Parents, teachers, nurses and community leaders joined Minneapolis Public Schools’ support professionals Wednesday in rallying for higher wages, affordable health insurance and improved working conditions in the district.
Nearly 250 people converged on the Minneapolis teachers union headquarters, chanting and carrying signs that read, “We’re educated too! Pay [us] a living wage.”
“Our group is really hurting economically,” said Shaun Laden, president of the educational support professionals chapter of the Minneapolis teachers union, which represents 1,600 support workers. “People are hustling to make it.”
Laden said the chapter is negotiating a new contract with the district and demanding pay and health insurance improvements to help attract and retain more high-quality education support professionals. According to district leaders, support staffers earn $15 an hour or more depending on their level of experience.
Support staff work about 30 to 32 hours a week, and most have two or more jobs during the school year, Laden said.
“I have co-workers who are homeless,” said Mikel Herb, a two-year special-ed assistant at Sanford Middle School. “With these wages, the district is perpetuating poverty in our city.”
To get their voices heard, district support staff have also been rallying at board meetings. Wednesday’s rally, they said, was inspired by the wave of school employees around the nation who also are pushing for wage increases and better working conditions.
District Superintendent Ed Graff said he hopes to get a new contract approved by the end of June or before the coming school year.
“We recognize that employees need to have livable wages,” Graff said. “We value their work and all they do to support our students.”
Tanya Byington, a special-ed assistant at Lake Harriet Upper Elementary School, who has a bachelor’s degree in sign language and has been with the district for six years, said she scrambles to cover her expenses, especially in the summer when schools are out.
“I got bills, I got student loans,” she said. “If I had kids, I don’t know what I would have done.”