By a 6-to-1 vote, the Madison School Board on Monday approved a $2 wage increase for hourly educational assistants for the upcoming school year, less than half of what the local teachers’ union Madison Teachers Inc. and hourly staff advocates had asked early in negotiations.
Board members Laura Simkin, Savion Castro, Chris Gomez-Schmidt, Nichelle Nichols, Nicki Vander Meulen and board chair Ali Muldrow voted to approve the $2 hourly increase, while board vice-chair Maia Pearson voted against the increase.
“Two dollars is not acceptable for our staff, our SEAs and our educators. I am voting for this for one reason, and one reason only, because there is an increase path that will be discussed on September 19,” said Vander Meulen.
The $2-per-hour increase for all hourly teacher assistants will use the entire $1.4 million fund balance in the 2022-23 budget scheduled for the increase by the board in June. The increase will raise the starting salary for teaching assistants from $16.44 per hour to $18.44 per hour.
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District administration and the school board plan to continue discussions in an effort to secure the requested $5 hourly increase for staff at a special meeting Sept. 19, according to a memo delivered to the board by Superintendent Carlton Jenkins prior to Monday’s meeting.
Nichols said she voted in favor of the $2 increase on the condition that the district administration meet with the council in September to continue the discussion.
Castro pointed to a structural shortfall of about $7 million that could arise in future budgets if the district increases hourly wages by $5 for all staff.
“I think we’re going to have a conversation with the community about how we want to fund education here in the years to come,” he said.
Prior to the vote, during the public comment portion of the meeting, Kathy Rezac, a special education assistant (SEA) who has worked for the district for 20 years and earns less than $20 an hour, appealed to the board. and to the district administration to raise $5 per hour hourly wages for SEAs, as requested at the start of wage negotiations in May.
“I no longer respectfully ask, please,” she said. “The education, safety, mental health and happiness of our students are our constant priorities. With the continued staff shortages and increased workload we have been forced to endure, this is not only impacting our safety, mental health and happiness, but also our students.
She said staff morale was at an all-time low and asked the district to stop saying they valued their staff, and instead show them they were valued with a $5 an hour raise.
A number of district staff and parents also spoke in support of the $5 SEA increase during the public comment portion of the meeting, including Martha Siravo, co-founder of Madtown Mommas and Disability Advocates. , a group of mothers who requested additional support for their students with special needs and were tired of the pushback they experienced from the school district.
“(SEAs) are the ones who have a direct effect on so many of our students and yet we don’t hear their voices in enough places. The things you decide to fund show our students, our teachers and our community what you value,” she told the board and administration.
District officials have repeatedly pointed to the 0% increase in revenue limits in the state’s biennial budget as one of the main reasons they are unable to hire more staff to support students with special needs or pay higher salaries to current staff.
“Our state gave us a very regressive budget, but we are working and this council is working very hard. I support them and I’m happy to be here with them to make sure we see our way forward,” Jenkins said again during Monday’s meeting.
Legislative Republicans have repeatedly defended the lack of an increase, noting that schools will receive $2.3 billion in federal COVID aid, known as the Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Fund, or Fund. ESSER. But school officials note that using ESSER dollars for day-to-day expenses, such as hiring more staff or raising salaries, could create a budget cliff in school districts once the one-time money, intended to mitigate pandemic-related learning loss, will run out. Madison is planning about $66.7 million in total in ESSER funds.
Monday’s vote came a month after the board approved a 3% base salary increase for all staff for the upcoming school year, two-thirds of what was requested by MTI for teachers at the start of negotiations.