ESE aide: "I most certainly do not do it for the money"
In Hillsborough County, much discussion surrounds the modest pay of paraprofessionals in exceptional student education. As the district prepares to increase training as part of a larger set of reforms, many have remarked that it's hard to attract qualified workers at poverty-level wages.
The Tampa Bay Times received this letter from an ESE aide in the Town 'N Country area:
"I am an ESE aide. I have been doing this for years working in the EELP program. In this program we have 5 year-olds. Most have very little to no speech and various disabilities such autism, Down syndrome, medical and behavioral conditions plus many, many more. I am responsible for teaching these children, caring for them, potty training and in many cases teaching them to eat.
"This is the kind of job that you either love or hate. I truly believe there is no middle ground. I most certainly do not do it for the money. In 2009 I was making $8.47 an hour, I am now making $8.94 (2009 was the furthest I could go back). There have been at least two raises between 2009-2012 which total a 47 cents per hour. I have never made over $13,000 a year. This year my total wages for the year were around $11,483.
"I bring home a little over a $1,000.00 a month. I am truly embarrassed to admit that my daughter, who works part time at a grocery as a cashier, made more money than I did last year. I always thought that taking care of our children is more important than taking care of groceries, and those who take care of the children should make more. She will be getting a raise in the next month and will be making more per hour then I do. I do not understand the logic behind this.
"I do this job because I know I make a difference in the life a child. There is no greater reward than to hear a child say your name or give you a hug because they are happy to see you; when they learn something new and are able to express what they need, to see in their eyes the excitement when they get something and understand it. I cannot put a price tag on any of that.
"I am a highly qualified aide working at a Title I school. It saddens me to think that this might be my last year doing what I truly love. With the cost of everything going up, I am not sure I can continue at this job. My family has truly struggled and done without due to my income. The last pay raise I received worked out to 32 cents per hour, which equals $11.20 a week, not even a tank of gas.
"I truly hope that something can be done to increase pay or I fear they will lose many of us who have been doing this for years and get people into this position who do not have the passion for these children who deserve nothing but the best."