PORTLAND, Maine — Education technicians in Portland Public Schools spoke up at the board meeting this week, saying that low staffing is creating unsafe situations for staff and students.

“The (individualized education programs) we deal with and the students we deal with combined with the vacancies we have are putting our educators in danger and our students in danger,” said David Aguirre, who has been working with Portland’s special education students for 28 years.

In their second year without a contract, the education technicians are asking for more respect and higher pay amid a severe shortage of ed techs.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Aguirre said that just this Tuesday three ed techs were bitten, other students were unattended as people rushed to deal with that and students were attacked by other students because they didn’t have enough coverage.

“How much is student safety worth to you?” he asked the board.

Bobby Shaddox, another Portland educator and a parent, said he was at the board meeting to advocate for a livable and competitive wage for all Portland education technicians.

Ed tech salaries range from $15 to $26 an hour depending on education and experience.

“My students have spoken often of how ed techs have impacted their days, he said, making them feel valued and noticed,” Shaddox said, also noting that ed techs wear a lot of hats — such as getting students to school with the walking school bus and working with students in small groups — which makes them crucial to running the school district.

“Attracting and retaining the very best ed techs improves the experience for the most vulnerable students in our district,” he said. “The meager pay for ed techs is not enough to attract qualified people to these jobs.”

Like school districts across the state and the nation, Portland is facing a severe educator shortage in a variety of areas, but the most critical need for educators is in the district’s educational technician department. Around 30, or 10%, of the district’s education technician positions remain unfilled. The gap is most severely impacting the district’s special education program, which serves around 1,000 students out of a total enrollment of roughly 6,400 students, and may lead to four-day school weeks for some special education students.

The district has yet to announce what it plans to do to remedy the ed tech shortage, but the ed tech union said that the answer is for the district to show they value ed techs by paying them higher wages.

“I am not sure that many people truly understand the work that ed techs do. Often referred to as “teacher helper” this is beyond an understatement to the workload that these professionals take on each day,” Portland educational technicians union president Jen Cooper said. “From running small-group instruction, one-on-one mini lessons, to the vast majority of behavioral interventions used each day, ed techs are the glue that keep the schools running.”

Cooper continued that with starting pay for ed techs with the highest level of certifications at $17.67, it’s almost impossible to support a family, pay a mortgage or student loans or generally make ends meet and that many ed techs work two or three jobs.

“We can’t attract, and more importantly retain, the highly qualified staff in our district with these numbers,” she said. “For Portland to continue to draw the best and the brightest minds to serve their students a change needs to happen.”

Cooper said that the union hopes to reach a deal with the district soon.

Board Chair Emily Figdor said the ed tech contract was scheduled to be discussed in executive session this week. She said that the board understands the ed techs’ concerns about staffing shortages, safety and low pay, but also has budget constraints to contend with.

© 2022 Portland Press Herald
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

Read more stories like this one. Sign up for Disability Scoop's free email newsletter to get the latest developmental disability news sent straight to your inbox.