MA educator support professionals need a living wage Job Security/Public News Service

Union groups are highlighting the vital role education support professionals play in Commonwealth public schools, and they are advocating for better pay and working conditions.

ESPs include paraeducators, caretakers and maintenance workers, bus drivers, cafeteria attendants, security guards, computer support workers, etc. The vast majority of ESPs earn less than $30,000 per year.

Yahaira Rodriguez, a paraeducator in Worcester, said many ESPs live in low-income housing or struggle to meet other basic needs.

“I have a bachelor’s degree,” she said. “Most of these educators are also very, very educated; they even have a master’s degree, they have a bachelor’s degree, they have associates — and we’re not paying them what they deserve.”

the Massachusetts Teachers Association put together what he calls the “ESP Bill of Rights” to demand a living wage, affordable health insurance, paid family and medical leave, job security, and recognition as educators, among others. ESP’s bill of rights also calls for an affordable way to achieve more education and pay off career-related debt.

Today and Saturday, the union is holding its ESP annual conference for professional development and networking.

“It sometimes feels like a vicious cycle, not being able to get out of the trap of earning that unlivable wage,” said Katie Monopoli, a paraprofessional in Shrewsbury with several other jobs and attending a graduate school for clinical mental medicine. health consultant with a specialization in dance and movement therapy. “So I’m taking out loans, which is very anxiety-inducing, of course. Balancing all the jobs and also going to school is a lot.”

Many ESP contracts do not have automatic renewal clauses, 90-day trial periods, or “justified” protections against dismissal. During the pandemic, Rodriguez said, many ESPs lost their jobs.

“If we’re not here to help our autistic children go to the toilet, or if we’re not here to help our English learners, who’s going to do the job? One person can’t do the job,” said she declared. “We have to do it collectively.”

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Michael A. Bynum