St. CLOUD -- St. Cloud Area School District 742 has avoided a potential labor dispute by reaching a tentative contract agreement with the Paraprofessional Employee Group.

Hourly wages for new paraprofessionals are expected to increase "significantly" in order to improve recruitment and retention rates, the district reports.

New starting pay rates for Student Support/Child Care/Clerical paras will be $14.45 per hour, Instructional/SPED paras will enter at $15.65, and Health paras will earn $18.10.

Employees currently under contract will see a 30-cent increase in hourly wages.

The second year of the contract agreement increases employer contributions to health insurance premiums and adds longevity steps for employees at five, 10, 15 and 20 years of employment.

The Minnesota School Employees Association plans to vote on the agreement before it goes before the St. Cloud Board of Education for approval at their November 6 meeting.

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