Homeless Florida teaching assistant pleads to school board for livable wage

Florida

NEW SMYRNA BEACH, Fla. (WESH) — A teacher assistant living in poverty called out the Volusia County School Board in a meeting Tuesday.

Charles Peacock is a paraprofessional at New Smyrna Beach High School who’s begging the school district to address what he calls poverty wages for district employees.

Peacock said he mainly lives out of his car, crashes on couches, and has to take showers at friends’ houses.

“I dare you to look me in the eyes right here right now and tell me this is okay,” Peacock said.

He spent three minutes pleading to the school board to provide a living wage for the hundreds of paraprofessionals in the district who make $11 an hour.

“I look at my students each day and I can’t envision doing that to them. When I get outpourings of love for them, for what I do for them,” he said.

Peacock works full-time with special needs students in 9th through 12th grades, and he’d be heartbroken to leave them.

Peacock, who is divorced, says he has to work three other jobs to make ends meet and help support his children with nothing left over for the expenses associated with a home himself.

“And why? Simply because I make next to nothing doing a job that I love, but when does that love get outweighed by a need to survive?” he said in the meeting.

“This is about a much bigger situation than just myself,” Peacock said. “How many other paraprofessionals in this district are on the brink of the same thing?”

Elizabeth Albert is president of the union representing paraprofessionals, support staff, and teachers. She said the union is currently in salary negotiations with the school district and hopes board members really heard Peacock’s message.

“The people who do the work of educating children and supporting the education of children need to become the priority,” Albert said. “It’s heartbreaking to hear that.”

The district’s human resources director, Rachel Hazel, said the district is listening and that leaders are moved by employees like Peacock who are passionate about their careers but who can’t afford them. Hazel said increasing paraprofessional pay is high on the bargaining list.

“We are prepared to go back to the table next Tuesday and continue to try to come to a resolution that will help give them a living wage,” Hazel said.

“You have your teacher who is a manager, we are assistant managers. Buc-ee’s assistant managers make $23 an hour. Like I said, I make $11 after six years,” Peacock said.

Because of staffing shortages, some paraprofessionals say they are busier than ever. School officials admit many in the profession have left for higher-paying jobs.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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