Starting Wages at Least $15/hr for All Employees
Investing in employees is key to filling staffing shortages
Six years ahead of Governor Wolf’s plan to reach $15.00 per hour wages by 2028, Reading School District approved new collective bargaining agreements in June with both Food Services and Reading Paraprofessionals Association (RESPA) that increased all current and starting rates to at least $15 per hour — more than double the state’s current minimum wage of $7.25.
“We believe investing in our people is an investment in our local economy,” Superintendent Jennifer Murray stated. “Many Reading School District employees live in Reading. Providing a livable wage for our hard-working employees is the first step to improving our local economy and fighting poverty in our community. In addition, providing a highly competitive professional growth plan and health insurance benefit is a long-term investment in helping our employees thrive. If we want to provide a quality education for students, we have to attract hard-working employees who care about our community and care about kids.”
Reading School District currently has more than 200 job openings for the two units covered by the new collective bargaining agreements. Increasing compensation and providing training and support are important staff recruitment and retention strategies in an effort to fill positions before the start of school in September. Interested applicants are encouraged to visit the hiring website: www.readingsd.org/jobs.
Food Service Employees
Serving more meals on a daily basis than any restaurant in town, the Reading School District Food Service team provides an essential service to our students and families.
The new collective bargaining agreement outlines salaries and benefits for all cafeteria personnel, including general workers, cashiers, cooks, and department heads. Employees work full-time during the school year and have opportunities for summer hours. Entry-level employees in food service will have a starting range of $15.00-16.25 per hour, and all current staff wages will increase by $1.50. The agreement also includes a retention bonus paid at or around the end of December 2022.
“This new agreement rewards our long-term employees with a tremendous raise,” said Diana Keller, RSD food service team member and president of Local 155. “and it provides an opportunity for us to compete in a tight labor market for new employees. Our team members, lift kids up, and with a daily smile, we want them to know we see them, and we care about their wellbeing.”
The new agreement coincides with a reorganization of the District’s Food Service Department, which was challenged by supply chain and staffing shortages last school year, generating complaints from parents and students. The District is committed to improvements in the coming year.
“We collected a lot of feedback from students last school year,” said Dr. Yamil Sanchez, Chief Administrative Officer for Reading School District. “A large survey of all students, K-12, is driving changes in meal planning, preparation and a remodel of the High School Cafeteria in the coming year. We want our students to know we heard their concerns, and we are making changes.”
Among the changes in the coming year, schools will return to fresh cooking of meals on site (instead of warming prepared foods), and entering into partnerships with two student-favorite vendors: Dominos Pizza and Subway, for special meal days.
The person leading the changes will be Katie Gioia DeVito, Reading's new Food Service Director. “I am super excited to be a part of the Reading School District Leadership team and to have an opportunity to rejuvenate the meal program to best serve our students,” DeVito said.
A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, with a bachelor's degree in Food Service Management, and an associate's degree in Baking and Pastry, DeVito is currently pursuing a master's degree at Wilkes University. She brings more than 20 years of experience in Food Service and worked in both ‘back of the house’ and 'front of the house' positions in retail, bakery, restaurant, special events, and hotel functions. Most recently, she has managed school food service programs at Norristown School District and New Hope Solebury School District. She is a tireless advocate for school meals as a member of the School Nutrition Association.
“What most excites me about Reading SD is the opportunity to make a difference for our students. I want to lead a student-focused department while offering quality menu items and customer service. I love the difference and impact we can make for students – many of whom depend on school meals to get them through the day,” DeVito added. “I hope our students will appreciate the improvements they see next year.”
Paraprofessionals Support Daily instruction
Working under the supervision of certificated classroom teachers, our paraprofessionals work in classrooms as teacher’s aides and provide 1:1 assistance for students. In addition, our bilingual Parent Outreach Assistants work in our schools to engage parents and families in the education of their children. Parents are a student’s first and most important teachers, and the partnership between families and schools is critical to student success.
The newly approved collective bargaining agreement between the Reading School District and RESPA will increase wages on average by 18.5% for the 2022-2023 school year, with the starting rate at $15.00 for all positions, and it outlines yearly raises of 5-7% for current staff of $2.50, $1.25, $1.00, per hour over the next four years.
Paraprofessional and Parent Outreach Assistants work full-time through the school year — making it an ideal position for parents with school-age children. There are also opportunities for summer hours. The collective bargaining agreement also increases paid time off, including sick days, personal days, and paid holidays.
“Our paraprofessionals are important members of our team,” said Dr. Murray. “We value the important role they serve with our children in the education process. Some may also aspire to become teachers, and we fully support their future development toward that goal.”
In addition to the salary and benefits package, the District will be developing a mentoring program within RESPA to support new hires and improve retention, especially for people who are new to education. Tuition reimbursement is also available as part of the District’s “Grow Your Own” teacher development initiative, which provides a career advancement pathway from paraprofessional into certified teaching positions. Paraprofessionals in the “Grow Your Own” program have portable paid time off, more tuition reimbursement available, and may remain on benefits while on leave to complete their student teaching practicum.
“The growth opportunity is something we have been striving for since a lot of the paras look to further their education and become teachers,” said Kim Jones, RHS paraprofessional and RESPA President. “Now, they can further their education and know they have an opportunity to stay within the district and have the benefits. The impact on students and families is what makes our role as a paraprofessional so special. We are the ones who work closely with the students and families daily.
Paraprofessionals and Parent Outreach Assistants will also be paid to participate in building-wide activities, like parent-teacher conferences and open houses, with a goal of developing stronger relationships with families and students.
Family and community members often ask how they can help the district with staffing shortages. The best way to help is to join the team at Reading School District. It takes a community to educate our children, and many talents are needed. “If you are looking to apply for a job as a paraprofessional,” Jones advises, “be patient, compassionate and caring. This job can be hard but very rewarding.”
Reading School District has positions open in many departments with a variety of skill and interest requirements. We invite community members who want to make a difference in the lives of students to apply today at www.readingsd.org/jobs.