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'Not sustainable': Hourly employees at Olathe Public Schools push for better pay and benefits

Hourly employees at Olathe Public Schools push for better pay and benefits
Posted at 6:44 AM, Apr 04, 2024

OLATHE, Kan. — Hourly employees at Olathe Public Schools are looking for a change in pay and benefits as the district works on ways to retain its staff.

Erin Smith begin the 2023-24 school year in her new role as a paraprofessional for the district. As a mother, the job seemed like a great fit in her love for helping kids.

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“It was really rewarding getting to work with the variety of ages and learning abilities of the kids," said Smith.

Her time with the district lasted only six months after making the decision to quit the job due to the low pay.

"After most of my paycheck went towards the health benefits for my daughter and I, which with my health problems, I have to have health benefits" said Smith. "I was bringing in less than $100 a week.”

As a single mother with one source of income and with health issues, Smith said she had to make the difficult decision to leave the district.

"It just got to a point where I drained my savings and as much as I love the kids I had to go back to the kind of work that I was originally trained to do," said Smith.

Her departure highlights a growing concern among district staff regarding the compensation package offered by the school district. Many employees, including teachers, paraprofessionals, and support staff, have voiced their struggles with low wages in recent board meetings.

“We are fighting for respect, dignity, and recognition of the importance of our jobs in making schools run," said Amber Grant a paraeducator at Olathe South High School.

The movement for unionization has gained momentum among district staff members. Advocates argue that forming a union would provide them with a voice to negotiate for better pay and benefits.

"I know the teachers have a union, so it wouldn't surprise me that the classified staff does need some sort of a union to help fight for the rights of kind of an underrepresented or under-heard group of people, because we did do a lot," said Smith.

The push for unionization is not without its challenges, however. Hourly workers at Olathe Public Schools need more signatures on its petition for a unionization group.

In response, superintendent Dr. Brent Yaeger in statement said, "Over the next few months, district administrators will hold roundtable discussions with specific departments and their leaders to listen and learn from our classified staff and to come away with actionable steps."

Smith said, if she had the opportunity to return to the school district, if the pay and benefits changed, she would in a heartbeat.

"It’s one of those thing it may not fill your pocketbook, but It fills your heart every day. It's worth the backaches and the sore feet and whatever it might be. That's worth it at the end of the day.”
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