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Education support professionals are the bedrock of our schools. Let’s recognize their contributions

Rear view of schoolchildren running
Johner Images/Getty Images/Johner RF
Johner RF
The House chaplain leads a prayer to start the session at the Statehouse in Boise, Idaho, on Nov. 15, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

The greatest thank you we can show our classified staff is giving them a voice and enabling them to support their own families, writes guest columnist Katie Wiese.

Underpaid and overworked. That’s the theme of being a classified educator across the state of Idaho.

This is not a new theme. However, it is becoming a louder cry as many classified staff in education are leaving the profession and districts are struggling to find people to fill these crucial positions. Today is National Education Support Professional Day and is a great time to reflect on the vital work these professional educators do, and the sacrifices they make to help Idaho students.

Our schools cannot run without our secretaries, paraprofessionals, custodians, cooks, bus drivers and many other job categories. These are among our most dedicated educators, but their pay is so low that many qualify for public assistance, and most are working two or three jobs to keep their families afloat. With housing costs at an all-time high and the price of food rising, there seems to be no relief in sight.

This school year has brought new and greater challenges.

Many school districts are returning to business as usual, while also dealing with substitute teacher shortages and staff absences, which are causing major problems for coverage of classes. Paraprofessionals are being pulled from their normal schedules to fill in as a substitute on any given day. And it’s all hands on deck when it comes to covering before school, lunch/recess and after school duties to ensure student safety. If our classified staff are covering classrooms and covering recess duties, their breaks or lunches are eliminated.

This impacts our students in a big way. When our paraprofessionals are not in their assigned classrooms helping with interventions, students are not being given the extra one-on-one or small group time they may need to help them be successful and make the progress they are capable of.

Districts are also short bus drivers – causing many drivers to have multiple routes for the same school – which means kids are waiting at school for the busses to come back around to pick them up and take them home. Districts are short custodians – meaning that rooms might only be sanitized every other day or some cleaning responsibilities are falling on teachers and other classified staff. Every job category in education is being impacted by the staff shortage.

And so are our students.

Nov. 17 is National Educational Support Professionals Day. This is a day to thank our ESP’s, our classified staff, for all they do. A smile, a kind word, a small gift — these are all appreciated more than you know, but don’t fully recognize the sacrifices our classified staff make.

Our classified staff love our students and want to see them succeed. Unfortunately, they are not always shown appreciation for the amazing things they do for students and for making our schools run smoothly. The greatest thank you we can show our classified staff is giving them a voice and enabling them to support their own families like they support so many Idaho students. Help us push for better funding by the Idaho Legislature that will provide a living wage for these amazing men and women.

The Idaho Capital Sun is a nonprofit news organization delivering accountability reporting on state government, politics and policy in the Gem state.