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School secretaries feel the squeeze
by Cara Metz | November 24, 2011 New York Teacher issue
Filing a workload dispute form
The first step in resolving a workload dispute is to discuss it with your school’s chapter leader, who can sit down with the secretarial staff to see if there is a mutually agreeable way to share the work.
If that doesn’t resolve the problem, the next step is to file a workload dispute. The workload dispute form can be found online here.
The form goes to both the school’s chapter leader and to Mona Gonzalez, the functional chapter leader. Gonzalez can assist anyone with questions about the form; you can reach her by phone at 1-212-701-9429, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The chapter leader will first try to resolve the problem in a meeting with the principal. If that fails, the claim will move on to the superintendent. If there is no resolution at that stage and the union determines it should be appealed, it will go to the chancellor.
Possible resolutions could include hiring an additional secretary or redistributing the work more fairly.
“Oftentimes, when the complaint is investigated, there are resolutions made by the principal or the superintendent,” said Diane Mazzola, a special representative in the UFT grievance department. “We encourage people to use this process.”
— Cara Metz
School secretaries throughout the city are feeling overworked and under pressure as their ranks have thinned as secretaries leave and retire and are not replaced, according to UFT representatives.
The number of school secretaries has dropped nearly 15 percent between October 2008, when there were 3,537, and this October, when there were only 3,047. This decline has occurred even as the number of public schools has grown, from 1,408 in 2008 to more than 1,600 schools today, an increase of 14 percent.
“As budgets are cut so badly, there are some situations where when secretaries retire, they are not being replaced,” said Patricia Riccardella, a school secretary at IS 27 on Staten Island.
While it’s not the case at her school, Riccardella said, she frequently hears about secretaries doing the work of two or more people when she meets with other secretaries.
In other schools, there are no or not enough secretaries so the work might be given improperly to out-of-license workers who have not passed the necessary test, don’t have the required college-level education classes, and have not received training in what is confidential information and in the general administration necessary to keep a school running smoothly.
But there is a remedy for these egregious situations.
In 2008, the union won an arbitration regarding out-of-license work, based on evidence gathered from 1,497 schools, said Michelle Daniels, the UFT special representative who argued that citywide grievance before the arbitrator. The Department of Education was ordered to “cease and desist” from assigning the duties of secretaries to unlicensed personnel.
“We can’t fix a problem that we don’t know about, so if there is a problem, notify your chapter leader,” Daniels advised. “If it can’t be informally resolved, then file a grievance.”
Secretaries are sometimes reluctant to file grievances, however, since they have to work so closely with their principals.
Mona Gonzalez, the chair of the UFT’s School Secretary Chapter, said it was important for secretaries to assert their rights — and know that the union will support them.
“School secretaries are the backbone of the school system,” Gonzalez said. “We want to keep them doing the work they’re trained to do.”
In the case of too much work, Gonzalez advises that school secretaries should first consult with the chapter leader to see if an informal resolution can be reached among the secretarial staff. If that doesn’t solve the problem, she said, secretaries can avail themselves of the union’s workload dispute process. [See sidebar.]
“These are important issues and I encourage people to stand up for themselves, whether they are overwhelmed by excessive work or are in a school where secretarial work is being performed by out-of-license personnel,” Gonzalez said.