One of the greatest areas of growth among support staff in schools is non-licensed teachers’ aides, who free up teachers by helping with small-group instruction and other tasks. As the number of children exceeds the practical and legal capacity of a teacher, districts often hire aides at a fraction of the cost of an additional teacher and classroom.
The Fordham Institute reports that though this class of school employees practically did not exist, representing only about 2 percent of staff, today they make up about 12 percent.
Some of that growth was somewhat predictable. For instance, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in 1975 accounts for part of that surge because many special needs students require a personal aide, especially when they are in mainstream classrooms.
But Alicia Ramirez, a former paraeducator for Anderson Community Schools, said the low pay also results in high turnover, which causes an instability that isn’t in the best interests of the students. She recently left not just the district but the field after working for five years at Highland Middle School and Anderson High School.
“Everything the teacher does the para does, except for making the classroom work,” she said. “The fact that we do so much, and I really do mean so much, and we don’t get any compensation for it really hurts.”
Though they are unable to represent the teachers’ aides legally, members of the Anderson Federation of Teachers recently took the Board of Trustees to task for providing raises for every class of employee but paraeducators.
Ramirez said ACS paid the paraeducators a per diem of about $77, and no benefits, similar to substitute teachers. She said she was OK with the arrangement in the beginning but became increasingly dissatisfied over time.
“I went on to find out there was no room to move up," she said. "There was no room for benefits.”
And without decent compensation, there was neither incentive for personal growth nor to remain in the position, Ramirez said.
“We had yearly evaluations, sometimes two, but we didn’t have anything to work for,” she said. “I feel like they’re losing good people because of that.”
“It killed me leaving," she said. "I poured my heart and soul into it. It was hard to make the decision to leave. I didn’t want to, but I have four kids, and that $77 a day and no benefits didn’t pay the bills.”