Labor Voices: School support staff are invaluable to education efforts

Much of the tireless work that goes into educating our public school students happens behind the scenes.

Michigan’s support staff professionals are the heartbeat that keeps our public schools running. Far too often, they go without thanks or recognition, yet our schools could not operate without them — and this year in particular they’re working extra hard.

They make sure kids get to and from school on time, covering additional bus routes when possible.

They help ensure every school building is clean and sanitized so students can learn in a safe environment.

They feed students to make sure they’re ready to learn.

They make sure individual student needs are met in the classroom, and they troubleshoot and problem-solve when unexpected situations arise.

Michigan’s teachers continue to go above and beyond to help ensure students succeed, but they don’t do it alone. It’s important we acknowledge all the hardworking and dedicated professionals who create a whole community of support for students in our public schools.

National Education Support Professionals Day on Nov. 17 provides the perfect opportunity to let your local support staff know they are appreciated and valued in your district and community.

Michigan’s schools are struggling to fill bus driver, custodial, paraprofessional and other positions critical to the operation of our schools.

This labor gap, along with a crippling teacher shortage, has created enormous challenges for schools during the pandemic. Districts have begun closing their buildings due to lack of teachers, student aides and other support staff. According to news reports, at least eight schools across Michigan either shut down completely or switched to virtual learning in October.

This has created a major setback for students just getting reacclimated to their classrooms, and receiving individualized social and emotional supports during the pandemic. A shortage of aides for students with special needs has only exacerbated this problem.

Our existing support staff continue to go above and beyond to serve students. We need to grow their ranks to continue helping students succeed, and that means valuing their work.

You’ve undoubtedly seen local ads seeking to fill support staff positions, often with hiring bonuses to attract applicants. This stopgap approach should evolve to ensuring a living wage for these workers as schools look to properly staff the needs of students.

In some districts, hiring bus drivers has reached a near standstill due to lack of applicants. In a recent WXYZ Detroit interview, David Meeuwsen, executive director of the Michigan Association of Pupil Transportation, said “people are not even applying to be school bus drivers.” This creates the greatest logistical challenge of all: physically getting students to and from school.

In addition, most school districts are facing some level of supply chain delays for food and other critical services. This has required public schools to create new menu options that still provide the same nutritional value our students and families rely on.

Support staff shortages extend to our public colleges and universities. Due to a lack of food service workers, Michigan State University recently called on faculty and staff to volunteer time to fill the gap.

In October, Central Michigan University was forced to reconfigure its dining hours due to food service worker shortages and supply chain delays.

These food service workers are responsible for ensuring the teachers, physicians, computer programmers and engineers of tomorrow are fed and ready to learn.

This National Education Support Professionals Day, I urge you to take advantage of this opportunity to thank our dedicated support staff professionals for everything they do to prepare students for bright futures.

We need them now more than ever.

Paula Herbart is president of the Michigan Education Association.

Labor Voices

Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Ray Curry, Teamsters President James Hoffa and Michigan Education Association President Paula Herbart.


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2 thoughts on “Labor Voices: School support staff are invaluable to education efforts

  1. This message means so much. I wish everyone thought like this Paraprofessionals deserve to be treated just like Teachers. They help make the classroom or school run smoothly thanks for getting others to think of us

  2. I was happy to see this article about support staff in general. I would like to see multi media get the word out to all that we are hard workers and need the recognition state wide. I am a veteran Paraeducator and definitely feel left out when they are handing out “praise” in our building. We paraeducators barely get the recognition we deserve or the pay. Some counties are worse then others when it comes to pay. A living wage is all we want. Hopefully in the near future we will see things change across Michigan as schools all over are all feeling the shortage.

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