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Denver, Jefferson County school districts raise hourly pay for support staff struggling to afford food and housing

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Amid mounting public pressure, Colorado’s two largest school districts have approved a 20% pay raise for school support staff. Denver Public Schools pledged to raise pay by more than $4 an hour this year, and Jeffco Public Schools agreed to increase compensation by $3 an hour by September 2023.

The pay increase was driven in part by a sharp increase in the cost of living, which has laid off staff in both districts and strained the schools’ ability to fill important roles in the classroom, cafeteria and other areas.

According to Miguel Perret, executive director of labor relations, DPS is investing about $28.2 million over three years in pay increases for the district’s roughly 2,800 unionized employees. Those employees include paraprofessionals who help teachers with lessons and often help students one-on-one and will start earning $20 an hour starting Aug. 1, a 21% increase. Their hourly pay will continue to increase by 50 cents each of the next two years, so that starting in August 2024, they will take home $21 an hour.

The order, which helps students with special needs, will have a starting salary of $21 starting Aug. 1, a 21% increase. Their hourly wages will also increase by 50 cents each of the next two years. By August 2024, the starting wage for parochial students with disabilities will be $22 an hour.

For paraprofessionals like Carolina Galvan, who works at Valdez Elementary School in Denver, the pay raise means she’ll be able to save more money for her family and one day try to own a home. And with more money in their pockets, some of her colleagues will no longer have to rely on government subsidies to provide food and shelter.

“Now I’m putting more money into my family,” Galvan, 34, said. “I’m a little less stressed now.”

Carolina Galvan, a paraprofessional with Denver Public Schools, poses for a portrait on July 9, 2022, at Valdez Elementary School, where she works in Denver. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

Through August 2024, DPS commits to paying all support workers, including union and non-union workers, $20. That includes food service workers, custodians and non-bargaining employees, many of whom now make $15.87 an hour, Peretta said. Their pay will increase each year, to $18 a month in August, $19 an hour next August, and finally $20 an hour in August 2024.

Separately, the starting minimum wage for bus drivers and mechanics in the district will jump on Aug. 1 from $20.43 to $24.40. The district is still finalizing negotiations with the Denver Association of Office Professionals in Education, which represents office workers, Peretta said.

He noted that DPS will cover the cost of the salary increase from a variety of funding sources, including $4 million stemming from a central office reorganization and about $13.4 million in projected state funding.

DPS wants to “remain competitive in the marketplace,” Peretta said, adding that the higher wages are hoped to help recruit and retain support staff as the district — like many across the state and country — faces shortages, especially with its workforce of bus drivers.

“This is a huge investment in our workforce that is well deserved,” Peretta said.

It also gives district staff a sense of stability for the next few years, said Bernadette Giron, president of the Denver Federation of Paraprofessionals and Food Service Employees.

“It’s a step forward for all these people … they know they’re valued and the union is here for them to make sure they get what they deserve for the next three years,” said Giron, whose union has about 1,300 members. .

She’s “thrilled” that DPS finally listened to its employees and rewarded them with the raises they’ve been fighting for since the spring, especially since the district is short staffed in critical support positions, including parishioners, food workers and bus aides.

“I’m tired of being a follower,” said Giron, who told district leaders. “I need you to be a leader for these employees.”

Substantial wage increases for the required workforce

Galvan, a couple at Valdez Elementary School, was among the DPS employees who currently take home $15.87 an hour, and she can’t afford a home, instead living in an apartment in Woodridge with her husband, daughter and mother. She has relied heavily on her husband’s income to make ends meet, and the extra money added to her salary will make her “a little more financially independent as a woman.”

She plans to set up a savings account from the increased paycheck so her family can stay afloat in the event of another recession and potentially buy a home.

The question of whether she should remain in her position as a DPS officer without adequate pay to cover her family’s expenses seems less pressing now, and there’s a sense of respect from the district that wasn’t necessarily there before.

“I’m very happy with how things turned out and now we’re on the same page,” Galvan said.

Carolina Galvan, a paraprofessional with Denver Public Schools, poses for a portrait on July 9, 2022, at Valdez Elementary School, where she works in Denver. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

Meanwhile, the Jeffco Public Schools Board of Education approved a contract that will start the hourly wage for support staff at $18 through September 2023, according to a statement released by the Jeffco Educational Support Professionals Association on Wednesday.

The increase follows last fall’s board candidate forum, where Coloradans for the Common Good asked the six candidates running to support a $3-an-hour wage increase over the next two years.

In a statement, library director and JESPA president Lara Senter called the salary increase a “historic moment” for staff.

“This is the second year we have fought for and won a well-deserved and significant pay rise for our members,” she said.

Both JESPA, which represents about 3,800 support staff, including parishioners, custodians, bus drivers, secretaries and food service workers, and the Denver Federation of Paraprofessionals and Food Service Employees belong to Coloradans for the Common Good. The organization is made up of congregations, unions, educational institutions, non-profits and neighborhood organizations, all of which focus on community issues and have helped promote the need to pay support staff more.

Coloradans for the Common Good also helped organize a rally outside the DPS central office in downtown Denver in July, standing alongside support workers to call for higher wages as the cost of living rises.

Joyce Brooks, chair of the organization’s steering committee, calls them essential workers.

“They are a great support staff for our teachers, helping them to provide the kind of education that our kids need in these school districts,” Brooks said, adding that these staff also let the wider community know what’s going on in the public schools. schools.

The wage increase will help employees and their families afford essential expenses in the face of inflation, and will also allow schools to work with staff members who are key to student success, she stressed.

“I think we take them for granted,” Brooks said, “but teachers can’t teach, administrators can’t lead without these people helping them.”


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