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An Open Letter Regarding ESP Bargaining, by Brie Monahan - posted November 11th 2019

In Minneapolis Public Schools, Education Support Professionals are negotiating their contract. ESPs are the folks who facilitate reading groups, supervise lunch and recess, manage media circulation, support Special Education, do behavior support, run after-school programs, coordinate testing, and interpret and liase for families. They're often the first responders when a kid needs help, and their relationships with our kids run deep. They are largely women and people of color, and a large percentage are parents of children in the district. For some reason they're on a different healthcare program than teachers and their healthcare premiums are higher than teachers' in spite of having much lower wages.

Last week an ESP friend of mine calculated that after paying healthcare, she takes home $8.50 an hour. And then another friend, a Special Ed Assistant (an even lower paid ESP), calculated that she takes home $6.50 an hour. Even before the healthcare payment, they've fallen 18 years behind the cost of living. Now the district is proposing to freeze their wages for the next two years. We hear instances around the district of ESPs facing food insecurity and even homelessness. ESPs living in their cars or in shelters, along with their children. WHILE drawing a paycheck from Minneapolis Public Schools. Does the district know that these low wages are driving MPS families into poverty? Do they know that ESPs sacrifice the well-being of their own families to take care of ours?

Last Monday the ESPs put forth their proposal for a wage increase. The district will respond to that proposal on Monday, November 18. It's expected that they will "respectfully decline" a wage increase. The district has been super disrespectful during bargaining sessions. District people are on their phones, rolling their eyes. The room has been empty so they don't feel accountable to anyone. And you know why more ESPs don't show up on bargaining nights--they're working second and third jobs. Many can't even afford union dues, so they can't vote on their own contract anyway.

If you live in Minneapolis or if someone you care about is affiliated with Minneapolis Public Schools, please come observe the next ESP bargaining session, Monday, Nov 18, 5:30-8pm at MFT 59. And please ask the parents, families and concerned commuity members in your life to come. Come for as much or as little as you can. Just increasing visibility of our ESPs is enough to shift the tone in the bargaining room toward more respect, careful listening and professionalism. If you can't make it, please write to your individual MPS school board members and request that they do right by the folks who are the glue in our schools.

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