Cherry Creek bus assistants organize to form union

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Cherry Creek Schools bus assistants advocating for a union stand in line to speak during public comment during the April 11 board of education meeting (Carina Julig/Sentinel Colorado).

GREENWOOD VILLAGE | Bus assistants in the Cherry Creek School District say that they love their job. But not their pay.

That was the sentiment voiced by a group of assistants at the district’s board of education meeting on April 11, where bus assistants asked the district to recognize their efforts to form a new union.

“We want a seat at the table to provide us the respect we deserve,” bus assistant Tina Brown said during public comment while asking the school board for recognition. 

Bus assistants are classified by Cherry Creek as paraprofessionals and work with bus drivers to maintain order on district school buses and provide support to students, particularly those who have disabilities or other special needs.

“We are the first and last individuals these students see day in and day out,” bus assistant Heather Music said during public comment.

According to the district’s hiring website, bus assistant responsibilities include responding to any medical or behavioral problems that take place on the bus, assisting students with mobility needs to enter and exit the bus and safely securing wheelchairs, cleaning up messes, communicating information about students to parents or teachers as needed and assisting the bus driver in the case of an evacuation or other emergency.

Bus assistants are paid a starting salary of $14.31 an hour and work six hours a day, according to information on the district’s website. At a minimum, assistants are required to have a high school diploma and pass a background check. An associate’s degree is preferred.

Bus drivers have similar qualifications. As of January, drivers could receive a starting wage of $19.50, and the district provides training to applicants who do not already have a commercial driver’s license.

Ellen Davidson, a mom to two special needs kids who started working as a bus assistant after having two special needs kids in the district said during public comment that her 24-year-old daughter now makes more working at McDonald’s than she does.

The Cherry Creek Education Association, Colorado Education Association and the union for Cherry Creek’s bus drivers have all voiced support for their efforts, with CCEA president Kasey Ellis and bus union president Doug Adolf both speaking on their behalf.

Ellis said that bus assistants are integral for the district’s special needs students.

“They are part of our educational team, and that’s how I see them,” she said. 

Adolf presented the board with 140 signatures in support from district bus drivers.

At the meeting, board president Kelly Bates said that the board had directed the district’s general counsel to create a written policy to certify a new labor group in Cherry Creek. Once the policy is submitted to the board, she said the bus assistants are invited to follow the procedures to seek certification.

Bates also said that the district will be conducting a market survey to evaluate pay for all the district’s paraprofessionals. At public comment during previous board meetings, paraprofessionals have voiced frustrations with their compensation. As of the current school year, pay rates for district paraprofessionals range from $12.87 an hour to $24.19 an hour.

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