Here’s Why We're Demanding Better Pay for MMSD Educational Assistants
What’s the “Strive for Five” Campaign?
MTI, the union that represents MMSD employees, is currently demanding that superintendent Dr. Carlton Jenkins raise the wages of special education assistants, educational assistants, and school security assistants by $5 an hour so that they can afford to work for MMSD and live in Madison. Says the union, “It’s about time the MMSD school board commits to giving all staff a living wage!”
In an expensive city getting more expensive by the day, hourly staff of the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) are paid $15 per hour. In order to live in Madison, most of these staff members work more than one job.
Their work is vital. Special education assistants work with our communities’ most vulnerable students, caring for kids and keeping them safe, helping them use the bathroom, helping them in mental crisis, or helping their families connect with schools and jobs. These jobs are also held by MMSD's most diverse group of people.
While MMSD tries to recruit and retain Black and Brown teachers, it’s failing to pay a living wage to some of the dedicated Black and Brown staff it already employs. Scroll all the way down for some calls-to-action, or keep reading to hear from some educational assistants.
Voices from the Rank and File
John, special education assistant (SEA), employed at MMSD for three years:
I work with students with special needs throughout the entire school day, from 8 AM to 4 PM Monday through Friday. I typically work with one to three students at a time. The students tend to have extensive support needs and should really be getting one-on-one attention. I work with them both inside and outside general education classrooms. I do what I can to educate them and help them develop the transitional skills they'll need to live as independently as they can after high school.
My son is an East student with special needs and I've seen what a difference an SEA can make in the life of someone like him. That inspired me to take this job. I appreciate working with the youth and serving the community at the same time.
I currently work two jobs to make ends meet. I work retail on the weekends. Between the two jobs, I've worked as much as 60 hours per week in my time with MMSD. A living wage would allow me to sustain myself and my family with one job, to have more time with my family, and to generally have a better quality of life.
Alexus, special education assistant (SEA), employed at MMSD for close to one year:
A typical day for me consists of supporting students who have severe autism, Down syndrome, and physical disabilities, as well as students with behavioral issues. With our special needs students we work on their basic level writing, reading and mathematical skills. We do puzzles with one another and I like to incorporate arts and crafting into their daily routines. I help students to the bathroom daily and make sure their cleanliness and level of comfortability are exceptional - even in the toughest mess. I also work closely with a few students who have behavioral issues and provide support in numerous ways. I help redirect students to their studies, de-escalate confrontation and stress, and try my best to uplift and encourage our students who need it.
I choose to work with special needs students because of the love I have for teaching and education. I’m a firm believer that everyone, no matter their disability, deserves the right to a proper education. I’ve met some of the most incredible students in my short time of teaching, and it’s truly inspiring the accomplishments they’ve made this year.
We as SEAs work incredibly hard throughout the day and it would be nice to not have to work an additional job. I’d like to further my degree but with working 50 plus hours a week, it’s hard to find time. With the cost of living and rent increasing it’s almost impossible to live off of our SEA income alone. I, along with many other SEAs do this job because we care, and because we love it, we don’t do it for the money. However, we can’t be our best selves working multiple jobs - burnt out. Our students deserve the best and so do we.
Jen, MMSD teacher:
I’m a Madison teacher and I am joining my colleagues in asking MMSD to add $5 to the base wage salary for our educational and security assistants. Schools cannot function without assistants yet we refuse to pay them a living wage. Ed assistants are vital members of our teaching teams. They help students with learning differences understand their school work; they help kids navigate sometimes confusing relationships with peers and they teach life skills to students who need some extra support. They also provide for special health care needs for some. Assistants must be kind, patient, adaptable and hard-working.
In Madison, many of our assistants work more than one job to make ends meet. Many of our assistants are BIPOC. If we truly want to be an anti-racist school system we should be particularly attuned to attracting and retaining staff of color. People will stay when they are treated with respect and compensated fairly. A living wage is a small step towards becoming an anti-racist district.
Calls to Action
1) Write the school board at firstname.lastname@example.org
Sample text: I’m writing in solidarity with MMSD teachers calling for a $5 an hour raise for educational assistants. It’s unfair and unjust that the professionals taking care of our communities’ most vulnerable students are not paid a living wage. We can and should do better. In addition, I am committed to a school district that is diverse, multi-racial, and transformative for all students. We cannot move forward with an anti-racist vision for our schools when right now we’re failing to pay some of our Brown and Black staff a living wage. We must raise the wage now.
2) Join the MTI-organized rally in support of educational assistants.
Hear from school support staff and call on MMSD to take action!
4:30 PM, Monday, May 9, 2022
Wright Middle School
1717 Fish Hatchery Road, Madison WI 53713