The legacy of our work is the fulfilled dreams of our students. Their innovative thinking and brilliant ways of navigating problems are truly inspiring to experience every day. Their education, in many ways, is dependent on the work we do.
We’re homework help, hallway staff, mentors, before and after school support, and so much more. Often we hear our students, parents, teachers, and administrators tell us they don’t know what they’d do without us, but many of us can’t afford to stay in these vital positions.
As we have led our team through this bargaining process, representing more than 1,200 education support professionals, or ESP, Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) leaders are offering more of the same.
The average special education assistants (SEA) starts at $24,000 a year. Our ESP members are paying the same for health insurance as our administrators that make four times more than us. We know from our member survey that about two-thirds of our members work another job just to make ends meet. These poverty wages have led to high turnover and record vacancies across MPS.
The reality is that educators like us who ensure students have what they need to succeed can’t afford to work in MPS even though our schools desperately need us.
High vacancies mean students receive less support because of significant staffing shortages, this includes services that we are legally required to provide. We provide physical, emotional and mental support to our most vulnerable students, many of whom are still struggling from learning disruption caused by the pandemic and the police brutality that affects our communities. When critical staff are missing our students suffer and this is unacceptable.
The district’s leadership team has a decision to make. They can continue business as usual, or they can transform our district and communities by using its new money to raise the compensation of its lowest-paid educators faster than the pay of higher employees. Many ESP live in Minneapolis, our children attend Minneapolis Public Schools and often we are the educators of color our students connect to. The relationships we have with our students are essential to their educational experience.
All work in our schools is critical work, we all deserve to make a living wage. Our union is proposing ESP start off at $35,000 a year and that MPS agree to a health insurance plan that is more affordable. These are not wants, they are needs. We need to attract highly skilled and educated educators to work with our students and we need to retain and uplift the ESP that have been here.
This, and a multitude of other factors, is why our members voted to authorize a strike.
A strike is always a last resort, but many of our members have said that they simply can’t afford to continue with the status quo.
To succeed, students need stability in the relationships they have with educators in our schools; investing in our ESP is investing in the education of our students. Collectively, we can transform our learning community to foster and support children, so they thrive. If you are a member of the community, reach out to the MPS school board and tell them to make this right and pay hourly workers in MPS a living wage.
Ma-Riah Roberson Moody and Katrinka Zachery are education support professionals in the Minneapolis Public Schools. They are also lead negotiators for the bargaining team of the ESP chapter of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers Local 59.