If we are talking about health benefits, personal and medical days off, then I think paras should have access to similar benefits as all full time employees. However, there are bound to be some differences, since in most school districts paras are under no obligation to attend after school faculty meetings, have a degree, communicate with parents, upkeep a current certification, report standard assessments scores of their students for the world to see, or to come in during days planned for professional development and early releases, etc. The expectations set for the paraprofessionals are no where near as high as those set for the teachers. Paras don't have to plan, execute, assess, and report on the lessons for 25 students in multiple subjects. They don't have to grade over 100 papers a week, and while para's input is valuable, it is the teacher that will come under fire if IEP is not followed, the lessons are deemed inappropriate, or if parents can't get their questions answered. I have done both jobs in the past, and I had no issues with the salary difference, to be quite honest.
If we are talking about being able to discipline a child according to the policies set by the school - then I believe any adult working in the building should be able to report an incident that occurred on their watch, be it a teacher, or a nurse, or a para, or a secretary.
In a case of a paraprofessional being hired to assist a student with basic needs (feeding, bathroom assistance, etc.), I think it makes more sense to compare such a job to the pay scale of a nurse. I know nothing about entry level salaries for nurses, so I guess I can't comment on this particular situation.
I understand that it is painful to see your salary go down, but it is happening to teachers as well. For many districts it is a question of cutting down positions vs. cutting down salaries and benefits. The contracts that are being renewed these days often reflect the difficult financial times that many are experiencing. I'm sorry to hear that the changes are so drastic in your district.