Editor’s Letter: Owen Auston-Babcock

In April, the district posted a new position on its hiring website: Learning Support Interventionist. In December, I wrote a 3,000-word piece about the staff of the CHS Learning Center, who have worked for pay below what MIT’s living wage calculator — the most reliable calculation of this metric — says is a sufficient income to meet the costs of living in St. Louis County: roughly $35,300 (see data explanation below). The new Interventionist position is a direct result of the work I documented in December, tireless efforts by the Learning Center and its director, Carroll Lehnhoff-Bell, to raise the staff’s pay. The Learning Center staff’s current title is Learning Center Intern.

According to the job posting, which was posted externally, Interventionists would earn $21.27 an hour, which seems as though it would be above a living wage — if they were working full-time all year. However, the position is only paid during a 188-day work calendar, and given the 7-and-a-half-hour work day, they would only be paid $29,991 annually, $5,342 short of a living wage.
In December, Tony Arnold, the district’s assistant superintendent of human resources, called the concept of a living wage “subjective” because it varies by region and the size of the household. The number I’ve been referring to as the living wage for St. Louis County (the city proper has the exact same number) is for a single-person household without any children. When the number of adults and children in a household increases, the household’s living wage increases.

Ultimately, it’s a pattern of excuses — that the interns are earning a livable wage for 188 days; that they could work a summer job; that their pay matches those of similar job titles in similar districts — made by the Clayton School District; a disingenuous effort that keeps valuable members of its staff (who have worked for the district an average of 9 years) below a living wage.

It was Globe that helped me realize the importance of journalism to our democracy. It’s the small interactions with our government, such as those I’ve covered, that are the most obvious examples of how democracy manifests itself. These are the situations that affect us as citizens most directly, further underlining the important work that this staff, who I have been fortunate enough to work with, does. We are not high schoolers pretending to be journalists. We are high schoolers and we are journalists, and that is incredibly valuable.

Data explanation: Data from last year used in the December cover story was current at the time of publication, but has since changed. The living wage used during 2021 was a calculation using data from the prior year, and the change in expenses overall from 2020 to 2021 accounts for part of the reason that the living wage calculation in St. Louis County has increased by more than $5,000, in addition to other factors. The numbers from this year, the Living Wage Calculator’s founder, Dr. Amy Glasmeier, a professor of economic geography and regional planning at MIT, told me, will be significantly different from last year’s calculations in part because the calculator was updated to include new variables such as cell phone and broadband expenses, the cost of civic engagement and more accurate childcare costs. Glasmeier said her team also consulted with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to account for inflation.

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