Special ed paraprofessionals want better pay

The front of Gretchen Everhart School (which serves only special ed children). Photo courtesy of news.wfsu.org.

Leon County Schools’ current base salary for all teachers is $43,307 a year. Paraprofessionals (also referred to as teacher aides) receive a base wage of $13.75 an hour.

While this pay may be sufficient for those who work in traditional schools, some who work in special education believe their pay should be a bit higher to compensate for the increased workload due to the type of students they serve.

Katelyn Burns, a paraprofessional at Gretchen Everhart School, shed light on some of her duties as a paraprofessional who works in special education.

“In addition to assisting with teaching, I have to change diapers, transition students in and out of wheelchairs, feed and learn the behaviors of each student I work with. I would never want to work in a traditional school because working in special education gives me so much joy. However, I am more exhausted than paraprofessionals who work in general education schools,” she said.

Before being hired by Leon County Schools, prospective paraprofessionals are required to have an associate’s degree or 60 college credits. If they do not have an associate’s degree, then they must pass a test to be considered for the position.

“I had to pass a test to be considered for the job because I do not have my associate degree yet. I love my job because I love the students I work with,” said Jordin McGriff, also a paraprofessional at Gretchen Everhart School. “However, because it requires some sort of certification, I think the school board should raise the pay. What is the point of being educated if I can earn more money at Target? I am considering getting a second job to have more income because what I earn is not enough.”

With the current shortage of educational employees in Florida due in large part to COVID-19, and companies like Target, Amazon, Costco, Chipotle and Starbucks starting employees at $15 an hour, an hourly wage of $13.75 as a paraprofessional can seem less appealing.

While $13.75 is the base wage for paraprofessionals who work in Leon County Schools, according to the district’s human resources, the most a paraprofessional can earn is $22.42 an hour. However, many do not receive that wage.

“I have been a paraprofessional with Leon County Schools for 21 years now,” said Linda Scott, a paraprofessional at Gretchen Everhart. “My pay has never been $22.42. I love the job I have, which is why I will never quit, but I do have a second job to help pay my bills.”

In 2020, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill that allocated $500 million to increase the minimum salary for public and charter school teachers in Florida.

“By doing something like this, it’s going to entice some more people who may be young and thinking about what they want to do and maybe go into teaching,” DeSantis said.

This led to a salary increase for teachers in Leon County from $37,548 to $43,304. However, this increase only benefitted teachers and not other instructional positions. In addition, while many teachers are grateful for the increase, special education teachers are still being paid the same salary as regular teachers but have more paperwork to complete as well as serving the physical needs of students in their classes.

“I live for special education, and I love my job,” said Rykia Jackson, a teacher at Gretchen Everhart. “However, I will say, unlike those who teach in general ed schools, I have a bit more paperwork as I am always preparing for an IEP [Individualized Educational Plan] meetings which regular teachers do not have to do. In addition, I am also catering to my student’s physical needs, whereas those who teach in regular schools do not have to do that. But, this is the career I love and I am ready to give my all.”