St. Paul has Difficulty Keeping Paraeducators

empty classroomThe St. Paul Public Schools district, in St. Paul, Minnesota, is having difficulty recruiting and retaining paraeducators. This directly affects the students who are in Special Education and who need the assistance that comes from the teacher’s aids. This is not the only school district with this challenge.

A paraeducator, or paraprofessional, are the current names for what used to be called a teacher’s aid. Previous to that, in some schools across the nation, the position was staffed by mothers, who worked as volunteers. Sometimes, the job title is shortened to “paras”.

The paraeducators are the ones who help children who struggle to complete school assignments. Paras accompany students to physical education classes and model the actions that the students are asked to do.

Paras may be asked to do tasks that range from changing diapers, walking students to the nurse’s office for medication, or calming students who have become agitated. Paraeduators who work in Special Education classrooms do much more than sit in the back of the room and grade papers. They are a key resource and can provide stability for students who rely on it.

The St. Paul Public Schools district, in St. Paul, Minnesota, is having difficulty recruiting and retaining paraeducators. This problem is one that many other schools are facing. The result is that the students who need the assistance of a paraeducator may not be getting the help that they need.

One issue is that working with students who have severe special needs can be extremely intense. It is more stressful than some people will be willing, or able, to cope with. Melissa Schaller is a past president of Minnesota Administrators for Special Education (or MASE). She said:

The job is tough; it’s draining. It’s a position you take home with you at the end of the day.

Pay is another issue. In Minnesota, the average compensation for school staff who work fewer than 35 hours a week is about $15,000. Roughly 570 paraprofessionals start at $11.00 an hour. It is an hourly job.

This means that on weekends, federal holidays, “snow days”, Spring break, and Summer vacation, the paras are not able to make any money at all. Often, there is no guarantee that a para will be asked back to work the next school year. Many of these positions do not immediately include access to health insurance.

Another difficulty has to do with the No Child Left Behind Act. It requires paras who work with disadvantaged students to be “highly qualified” as of 2006. This means the para must have a two-year college degree, (or equivalent credits). Lacking that, the applicant must pass a ParaPro test. This reduces the number of potential people who could become the para that helps your child at school.

Image by Rico Marcelli on Flickr