For years, MNPS support staff have been the lowest paid public Metro employees. It is encouraging that Mayor Cooper has made school funding a priority in his budget again this year, and that some of the support staff pay issues are finally being addressed, but there is more work to do to ensure every essential worker who keeps Nashville running can actually live here.
Metro government has a living wage policy to ensure the minimum pay is enough to live in the city. More than 2,000 employees at MNPS earn less than MIT’s Living Wage calculation of $35,000 for a single person with no kids. Metro uses an hourly rate because their full-time employees are 12 months. In MNPS, the hourly rate does not accomplish the goal because MNPS employs people for 10-months, 11-months as well as 12-months. Employees work 7 or 7.5 hours a day and between 194 and 201 days a school year. The MIT calculation for hourly rate for living wages is $16.98 and $35,312. For a 10-month MNPS employee working 194 days at 7 hours per day, $16.78 translates to only $23,058/year, more than $10,000 less than the annual living wage for a single person with no kids in Nashville.
Last year, when teachers were the priority, Mayor Cooper proposed an investment of $50 million for teachers and $5.9 million for support staff. This year, when support staff are the priority, Mayor Cooper proposed almost equal amounts for teachers and support staff: $22.2 million for support staff and $21.9 million for teachers, plus paid family leave for everyone. The current proposal makes investments in paraprofessionals, food service workers, and bus drivers, but we have concerns about equity in how the raises are distributed, and a lot of positions are left out.
Additionally, there is a racial inequity in MNPS’s pay structure that needs to be addressed. Support staff represented by SEIU are 47% Black, 43% white, and 10% Hispanic, Asian, Native American or two or more races. MNPS teachers are approximately 70% white. We point this out not to divide teachers and support staff since we are united in the fight for better pay and benefits for everyone, but to highlight this systemic issue.
SEIU members are fighting for a living wage floor for all support staff, regardless of the number hours they are scheduled to work. That annual living for a single person with no kids is approximately $35,000. SEIU members support paid family leave, but see a MNPS living wage salary that would allow them not to work 2 or 3 jobs to pay rent and buy groceries as the priority. SEIU members urge the Metro Council to allocate more funding to address chronically low support staff pay and urge the School Board and Dr. Battle to implement a pay plan that equitably lifts every employee.