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School support staff feeling pay squeeze, too

(June 12, 2015) Dealing with less vocal support than teachers enjoy, yet doing the work needed for the maintenance and operations of the county’s schools, the Worcester County Education Support Personnel Association is feeling the same squeeze as educators in terms of property tax and health care costs, but also without a raise to show for it.

Worcester teachers engaged in a “work to rule” protest, starting their day exactly when contractually obligated and leaving precisely as described, to draw attention to a 2016 county budget that excluded funding for step increases.

The county commissioners allocate funds for the board of education in 13 discrete areas, one of which is salaries. Teachers and support staff negotiate with the school board based on those figures to determine annual salaries.

“We’re the first ones there and the last to leave,” Ivory Smith, president of the support staff union said, “Teachers can work to rule, but we’re hourly. We come in on time, and if we stay later we’re compensated. I can’t ask our members to give that up. Yes, it might be sending a statement but it could be seen as not wanting to do our jobs.”

One problem is numbers, Smith said.

“The Worcester County Teachers Association has 500-600 members. We’ve got 144 out of 500 support staff,” he said.

Of those, Smith said, almost 90 make less than $20,000 annually.

“The education assistants — I love them — some have associate’s and bachelor’s degrees and want to be teachers here. Some have been here 20 years. They make $16,000 per year,” he said.

Those employees are going to be hit hard by budgetary decisions, Smith said.

“Some teachers think we’re there to work for them, but we all have a very important job to do. We’re ranked high in education but low in pay scale. We’d like to be more involved,” he said.

This is Smith’s first term as president of the union. He previously served two terms as vice president.

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