When will support professionals’ wages reflect their contributions in our schools?


by Brian Washington

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When Pennsylvania school bus driver Sherry Adamson is working her morning and afternoon shifts, she’s all smiles.

“I go to work with a smile on my face because I love what I do,” said Adamson, who works for the Pennsbury School District. “I go the extra mile for my students. I am not just there to drive them. I am there for them anyway I can be.”

But unfortunately, that smile disappears when it’s time to go home, where the pressures of trying to make ends meet force her to make a quick wardrobe change and head out to one of her two part-time jobs.

I am always struggling to pay my bills, and I am always working,” said Adamson, who is going continue making school-bus runs over the summer for sporting and special events and, despite a tight schedule, is going to try to squeeze in one more part-time job, bringing her total up to three. “It’s very upsetting because I don’t get a break. I am working so hard, and I am still not making my bills.

From school bus drivers to lunch workers to classroom assistants, education support professionals (ESP), like Adamson, play a valuable role in meeting the physical and emotional needs of public school students. And yet, nationwide, many of them fall short of earning a living wage—enough to support themselves and their families without having to take on part-time employment.

sherry adamson
PA bus driver Sherry Adamson

The national average salary for an ESP is $28,811. In Pennsylvania, it’s about $30,000. For Adamson, that’s not much when you factor in that she is located in an area 40 minutes northeast of Philadelphia, the 5th largest city in the country where the cost of living is about 25 percent greater than the national average.

Adamson’s dream is that the job she loves, school bus driver, will one day be enough to support her and her daughter. She believes the first step may be getting lawmakers in Washington, D.C. to increase the federal minimum wage.

Earlier this year, U.S. Senator Patty Murray of Washington and Rep. Robert Scott of Virginia introduced a nationwide minimum wage bill that would increase it from $7.25 to $12 by 2020.

“My rent goes up $50 every year. The cost of utilities, the cost of gas, the cost of everything is going up,” said Adamson. “But not the minimum wage—it has not gone up. So how can you earn a living and pay bills when everything is going up, and they (politicians) are not raising the minimum wage?”

Adamson is earning minimum wage on one of her two part-time jobs and just above minimum wage on the other. As a school bus driver, she’s a salaried employee, but her hope is raising the federal minimum wage will ultimately increase her pay at school and that of other working Americans across the country. In her mind, a new, higher minimum wage could be the rising tide that lifts all boats.

“They (lawmakers) have to raise the minimum wage so that average American people are not struggling every day and our children can have a future,” said Adamson. “The bottom line is we all need to come together to make sure that workers can earn enough to support their families.”

Reader Comments

  1. After reading through these comments, one thing that is glaring, at least in my district for paraeducators and bus drivers, is we need to talk about how much we earn per hour. We do not work a full year, I only work 181 days. Saying I earn $20,000.00 “a year” is misleading as such, I still have the rest of the year to possibly work at another job. I still don’t earn enough per hour commensurate for the work and skills I have and there are not people just waiting to do the jobs we do, that are good at it anyway. Unfortunately this year my district hired several very incompetent paraeducators simply because they had to have a body in the position. Sad.

  2. What ESPs need first and foremost is a change in attitude by “educators” as to the role they play in schools. Teachers are the first obstacle to overcome! Why? Because in certificated negotiations, it’s the ESP that gets sacrificed so that the certicated can get their pay raise. How many times at the negotiation table do u hear that a teacher would rather keep her aide in her classroom than get a larger percentage point increase in pay? NEVER!!!’
    It’s NOT the minimum wage that’s the problem!! It’s lack of dignity and respect by administration and certificated alike toward the roles ESPs play that’s at the core.
    Case in point? Does any school district provide in service trainings for ESPs like they provide for teachers? How many teachers are hired to work 18 3/4 hours a week? Just under the required hours for benefits!
    Union solidarity is the only way to accommodate lush what is needed to provide a living wage to ESPs!

  3. What ESPs need first and foremost is a change in attitude by “educators” as to the role they play in schools. Teachers are the first obstacle to overcome! Why? Because in certificated negotiations, it’s the ESP that gets sacrificed so that the certicated can get their pay raise. How many times at the negotiation table do u hear that a teacher would rather keep her aide in her classroom than get a larger percentage point increase in pay? NEVER!!!’
    It’s NOT the minimum wage that’s the problem!! It’s lack of dignity and respect by administration and certificated alike toward the roles ESPs play that’s at the core.
    Case in point? Does any school district provide in service trainings for ESPs like they provide for teachers?

  4. So support personnel should make as much as teachers? Many teachers only make 30k a year and have second jobs. No one is forcing them to be support people, just like no one forced me to be a teacher. I think there are way to many teachers aides, it help keep teacher wages low.

    1. It’s to bad that you have such a negative attitude. Many teachers appreciate their aides when students with special needs or behavioral issues interupt their teaching.Good luck to you!!!

    2. No, support professionals should not necessarily make as much as teachers. There is a huge difference between districts, let alone states, in teachers wages, some low and some higher. In my state beginning teachers wages are at $36,000.00, ridiculous.

      So IMHO all educators should be paid more as a base wage. Which means ESP will earn more money as well. Teachers have different certificated requirements, skills, and responsibilities. They should earn more than I do as a paraeducator. But I also know as a paraeducator I have taken on more and more of the tasks teachers used to do, tasks that don’t require the certificate. So my pay needs to raise commensurate with those responsibilities I now have.

      Your comment about there are way too many teachers aids, well I have to agree with you at least as for my district. Not in terms of it keeping teachers wages low, just not hiring teachers. We are smallish, 3600 students. This past year we went from around 90 paraeducators to 110 paras. 20 new positions, and many of them 3 hour, 3 or 4 days per week. My district should hire probably 2-3 more SpEd teachers so the class sizes are manageable. Instead, they more paras to manage behaviors of students.

  5. I have been a para-educator special ed for two decades straight. I only make $33G a year. In Seattle that’s nowhere close to a living wage. I’m lucky I have a husband, but he makes just under that as a cook with the U of W. We’ve both been working two jobs for the last six years. He finally had to quit his because it was killing him. Having two jobs is killing me. I’m a certificated teacher w/ a masters degree in sped but thus far have not been able to land a job anywhere as a teacher. Instructional assistants should start at $35G an hour and top off at $45. We do so much for the students and receive so little compensation in return.

    1. As a special ed paraeducator I myself have faced many students who have put me in harms way. Yes, I chose this job for the love and hope of helping these students reach a higher level of learning not only academicly but socially.We are not justly paid for what we do.

    2. $33G!! I am a para-educator with an education degree, struggling to find a teaching job and I just got a raise to $12G. I also work in the after-school program and hold a weekend job just to keep my family in our home. If it were not for the insurance program (and the fact that I really care about the students) I would probably look for a better paying job with less stress.

    3. One big reason wages are higher in Seattle due to the cost of living being so much higher, and some good bargaining by folks I know there.. Where I live in a more rural area, costs are not nearly as high.

  6. When I was 16 in 1969, I took my first summer job as a mason tender. I was paid $5:50/hr. Two years later I was earning $6.25/hr as an experience laborer.
    Do you know what that wage would be today, adjusted for inflation? Answer: $35.18/hr and $$39.97/hr respect

    1. (sorry, must have accidentally hit “submit…”)
      (continued from previous post) respectively.
      Wages have not kept up with infation and rising costs. Yet, with the downward pressure on worker’s wages exerted from sweatshops worker’s wages, etc. offshore, and the shifting emphasis away from the fortification of a prosperous middle class consumer here at home in favor of corporate profits and Wall Street gains, a sinking middle class is still expected to keep purchasing products and services as though we’re still prospering.
      The USA middle class has been entered into competition for jobs with offshore sweatshops, while CEO compensation, corporate profit margins, and Wall Steel gains soar. Some have called this trend, “The race to the bottom.” A less polite expression to convey the same theme; “being entered in a urinating match with a pole cat.”

      1. I work in transportation as special needs in Michigan I also work inside the school as a parent educator and I to have to work three jobs in order to support my work at school I also work at a local grocery store my days are 14 hours a day at least 4 times a week I don’t have days off and very really good to see my boys I too would like to see my wages increased I have to pay for major medical and that takes away money for my family I get no support from the government to take care of my family I do it all on my own I even had to go as far as getting the border in my house to help me pay for bills

  7. When I turned 16 in 1969, I took my first summer job as a mason tender at a masonry outfit. They started me at $5.50/hr. Two years later, I was making $6.25/hr.
    Do you know what those wages would be today, adjusted for inflation? Answer: $35.18/hr. and $39.97/hr. respectively.
    Wages have not kept up with inflation, and the downward pressure on USA wages, exerted from a “global economy” where desperate workforces work for a dollar a day, has entered us in what some have called “the race to the bottom.” Like being entered in a pis sing match with a pole cat!

    1. Again, sorry. The post above was temporarily removed for “monitoring.” I guess they approved it after further review…

    2. When I started working in 1970, as a cashier, I was paid 1.65 an hour. That was the CA min. wage. 2 kids and 22 yrs. later,I earned my degree and credential. Then 1yr. later, the 2009 financial collapse hit. Then I could only afford renting one room with one child finishing high school. I figured it would improve, this was just climbing another ladder, as everyone else was doing. Then furloughs came. COA went away along with current income. Double whammy and rising costs to live,let alone just get by. I am going backward in income and still have student loans. They should have been paid in full by now. Yet district personnel, administrators and TOSAs get pay jumps annually. Students don’t have anymore than window dressing for state official visits. Teachers get evaluated by those with agendas. When a student asks if they should go into teaching, I tell them yes if you like the idea of volunteering, just like the peace corps., no pay, since teaching is its own reward, but satisfaction knowing that you contributed to the minds of the future. If you believe that, press one… .

  8. My paraprofessionals make a lifelong difference in the life of my special students, and they are paid the same as McDonald’s employee here, but so much more work, training, expectations, knowledge required, and emotional life poured into our schools- the average wage quoted in this article is about $10,000 more than my friends make working their tails off just because they care, and our cost of living here is outrageous as well. According to a recent article I read, my paras make $5/hour less than a living wage here. That is so sad and wrong.

    1. I am a paraeducator, special education, and work with very high needs students. I love my job, but would love to make more than 12,000 a year!! Yes, as someone above stated, I did choose to do this job and while I don’t think we should be paid as much as teachers we should certainly make more than we do. We work hard, are dedicated and caring, and a lot of the time are working with the students that would otherwise interrupt learning/teaching in the classroom.

  9. Oh, boo hoo! It still shocks me that teachers and ESP don’t understand basic economics: you want to know why you don’t make more money? BECAUSE THERE IS NO SHORTAGE OF PEOPLE WILLING TO DO IT FOR WHAT YOU ARE PAID!!!!!!! Quit your job and watch the people flock to fill it. Sorry, that’s just the way it is. Liberals like to think that raising the minimum wage will solve their problem – but it won’t. It just contributes to the wage/price spiral and inflation. You want to make more money? Get a skill that is in demand and not everyone can do. AND: stop supporting ANY politician of any party who supports illegal immigration. That further depresses wages.

    1. I find it interesting that you think “anyone” can make a class of 36 thirteen year olds sit down, think, listen and learn. This is skilled work that takes both content knowledge and communication skills. It requires a college education and often a Masters degree.

      Support personal also require special skills. Custodians do far more than clean, they serve as handymen, which keeps schools safe. Special ed aides are required to have training and pass qualifying tests here in San Diego. They require a vast amount of caring and communication skills. If they work with the more severely handicapped, they must have training in first aid and CPR. They provide both education and physical care to these students. This is not work everyone can or is willing to do.

      Finally, just on basic principles, if you work full time at a job, you should be able to earn a living wage.

      1. Sorry, a full time job does not and should not guarantee a living wage. A high demand skill set will guarantee a reasonable pay level: ambition, hard work, extraordinary effort will support the foundation for better than average pay.

        Much of this country now believes that things ought to be given to them, that effort in itself is sufficient for reward. Illegal immigrants see free health care, free schooling. Liberal politicians see votes.

        Results matter. Government handouts are for the truly destitute American citizens, not those or their children who are here illegally, and those who are unable to fend for themselves, not for people who have chosen to become single parents, remain uneducated, and who are unwilling to accept responsibility for their own actions. Or lack thereof.

        1. Hey Bob…nice troll job you’ve got to pay the bills…in addition to your government handouts of Medicare and Social Security. As for myself…I was one who put myself through college and got training as a computer tech when I had the chance. For all of the “virtues” you claim to love that the Bend Over Party has inflicted on this country in the past 30 years…it doesn’t matter what you do by following the rules…the shaft is the only reward waiting for those of us who actually work for a living. I’ve been a paraprofessional for the last several years because not only do I love what I do…but also because of people like you who have left me no other choice. Then…those like you get off on inflicting as much pain as you can because of a “screw you” attitude. My wish is that you and the others like you live long enough to reap the harvest of what you’ve allowed to happen to this society.

    2. Minimum wage jobs are not jobs that ought to, nor or they intended to, support a family or a way of life. As suggested, if you don’t like your job, or the pay, vote with your feet, find another job that pays more. It is absurd to take a job, knowing the pay and then complain you are underpaid. Generally, minimum wage jobs reflect a minimum skill level required.

      This country needs to operate on the basis of capitalism. Certainly its not perfect, but if your skills are in demand enough you will be paid more than a person who has a lower demand skill set. Simple as that.

      1. You are just such an inspiration, Bob! You must be someone that is paid to disrupt, like a lobbyist or demonstrator. You’ve been in the same position for far too long. Is the ivory tower you live in getting too small for your ego these days? Nothing is as simple as that! Reality check needed! Everyone is ONE paycheck away from the unemployment line, including you. Pensions, retirement funds, they are disappearing. Maybe you should retire now to ‘make sure you get yours!’ Many from the ‘old guard’ are standing/sitting in the way of progress in education. Degrees from the 60s, earning way too much money for the caliber of education they deliver, and no idea what their student’s needs are, right now!

      2. It’s people like you who live in a glass house and throw stones. Who else is going to take care of our countries special needs students. You just don’t get it. We’re not flipping BURGERS!!!

      3. Dealing with students that have special needs is a unique position. We are not talking about dealing with food, cleaning, or landscaping. We are dealing with the lives and future of “HUMAN BEINGS who need the care and attention of “Highly Trained” individuals. It may take years for an individual to require the on-the-job training and experience necessary for one to become competent para-professionals. The profession of Education should be a step-up or a field of employment where one sees as moving forward to a career from fast food, cleaning, or landscaping. Our special needs students need caring seasoned professionals, but if entry-level para-professionals leave these jobs to look for one that will provide a “living wage”, then these special needs students will always be faced with an inexperience educator. You can afford to have an inexperience worker mess-up a hamburger, or prune a tree incorrectly. We can not afford to make mistakes with our children, your children.


        Gary L. Starks
        HQ Special Education Asst.
        Zion Central Middle School

    3. This is not a ‘right to work’ country! That is called Communism in disguise. When the high salaries of unqualified executives come more in line with reality, then your position may have validity. Thing is your current pay is below minimum wage and is actionable, unless your state is still an archaic ‘right to work state.’ Union reps are doing what for you? There, it is a whole other can of worms!

    4. I’m gonna bet you’re a boomer. The first generation with the sense of entitlement who only care about themselves. Your generation came into the workforce with great jobs and cheap insurance. As your generation moved up the business ranks you sent everything to China to pad your pocket book with no regard for the consequences. I bet you’re one of the many boomers who were able to retire early from a great career after The Greatest Generation funded your every mistake. Your poor attitude amuses me your all angry and you don’t even know why. The Federal Goverment spends 25,000 a year on average per person on your generation. They spend 3000 on the kids of the future. So you get the most money, had the best jobs, the cheapest insurance and are the most ungrateful. Enjoy your anger it will eat you up someday!

  10. I am a prarprofessional, in Vancouver, WA. I make the top of the wage scale at $18,000 a year. In 7 years our wage has increased 2% a year, in the last 2 years. Yet, it does not even cover the increased cost of out medical insurance. The state has not increased their lcontribution to our benefits in over 5 years. Yet the legislatiors have managed to give themselves an 11% raise this year. My husband is a grounds keeper for the same district and is in the same boat as I am. As a couple, we have seen our take home pay go down more than $400 a month in the last 5 years combined. We have cut down on our phone plan, have no cable or dish tv, no car payments, and we can’t make ends meet. Something has got to change!

    1. Our school district has not given us an increase in wage in over 5 years. At least fast food workers get raises. I know most people would say then go work for a fast food employer. Ok, then who will take care of our countries increasing special need students.Most people don’t understand.

  11. Sherry thank you for getting your story out there. I can relate to your story. I also have another job in order to make ends meet and sometimes it’s not enough. Sometimes I get ask “how do you do it going from one job to another” My answer is I don’t have time to think about it and I just keep going because I don’t have a choice. The bills are not going to pay them selfs. I am a Paraprofessional and love my job. Love seeing the children growing mentally and physically. What keeps me going is knowing that I am making a difference in child’s life. Thank you for all you do!

    1. Thank you for what you do. I myself work as a paraproffesional and the rewards of seeing the students prosper make all the difference in the world.

  12. $28-30K a year???? HA!!! I worked as a computer tech at a large district in N. Colorado. I was so estatic to be finally making $14,000 A YEAR after 13 YEARS!!! If I actually made twice that, I might not have quit!

    1. Live in South Central Colorado south of Denver and have been on Medicaid/subsidized (Obama) phone for the past year. Making $11,000 last year as a para and $8000 the year before that working in Southern Idaho for a third-party Medicaid provider…I can finally get the medical care I couldn’t afford before this. Feeling better than I have in a long time…but can’t afford to get another job for fear of losing my Medicaid/phone coverage. If I could relocate to any other Western country outside of the US to get my medical care without worrying about losing my medical coverage…I would jump at the chance.

      1. You’re welcome, as I pay for your phone. As does every other phone/cable user with the Universal Service Fee on their monthly bill

        1. Well Bob you aren’t the only one paying those universal fees. So are the folks in the boat that are presented here. I am not single because I chose it. My husband died and his cancer took everything we had. I have a college education but have major health issues. There are no jobs in the field of my studies because they are full and all thats left are low paying jobs. I work hard just like the rest of these folks and for little to nothing to survive on. I am not trying to live beyond my means either. I dont play the lotto or have frivolous spending but you try going without the necessities for awhile, live as wedo and then come back with your pompous retorts!

    2. After 15 years, my salary as a full-time ESP in a middle class Pittsburgh suburb –$12.89/hr!!!! I could much more easily try to make a living on $28-30K a year! The only raises that have ever been given have been to new hires so that their starting salary is pretty much equivalent to mine.

    3. As a special needs paraeducator, I just want to let you know we do not make $28,000 to $30,000 a year!!!! Also, we don’t sit at a desk all day.

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