“It just feels like a vicious cycle sometimes”
Labor groups are spotlighting the critical role that education support professionals play in Commonwealth public schools, and they’re advocating for better pay and working conditions.
ESPs include paraeducators, custodians and maintenance workers, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, security officers, IT support workers and more. The vast majority of ESPs earn less than $30,000 a 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 have even master’s, they have bachelor’s, they have associates – and we’re not paying them what they deserve. “
The Massachusetts Teachers Association put together what it’s calling 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 other things. The ESP Bill of Rights also calls for an affordable way of attaining more education and paying off career-related debt.
Today and Saturday, the union holds its annual ESP conference for professional development and networking.
“It just feels like a vicious cycle sometimes, not being able to get out of the trap of making that non-livable wage,” said Katie Monopoli, a paraprofessional in Shrewsbury with multiple other jobs as well as attending graduate school for clinical mental-health counseling with a specialization in dance-movement therapy. “So, I’m taking out loans, which is very anxiety-inducing, of course. Balancing all the jobs and also further education does feel like a lot.”
Many ESP contracts don’t have automatic renewal language, 90-day probation periods or “just-cause” protections against being fired. During the pandemic, Rodriguez said, many ESPs lost their jobs.
“If we’re not there to help our autistic kids to go to the bathroom, or we’re not there to support our English learners, who’s going to do the work? One person can’t do the work,” she said. “We have to do it collectively.”