Carole Gauronskas: Amid much sadness, a bright note for ESPs

Carole Gauronskas, FEA Vice President Gauronskas became the first education staff professional elected as an officer of the FEA in 2018. She previously worked as an ESE paraprofessional in St. Augustine, and was elected president of the St. Johns Educational Support Professional Association in 2015.

Each December I reflect on my blessings over the past year. As we closed the calendar on 2020, I searched for good news among so much sadness. The angst and fear of educating during a pandemic. The loss of co-workers, friends and family because of a virus. Some legislators who have not supported all our educators, and who seem to have forgotten we are their neighbors. I saw such division amongst friends and family over politics, and I felt more loss than blessings. The negatives seemed to outweigh the positives, but then I looked deeper into what really happened to impact our lives on Election Day and I realized that for many in Florida, a helping hand was offered by our state’s voters. Goodness, fairness and dignity were on the ballot, and the collective “we” in Florida went to the polls and overwhelmingly voted for Amendment 2, to raise the minimum wage in Florida to $15 an hour by the year 2026. That wage is currently $8.65.

How life changing was that vote cast on Nov. 4? For the majority of education staff professionals, it was a life-altering vote that will help them enormously. The possibility of working not three jobs but maybe one or one and a half to be able to provide a roof over their head or food on the table or a field trip for their child or an unexpected doctor’s visit or car repair bill. For many education staff professionals, we are one emergency away from losing our apartment, our car, our ability to provide for our family. The passage of Amendment 2 begins the process of earning a livable wage in Florida. Whether you are in the tourism industry, education, fast food or food service, there is now a path to a livable wage. As educators, there is no way anyone can survive on a 10-month $9-, $10- or $11-an-hour job and support a family. The point is driven home by the fact that most of our education staff professionals work at least two jobs, if not three, to provide the basic necessities for their families. The passage of a $15 minimum wage, beginning with an increase on Sept. 30 to $10 an hour and continuing incrementally every Sept. 30 through 2026, means dignity for the work that our custodians, food service, paras, secretaries, clerks, aides, mechanics and other school-related employees do in our districts every day.

I’m not saying the times ahead won’t be difficult, because we know those legislators (our neighbors) will try everything they can to stall or roadblock what the voters have demanded (much like they did on Amendment 4 last year). But you, our members, will not back down — we won’t back down. We must be paid a dignified, liveable wage for the work we provide for our students. Our districts will cry poor, and we will remind them this is non-negotiable. The legislators will cry poor, and we will remind them this is non-negotiable. They will provide the money to increase the wages for every education staff professional in Florida, and they will do it this year.

To add to my blessings, thank you to each and every one of you for staying strong through the most challenging year in education. Your work allowed schools to reopen in the fall when there was no guidance from Tallahassee legislators or the commissioner of education. You knew what needed to happen and you made it work. Our students will survive this interruption of their education, and our public schools will survive because of you. In August we came back stronger, we came back smarter, and going forward into 2021 we will remain the backbone of public education while remaining vigilant in making sure that the voters’ wishes on Amendment 2 will not be thrown aside. The minimum wage will be life-changing for tens of thousands, and for that I am truly grateful.

Stay safe, be well.

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