by Kathryn Carley, Commonwealth News Service
Support staff in public schools across Massachusetts have created a “Bill of Rights” to help them organize for better pay and benefits.
Known as Education Support Professionals or paraeducators, they do it all: teach, help students with disabilities, clean classrooms and serve as a teacher’s second set of ears and eyes.
Michaela Keefe, a paraeducator in Hingham, hopes their Bill of Rights will help convince the local school committee to ensure what she called a living wage for staff.
“We love the kids,” Keefe emphasized. “We love what we’re doing, but we just want them to understand that we’re not getting paid what we’re worth. You know, some of us are just scraping by.”
Keefe said the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Living Wage Calculator showed staff need at least $45,000 to get by, yet current salaries run between $19,000 and $25,000. Negotiations have been taking place since December. Keefe hopes for an agreement before next school year.
The Bill of Rights document also called for greater job security, recognition and affordable health insurance. Union organizers in Hingham say nearly 20% of support staff carrying the town’s health insurance owed money to the town at the end of a pay period. Keefe added some are even receiving zero-dollar paychecks.
“You know, all of a sudden a vacation comes, you’re like, ‘Yeah!’ And then you realize, ‘Oh, after this, we’re going to miss ‘X’ amount of days in our paycheck,’ and it’s pretty scary, especially with the cost of living going up,” Keefe pointed out.
Keefe stressed she was motivated by recent wage wins for Education Support Professionals in Canton, Malden and Sommerville, and hopes more families in Hingham will support their efforts. She claimed too many support staff are working two to three jobs, while others are considering leaving the profession.