Opinion: Public school support staff deserve a living wage

Public school support staff deserve a living wage. Photo of support staff and students in front of bus.

(SDI Productions/Getty Images Signature)

By Yul Holloway

May 17, 2024

In this op-ed, Pennsylvania State Education Association leader and middle school attendance secretary, Yul Holloway, discusses the need to pay education support professionals a living wage of at least $20 per hour.

When a child walks through the schoolhouse doors, there is a team of professionals waiting for them, eager to help them learn and reach their full potential. There are teachers, of course, and school nurses, counselors, and psychologists.

But there are many, many caring people who work with students in the classrooms and behind the scenes to make sure that our schools are safe and our students feel supported and ready to learn. And too many of them are leaving for other better paying jobs in the private sector.

I work in the front office as an attendance secretary. In this role, I am a bridge between families and the school regarding student attendance. I often tell students that education is the key to success. I want to make sure students are healthy, safe, and in the classroom learning.

I’m just one of several people who work in the office to keep students and staff on track throughout the day. I also have colleagues who work as paraprofessionals, personal care assistants, and cafeteria workers, directly interacting with and serving students.

There are dedicated people who work on our maintenance and custodial staffs keeping our school buildings safe and clean. And we rely on bus drivers to bring students to school each morning and to see that they get home safely each afternoon.

Our support staff are integral to the daily functioning of our public schools. They support student learning as well as their mental and emotional health. I’m proud to be a part of that team.

Unfortunately, public schools across Pennsylvania are finding it increasingly difficult to hire and retain caring, qualified people to fill these important roles.

Why? Well, it’s simple really. Many of these positions don’t pay a living wage, and schools are finding it harder than ever to recruit qualified people to fill them. On top of that, longtime support staff are leaving to take jobs that pay them what they’re worth.

In a survey of nearly 5,800 education support professionals who belong to the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA), a mere 17% reported being satisfied with their pay. More than half were paid less than $20 an hour. Paraprofessionals, including aides who worked with students, non-instructional aides, and personal care assistants, were among the lowest paid.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that in a recent Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA) survey, 70% of superintendents report a shortage of instructional aides and 62% report a shortage of transportation staff.

Support professionals are essential to our students’ success. And the job is getting harder, not easier. We need to attract high quality staff to fill vacant positions, and we need to retain the dedicated support staff already working in our public schools. We don’t want to lose caring people from our schools because they can make more money working at Target or Costco.

There is something we can do about this. Right now, policymakers in Harrisburg are working to address inequities in our public school funding system. Our schools desperately need more resources, but we also need to use some of those new funds to pay the support staff in our public schools a living wage of at least $20 an hour.

If we don’t act now, public schools are only going to see support staff shortages worsen.

Pennsylvanians understand that support professionals should get paid a competitive wage in line with the hard work they do. Paying public school support staff a living wage of at least $20 per hour is the right thing to do.

Not only that, but it will also ensure that when Pennsylvania students walk through those schoolhouse doors, there will be paraprofessionals, cafeteria workers, office staff, custodians, and maintenance crews on hand to make sure they get the most out of their school experience.

Author

  • Yul Holloway

    Yul Holloway is an attendance secretary at Swatara Middle School and vice president of PSEA’s Education Support Professionals Southern Division. He is also the incoming president of the Central Dauphin Education Support Professionals Association.

CATEGORIES: EDUCATION
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