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Special Ed Aide Earns $0 Paycheck

Special Ed Aide Earns $0 Paycheck

 

Aides or paraprofessionals are as important as teachers and therapists for children in special education like my 14-year-old son Charlie. They assist with teaching and also with a child’s day-to-day needs of a nitty-gritty sort. But while aides serve such an essential function to help kids like Charlie learn and succeed, their compensation is woefully inadequate. In the case of Kathy Meltsakos, a special ed aide in northeast Massachusetts, her job provided her with a $0.00 paycheck, after paying for health insurance and taxes.

Says Education Votes, viathe National Education Association (NEA):

Initially earning $13.74 for a 35-hour week with the Pentucket schools, Meltsakos paid 20 percent of her insurance, which was manageable, and she did that for 10 years until laid off in June 2010. While looking for work she received unemployment benefits.

“I was placed at the bottom of the scale at $10.74 an hour for a 30-hour week. After taxes, I paid 60 percent of my medical insurance. My pay stubs from February to June 24 (the end of the school year) show no net take home pay since February. Oh — and the insurance rates went up in May.”

Meltsakos found herself looking for other jobs, first in a pizza shop, then in a discount store; these jobs did pay a little more, but came without benefits. During the school year, she worked twenty hours a week and added more after school was out. This summer, she’s working with special ed kids for 20 hours a week at $14 an hour. She notes she’s hardly the only one in the same boat.

“This work is my career. I know what I’m doing and am good at what I do. Don’t get me wrong, I learn every day.” When asked about the economics of the job, she doesn’t beat around the bush. “Yes. It should pay better. We have a ways to go on that score. A lot of educating and organizing and bargaining is going to have to get done before any fair salary changes happen.”

It goes without saying Meltsakos should get paid better. Teaching kids with disabilities has numerous challenges. A child like my son requires someone with patience and the ability to be attuned to him (especially as he has minimal speech). Aides may often have to assist a child in a moment of challenging behavior that could involve biting, hitting and more. They also need to understand that such behaviors are not meant to hurt but might be a non-verbal child’s ways of communicating extreme stress, or responding to physical symptoms like a headache or stomachache that their speech cannot express.

Many students with disabilities have medical and health needs and aides often find themselves assisting students with these: Just yesterday my son had a stomach upheaval at school. His teacher and aides helped him clean up and change his clothes and, rather than insisting we pick him up, said he’d be fine for the rest of the day as he didn’t seem sick (we connected a nauseous stomach to the heat we’re having on the East Coast, anxiety over some changes in the daily routine and a morning swim in necessarily heavily chlorinated water). After he got home off the school bus, we found his dirty clothes rinsed out and packed in a plastic bag.

For all the work Meltsakos and aides do, they more than deserve to earn what they merit and, at the very least, to have a paycheck of more than $0.00.

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32 comments

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8:30AM PDT on Sep 2, 2011

Politicians should be paying for the educational system that they have bankrupted by paying for wars we shouldn't be involved in. How can we, as a nation, even think of being peacemakers when we are treating our children, and everyone involved in their education with such violence? And I say violence, because not giving our youngest citizens what they need (best teachers, best paraprofessionals, best health providers, best food, best education) is a crime.
Our taxes, that should go provide for the general welfare, have been hijacked in the name of providing for the defense of our country. And, we continue to create enemies around the world. And those enemies we create will cause even further violence against us and our children.

Write your legislators via letter, which carries more weight, and tell them you want your taxes to go towards education (books), not bombs.

9:19AM PDT on Aug 4, 2011

Soon there will be hordes of hungry teenagers and children roaming the streets raiding all the garbage cans.

7:38PM PDT on Jul 24, 2011

I've had an awesome para, and I've had a crappy para. A good para is GOLD. It is pitiful how little they make for what they do. Just another example how people in education aren't in it for the money.

And Mrs. S, sometimes even when the cameras ARE rolling they don't care.

9:54AM PDT on Jul 24, 2011

How Disgusting is this?! Shameful, I tell You SHAMEFUL.............the Politicians in this Country should be totally EMBARRASSED by this!!! I am and I'm NOT even a Politician!! UGH!!!!

2:23AM PDT on Jul 23, 2011

Seems to me that most of us who are on the Care2 site are thinking alike. So in most cases we are all singing to the choire. Take just about any place in our country and you'll find that, other than the very top level, our police force, fire fighters, and yes educators are underpaid for the services they provide. It is a shame that many of our public employes have to rely on unions to fight for fair payment and benefits. Part of the tax breaks that go to the wealthiest could help pay for higher wages.

1:00AM PDT on Jul 23, 2011

This is what is wrong -- our luxuries are relatively cheap and our necessities (health insurance) are outrageous -- entertainers are paid big bucks and teachers and obviously teachers aids are paid not nearly enough. We need to make some changes.

12:53AM PDT on Jul 23, 2011

Actually that sounds about right. People that do the most important jobs get the shaft while those that are way overpaid for what they do (CEO's, athletes, entertainers) and those that get paid for doing damage (once again CEO's, politicians [especially GOP politicians]) get the gold mine. Shows you how out of order our priorities are and how much (or how little) we value people that work in occupations that help others.

12:42AM PDT on Jul 23, 2011

Thanks for the info

11:15PM PDT on Jul 22, 2011

My mother was a substitute aide for the special needs program in one of our local school districts. They really do treat these workers like crud. When she had waited the obligatory period to apply for medical benefits, they pushed mandatory drug testing onto her without prior knowledge that this was a requirement. My mother refused on moral grounds that a substitute special needs aide does not require such an invasion of privacy, like regular drug tests. So, they fired her on spot. Special needs aides should be better paid, and definitely better treated by their employers.

11:12PM PDT on Jul 22, 2011

I bet that there are many others working ending up with basically nothing....once taxes, SS, health insurance are paid.....And the 1% super billionnaires/millionnaires don't want to pay more tax......this is just disgraceful...

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