ESP - A Question of Priorities
In Beverly Hills, special education aides could use more hours.
By John Rosales
Linda Omansky would like to see more full-time paraeducators in her unit serving special-needs students.
Photo by Scott Buschmann
Education support professional (ESP) Linda Omansky hasn’t seen Eddie Murphy or Reese Witherspoon driving around her neighborhood lately. The elementary school where Omansky works is across the street from the legendary Beverly Hills Hilton Hotel, and just down Santa Monica Boulevard from the Los Angeles Country Club.
Yet, no famous faces spotted in a long while.
“I don’t see movie stars,” says Omansky, a paraprofessional at El Rodeo Elementary School, one of four K–8 schools that feed students to Beverly Hills High School, made famous by the long-running TV series, Beverly Hills 90210.
For 30 years, Omansky has worked in the Beverly Hills Unified School District, which carries that celebrity zip code but suffers from the same school budget crisis as most districts.
“Sure, we have wealthy, influential people whose children go to our schools,” says Omansky, president of the Instructional Assistants Unit (IAU) of the Beverly Hills Education Association (BHEA). “They help fundraise, but when the nation is in financial straits, we’re in financial straits.”
And no other group of educators in Beverly Hills seems to be feeling the financial pinch more than special education classroom aides. Like other ESPs across the nation, many BHEA paraeducators are deliberately assigned 19.5 hours or less, just below the magic threshold of 20 hours (half-time), which would entitle them to health care insurance and other benefits. Of 104 IAU members, only 36 work full-time while 68 log less than half-time.
“Some members have been asking for years to have their time increased,” says Omansky, who herself works 19.5 hours. “The district would rather hire two (special education aides) instead of extending the hours of one.”
While Omansky acknowledges her good fortune of having health insurance through her husband’s policy, many of her co-workers are not as lucky.
“Many have second and third jobs to make ends meet,” she says.
Christopher Bushée is president of BHEA’s 300-member teacher unit, which works closely with IAU. He says paying the $7,000 in health care costs per year per employee (working at least 20 hours) is reasonable when you consider the negative effects on employee morale.
“When you have aides working side by side—some at 19.5 hours and others at 20—there’s an emotional cost to the workers who seem to be getting less support from their employer,” he says. “This practice of hiring more and more part-time workers instead of providing others with more hours is short-sighted.”
Omansky says that new part-time employees not only take away hours from loyal aides already in place, but also disrupt the cherished continuity and bonding that can develop between full-time ESPs and students.
“Instead of several part-time aides working with special-needs children, a full-time ESP provides more consistency,” says Omansky. “It’s great for students.”
BHEA also includes a second ESP unit with a separate president and about 45 office, technical, and business service (OTBS) workers.
School support staff were not eligible to join the California Teachers Association until 2006. Currently, most classified employees in the state are members of the California School Employees Association, including a unit in Beverly Hills.
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A Day Without Education Support Professionals (ESP)
See for yourself how important every education support professional is to the daily lives of our students and our schools. This poignant video illustrates the value of our work on so many levels. It was produced by Indiana member Mary Neylon.