“I am so happy paras have gotten due process,” says Undrea Polite, a paraprofessional representative at PS 369K at State Street in District 75.
“Sometimes things are not the way they appear,” said Janet Velez, a para rep at PS 206 in Manhattan, referring to allegations made against paras. “This ensures our voices can be heard,”
The tentative DOE-UFT contract announced on Oct. 11 features important improvements for paraprofessionals, including job protections like due process rights similar to those of teachers.
Polite recalls when a para at her school was arrested for a matter unrelated to the DOE and was out of work for several months as the case was investigated. As a para rep, Polite fielded the panicked phone calls from the para about being suddenly off payroll and not eligible for unemployment insurance.
“It was just horrible,” Polite says.
She took up a collection to try to help. “It’s sad that we should have to do things like that for our members, but we’ve very lucky our members pull together to help each other.”
Under the proposed contract, paras no longer have to fear suspensions without pay for long periods while their cases are being investigated. Before a para who is arrested or under investigation can be suspended without pay, the Office of Personnel Investigations (OPI) must review the case.
If OPI determines the case falls into one of the categories of serious misconduct that can result in a teacher’s suspension without pay, the para can be removed from payroll for a maximum of two months while the case is investigated. If the case does not fall into one of these categories but the DOE still believes a suspension without pay is warranted, the DOE must go before an arbitrator and prove probable cause.
“Paras will no longer be yanked from a school and taken off payroll for months on end while an investigation drags on,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew.
The new contract, said Polite, would have spared the para at her school, who eventually was able to return to the job.
The chapter also won an increase in pay beyond the across-the-board raises in the contract. Paras with less than five years on the job will get a new $500 longevity and those with five or more years on the job will have $1,200 added to their existing five- and 15-year longevities.
“I’m pregnant, so before this contract I was already jumping up and down about paid parental leave,” said Katrina Long, a para at the Manhattan Alternative Learning Center. “Everything around me is going up — my rent, MetroCards. This is exactly what I needed to hear. The first pay increase will come a month after I give birth.”
The new contract also will change the procedures for summer school assignments for one-on-one paraprofessionals. If the student the para works with during the regular school year attends summer school, that para will be offered the opportunity to continue working with that student during summer school.
Paras will have the same ability as teachers to clear their personnel records. They will be entitled to remove letters from their file that are more than three years old if disciplinary charges do not follow.
Chapter Leader Shelvy Young-Abrams said the gains for paras in the proposed contract were especially sweet given that the chapter is celebrating its 50th anniversary this school year.
“I’m so glad to be able to look a member in the face and say the union has made us proud,” she said.