NEW BEDFORD — After 10 months working under an expired contract, paraprofessionals in New Bedford secured a new agreement with the School Committee that will raise pay, offer small retention bonuses, and provide other benefits that better recognize their contributions, union representatives said.

“This is a step heading in the right direction,” said Jill Zangao, president of the paraprofessional’s union. “It feels like a huge weight off, and without negotiations I’m excited to focus on teaching.”


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Hundreds of paraprofessionals work in New Bedford Public Schools, with most in instructional roles supporting the district’s neediest students, often leading one-on-one or small group instruction for students with autism and other learning needs. The paraprofessional union also includes non-instructional staff such as lunch aides.

These union members approved the terms of a new contract by a vote of 98-10. Among the promises they secured is a retention bonus of $375, which will be paid in the fall. This measure takes aim at the severe staffing shortages caused by high turnover — and while $375 won’t pay rent, it’s one of the “baby steps” Zangao said the district is taking to recognize their importance.

School Committee member Chris Cotter (center-right) negotiated with paraprofessionals for their new contract. He spoke with paraprofessionals after Monday's agreement was approved. Credit: Colin Hogan / Petarenapro
Jill Zangao and Michelle Willis, both paraprofessionals, spoke with Mayor Jon Mitchell after Monday's School Committee meeting where a new contract agreement was approved. Credit: Colin Hogan / Petarenapro

Other measures include a new funeral leave option, half-day options for time-off requests, and increased pay for paraprofessionals filling in as substitute teachers. Paraprofessionals hope that these gains will help rectify the recent staff shortages, which they say have led to illegal conditions for special needs students.

Superintendent Thomas Anderson, two months before his own departure, said he was “proud and excited” to present the new contract, which lasts through July 2025. Anderson continued: “We know that over the last several months there has been intense debate regarding wages and duties for our paraprofessionals who work with and support our students and teachers,” but he said the new agreement “maintain[s] a focus on fairness and equity.”

Mayor Jon Mitchell also made comments after the agreement was announced. “It puts our paraprofessionals in a much fairer position and our district in a stronger position,” he said.

Mitchell and School Committee member Chris Cotter, who was involved in the negotiations, spoke with Zangao and other paraprofessionals after the meeting. Zangao said that after the two previous negotiations — which took seven years and two years, respectively — she hoped the district was beginning to take them more seriously. Perhaps the next agreement would come on time, she said.

Email Colin Hogan at chogan@petarenapro.com


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