Education Support Professionals (ESP) play a vital role in the education of our children and the success of our schools. 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 ESP.
With the passage of the federal “No Child Left Behind” Act, paraprofessionals working in Title I schools are required to earn certification. Yet, there is no method for increasing their pay. Paraprofessionals’ assistance in a classroom is immeasurable, and, without them, teachers would not be able to concentrate on instruction and working more closely with students who need more one-on-one attention. It is ridiculous to require paraprofessionals to earn certification and continue to pay them incredibly low salaries and decrease their health insurance benefits. There should be salary increases corresponding with the increased requirement for certification, as well as incentives, and fewer barriers to paraprofessionals becoming certified classroom teachers. The state has implemented an extensive program allowing anyone who holds a four-year degree to become a certified teacher through alternative methods. A similar program must be created for paraprofessionals who already have experience and dedication to our public schools.
Bus drivers in Georgia have to maintain a license to transport our children, and yet there is little or no incentive to driving a school bus in Georgia. 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-dangerous 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 retain these dedicated public school employees.
Cafeteria workers, custodial staff, maintenance personnel, and secretarial staff work everyday, usually 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 for the time and effort they put into creating a great school environment.
GAE has worked for many years on behalf of all our Education Support Professionals and will continue to advocate for:
Increased retirement benefits - since 1985, the monthly benefit for PSERS members has risen from $7 to the current $13. GAE will work to fund the $15 ceiling and beyond;
Salary increases to match the increased cost of living by requiring a uniform salary schedule for each job category;
Employment contracts for all ESP. 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; and
Lower costs and better coverage through the health insurance system offered by the state, as well as other recruitment and retention incentives.
Georgia has faced a teacher shortage for many years. The state has also ignored the needs of our dedicated ESP for far too long. If the trend continues, it will become more and more difficult to find public school employees who will provide the vital services as our ESP. Georgia must begin a serious program to keep our veteran ESP in our schools and on our school buses. Our children, our teachers, and our communities understand the value of our ESP and so should our elected officials.