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37,000 members to share $33M for SESIS work

New York Teacher

The Department of Education will begin to pay out $33 million in compensation this fall to more than 37,000 UFT members who had to put up with the headaches and frustration of logging data about students with disabilities into the Special Education Student Information System because of the DOE’s failure to address the digital tracking system’s flaws.

As part of the settlement of the arbitration case, SESIS users can also expect to find a more user-friendly data system this school year as the DOE continues its mandated upgrade of the system.

“The settlement shows how this union uses the grievance and arbitration system to defend UFT members’ contractual rights when they are violated,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew.

The payouts, which will range from $50 to more than $10,000, are the result of an agreement between the UFT and the DOE on how to divide up the lump-sum settlement of the second round of the SESIS arbitration. The payments, which are not pensionable, are based on categories of users determined by the number of hours of SESIS work completed according to the system’s own tracking of members’ time logged on to the system from Jan. 1, 2013 to June 30, 2016.

Vanessa Pressley, a psychologist with the Committee for Special Education in Brooklyn who testified at a SESIS arbitration hearing, welcomed the promised upgrades. “While I appreciate the money that will compensate us for the pain and suffering the SESIS system caused, the improvement of the system is an equally important quality-of-life issue,” she said.

Since its launch in 2011 during the Bloomberg administration, SESIS was plagued with breakdowns, redundancies and slowness caused by heavy traffic. A groundswell of user frustration and complaints of long work hours, often stretching into weekends and holidays, led to the first SESIS case that culminated in an arbitrator’s ruling in January 2013. That ruling cost the DOE more than $40 million in back pay for time spent on SESIS outside the regular workday. When the DOE dragged its feet in upgrading the system, the case landed back in arbitration two years later.

Kesha Hill, a speech teacher at PS 13 in East New York, Brooklyn, shared her experiences as a SESIS user. “The UFT really heard our stress and stepped up for us twice so I hope this time life will be better for all of us,” she said.

Some of the improvements SESIS users can look forward to as they head back to the classroom are:

• A voice dictation feature using the microphone on the Chromebook in the Chrome internet browser;

• Improved user options, such as the ability to drag a document into SESIS and to hover on a section of a student’s IEP and view recent changes and who made them; and

• Improved organization of student annual and triennial dates on user caseloads.

Additional SESIS updates to make it easier to enter Encounter Attendance will take effect in the winter, according to the DOE.

UFT members who use SESIS on a regular basis and do not have a Chromebook are advised to contact their supervisors.

Michael Cappiello, a social worker at J.M. Rapport HS for Career Development in District 75 in the Bronx, was one of more than a dozen SESIS users who shared their experiences with the DOE and city management groups working on improvements over the summer of 2016.

Noting that systems like SESIS need “perpetual maintenance,” Cappiello said he hoped the DOE “will continue to reach out to us and keep us engaged.”

UFT members who used SESIS during the period covered by the arbitration but have since retired will also receive payment in the fall. UFT members eligible for compensation who are on leaves of absence without pay will receive their payment when they return to active service.

UFT members who will be receiving compensation, and for whom the UFT has a non-DOE email address on file, got a notification email in July and will receive more detailed information regarding the exact amount prior to the payment.

“I’m grateful the UFT recognized the seriousness of our complaints,” said Pressley. “We provided the evidence, and the UFT took it from there.”