Education support professionals (ESPs) are organizing to build presence, strength, and power in a campaign focused on a bill of rights that defines the issues long nagging these dedicated employees and now threatening not only the recruitment of new employees but the retention of dedicated veteran employees.
It’s true that the pandemic raised the profile of ESPs among the families and fellow educators they continued working with, but that has yet to translate into the higher wages that all ESP deserve. Too many ESPs work second jobs and struggle to provide for their families, buy homes, save for their futures, and afford community or four-year college tuition for their children to learn a trade and plan a career. Many ESPs are second- or third-generation school employees who take pride in the contributions they make to their communities. The looming threats of privatization by school districts, which would import even lower-paid workers from outside areas, risk the stability of schools and communities and further undermine the value of ESPs and their jobs.
With continuing staff shortages, escalating student behavioral challenges, increasing responsibilities, a continuing lack of respect, and the rising costs of healthcare benefits, ESPs are being asked to do more—too often without the resources they need and the compensation they deserve. These are workload, morale, and stress issues that cause burnout and resignations.
We want to build our strength at the bargaining table and that starts with building power and purpose in every county.— STACY TAYMAN, CO-CHAIR, ESP ORGANIZING COMMITTEE
Some school board members and community and state officials have refused time and again to recognize support staff and their contributions or to provide adequate, living wages. While the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future provides funding to add staff in some ESP positions, there is more to do. With recruitment and retention so difficult, the welfare and safety of students and fellow staff is at risk.
Following information and listening sessions across the state, ESP member-organizers have developed an ESP Bill of Rights. This Bill of Rights includes:
One job should be enough for every ESP. ESPs should not have to work multiple jobs to maintain financial independence.
ESPs have a right to a secure retirement. All years of service should count towards a pension.
AFFORDABLE HEALTH CARE
All ESPs should have access to the same health insurance as other school employees. No ESP should get a “zero-dollar” paycheck to pay health insurance premiums.
SAFE AND HEALTHY WORK ENVIRONMENT
ESPs deserve a safe and healthy workplace—one that is free of violence and physical, verbal, and emotional abuse and free of exposure to hazardous materials and includes safely maintained equipment. ESPs deserve clear safety protocols, appropriate supplies, trainings on workplace regulations, and whistleblower protections.
ESPs deserve paid leave, including personal days, sick days, parental leave, and Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) benefits.
WORKLOAD AND STAFFING
ESPs have a right to a workload that allows them to excel in their assigned positions. ESPs deserve a voice in establishing fully staffed shifts, clear work protocols, and resources that support their job.
ESPs need a reasonable expectation of renewal year-to-year, a fair probation period, and strong just cause provisions.
ESPs deserve accessible professional development leading to career advancement opportunities. Seniority rights must be protected as ESPs pursue promotions, request transfers, and at times of layoffs or furloughs.
ESPs should be free of the threats of privatization that risk the stability of school communities, silence the voice of employees, and further undermine the value of their contributions and their jobs.
RIGHT TO A UNION
ESPs deserve a strong voice in their workplace—that includes the right to join their union and fight for the rights and protections they deserve. Their union should be free of interference from management and elected officials.
ESPs are essential employees and critical to the success of our public schools. School districts must commit to lifting up ESPs by respecting their skills, job categories, and vital contributions to student well-being and school climate.