable employees as well as attract new ones, in an effort to support all students.”

According to the school district, all current ESPs will receive a $3 per hour increase for 2022-23, as well as a $1 increase for 2023-24.

There will be four classifications of ESPS, including general, specialized, intensive, and bilingual. The pay will differ for each classification, ranging from a starting point of $18 per hour for general ESPs to a high of $26.35 per hour for bilingual ESPs.

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Before Tuesday's vote, the pay for ESPs started at $15 for the general category and went up to a high of $23.25 for bilingual ESPs. There formerly were only three categories, with the intensive category being newly created.

In October 2021, a group of paraprofessionals held a small gathering outside Century High School to highlight the fact that the lack of adequate pay was driving people away from the field.

"This is probably the most critical I've ever seen it," Paraprofessional Nan Peters said at the time.

In addition to the pay increase for ESPs, the district is also increasing its pay for school nurses. The increase will be $2.33 an hour for licensed practical nurses and $2.89 an hour for registered nurses.

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The district is also implementing a short-term solution to attract licensed school nurses who hold a licensure through the Minnesota Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board. This year, Licensed School Nurses will receive an additional $7,500.

RPS Communications Director Mamisoa Knutson said that additional payment for licensed school nurses is a short-term solution in response to the number of vacancies the district has available.

"Living in Rochester with Mayo Clinic and Olmsted Medical Center, we're obviously competing with two big medical organizations," Knutson said. "So, we're incentivizing them to come work for us."

The pay increases come at a time when the school district is under a lot of scrutiny for its budget. It recently underwent a process of addressing what was expected to be a $23 million deficit during the 2022-23 school year. It whittled that deficit down with a combination of COVID funding, spending reductions and other measures.

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The 2022-2023 reductions are part of a two-year process of addressing the budget shortfall, meaning the school board expects to make another round of adjustments ahead of the 2023-24 year. RPS Finance Director John Carlson said the recent pay increases for ESPs and school nurses will factor into that process.

"If we went above and beyond and made the deficit worse, we're going to find other things to cut because of it," Carlson said.

Jordan Shearer covers K-12 education for the Post Bulletin. A Rochester native, he graduated from Bemidji State University in 2013 before heading out to write for a small newsroom in the boonies of western Nebraska. Bringing things full circle, he returned to Rochester in 2020 just shy of a decade after leaving. Readers can reach Jordan at 507-285-7710 or jshearer@postbulletin.com.
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