By Conor McCue

DENVER (CBS4) – They teach Denver’s children and even clean up after them, but many Denver Public Schools employees say they can hardly afford to live in the same city. Now, they are demanding a raise, and the district says it’s working to help them out.

This call for change comes from paraprofessionals, facility management workers and custodians, who currently make the minimum wage of $15.87 per hour. That includes Susanna Pasillas, a paraprofessional at Valdez Elementary School.

(credit: CBS)

“I love being with kids,” Pasillas said. “I love being with them, teaching them, helping them start their learning career.”

This school year, Pasillas left her career as a dental assistant to take a job within the district. While she finds the new position rewarding, the $15.87 per hour wage can make it hard to make ends meet.

“It’s hard to pay bills. It’s hard to pay rent,” Pasillas said. “Some of my colleagues have been trying to buy their own houses, and they can’t even do that.”

Pasillas is among the paraprofessionals, custodians, and more currently making minimum wage, regardless of how many years they’ve been with DPS. On Monday, many of them rallied outside Valdez Elementary to demand better from Colorado’s largest school district.

“I think we at the district would agree, so our superintendent and our school board have come up with a plan,” said Edwin Hudson, the district’s Chief Talent Officer.

The call for change comes as the district recently cut 76 budgeted central office positions in response to declining enrollment. Hudson said some of those salaries will now be redistributed to increase the pay minimum pay to $20 an hour. Right now, the district is still working out the details but hopes to create a three-year plan to raise the minimum wage to that figure, he said.

(credit: CBS)

“$20 an hour is what some companies are paying, and frankly, we know we have to match that if we want to remain competitive,” Hudson said. “We are invested and want to make sure we are competitive and are going to make some necessary steps to make sure we remain competitive.”

Pasillas is hopeful that change will come. If not, she worries about turnover that will ultimately hurt students.

“We’re having turnover very frequently in our schools, and it makes it difficult for them to learn,” she said.

Conor McCue