For Immediate Release
October 26, 2017
ATLANTA – “Education Support Professionals (ESPs) play a vital role in the education of our children and the success of our public schools,” said Dr. Sid Chapman, president of the Georgia Association of Educators (GAE). “Too often, though, their value and dedication are overlooked. GAE has always advocated for better working conditions, employment rights, contracts, increased retirement benefits, and higher salaries for our valuable ESPs.”
Take paraprofessionals. Chapman emphasizes that their assistance in a classroom is immeasurable. “Without them, teachers would not be able to concentrate on instruction and working more closely with students who need more one-on-one attention. Yet, there has never been a mechanism for increasing their pay.”
In addition, should Georgia carryover the requirement in its ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) plan for those working in Title I schools to earn certification, that must change says Chapman. “It is ridiculous to require paraprofessionals to earn certification and continue to pay them incredibly low salaries and minimum health insurance benefits. There should be salary increases commensurate with any certification requirements. In addition, there should be incentives, and fewer barriers, to paraprofessionals becoming certified classroom teachers.”
Zelda Mosely Williams is a 12-year school employee currently working as a paraprofessional at Riverside Intermediate in Cobb County. She says that without ESPs the entire functioning body of a school would have a very difficult time operating. “We [parapros] are only thought of as classroom assistants, and many times we are forgotten and looked down upon. Yet, we, along with custodians, office clerks, cafeteria workers, bus drivers and others behind the scenes, make it all work for the advancement of our students.”
“We go about our responsibilities with little recognition and little pay, even when we are asked to complete tasks that are not in line with our positions,” said Williams. “We work with little benefits, without contracts and with few if any opportunities for professional development. I, and many others, would love to further our education to become certified teachers, without jeopardizing our current positions. Our requests are not unreasonable. We simply want a more competitive salary that considers cost of living increases, health insurance at a reasonable cost, the removal of roadblocks to continuing our education, and recognition for what we do for our schools and children.”
Chapman echoes Williams’s concerns about cafeteria workers, custodial staff, maintenance personnel, secretarial staff and others who work every day, mostly behind the scenes, to ensure the success of a school. “They prepare and serve our students nutritional meals, keep our buildings clean and properly functioning, and are often the first contact with parents entering the school. These employees are often not recognized or compensated fairly for the time and effort they put into creating a great school environment.”
With bus drivers, Chapman notes that in Georgia they have to maintain a license to transport our children, and yet there is little or no incentive to driving a school bus. “Drivers must control the children, deal with disciplinary problems, have constant vigilance about the safety and welfare of the children; and, while doing all this, they must safely navigate through our often-precarious streets. The school bus driver is the first person students see when they start the school day and the last person they see before they go home. The importance of having a qualified bus driver on every school bus cannot be underestimated, and, for that reason, the state should do everything possible to attract and retain these dedicated public school employees,” he said.
GAE has worked for many years on behalf of all Education Support Professionals and will continue to advocate for:
- Increased retirement benefits - since 1985, the monthly benefit for PSERS [Public School Employees Retirement System] members has risen from $7 to the current $13. GAE will work to fund the $15 ceiling and beyond.
- A much-deserved living wage which means salary increases that match the increased cost of living from a required uniform salary schedule for each job category.
- Employment contracts for all ESPs. Our dedicated paraprofessionals, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, custodial staff, maintenance workers, and secretarial personnel have difficulty even getting a loan, because they cannot prove that they have stable employment.
- Opportunities for training and professional development without cost to the employee - with increased federal, state, and local requirements for employment, there should be more avenues offered for this training and professional development.
- Lower costs and better coverage through the health insurance system offered by the state, as well as other recruitment and retention incentives.
Chapman says although Georgia continues to face a teacher shortage, the state cannot ignore the needs of our dedicated ESPs. “If these issues are not addressed, it will become increasingly difficult to find public school employees who will provide the vital services needed to make our public schools run efficiently. Georgia must begin a serious effort to not only attract new ESPs, but to keep our veteran ESPs in our schools and on our school buses. Our children, our teachers, and our communities understand the value of our ESPs and so should our elected officials.”