There’s a push at the statehouse to raise the pay for people who work in the state’s K-through-12 public schools and get paid by the hour, but the effort will likely fall short this year. Brad Hudson of the Iowa State Education Association says the hourly workers in Iowa schools should be paid a “living wage.”

“We think that includes a benefit package and a wage that allows somebody to take home enough money to put bread on the table and lights and heat,” Hudson says. “Right now we have a lot of (ISEA) members that go home and have nothing in their checks because it all goes for benefits.” So-called “paraeducators” must pay for health insurance and set aside money for their pensions on their own.

Leslie Dake is president of the group representing the “educational support professionals” in the Sioux City district. Dake, who is a secretary, says many “paraeducators” who work with students in the classrooms are underpaid. “There’s a sign in our local Burger King that says, ‘We now pay health insurance’ and with the minimum wage going up…that’s becoming quite a draw to not put up the hassle of these kids with the mental health problems, the unruly children or the teachers that are so demanding or the principals that are putting more and more on not only the secretaries but the classroom assistants,” Dake says.

The Sioux City district pays first-year classroom assistants $8.90 and hour. Dake says that’s just not enough to keep some of those hourly workers from leaving the schools. “We want the brightest and the best in the (class) rooms, but what are we going to pay them? Comparable to Burger King where I can go and drop fries and get my health insurance paid and then leave?” Dake says. “…A lot less hassle for almost the same pay.”

Hudson, the spokesman for the teachers’ union, says legislators should consider a law that would set higher pay standards for the hourly workers in Iowa schools. “We think schools have the revenues right now. It’s a case of priorities and we think it’s time for the state to say, ‘This is a priority,'” Hudson says. But Governor Chet Culver says in this “tight” budget year, it may not be possible to address this pay issue until 2009.

“I know what it’s like to have to rely on these talented associates in the classroom. I did it at Hoover High School and relied on them regularly to help me whether it had to do with class management or curriculum, helping — you know — address particular needs of individuals students. They’re right there with teachers on the front lines with teachers,” Culver says. “We need to make sure we pay them and appreciate the important work that they’re doing.”

Culver often mentions his former career as a teacher and coach at Des Moines Hoover High School, a post he left in 1998 when he ran for and was elected Iowa’s Secretary of State.