NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN)- On Tuesday night, the Metro Nashville Education Association, along with teachers and staff, stood outside of the Metro School District rallying for change inside schools.

Nearly 30 people stood, holding signs, chanting and encouraging those driving by to honk their horns in support of Metro staff.

“You have paraprofessionals who are being pulled in five, six different ways. We are not compensated adequately, there’s not enough PPE in the building, there’s not enough staffing in the building, and it’s beginning to become a deplorable situation,” said Honey Hereth, a paraprofessional at Tulip Grove Elementary.

Hereth stood with her 10-year-old son, as they held signs urging for change. Many of the signs read a need for better pay and safer schools, one sign reading, “Teachers are not okay.” Hereth told News 2, this school year has been difficult, stating she hasn’t received enough pay to provide for her child.

“Every day I face disappointment because I know that I’m taking my life in my hands to teach, to assist, to watch children, and Metro is not respecting the job I do,” explained Hereth.  

Many who stood outside expressed concerns over the school bus system, after several parents complained about their child not getting to school on time due to staffing shortages.

“Our children aren’t arriving at school until 9:30, and elementary school starts at 7:45 am. They’re missing all the time,” said Hereth. In late October, a large group of Metro Nashville bus drivers protested low pay and bad working conditions. They spoke about how they will not quit out of the love they have for their students.

“When buses are late they miss instruction in the morning. When buses are late in the afternoon picking them up, students are often waiting up to an hour or more to be picked up and taken home, and teachers are waiting with them after-school after contracted hours,” said Michele Sheriff, President of the Metro Nashville Education Association.

Hereth is also a member of the Service Employees International Union, and explained lately she has had several Union members come to her, wanting to find out when they may be eligible to quit. Staffing shortages already impacting several schools within the district, some say they have reached their breaking point.

“Teachers need help now, and so when we visit schools and teachers who have been in the classroom for a long time, look at you and say, I just don’t know if I can do this anymore. We need to do whatever we can to keep experienced teachers,” explained Sheriff.

When asked if she has ever thought about quitting, Hereth responded stating, “Yes ma’am. I called myself, I have it in email. I called over fall break to find out how much time I have in, so I can find out if it’s feasible for me to quit.”

News 2 reached out to the Metro School District for their response to the rally and received this statement:

“We understand and appreciate the concerns expressed by some of our staff. MNPS provided $1,000 bonuses to all staff at the start of the calendar year leveraging state and federal funds. We also, thanks to the support of Mayor Cooper and the Metro Council, invested nearly $69 million in employee compensation that covered higher pension and insurance costs and increased pay for teachers to be the best-paid educators in the state, while offering step increases to all eligible employees and a 2% COLA for support staff and are working on a support staff pay study to review compensation for non-certificated staff.

There have been shortages of bus drivers here at MNPS and at districts around the state and country continues to present a challenge in meeting the transportation needs of our students. District leadership continue to explore strategies for retaining and recruiting drivers to the team in addition to existing strategies such as recruiting through word of mouth, advertising on buses, signs, school marques, and through hiring fairs.

While we continue to seek out qualified applicants for our open driver positions, our transportation team is deploying all available strategies such as attendance bonuses to encourage staff to work full schedules, running A/B routes, combining routes, or having CDL trained staff in supervisory or other positions go out to serve the needs of students.”

Sean Braisted, Metro School District Spokesperson