School workers should be paid for experience sooner, Guilford educators group argues | Education

GREENSBORO – The Guilford County Association of Educators is putting support staff front and center in the budget requests it is making to district and county leaders this year.

The group is calling on Guilford County Schools to rework its salary schedules to provide unlicensed workers – like custodians, teacher assistants and school office staff – with experience-based pay increases earlier in their careers. It’s also asking that the district provide a premium to teacher assistants working with students with special needs.

GCAE President Kenya Donaldson said the group is asking county commissioners to provide the district with additional funds to go on top of state dollars for salaries to make the changes possible.

Those requests come in addition to the group’s continued advocacy for a multi-year plan to increase local teacher salaries that Superintendent Sharon Contreras presented in 2021. School district and county leaders approved a first stage of that plan as part of their budgets that applied for this academic year.

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Kenya Donaldson

The group’s fourth request is aimed at county voters, asking them to support the $ 1.7 billion school bonds referendum on the ballot on May 17, authorizing county commissioners to borrow money to support construction and renovation of district school buildings.

While not officially a union, GCAE takes on some roles that a union might, such as bringing questions and concerns to school district leadership and organizing school workers to lobby for school funding.

Group members held a rally Thursday at the district’s administration building, in advance of Contreras’ expected presentation of her budget proposals for the 2022-23 school year to the Board of Education at its meeting on Tuesday.

Donaldson said Friday the group has been listening to unlicensed staff, otherwise known as classified employees, who raised concerns about how their salary schedules are structured.

Some classified employees could work for decades before they reach the increases prescribed in the existing salary schedule for their job. By comparison, teacher salary schedules feature small, steady pay increases per year of experience for the first 15 years of teaching, though pay flattens out later on.

Donaldson said changing classified pay schedules to account for early-career experience would benefit some of the lowest-paid employees in the district. She said GCAE is not making specific recommendations, instead leaving it up to district leaders to consider what a “fix” would look like.

Donaldson also said that earlier this school year, GCAE conducted focus groups with teachers and teacher assistants who work with students with special needs. That’s where the idea came from to request a premium for those teacher assistants.

She said teacher assistants working with exceptional children have their own unique and valuable skill sets. Those can include skills in helping with toiletry needs, and behavioral and medical supports, she said.

Donaldson said Guilford County Schools, like other school districts around the country, has run into shortfalls with teacher assistants for students with special needs.

That’s meant more long-term substitutes, she said, and mid-year staffing changes.

“It’s just instability that impacts our children,” she said. “It’s just not the best for our scholars that need that structure.”

Contact Jessie Pounds at 336-373-7002 and follow @JessiePounds on Twitter.


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