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Klimis titled "Who Will Win this Game: Politics or Education?" It is reprinted with permission from the author. Mr. Klimis has been a professional educator for over 30 years. He received his B.S. Degree from Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana in 1973. He then received a Master's Degree from the University Of South Florida, Tampa, Florida, in 1976. He writes his books by drawing upon his personal experiences in education; both, as a classroom teacher and grievance representative for PCTA/PESPA , the local teacher's union, and as a lobbyist for the state and national organization in Washington, D.C. with the NEA. The book can be ordered from Authorhouse directly or on Amazon and Barnes& Noble. He has sent copies to members of the U.S. Congress, Like Senator Ted Kennedy and Gov. Charlie Crist , from Florida and many others to bring the issues of the support professionals to the fore front. Who Will Win this Game: Politics or Education? By: Manny J. Klimis
THE SUPPORT PROFESSIONALS I have dedicated this book to the millions of support professionals who take care of our children everyday. Who are these people? The unsung heroes who work so hard everyday battling uncontrollable variables: very low pay, hard work, and a "system" who disregards their needs; and having to deal with the rude, disrespectful children and the instructors, who often view them as "beneath them in status". It makes you wonder why a support person would want to work for the school system! The answers to this question are many and varied. I have interviewed over 500 people in the Pinellas County School-System in Clearwater, Florida. They have worked in various capacities in the system: from bus drivers to plant operators to cafeteria workers, to teacher aides, school secretaries, technicians, security professionals, school nurses, office assistants and paraprofessionals. Some of the testimony will surprise you, as it did me. All of the issues and concerns presented, are made by support professionals working in the Pinellas School District; however, these concerns are not unique to this county's school system alone. These are trends and concerns that address all school districts across America. Just like the public school teachers who are disheartened with their lack of appropriate salaries and respect for their position in society, the support personnel have similar issues that are equal or worse! This is why I wrote the book. I want to bring these concerns to the forefront so the general public will be well informed and our politicians will become more attentive to the issues, before they vote on key legislation in Tallahassee and Washington, D.C. The legislation they pass not only affects the school districts, it affects the lives of every support person in America and I am very concerned about this. Let me first say that every educational decision is a political decision! This is a very powerful statement! I cannot exceedingly overstate its importance. During my career in education I have served as a lobbyist at the local level with our local Teacher's Association, PCTA (Pinellas .Classroom Teacher's Association) and PESPA (Pinellas Educational Support Professional Association); and, as a Congressional Lobbyist for the NEA, the National Educational Association. I draw upon my political experiences as a lobbyist, as well as my experience as a grievance representative for the support professionals in the Pinellas County School System to produce a much clearer picture for you as to what difficulties the support staffs have in a school district. When the PESPA Organization was first organized in Pinellas County, the membership was very low. However, it was a start. I give much of the credit to Mr. Jade Moore, the Executive Director of PCTA. I have known Jade for over 30 years and my admiration of his political skills and intelligence continues today. Jade is well respected among educational circles around the country and he had the foresight to see the value of organizing and recognizing the support professionals. Before the PESPA organization was formed the support staff in the Pinellas Schools were not considered important nor even professionals. The plant operators were just the janitors, the cafeteria workers were the women in the lunchroom, in addition, the teacher aides were there just to help teachers out. However, things
have changed for the support people. The teacher unions, the , NEA and AFT, had realized the importance of creating a union for the support personnel. Thus, giving the ESPs a persona and a meaning of importance to the school system. Kudos go to those unions for giving the ESPs an organization and a sense of professionalism they deserve! PESPA, in Pinellas County, Florida, then became the official bargaining agent for the support staff; and, the support professionals were officially born! Being a professional not only means being paid for your expertise, it means being trained in your job and training has not been easy for most support staff. There are a couple of reasons for this: because most people hired in the support role are only required to have a high school diploma and not any higher education. I am not suggesting this to diminish the role of the support person, but to state the fact. The system disregarded the training because the candidates were considered to be "on the job trained." Plus, some of the people hired in these positions had not been in school for years and this is not their fault. The system used these ideas to justify not offering training to the support people for years! Times have changed with accountability and reform. The "No Child Left Behind" legislation is requiring these people to obtain an Associates Degree within two years or face being released from their jobs! Does the government really understand the pressure placed on these people? Does the government understand just as the teacher shortage is imminent, that a shortage of support staff is occurring as well. This is the example of the "insensitive system" I mentioned in the beginning of this book. The system controls every aspect of your professional career in addition; is mandates what you do and when to do it. You cannot think independently of the system because it will penalize you for doing so. Will the system help the support professionals with tuition and treat people with compassion and respect. The support persons I have spoken to are very compassionate people and they base what they do on their jobs with an innate dedication for serving children, teachers, administrators, and parents. Most like their jobs, however, they disagree with the way bureaucracy unfairly treats them. The Pinellas County system is short on bus drivers, teacher aides and plant operators. The turn over rate in these areas are very high and the reasons reported to me have been the lack of support from the administration, low pay, a feeling of not being respected, and not being able to get along with their supervisors, are high on their dissatisfaction list. Let us look at each concern individually. I do not know how people can survive in today's society making a little more than minimum wage in this country. This is the major problem support personnel are facing today. Every year, for the past twenty years, the raises have been horrendous. Imagine a 25 cent an hour raise? In some cases 10 cents an hour this is exactly what the support professionals have been getting. Our of all of the positions available to the support personnel, the bus drivers are one of the highest paid. They make around $12.00 an hour or more, based upon their seniority. Even so, that is not enough money to support a family household in this day and time. The lack of competitive salaries have been a sore point with these professionals. Competitive salaries is the operative term here. The Pinellas County School System does not provide competitive salaries for it's support professionals. Could the, electricians, carpenters, and plumbers find work in the real world that pays more than the school system? Yes, they can and why don't they? Amazingly enough, most answers seem to be from the "sense of security" the school system seemingly offers. An example would be the health insurance crisis in this country. The number one response from the support personnel is that the health insurance coverage is reasonable and the union has been able to bargain with the school board for the board to pick up most or all of the rising premiums. Health insurance has risen over 420% in the last three years in this country and is rising! Prescription medication is factor number two. Prescription rates have sky rocketed across the country. Last year the school board bought into the Aetna Health Plan. The rates two years ago were $9.00 every two weeks for a basic single plan. Last year the price jumped to $29.00 every two weeks. Prescription prices went up greatly, ranging from $15.00 to $50.00 or more. The consensus in the country seems to be that the prices will continue to rise, with no end in sight! In fact, during the spring of 2006, insurance rate rose 25%. These conditions eat away at what little raises that the support person may obtain for the year. This year (2005), the school board covered all all the increases in insurance premiums to preserve the raises, the support personnel have received. Whenever I mention money issues, the first response by most is "money isn't everything!" Well, I do not totally agree with this statement. Especially concerning the salaries of the ESP's! Personally speaking, I could not subsist on a support person’s salary. How they do, it is amazing to me! Most of the support people I spoke with informed me that they either have a significant other who makes money or they inherited money or they have another job, 98% of them told me this. Less than 2% informed me that they were the sole support of their families. I was incredulous at the thought. How could a person survive on an $8.00 an hour job? Even two people making $8.00 an hour each, would be a "stretch" in maintaining a decent standard of living. I believe that supply and demand
economics plays a significant role in determining why the school system is allowed to pay low wages and get away with it. Many people would find an $8.00 an hour job irresistible! That is why there is such a high turn over in these jobs. In the last several years the union became troubled with the low pay for support staff, thus, they initiated the help of a private company to examine their pay scale. The study was known as the Anderson Study what was revealed was a large inconsistency in the salary schedule. The pay was too low! Wow! What a revelation! It needed revision. Why hasn't the school system done something about these salaries thirty-three years ago? Most support believe the system would be very satisfied with paying people, low wages forever if no one ever complained! I am bothered by the complacent attitude of the system. It should bother you as well! Because this is the same system that your children are in, don't you expect the best for your children attending public school? If the public school is, restricted by a system that shows no compassion or concern for the satisfaction of its employees; why would, one believe that it would feel the same for the children it serves! This should be a major wake up call for all parents across the country! The system needs to treat their employees with compassion, respect and pay them a decent wage! I define the word, respect, as the willingness for one to be shown consideration and appreciation. Does the system shows this to its support personnel? I have interviewed over 500 hundred people in the Pinellas County School System and most responded that they felt very little appreciation for the jobs they do. The major reason they say is because they get very little recognition by the system itself! Many years ago, the system devised a plan to become more "support friendly" in their attempts to appease the relations between the school board and the support personnel; they called it the "Certificate Of Distinction." It is a piece of paper or plaque honoring a support person for a job well done and the person receives a two hundred dollar check with it. It would be more impressive if it were a check for a $1,000 or more to accompany that piece of paper! This is a fundamental systemic problem. Praising someone is one thing but paying him or her for a job well done is another! Especially if your pay was low to begin with! Is there a correlation between low pay and the lack of respect? There certainly is. Low pay, in a society that defines "success" as having more materialistic wealth than the other equals the lack of respect. Can you tell the difference, for an example, between the teacher's parking lot and the student's parking lot? The, students seem to be driving better vehicles than their teachers! The children will trash a school because they know the janitor is supposed to clean their mess! They would never imagine themselves cleaning their school! That is beneath their dignity. Yet in some countries, like Japan, the students are responsible for cleaning the school! It gives them a sense of ownership and responsibility for the cleanliness of their schools. In America, it is a different story, ask a school bus driver about how the students act on their bus? Also ask the bus driver how much respect the students have for the driver and the cleanliness of the bus! You know the answer. I do not have to explain it to you. No respect from the students. I asked a group of bus drivers who were on break one day, what is the best and worse part of their jobs? The "best" answer were the breaks they had in between schools. The "worse" answer was the lack of support they received by administrators in certain schools! They mentioned that bus referrals in some schools were not acted upon quickly enough; and, the troublemaker students who received the referral were back on the bus the next school day! The administration responded by saying they were too busy that day, but will get to it when they had the chance, or they called the parent and are awaiting a response. This is poor administration and a complete lack of support for the bus drivers! This was a major complaint of the bus drivers, they felt the students were getting away with unacceptable behavior in some schools; however, some did tell me that they are treated well by the administration. They felt that their needs were being met by the administration. Therefore, respect is selective in the schools. Ask the plant operators what condition the bathrooms are in at the end of the of the school day? It is very disgusting! Parents should be invited to visit the student bathrooms at the end of the day to see and smell the putrid mess their children have left behind! I am sure those children would not do the same thing at home. This is because there is no respect or a sense of responsibility for their schools! In their minds it is the janitor's responsibility to clean the mess, not theirs. In their immature minds, they feel they can mess the school up, because they know they do not have to clean it up! This is a skewed value system that most students possess today! In fact, across the country, there are thousands of jobs that most Americans would not apply for, because it is a job that is considered to be "beneath their dignity." This attitude permeates the way the students think. Therefore, they react recklessly in school and expect the" janitor" to clean up their mess! This is a deliberate sign of disrespect for the role of the plant operator by the students in school! To many people, low pay also represents "incompetence" on the job. They feel you could not get a better paying job because you cannot do anything else! Moreover, this is where the lack of respect comes from! The question then
becomes how can respect be given in a system that does not respect its employees. You can answer that question. Imagine if all plant operators quit their jobs on the same day in the Pinellas Schools? A catastrophe would happen! The system would have difficulty functioning! Another of the support staff's major concerns is not being able to get along with their supervisors; I asked them what they meant? They said they did not appreciate the "top down management" style of Administration by being told what to do, a feeling of being talked down to, did not rub them the right way. They felt like their supervisors were demeaning to them. Common sense will tell you, the tone of voice, the body language, and the way a person asks you to do something is very important. Most administrators and supervisors let their positions get to their heads! They think they are more important than they really are and their mannerisms reflect this very egotistical attitude. The average person can pick up on this and they do not respect that person. They will probably do the job they are told to do, out of fear of losing the job or being reprimanded, but do they respect the person? Most ESP's have said, emphatically, no! By not having respect for your "boss," does this mean you will do an inferior job? The answers will surprise you. Some people have responded no, and their dedication and pride of doing a good job supersedes what they feel about their supervisors. Others say yes, and they responded how they are treated by their supervisors played a very important part in their job performance. Eighty-eight percent responded to my interview! Most have said, when a person thinks and acts as if they are better or smarter than you are, is revolting to them! They feel that everyone in the system is working toward the same mission, to serve children and the supervisors are there not to dictate to them about what to do but to work collaboratively, as a team to meet these goals. I asked the ESP's, how do we solve this problem? Their responses included the following: the system should train supervisors and administrators to be more compassionate ang understanding of their positions; to be more humanistic and not portray a false sense of importance! An example of this is was found in one Pinellas County High School; the ESE aides did not respect their supervisor and their reasoning was because she expected the aides to get her coffee every morning and she would purposely drop paper on the floor so the aides will have to pick it up while she spoke with her daughter all day on the telephone! Keep in mind here, the supervisor, in this case, was not fulfilling her job, but because of her position, she thought she could do as she pleased. About once a week, she would also leave the school campus during the day to go shopping at one of the stores in the local mall. A complete disregard for the rules of the Pinellas County School Board. The supervisor used her position to do non-educational activities, and then she had the audacity to mark down the aides on their evaluations! This is what the support staff meant by having a lack of respect for their supervisors. This supervisor violated not only her employees but her own position as well! By law, teacher aides are not supposed to perform certain jobs, such as to teach or watch children in the classroom with out a certified teacher in the classroom, many aides do. Many watch classes also; this is also against the law! Are the aides ever paid for doing such "extra" duties? No, they are not. Teacher aides are not allowed to enter the teacher's grades into the computer or do report card grades. Guess what, they do! They do it because they realize the classroom teacher needs the help and they are compassionate about helping when the need arises. Yet the system forbids this type of action from occurring and they have received a warning or reprimand if they were caught. Yet they maintain their composure and work. The aide's job description changes at each school even though the county's description of each job is the same for all schools in the district. Each school "customizes" its job description to suit its needs. In one school, a teacher's aide may have to do cafeteria duty (not listed in their job description), in another, they are not allowed to participate in this activity. These inconsistencies allow for the questioning of the role of the administration in these schools? Why these discrepancies are allowed, are answered by the uniqueness of each school. The needs vary from school to school, so therefore the building principals have the freedom of choice to make such adjustments in their individual school settings. Because the principals are the "boss" of their schools, they do as they please. Do they sometimes make changes that do not benefit die individual? Yes, they do! Does this make the situation fair to the individual? Unfortunately, it does not. What could the support person do? If they belong to their union they can file a grievance, if they do not belong, they could speak with the principal and express their feelings, hopefully some change would occur, if it does not they would have to just suck it up! In addition, most do suck it up out of apprehension to file grievance if they are a union member. In my investigations of the hiring practices of the support personnel I have been enlightened by what I have found out. When they are being interviewed, they are told what their job descriptions are. The shock begins when they arrive at their schools and they find out that a different duty has been assigned to them. Most of the support staff informed me that they will "go with the flow". They do not always agree
with the change in their job description but they will do their job anyway. Some of these demands go beyond the scope of their job description; the needs of that particular school usually dictates this. What we do know is that each principal has the flexibility to custom design the jobs at their discretion. An example of this would be when one teacher aide, in a middle school, was asked by her teacher if she would mind transporting some students in her car to a restaurant, as a reward, at the end of the school year. The county guidelines strictly forbid this because of liability problems. The aide was not aware of this law; she assumed, it was her job to accommodate the teacher and students. As a result, the aide was given a written reprimand from the county! The aide was understandably upset. Who is to blame here? The individual school should have informed the aide prior and they did not. This is another systemic problem that allowed an aide to be penalized because of the school's negligence. I could write a whole book about such cases that have occurred in the school system over the years. Most support people agree, that if the system is not willing to pay a decent salary, that they should at least be recognized for the good job they are doing. This is not happening in some districts and hopefully, with more recognition, increased salaries and professional development training will happen. Many thanks to the unions, the NEA and AFT, for making it possible for the support personnel to have a voice in the decisions that effect their professional lives.