Behind every teacher, there are instructional assistants, cafeteria workers, custodians, and other classified staff members working diligently to keep schools running smoothly. In a typical public school, non-teachers comprise almost half of the workforce. While teachers and certified staff are typically paid on salary, classified staff are generally paid hourly when school is in session.
The coronavirus crisis caused classified staff members to question how they would keep their finances in order if schools shut down. While having to save money to cover a short break is common, many employees in this position were anxious about this unprecedented situation.
I spoke with an instructional assistant with IPS who wishes to remain anonymous. When news hit that IPS schools were closing from March 13 to May 1, he was worried about going an extended amount of time without pay. At his school, the classified staff was encouraged to sign up for unemployment because the school could not guarantee they would be paid.
“As classified staff, I knew what I was getting into when I signed up for the job. That doesn’t make events like this pandemic predictable,” he said. “As support staff, I don’t have the reassurance that certified staff have. I don’t know for sure when my next paycheck will come because my contract stipulates that I’m an hourly employee. Anything beyond that is by the grace of IPS.”
Fortunately, IPS and other Indiana school districts announced support staff would continue to be paid for hours they were scheduled to work. He was relieved to know that he could count on his paycheck, but that brief time of uncertainty caused him to reflect on the way the classified staff is paid.
Now that most schools use a balanced calendar with shorter, seasonal breaks, it’s difficult for hourly staff members to find employment opportunities to supplement their income when schools are closed. There aren’t many jobs that will hire a person for two weeks, and even summer break may not be long enough for employers to justify training someone for a new job.
His second job of choice is rideshare and delivery services such as Uber, and Postmates. By becoming an independent contractor, he doesn’t have to go through a lengthy interview process or wait on potential employers to call him back.
“I need something that I can fall back on during breaks. In the case of my employment, I understand that when my job is no longer necessary, I could be released.”
He is grateful that IPS will pay him during this extended break. It allows him to stay safe during the pandemic rather than trying to find work.
“I was so relieved (to find out I would be paid)! It was nice to know I’d be able to keep up with my bills and expenses.”
As nonessential businesses across Indianapolis shut down, this time of uncertainty has caused financial strain for workers in various fields. In the education field, this served as a reminder to reflect upon how classified staff is paid for their work. I applaud IPS and other Indiana school districts for supporting classified staff. It’s nice to know these hardworking employees will have one less thing to worry about during this pandemic.