Paraeducators and parents commented on the insufficient funds allocated to their sector during the Olympia School District’s (OSD) regular meeting on October 27, attended by the board and community members.
Para-educator’s woes on wages
Lisa, a para-educator of five years in the Olympia district, raised her concern about their low wages, “I love my job. It takes a very special person to work with children that have disabilities. You need to be patient and kind and firm and consistent.”
Lisa stated that even though she loves doing her job and being with the kids, her current wage is still not enough to sustain her economic needs.
“The only issue is that the Olympia para-educators are making poverty wages. We are grossly underpaid and grossly underappreciated,” Lisa added, “I want to have a future with the Olympia district, but I can't on the wages that I make. I can't survive.”
Lisa recounted the times during the pandemic outbreak when they were in the school buildings along with special needs children without additional hazard pay.
“During 2019 until March 2020, we were alone teaching with no extra COVID pay,” commented Lisa. “We didn’t get COVID pay, like the grocery stores or maybe the drugstores or anywhere else.”
“You need to understand that we need to be appreciated more, and we need to be paid better,” Lisa said, “Olympia district is the highest funded district out of Tumwater in North Thurston. Yet our para-educators are the lowest-paid out of Tumwater and Northeast.”
Superintendent Patrick Murphy addressed the commenter during his report, “I want to thank those who spoke on behalf of para-educators tonight. I do believe they are the unsung heroes of our system.”
“We greatly value them within our schools. Our para-educators are so critical of the work that we do, and there are all sorts of testimony about that today. But I know we're in that bargaining process right now. We'll continue to commit to that and work with the board on that,” Murphy said.
Murphy also said that in the past, the livability of that wage during these current times was not considered, and he explained the funding scheme of their wages.
“School districts like Olympia school districts get unfortunate with a prototypical model- the number of students you have this is how many dollars you get for teachers,” Murphy added.
“And I know that we've worked historically with our association leadership to go into legislative sessions and say that's something that needs to change.”
CTE program budget cuts
An attendee also commented on the district’s budget cut for some of the programs under the Career and Technical Education (CTE) program.
Sarah, a teacher from Evergreen State College and also a parent, said, “Courses such as the Foods class and the Farm program at Olympia High School are critical programs for our students, especially for students who seek career pathways after they leave K-12 systems.
According to Sarah, the budget for the food class in Olympia High School was cut by 70%.”
Sarah shared that her son was able to engage in labs every week during the past year. However, given the cuts, the lab will now go from once a week to only once a month.
“The core learning objectives of the food class include learning how to cook. How can students meet these learning objectives if they only engage in four labs a semester?” Sarah said.
She implored the board for effective communication about how the funding once intended for CTE courses is now being spent within the system.
“In my recent conversations with the CTE teachers, it seems unclear to them why these cuts were made and why the cuts were so significant. I just ask the board to be transparent with the teachers, administrators, families, and students about the budget cuts, especially cuts that are so extreme,” Sarah added.
Superintendent Patrick Murphy answered this concern by stating the two most important factors impacting the district’s working budget at the moment.
“There are two things that are really impacting us as we're doing our budget planning this year or next year. One is enrollment– over the last couple of years, our enrollment’s been down to 600 students. When your enrollment goes down, your funding goes down,” Murphy discussed.
“The other thing that's really significant is the falling off of our federal relief dollars account. So our dollars, they stand for elementary and secondary school emergency relief funds critically important during COVID, [which] helped us pay for a lot of the things [that are] extra help in our health,” Murphy added.
He elaborated that the district did something a little bit differently this year, leading to the falling off of the extra money related to CTE. He enumerated pandemic-related items where some of the money was spent, which included health rooms, testing, mitigation materials, additional teaching staff to lower classroom sizes, social workers, and family liaisons.
OSD School Board meetings are held on the second and fourth Thursdays in a month at 6:30 p.m.
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