Members of the Lawrence Public Schools classified staff union rallied during the Lawrence High School homecoming parade Wednesday evening to call attention to staffing shortages.
According to a news release from the Personnel Association of Lawrence – Communication Workers of America (PAL-CWA), there are currently more than 70 open classified staff positions, but food service and paraeducators are some of the hardest-hit job classifications.
“We love our students. We can’t give them the kind of education they deserve when our classrooms and kitchens don’t have staff because our wages are so low,” Hannah Allison-Natale, PAL-CWA president, said in the release.
Chrystal Hunter, PAL-CWA’s secretary and a paraeducator, said staff members can’t properly serve students with disabilities because they’re so short on paraeducators.
“Our students deserve so much better than this,” Hunter said in the release. “We have to raise wages so we can get people in these jobs. For our students’ sake!”
The Lawrence school board in June approved an agreement with the union that raised the base salary for those employees from $9.43 to $9.70 per hour, though PAL-CWA had been urging the district to pay all members at least $15 per hour.
A living wage for a single adult living alone in Douglas County is $17.07 per hour.
Lawrence High School kitchen staff members said they’re exhausted, and they’re each doing the jobs of four or five people, according to the release.
“We can’t keep going at this pace. We have six people when we’re supposed to have 22. We feed 700 students at four buildings everyday,” Lawrence High School kitchen staff members reported, according to the release.
“We do all the laundry for all the kitchens on this side of town and clean our own kitchen everyday. We also have to make deliveries to other schools on a daily basis. This is a crisis.”
Diana Brown, a paraeducator at Free State High School, said in the release that she and her colleagues can barely keep up with their students’ work in each class.
“Our students deserve more than being confused in classes, causing them unneeded stress and anxiety,” Brown said in the release. “I have worked here for seven years and I have a second job because I can’t pay my bills. I love helping our students with disabilities, but I am exhausted having to struggle to pay my bills.”
“We need to make a living wage because our students depend on us,” Brown continued. “It’s not fair to them if we are exhausted from working a second job or if there aren’t enough of us to properly assist them. So many wonderful paras have quit because of all the pressure that is put on us.”
A district spokesperson did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment for this article Wednesday evening.