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Education Support Professionals Create ‘Bill of Rights’ for Better Pay

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.

by Kathryn Carley, Commonwealth News Service

Kathryn Carley began her career in community radio, and is happy to be back, covering the New England region for Public News Service. Getting her start at KFAI in Minneapolis, Carley graduated from the University of Minnesota and then worked as a reporter for Minnesota Public Radio, focusing on energy and agriculture. Moving to Washington, D.C., she filed stories for The Pacifica Network News and The Pacifica Report. Later, Carley worked as News Host for New York Public Radio, WNYC as well as Co-Anchor for Newsweek’s long running radio program, Newsweek on Air. Carley also served as News Anchor for New York Times Radio. She now lives near Boston, MA.

Languages Spoken: English

Topic Expertise: education, environment, nuclear energy

Local Expertise: Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Maine, New York City, Wisconsin, Minnesota

Demographic Expertise: public schools, families, children, nutrition

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