Ma-Riah RobersonMoody stated that she would like to keep her job at the Minneapolis high school but that her $24,000 salary makes it difficult to make ends meet. To provide for her children, she has to find other work, such as being a companion for people with disabilities.
Roberson-Moody is a lead negotiator of the education support professionals chapter of the city's teacher union. "I am fighting to keep this job, because I love what I do. I don't make enough money. Target is more lucrative than Minneapolis Public Schools. That's why it is so difficult for me to make enough money at Target right now.
Teachers union in the city is asking for an increase of starting salary to $35,000 for educational support personnel, or ESPs. Roberson-Moody said that an increase in wages for these ESPs would allow the city attract and retain quality candidates to work with students.
She said, "When we don’t pay people livable wages they leave and the students are the ones who suffer."
Roberson-Moody joined her fellow picket workers on Thursday, as school was cancelled for the third day in Minneapolis. Teachers are on strike and the school district and union have failed repeatedly to reach a settlement that would allow nearly 30,000 students back to school.
On Thursday, hundreds of students, parents, teachers and support staff marched in downtown Minneapolis to protest as the city's first teacher strike in over 50 years was over. The union wants a 12 per cent pay increase for teachers and a higher starting wage for education support personnel. They also want smaller class sizes. The school district said that it can't afford to meet the demands.
"What do you want?" Stable and safe schools When will we get it? "Now," the crowd chanted. Kate Percuoco was an early childhood educator who also served as strike captain.
"It's an occasion to fight for the schools our children deserve. Percuoco has two children in the district, one in kindergarten and the other in fourth grade. "I want these schools be there for my kids," Percuoco said. "I want schools that are strong, well-staffed and well-funded for all children in Minneapolis. We're on the streets because of that."
Preparing for ongoing negotiations, Greta Calhan, president of Minneapolis Federation of Teachers' teacher chapter, stated that competitive wages are crucial for Minneapolis educators.
We are hemorhaging our families. We are losing educators. She said that our students deserve better and that we demand more from the people sitting at this table in this building." They cannot keep digging in their heels, at the expense and cost of our children.
Minneapolis strikes come as schools across the country are struggling with staffing shortages. The ongoing Covid pandemic has led to more resignations and retirements.
According to data released by the National Center for Education Statistics last week , 44% of schools had at least one teaching vacancy. Nearly half of those schools also reported at least one staff position. The data showed that more than half of these vacancies resulted from resignations.
Percuoco, a teacher for children ages 1-5, said that she had an open position as an ESP throughout the year since people won't apply.
She stated that "when we aren't staffed, it makes a really difficult task to meet the needs of those classes."
The union also demanded that the state allocate some of its $9.25billion budget surplus to education. According to The Associated Press, at least 2,000 educators and their supporters rallied in front of the Capitol on Wednesday.
Shaun Laden, president for the chapter of education support professional union said that $35,000 per year was a modest offer. Every day our members hear, "We can't make this happen without you." Yet, we pay folks poverty wages.
It appeared that negotiations were stuck between the two sides as of Thursday. Ed Graff, Minneapolis Public Schools' superintendent, stated that while the school shares the same goals with the union, it cannot afford the demands of the district.
Graff stated Tuesday at a news conference that "we have all these priorities, but we don't possess the resources to make them happen."
According to a summary of the negotiations , teachers are being asked for a 5 percent increase in starting salaries for support staff.
Graff stated that the proposals of the union would cost the district $166million more than the budget.
"We do our best to ensure that we are fiscally responsible and good stewards. We make sure that money that goes towards students is very direct. He said that it's in the classroom. "And every year, despite our best efforts, we end up short of the required funds."
Graff stated that federal coronavirus relief funds had helped reduce budget deficits but are not sufficient to cover wage increases.
Graff stated Tuesday that "we know we have to pay our ESPs less." "That is something that we have committed to doing. It is up to us to ensure that this happens in a way that sustains the district financially.
Union leaders and members expressed optimism about the prospects for negotiations. They are set to take place Friday and Saturday.
Callahan stated that the school board and the union "absolutely share the same priorities."
She said, "There's no doubt there."
Percuoco stated that, even though the strike is still ongoing, she believes "wholeheartedly" in public schools and public education. She also stressed the importance of investing in children's futures.
She said, "Especially when working with these babies. Who is going to come into my class of 2-3, 3-, or 4-year-olds to say, 'You are not worth this?'"