The Warwick School District is facing a crisis in maintaining support staff in its schools, according to one member of the support staff who resigned her position last week.
Lori Rodgers, a student support assistant at the Warwick Middle School since 2013, officially resigned from her position effective Feb. 10. Her resignation, along with three other support staff, were approved at a special voting session of the Warwick School Board on Feb. 7.
Rodgers addressed the board at the Feb. 7 meeting, providing her reasons for the resignation and expressing the support staff needs in the district, including staff retention and recruitment.
“I’m here to try to help you understand the urgency of the need for change,” Rodgers said to the board.
Rodgers said the Middle School has been short staffed three support staff members for the entire school year, while two of those positions have been unfilled for two full years. She said after her resignation, there will now be three students support staff assistance for seven positions, less than 50% of needed staff.
“When I leave who will be there to support my students?” Rodgers asked. “Our support staff has already stretched so very thin.”
Rodgers originally addressed the school board at its Nov. 15 meeting, telling them at the time that the district was having significant problems retaining staff who had been employed for years in the local schools. She cited low wages for support staff compared to other local districts and a lack of opportunity for full-time hours and health benefits.
Rodgers also said in November that it was “disheartening” for many of the existing support staff to learn that some of the newly hired support staff were making as much or more as staff members who had been in the schools for years. She offered several questions for the board and administration to ponder, including whether input from current staff is used to make improvements, whether information from exit interviews from resigning staff is considered and whether a “complete overhaul” of support staff reimbursement would be examined.
She said she had additional meetings with HR and district office staff to discuss her continued concerns after the Nov. 15 board meeting, but she never received any response from any board member or member of the district’s administration.
“When I spoke to the board before, I was hoping for it to be a call to action,” Rodgers said. “I was hoping that you would have the sense of urgency of the situation. I was hoping someone, anyone would reach out to me to discuss my concerns and why I felt driven to speak at the public board meeting. Sadly, nothing happened.”
Rodgers said she became “disgruntled with the lack of prioritizing support staff and their needs” in the subsequent months, leading to her resignation in February. She said there is a “lack of understanding” by the district for the job support staff does every day in classrooms, and there is a reason Warwick is not attracting more people into support staff roles and why people are leaving those positions.
“Support staff truly love and care about each of our students,” Rodgers said. “We form incredible relationships that we can help the students meet their goals and be successful. We have been going above and beyond our job descriptions to meet student needs daily without any acknowledgment or appreciation from the district office.”
Rodgers said resigning from her position at Warwick “will leave a hole in my heart” for her students, but she said she “needed to find a home where I felt respected and appreciated,” taking a job in another district. She said she left because of “greater reimbursement” and for full-time hours and benefits.
She said with almost 10 years of experience in the classroom, she was making $15.63 an hour with her last pay bump while working part-time hours at 5.92 hours a day. She said working six hours would make her eligible for benefits, but the Warwick support staff are required to clock out early as to not trigger additional benefits.
Rodgers pointed to the pay of other districts, including Manheim Central School District paying a starting rate of $14.50 per hour plus offering full-time hours with benefits. She said Manheim Township School District pays a starting rate of $15.20 per hour, while Hempfield School District pays a starting salary of $16 per hour with part-time work providing benefits and a $750 signing bonus.
“I left for security of understanding that I had support when I needed it,” Rodgers said. “I left because I did not feel valued by my district…Please take this as a sign that Warwick needs to do better for their staff and their students. Take this as a sense of urgency. Do something to make things better now before they get any worse. The students need support. The students need help from you to get and keep the support that they need. Act now.”
Lititz resident Sarah Miller said she had also spoke at previous board meetings about ways to “stop the bleeding” of staff resigning from the district. Miller called Rodgers “courageous” for expressing her own concerns and was “absolutely disgusted and disappointed” when she saw her name on the agenda in the resignation section.
“Knowing the caliber of person this staff member is, I want to say publicly at Warwick School District, we are the losers,” Miller said. “We lost this one. You can say it’s for pay or better hours or benefits, but people who know both sides of the story know that it’s the culture and the nasty culture that Warwick School District breeds.”
Resignations and Hirings
Besides Rodgers resignation, the board also approved the resignation of three other support staff members. They included:
Brianna Griswold as a behavior support assistant at John Beck Elementary School, effective Jan. 23. Griswold was originally hired at the November school board meeting for 5.75 hours a day at the hourly rate of $17.45. She replaced Danielle Arpey who resigned.
Brittany Smith as a student support assistant at Kissel Hill Elementary School, effective Jan. 20. Smith was hired at the November school board meeting for 5.75 hours a day, two days a week at the hourly rate of $13.45, but she never officially accepted the position and the offer was rescinded.
Zoe Graham as a student support assistant at Lititz Elementary School, effective Feb. 13. Graham was hired at the November school board meeting for 5.75 hours a day at the hourly rate of $13.25, replacing Elizabeth Metzler who received a change of status.
According to the district’s website, open support staff positions are currently listed to be filled. The description says the positions work with special programs and “may involve supporting students in small groups or individual students to reinforce learning at the direction of the teacher, following student-specific plans, assisting with supervision of students on the playground or in lunch areas, etc.”
The part-time positions are listed as 5.75 hours a day, and a high school diploma or GED is required. Two years of higher education or an associate’s degree preferred but not required, and previous experience working with children preferred but not required.
The starting rate of $14.50 per hour is listed as the starting wage and “positions with toileting responsibilities will receive an additional $1.50 per hour.” However, several new hires were not listed at the $14.50 starting rate.
Two support staff were hired at the February board meeting. They included:
Lindsey Collett as a student support assistant at Warwick High School, 5.75 hours per day at the hourly rate of $14.20, effective pending receipt of the appropriate paperwork. Collett is replacing Samantha Buckwalter who resigned.
Melissa Delduca as a student support assistant at Lititz Elementary School, 6.25 hours a day, three days a week, at the hourly rate of $13.45, effective pending receipt of the appropriate paperwork. Delduca is replacing Stephanie Courchesne who resigned.