February 26, 2023

Let’s Talk ESP Blog: The Path Forward

Let’s Talk ESP Blog: The Path Forward Featured Image

Gail Kablau
Education Support Professional
WEAC ESP-at-Large Board Director

I read an article recently about what it means to be on the right path, and it gave me pause to stop and think about my own path. My life’s journey has been a long and winding path, filled with all the ups and downs of normal life, with some trauma mixed in here and there, both personal and professional. There were times when I thought I couldn’t take another step, and indeed did have to stop and rest a bit. But time marches on, and my drive to always want to do better helped me to take the next step forward. 

It has felt a lot like that over the years in my Union advocacy work, as well. Every step we take on our path, determines the direction we go moving forward. This has been what drives me when advocating for Education Support Professionals (ESP) in my Local, throughout Wisconsin, and everywhere that we have an impact in public education. The hardest thing about setting down the right path is figuring out what the first step needs to be, and then actually taking that step. 

The last 12 years, especially, feels like we are all dealing with some version of post traumatic stress depending on when we entered into the profession. Think about it. First, we had a Wisconsin Governor with a Republican legislature, who, in 2011, took collective bargaining out from under us, literally overnight. This created a huge loss of ESP Locals unable to certify in the State losing members and bargaining power. That was further exacerbated by the expansion of the voucher/charter schools taking millions of dollars out of our public school funding, resulting in years of either frozen wages or low increases that did not keep up with inflation. 

Then we spent four years from 2017-2021 with a U.S President who divided our country in so many ways, politicizing everything with extreme polarization of the parties. This had a tremendously negative effect on public education nation-wide. Wisconsin, having a right wing legislature at the time, used that to gain further momentum against building public education with continued lack of funding.

And then the final straw, COVID, which sent all of public education reeling. The division of the public about masks, virtual schooling, and the health and well-being of staff and students was polarizing, and frightening. And, while we were at our most vulnerable, our Republican legislature chose not to fund education by voting for ZERO dollars per pupil for two years, in addition to the continued expansion of voucher/charter schools. We lost more members leaving the profession because Districts could either not keep us safe, pay us what we are worth, figure out how to help with our stress levels, or all of the above. 

We are traumatized. We are hurting. We need time to heal, but time stops for no one, so how do we do that? I certainly don’t have all of the answers, but I know one thing. It is important that we take that first step together. It might be different District to District, but we must find the strength to do it, and we can only do that if we work together. 

Our path forward as ESP in Wisconsin is uphill, but it is not insurmountable. WEAC has come out with a statement about organizing goals specific to ESP. All of us can take that first step forward by taking advantage of any or all of the efforts in meeting these organizing goals. It may be within your own Local, connecting with other Locals within your own District, or meeting with other Wisconsin Locals who have found their way and want to give back by helping others do that same. 

  • Are you a single member or one of only a few members in a local? Start having a series of conversations with just 3 people to start building membership in your Local. Need help with how to start those conversations? Contact me – let’s talk about how to take that first step.
  • Are you in a Local with no identified leaders? Contact me – let’s talk about the path you can take to reorganize with leadership training. 
  • Are you a Local who is not certified and unable to bargain wages with your District? Contact me – let’s talk about which path is the right one to get you there. 

Whatever your circumstances are, you are not traveling alone on this path. We must walk together to strengthen our Locals, which will in turn strengthen our State Union, so we can continue to make public education better for all of us. I know it’s hard to get started, but we can take that first step together. Let’s Talk! 

Gail Kablau is the WEAC Education Support Professional (ESP)-at-Large Board RepresentativeContact her at: gdkablau@gmail.com.