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For Some ESPs, TLCC Access is Overdue

It’s early in the New Year and the holidays are behind me, but I’m feeling like a kid anticipating Santa’s arrival, delivering a much-desired gift. The Santa in this case is the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) and the gift is the opportunity to finally take part in the Teaching and Learning Conditions in Colorado (TLCC) survey. I’ve been an educator for as long as the survey has been around, but I’ve never been able to take it because the voice of education support professionals (ESPs) has been excluded – until now.

Turn back the clock to two years ago, the last time the survey was conducted. My paraeducator colleagues and I would hear about the survey as it got under way. We would see our teacher colleagues and administrators receive survey access as Association Representatives made the rounds of our schools. We would ask to participate as we have valuable input to share about what the survey was measuring. And the answer was always the same: Sorry, but you aren’t allowed to take the survey. It was disappointing. It was disheartening. And it needed to change.

Enter the CEA ESP Advisory Council, composed of ESP leaders from around the state. We decided to take action and wrote a proposed New Business Item, which received support. The work for impactful change was under way. CEA staff began drafting a proposed bill and securing sponsors for the legislation. Finally, the power of our voices was heard loud and clear during this past legislative session. ESPs from the Front Range to Durango testified before the House and Senate Education Committees, along with CEA President Amie Baca-Oehlert. Lawmakers heard our stories and responded by passing the legislation. It was an
empowering win for ESPs, who often have to fight hard for the respect we deserve in many different instances.

ESPs further got to use their voice by participating in read aloud sessions with the consulting firm working with the Colorado Department of Education to develop the ESP specific survey questions. More than 100 CEA ESP members took time out of their busy lives to pilot the survey. And now, thousands of ESPs finally get a chance to elevate our voices in research and policy, and to be full participants in school and district
improvement statewide!

Our professional insight and input will help schools, districts, and state policymakers to better understand ESP working conditions, job satisfaction, and retention challenges. This is critical now more than ever as we know a majority of educators are seriously considering leaving the profession.

As I delivered the survey information and access codes to my paraeducator colleagues, telling them that we were being included for the first time, reactions were emphatic.

“Rightfully so!”

“It’s about time!”

When we use our voice, we accomplish great things! How will you use your voice this year? Make a plan now!

Jennifer Latham is a paraeducator and member of the Durango ESPA and the CEA Education Support Professional At-Large Director.

Durango Shows Love for its ESPs

The warmth that education support professionals (ESPs) in Durango felt on Nov. 17 went beyond the unseasonably warm day — they felt the warmth from the love expressed by their union and their school district on National ESP Day.

The day honors and recognizes the contributions that ESPs make to public education. It is a time to strengthen support and show respect for ESPs, who are equal and essential partners in public education.

From messages of thanks to gifts of appreciation from the Durango Education Support Professionals Association (DESPA) for its members in every school and building throughout the district, the day was nonstop gratitude for those who keep schools running and safe. The celebration concluded with a virtual happy hour where members connected with colleagues and won gift cards and “Educate” t-shirts — and discussed their plan to win increases in pay and demand the state legislature to repay its $9.3 billion debt to public education.

Leaders in DESPA’s sister association, the Durango Education Association, said, “We love our ESPs!! Thank you all for everything you do for our students to feel loved, safe, and supported. We hope you know how valued and appreciated you are, today and every day!”

The Durango School District joined in the recognition with gift baskets and thanks as well.

“We appreciate you more than you will ever know. Your warmth and care for our children, your dedication to our district, and your tremendous expertise and commitment are appreciated and admired,” said Dr. Karen Cheser, superintendent of the Durango 9-R School District.

In addition, the Durango 9-R Board of Education expressed its appreciation for Durango ESPs, saying, “Gratitude hardly seems sufficient when trying to express our thanks for the important work that Education Support Professionals do. You have an immeasurable impact on the staff, students and families in 9-R. Thank you for your dedication to children and education–we are so grateful for all that you do.”

The History of National ESP Day

In 1987, the NEA Representative Assembly called for the creation of a special way to honor the contributions of public school support staff. National Education Support Personnel Day was established and celebrated that year. Since then, it has been observed on Wednesdays during American Education Week.

NEA’s National Council of Education Support Professionals (NCESP) successfully campaigned at the 2002 Representative Assembly to change ESPs’ formal name from “Education Support Personnel” to “Education Support Professionals”.

The name change reflects a growing pride in the essential role ESPs play in creating great public schools for every American student. From instructional assistants and paraeducators to office workers, health and student services employees, and food service workers, from custodians, maintenance workers and bus drivers to security guards, technology specialists, and skilled trade workers, today’s support professionals provide invaluable services that enable students to learn in positive, supportive environments.

Jennifer Latham is a paraeducator and member of the Durango ESPA and the CEA Education Support Professional At-Large Director.

ESP Bargaining Wins in 2021

When we fight, we win!! And that is just what Education Support Professionals (ESPs) from around Colorado did at the bargaining table this year! From substantial increases in hourly pay rates to adding security guards and preschool staff to bargaining units, ESPs flexed their collective muscle to achieve these gains.

Boulder Valley Paraeducators Association negotiated a $15 minimum hourly rate, a 16.9% increase over the previous minimum, along with additional safety protocols and a district commitment to begin hiring resource paraeducators for the first time in 10 years.

ESPs in Westminster continue to be paid the highest in the state, with a 2-year financial settlement that grants steps plus 3% each year, meaning that bus drivers and special needs paraeducators will top out at over $33 an hour. ESP and certified staff benefit from the wall-to-wall structure of the Westminster Education Association.

Pueblo County Education Association, a wall-to-wall local that includes ESPs, completely restructured their ESP salary schedule. “All ESP received a very good increase and are getting paid extra for their educational hours and degrees,” said Donna Raught, Spanish Peaks UniServ director. Their new base pay is based on the positions they hold and allows them to move on the schedule with steps and longevity.

Pueblo Education Support Professionals Association, the Pueblo School District 60 local that represents clerical and early childhood educators, was able to bargain security guards into their Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). All employees are getting a 5.2% increase this year and a 4.8% increase for the 2022-2023 school year. There are 14 security guards and 13 have already joined PESPA.

The Association of Custodial and Maintenance Employees – Pueblo D60 bargained a step equal to 2.75% and a 3% COLA for a 5.75% increase for 2021-2022; and for 2022-2023 they will be getting a step and the equivalent of a 4.8% increase.

Pueblo Paraprofessional Education Association also bargained a step equal to 2.5% and a 3% COLA for the 2021-2022 school year.

The Trinidad Education Association that represents ESP staff are still in negotiation with the district, but they have agreed on compensation, Raught reports. The ESP are getting a new schedule that has a great base pay for each category of employee along with a step increase, Raught said. Their increases range from $700 on up to $5000, depending on the position. They also are getting longevity bonuses for years of service. ESPs were able to fight to keep their agreement and union when the board of education challenged the agreement. The employees organized and had support from the community and other labor unions to keep their agreements.

The Jeffco Education Support Professionals Association (JESPA) welcomed a new school year with no employee making less than $15/hour, preschool workers enjoying union protection under the Collective Bargaining Agreement, and increased access to information about their rights as workers.

JESPA won a $15 minimum wage for all bargaining unit employees, an increase of $2.50/hour for the starting wage for the lowest paid workers (parapros, food service), with all other job categories increasing all cells by $0.75/hour. Combined with winning two steps, the lowest paid JESPA workers will see $3.70 more per hour, which is a 30% increase to their hourly wages.

The new Preschool Article for the JESPA CBA includes contract language related to classroom supplies, professional development specific to preschool, pay for required PD, better communication to all ESP job titles from the Early Learning Office, and a collaborative committee made up of preschool teachers from JESPA and JCEA with administration. The agreement includes compensation of a new schedule starting at $15 per hour, 2 step increases and COLA of $0.75 per hour.

ESPs in the East Grand County Education Association won a 16% pay increase for ESPs, with increases ranging from $2.20/hour to as much as $4.85/hour. The lowest minimum hourly rate is now $15.60/hour.

As we begin a new school year, ESPs continue to power up and forge ahead at the bargaining table and beyond, supporting students, staff, schools and public education!

Jennifer Latham is a paraeducator and member of the Durango ESPA and the CEA.

JeffCo “Wonder Woman”: Fierce Advocate For Students

Jennifer Muñoz is a real life Wonder Woman. She is a secretary at the Title I office for Jeffco Public Schools, recently celebrating her 8th anniversary. She is a student pursuing a degree in social work. She is a single mom raising a daughter. She is 2nd Vice President of the Jefferson County Association of Education Office Professionals. And, she is a fierce advocate for students and public education.

Her round-the-clock work in all of these roles led to Muñoz receiving the 2021 CEA Education Support Professional (ESP) Award, as well as the Robert H. Johnson Jr. Memorial Scholarship. She hopes to be the voice of ESPs and empower others to stand up and be strong leaders. “The union isn’t 1 or 2 people, it’s everyone,” she said. “We stand stronger together and fight better together.”

A proud member of the Jeffco Education Support Professionals Association (JESPA), she has stood alongside her colleagues in Jefferson County — in full Wonder Woman costume — to share her message at a rally last fall about the importance of a safe reopening of schools amid the COVID pandemic.

“Since the day Jennifer got involved in the Union, she has been a shining example of the value of solidarity, guided by strong values for justice and fairness. It is because of leaders like Jennifer that our Union is strong. Jennifer, in her many roles, is truly leading the fight for the schools our students deserve,” said Amie Baca-Oehlert, CEA President.

Throughout the pandemic, Muñoz has attended legislative roundtables and other rallies to share her story and advocate for students, colleagues and public education.

Recognizing the need for reliable internet access for Jefferson County students during remote learning — a need that was not being met by her district — Muñoz connected with Coloradans for the Common Good and was an integral part of their efforts to free up stimulus money for broadband expansion and to push Comcast to open up remote learning centers in Jefferson County. Her efforts also led to a local tech firm donating 25 laptops to students in need.

“Time and time again, I have seen Jennifer take on directors to challenge them to do the right thing for students and has not let intimidation stop her from organizing to improve the school district,” said Brock Grosso, an organizer with Coloradans for the Common Good (CCG).

Muñoz was among those who spoke at the virtual bill signing with Gov. Jared Polis in December that granted $20 million to improve internet infrastructure for Colorado students and educators.

When Jeffco announced a large cut of food service sights for remote students just two weeks before Christmas, Muñoz again jumped to action. “When is it ever a good idea to take a meal away from a kid?” she said. JESPA rallied and the district responded by opening more sites for meal service and used bus drivers to deliver food.

Like many educators, one student had a tremendous impact on her early on in her career. This student’s dad’s girlfriend wouldn’t let her do laundry because she didn’t want the girl to use the detergent. She came to school with dirty clothes and “it just broke me.” She thought “Let’s just buy her some soap,” but was told that’s not allowed. “What do you mean we can’t do this? I thought we were here for kids.”

When she gets her degree in social work, she hopes to work with students at a Title I school, providing for their social and emotional needs.

“Jenn is an unapologetic advocate for students in Jeffco, but especially Title 1 students who need more support, not less from the public school system,” said JESPA President Lara Center.

It’s not always easy speaking up, but it’s something Muñoz knows is important.

“My voice shakes sometimes because yeah, I’m scared, but I know I’m doing the right thing.”

Jennifer Latham is a paraeducator and member of the Durango ESPA and the CEA Education Support Professional At-Large Director.

Education Support Professionals Loud and Proud!

The CEA Education Support Professionals (ESP) Advisory Council members are ready to kick off this year by elevating the voices, stories and important work of our association’s amazing ESPs!

ESPs go above and beyond cleaning and maintaining our schools, transporting students, monitoring their health, cooking hot nutritious meals for them, and educating and serving them in so many other ways, and we want EVERYONE to know!! We also want to ensure you know about the role of the ESP Advisory Council, which is two-fold: to advise the Board of Directors on issues of importance to our constituency, and to provide input on CEA’s legislative issues and/or agenda.

Be on the lookout for more frequent news and updates via email and social media on important ESP issues including webinars, conferences, regional town halls, and news. If you have items of interest to share or want to get in touch, please contact us at We can’t wait to hear from you!

Eddie Chacon

Eddie Jay Chacon was born and raised in the San Luis Valley and is a proud ESP who serves students as a Health and Attendance Clerk at Fort Logan Northgate 3-8 School in Sheridan School District 2. He co-sponsors the Pride Club, Stand Up For Courage, PBIS team, is the founder of the Secret Self Care Squad. He also coaches volleyball at Abraham Lincoln HS.

“Throughout my educational journey, ESPs played a major role. My hope is to give back to our youth what was given to me and more. I am honored to serve on the CEA ESP Advisory Council and I am committed to advocate for our ESP. I look forward to working with you all to identify ESP leaders within Colorado and to support the growth of your leadership toolkit.”

DéJoneé Iarussi

DéJoneé Iarussi has been working as an ESP for the last 8 years in the Boulder Valley School District. She was recently appointed as the Vice President of the Boulder Valley Paraeducator Association and is now serving on the CEA ESP Advisory Council.

“It is my dream that school districts across the nation recognize the amazing, hard, invaluable work that ESPs do every day for their school districts and the students they’ve had the honor of working with.”

Jennifer Latham

Jennifer Latham is a proud 9-year paraeducator in Durango, the chair of the CEA ESP Advisory Council and the ESP At-Large Director on the CEA Board of Directors. She is a past president and treasurer of the Durango ESPA, and is a member of NEA’s ESP Leadership Institute. She also serves on Durango’s Community Relations Commission and is a fierce advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion.

“Together, we can grow and strengthen CEA through our collective action, which includes engaging and empowering ESPs! I look forward to opportunities to raise our #ESPvoices and for us all to speak them loud and proud!”

JoAnn Owen

A resident of Firestone for 16 years, JoAnn started working as a school bus driver for St. Vrain Valley School District in 2007. In 2014, wanting a change, she became a special education assistant on a Sped Bus. She loves all of her kids on the bus and sees them as a real blessing. She has been the president of the St. Vrain Valley ESP Association since May 2018.

“Our goal is to work with the District to support and bring awareness to everything our ESPs do for our students. We are the Foundation which the school district is built on.”