Melinda Kile, during the public forum portion of the July 11 SSISD Board of Trustees meeting, provided school board members with a copy of a pay stub food service workers receive at Rowena Johnson Primary. Then, pointed out the gross pay at that rate is $15,483 a year, which comes out to $1,215 a month. After everything is taken out, that leaves $9,927 each year, or $827 a month for food service employees to live on. That’s all they have to pay for everything, including rent, utility bills, car or vehicle payments, gasoline and maintenance, vehicle insurance, food, medication or medical copays or deductibles, groceries, clothes and whatever other bills or else is needed to make ends meet.
With the current rate of inflation, Kile pointed out, that amounts to even less food service workers and custodians are able to buy with those their funds, or less to spend on medicine or apply toward utility bills and other living expenses. Kile asked the the board what they consider a livable wage, what would be enough to meet their needs. With $827, ends are not meeting, she said. With continually increasing prices and no raise in pay to help much less keep pace, there’s no visible light at the end of the tunnel for food services and other hourly workers such as custodial staff.
Kile said it is very frustrating, paying all of the bills that can be paid after receiving your paycheck and having no money left to live on the rest of the month, for gas to get to and from work or the grocery store.
The school employee asked the SSISD trustees if they could find ways to make that income of $827 work in today’s economy, challenged the board members to show her how to make stretch those dollars to include everything in today’s world.
“You consider food service a retirement job,” Kile said. “For most, it’s a living. I have years and years until I can retire.”
Contrary to what some may think, Kile pointed out, their job is not just putting food on a tray. There’s a lot more involved. They have to do inventory, make sure the food is prepare, training on the safe food preparation, making sure temperatures reach the required mark, record keeping, lots of paperwork, working the register and being fast at it, keeping up with kids allergies, heavy lifting of supplies, chemicals involved in cleaning, and those, Kile said are just some of the responsibilities of food service employees.
Kile said while she could pursue work elsewhere she likes working for the school district, but needs to be able to make a living too.
She extended thanks to the board for the $1,000 stipend everyone got this year, noting she is appreciative and grateful to receive it. However, that was a one time allocation, not a raise. There’s no guaranty they’ll see that again.
Kile asked the trustees to consider raising the pay rate for food service workers so that they receive the same pay the months they don’t work, so it balances out, where they can make enough money to do things they need to do. She said she will appreciate anything the board can do to help improve the pay so hourly employees can make ends meet, just a livable wage for now, much less have enough to put into a 401K or savings. What little the hourly workers have will be even less when they are retirement age, as only a percentage of income goes toward retirement, and they are already struggling to make ends meet.
“We work hard. We need it,” Kile said, and noted that it’s not just food service employees but, custodian workers could use the pay too.
SSISD Trustee Robert Cody asked what hours food service employees typically work. Kile and Bonnie Spencer, another food service employee at Rowena Johnson Primary attending the July 11, 2022, school board meeting, indicated they typically work from 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. SSISD Business Manager Sherry McGraw said food service employees typically work 7 1/2 hours at most, some only 5-6 hours each a day.
Spencer asked about the school insurance as well, if the district had looked at other options, may some that were better or since there are so many employees who are insured through the district health plan.
Superintendent Michael Lamb noted that SSISD has looked at and considered it carefully, and would be happy to sit down and visit with her about insurance at any time other than during the board meeting.
McGraw noted that the school district does have good insurance, and sought Spencer’s confirmation that she was referring to the cost to the district and employees themselves, not the coverage, that she was referring to.