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Lawrence paraprofessionals and support staff rally for living wages amid inflation and soaring rents | Merrimack Valley

LAWRENCE — Dressed in bright red t-shirts, unionized workers at Lawrence Public School pointed to rising food, utility and rental costs as they try to negotiate a new contract with higher wages .

“We are not asking for the moon. We demand a living wage,” said Vivian Bonet, an administrative and support worker for 23 years and president of her local union.

Workers in her union earn between $21 and $28 an hour, but are hoping for a raise to more than $30 an hour, she said.

Administrative and support staff and paraprofessionals joined forces Wednesday night for a rally outside the Lawrence Alliance for Education meeting at South Lawrence East School. The Alliance serves as a state-appointed school board. There is also an elected school committee, but it has no power.

The workers have been negotiating with the school district for months, hoping to earn a living wage.

Music was played on a loudspeaker and the roughly 200 workers who gathered chanted and clapped. Then they walked into the meeting together.

School district received ‘tens of millions of dollars,’ including $84 million in federal COVID relief funds and more than $36 million from statewide Student Opportunity Act fund increases , union members said.

Many paraprofessionals live in Lawrence and are dealing with rent increases and even evictions, said Suzanne Suliveras, president of the paraprofessionals union.

She works at the School for Exceptional Studies on Haverhill Street.

His union’s 360 members earn significantly less than their counterparts in neighboring towns of Andover, North Andover, Tewksbury and more, Suliveras said.

In addition, many paraprofessional jobs are currently vacant in the district. Some 25 paraprofessionals are actually teaching classes due to shortages, she said.

Yet paraprofessionals, even with college degrees, still don’t charge teachers, she said.

“A first grade teacher earns $65,000. But we are lucky if we make $30,000 a year,” Suliveras said.

Most of his union colleagues need a second job to pay the bills and take care of their families. “A lot of us stay because we love what we do,” she said, noting that they wouldn’t have scheduled Wednesday night’s rally “if we didn’t love our kids.”

“They have to do what is right for us… They have to make sure we earn a living. One job should be enough,” she said.

School superintendent Cynthia Paris, in a statement, said she was “confident that we can work together to reach an agreement, just as we did last year with our teachers’ unions, cafeteria staff, cleaners, back-ups and security guards.”

Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter @EagleTribJill.