The UFT and the Department of Education on Nov. 18 signed an agreement that addresses the challenging working conditions that speech teachers have faced when documenting their work with children with speech and language delays in the Special Education Student Information System.
Paving the way for New York City to receive Medicaid reimbursements from the federal government, the agreement provides a pathway for the DOE to bill Medicaid for speech therapy delivered by speech teachers with speech language pathology licenses.
Under the pact, these speech teachers will receive additional compensation and protection since their licenses will be attached to the Medicaid claims. The UFT had the leverage it needed to negotiate for increased pay because speech teachers’ use of their professional license for Medicaid billing had not been a requirement of their hiring.
The agreement also locks in additional time and provides greater access to technology for all speech teachers to complete their SESIS work.
“I hope this agreement puts an end to the SESIS nightmare,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew at a special chapter meeting on Nov. 14.
“In my 25 years as a chapter leader, this is the most important and historic agreement for our chapter,” Mindy Karten Bornemann told her members. “In addition to compensation, the agreement will correct most of our issues with Encounter Attendance (the DOE’s computerized attendance system) and issues related to materials, computers, time and space.”
SESIS was launched in 2011 during the Bloomberg administration to consolidate information about all students with disabilities in an online data system. Technical problems hobbled the system from the start. Critics have estimated that the city was leaving hundreds of millions of dollars a year on the table due to the DOE’s ongoing failure to apply for federal Medicaid reimbursements for all “medically necessary services” to students with disabilities provided by eligible related service providers. The multi-pronged agreement addresses the myriad complaints.
The DOE has committed to implementing a comprehensive upgrade of the SESIS system no later than Nov. 1, 2017. Its failure to meet that deadline would result in the DOE having to provide additional per session time for speech teachers.
Carmen Pina, a speech teacher at PS 315 in the Fordham section of the Bronx, declared the SESIS overhaul an “excellent achievement for all of us.”
The agreement also calls for the formation of a special labor management committee that will work to address nettlesome issues confronting speech teachers such as space, testing materials, the configuration of the 155 minutes per week allowed for SESIS work and standardizing re-evaluation forms and session notes.
Speech teachers and speech evaluators with speech language pathology licenses will receive a new $5,000 salary differential that will be part of their pensionable base salary. The additional compensation is in part for obtaining and maintaining this professional license, which is not required for them to be employed in the public schools. About a third of the speech teachers do not have this license and therefore will not receive the $5,000. The additional money is also in part for new responsibilities that these speech teachers with professional licenses will assume. Going forward, they will have a Medicaid identification number in order to write orders or referrals documenting medical necessity.
According to the agreement, all speech teachers will continue to have at least 155 minutes per week — during regular work hours — for SESIS work. On top of that, speech teachers will now receive per session time, based on their caseload, to complete their SESIS work. This per session work requires supervisor approval, but the agreement says it cannot be “unreasonably denied.”
Addressing complaints about the inadequacy of DOE computers, the agreement guarantees that all speech teachers will receive a laptop computer or tablet with internet access.
Speech teachers with the speech language pathology license will also now be reimbursed by the DOE for the triennial fee required for renewing their licenses, thanks to the agreement.
Lynn Chamberlin, a speech teacher at PS 513 in Washington Heights, declared it a tremendous settlement.
“The UFT did in five months what the DOE couldn’t do in five years,” she said.