Underfunding nearly causes district wide paraeduacator strike

Ella Gage, Staff Writer

No school. A potential result of a strike that never actually happened. District-wide, school could have been closed. Some of the most underpaid staff in the district may have gone another year without the money adequate to live in the area they work.
The people at the center of the issue? Paraeducators.
“Paraprofessionals play many roles that truly benefit Liberty,” Liberty paraeducator Maria Paulino said. They work behind-the-scenes to help the school to function by working as online class instructors and TAs. They also work in the library, help with state testing, work in the textbook room, and help special needs students.
Issaquah School District paraeducators are also some of the lowest-paid employees in the entire district, while living in the exceptionally expensive Issaquah or Renton area. They have been underpaid to the point where they can’t afford to stay in their own homes.

“I cannot afford to live in this community on my wages and commute in from Fairwood. It is quite possible I will have to move to an even cheaper area to be able to afford my house payments,” Liberty paraprofessional Michelle Warlick said.
This is a very real and pressing problem for a large number of people working in the district. However, the district does something to compensate for it: they have yearly Cost of Living Adjustments (COLAs), which have been beneficial in the past.
But from 2018 to 2019 the district didn’t have the funds to pay the COLAs because the state of Washington hadn’t provided the education system with the funding necessary. This lead to the overwhelming decision of ISD paraprofessional staff to strike— how are they supposed to continue to work for Issaquah’s schools if they can’t even afford house payments in Issaquah’s periphery?
“If you live here in Issaquah or Renton area and your kid is making more money babysitting than you do working, you wouldn’t think twice before pursuing another job,” Paulino said.

All of this leads back to a much larger issue: the underfunding of schools in America. The Landmark McCleary court decision forced Washington State to give school districts large sums of money to fully fund education—funds which don’t come easily.
This was the larger cause of the near strike. Paraeducators stood up against the district, whose back was against a wall since they didn’t have the state funding, claiming the district didn’t honor contract previously negotiated.
“In my 12 years with the district I have only received one COLA raise, so I definitely think the strike would’ve been justified,” said Warlick.
In the end, there never was a strike, though 90 percent of paraprofessionals voted in support. The COLAs were negotiated and the funding was provided by the district. However, the larger issue of underfunding remains prevalent.