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Education Support Professionals - When Support Professionals Are Laid Off

By Mary Ellen Flannery

When the cyclone of state funding cuts set down in Illinois’ Southwestern school district this year, it left a wide wake of devastation: More than one out of three education support professionals were laid off, including every single classroom aide.

Terry Hines, president of the Southwestern ESP Association and an aide with 26 years in the district, was one of them. “There’s a lot of experience that will be gone… But I’m really feeling sorry for the kids. They’re the ones who are going to pay for it,” Hines said.

Students across the country will be paying for it, unless Congress steps in to support the Education Jobs Fund, which would provide $23 billion in emergency funding to keep more than 300,000 educators in schools.

Among them are tens of thousands of education support professionals, the hard-working people who feed our children, drive them safely to school, keep their classrooms clean and germ-free, and also deliver critical one-on-one services to the most needy. Cutting these employees, who are among the lowest-paid and most deserving, is like carving out the backbone of American schools.

In New Jersey, in at least two districts, every custodian got a pink slip last month. In others, districts have cut food service. Likely, they’ll be replaced with private employees or temporary employees—but at what cost?

In Winterset, Iowa, 31 of 52 paraprofessionals have been laid off. In Boulder, Colorado, 107 of 500 are gone. And, in Brockton, Massachusetts, the board plans to cut 62 of 350 para positions, as well as 24 custodians and 41 other staff. “We’re adults and we’ll get through it, but the children don’t understand budget cuts,” said Brockton Donna McNair, a 10-year special education assistant.

McNair works directly with a dozen teenagers with autism, Down Syndrome, and varied disabilities. She helps with instruction, guides field trips to workplaces like the local hospital, and prepares her kids for life after school. “You’d be amazed at what these children can do when there are very few students working with one person.”

In North Carolina, where the state faces the loss of 1,500 teaching assistant jobs—on top of the loss of 5,000-plus jobs last year—unemployment already tops 20 percent in some districts. For Cheryl Virgil, an assistant in Gaston County, the miserly budget might mean a $1,400 pay cut and some really miserable choices. Should she spend her rapidly shrinking dollars on food for her family? Or on medication for her son, who has a disease requiring chemotherapy?

For more of the story, see

Keeper of the Flame

Members of the Ferguson-Florissant NEA in St. Louis County, Missouri, are a model inclusive union with 840 teachers and almost 200 ESPs. An ESP, Heike Janis (left), was elected their president with strong teacher support. See full story at

All in the NEA Family

More than 1,400 ESPs belonging to an independent union voted to join the Colorado Education Association (CEA). Read more at

Photos:  Linda Powell-Jones (Top), Debra Angstead


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