This year, we’ve had some exciting things happen. We celebrated our schools and the work of many outstanding paraprofessionals. We told state lawmakers in Albany about the issues facing our students and educators. We fought for our profession and our students.
While our jobs are not always easy, I want to thank you for providing the additional support so many of our students need to succeed.
As you have probably heard, the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld fair-share fees in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association with a 4-4 ruling on March 29. It’s a big win for working families, but our fight is far from over. The decision won’t stop our enemies. Other cases are already in the pipeline.
The appointment of the next Supreme Court justice will be key. Our message to the Republicans in the U.S. Senate is: Do your job and give Judge Merrick Garland, President Obama’s nominee, a fair hearing. In the event that the Republicans continue to refuse to hold a hearing, we must do everything in our power to ensure a Democrat wins the White House in November.
It is also important for us to realize that our hard work is at risk when our enemies speak ill of the great work with do in our classrooms and in our profession. It is crucial that we maintain our collective voice so that we let the world know that unionism is alive and well. We need to make sure every member understands what the UFT does for them in terms of salary, financial security, health benefits, advocacy and representation. If you have any questions at all about all the benefits of union membership, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We must keep the momentum going by remaining active and participating in union events. I strongly encourage you to join the Union Loud and Proud campaign to read more about why our union is valuable and all the gains we’ve made over the years.
I am also proud to announce that, with this issue, we have officially launched our email newsletter, and our own text messaging. To receive the latest updates for paraprofessionals, you can text “paras” to 30644. We will continue sending out a print version of our newsletter as well.
Your voice is vital to the success of our chapter and the UFT, so please keep in touch! Thank you for allowing me to serve as your chapter leader.
Paraprofessionals Chapter Leader
UFT stops automatic suspensions when paras are arrested
The UFT scored a victory in its union-initiated grievance that challenged the unfairness of automatic suspensions for paraprofessionals who have been arrested.
A new DOE policy issued on March 22 to resolve that grievance establishes several new protections for paraprofessionals, who have been arrested, whether on the job or on their own time. Paraprofessionals will now have a new review procedure to determine if a suspension without pay is warranted. They will also have a new process to expedite the time it takes to receive back pay and sick days when a suspended paraprofessional is exonerated.
“For many years, we have fought to improve the process for those few paras who have been arrested,” said Paraprofessionals Chapter Leader Shelvy Young-Abrams. “We have been working very hard with UFT President Michael Mulgrew and the union’s Grievance Department to find a way to help those members who get stuck trying to recover money owed to them when they are exonerated.”
Ellen Gallin-Procida, the director of the UFT grievance department, said the new policy represents a big step in terms of protecting paraprofessionals who are arrested. “This process should result in fewer suspensions and less time for paras who are exonerated to be made whole,” she said.
Going forward, the principal will give an arrested paraprofessional a letter telling him or her to report to the DOE’s Office of Personnel Investigations within two work days. That office will review the specific circumstances and determine if the para is to be suspended without pay.
Those paraprofessionals who are suspended without pay will have a faster process to seek redress if they are ultimately exonerated. If the para was suspended for five months or less and the charges are dismissed or withdrawn, a paraprofessional will have three days to bring the disposition of the charges and an affidavit form (which will soon be posted on the UFT website) to the DOE. The DOE will have 30 days to review the paperwork and decide whether disciplinary action “is necessary.” If not, the DOE will clear the para’s record and provide full back pay, minus any unemployment compensation or other income during the suspension. If there is any disagreement regarding the DOE’s compensation, the union has the right to take the matter to an expedited arbitration.
Paras who are exonerated after serving a suspension of more than five months will still have their cases reviewed by the DOE, but any unresolved issues regarding back pay would go through the regular grievance procedure.
In the past, paraprofessionals who were arrested and later exonerated had to file a grievance to get back pay and clear their records. The process could drag on for months.
Our Paraprofessional Festival and Awards Luncheon
We had a wonderful 35th annual Paraprofessional Festival and Awards Luncheon on March 12 at the New York Hilton Midtown. UFT President Michael Mulgrew joined us and together we honored 14 outstanding paraprofessionals. More than 1,000 of you enjoyed a great day of workshops, a health fair and a chance to network with fellow members.
Mulgrew acknowledged the important work that paraprofessionals do to help educate children and close the achievement gap. Hazel Dukes, the president of the NAACP State Conference, was our keynote speaker. Thank you for helping to make this year's awards luncheon a success! If you couldn’t make it this year, I hope to see you there next year.
Margaret Premus, JHS 226, Queens, who received the Humanitarian of the Year Award.
Daisy DeJesus, UFT social services coordinator for paraprofessionals, received the Maria Portalatin Award. The award is named for a founder of the UFT Paraprofessionals Chapter and a fierce unionist who died in 2014.
And to our other award-winning paraprofessionals:
- Bronx: Isilda Modeste, PS 86; Sandra Sanchez, PS 154.
- Brooklyn: Geraldine Collins, PS/IS 180; Maria Ojeda, PS/IS 155.
- Manhattan: Lisa Ferguson, PS 76; Luis Medina, New Design MS.
- Queens: Aurora Benitez, PS 110; Carmen Phung, PS 161.
- Staten Island: Scott Tuchband; IS 24; Jessenia Nieves, PS 20.
- District 75 (special education): Paula Thomas, P4, Queens; Helen Moseley Leak, P 993, Queens.
- High School: Danita Rose Durant, PS 10; Wafaa Armanious; Edward R. Murrow HS.
Paraprofessional showcases art in a big way
Look! It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a drawing of your favorite super hero!
Paraprofessional Jose Gonzalez of Teachers Preparatory School in Brooklyn uses his talents as a cartoonist to inspire his students and engage them in schoolwork. He also uses his drawing skills to provide entertainment for youngsters.
Gonzalez drew action figures, including one of Batman, for students who attended the UFT Middle School Division's Thanksgiving luncheon on Nov. 21. His poster for the UFT 5K Family Run/Walk is hanging in the main lobby at the union's Manhattan headquarters.
Gonzalez is just one of a growing number of paras who use the arts to enrich the lives of students. He has seen how art provides students with a creative outlet and a healthy way in which to express themselves. He also believes that art programs help build the confidence and enhance the self-esteem of many students.
Despite the benefits, he said, art programs seem to be dwindling. "I know that art is very poorly funded," said Gonzalez. "In my school, it is not uncommon for teachers to buy materials themselves."
That doesn’t stop him: Gonzalez encourages students, who aspire to be artists, to draw all the time as he did as a child. "When I was little, I wouldn't just watch cartoons," said Gonzalez. "I would watch them with a pen in my hand."
"A kid might not know that he has that ability until you put the pen in his hands," said Gonzalez.
He started working as a para in the NYC public schools in 1988. Even though he had no formal instruction in illustration, word quickly spread at his school about his skills. Teachers would ask him to assist with bulletin boards and school art projects.
Since then, Gonzalez has created drawings, action figures and graffiti-inspired name tags for students at his school, rallies and union events.
Gonzalez added that he hopes to see more educators use their talents to inspire students. "First, do it for yourself. The reflection of that passion will reach the kids and everyone else," he said.
Important reminders for paraprofessionals
Certification – To maintain your Level III state teaching assistant certificate, you must complete 75 hours of professional development every five years. This maintains the validity of your Level III teaching assistant certificate and allows you to continue to work. If you have any questions about certification, call your UFT borough office or see the page on certification for paraprofessionals on UFT.org »
Excessing – Our contract outlines important rules regarding the placement of excessed paraprofessionals. Excessing refers to the reduction of staff in a particular school when the number of available positions is smaller than the number of staff members. If you are excessed, you will be placed into a vacancy within your district, or if such vacancy is not available, then in a vacancy within the same borough. If a vacancy within your borough is not available, you will be assigned to a vacancy citywide. For more information on placement of excessed paraprofessionals, see Article 12, section D of the contract » (Please note: You must be logged into UFT.org view the contract.)
Workers’ Compensation – If you are injured or become sick on the job you should file for Workers’ Compensation. This is a form of insurance, paid for in advance by your employer, which entitles you to full medical coverage and part of your salary for job-related injuries and illnesses. You are entitled to Workers’ Compensation no matter whose fault your injury or illness is — so long as it was not caused by willful maliciousness and occurred on school property or in the normal course of performance of your work duties. For more information on Workers’ Compensation, see our Resources page on UFT.org »
UFT fighting for pension legislation
The Delegate Assembly on Feb. 3 passed a paraprofesional pension resolution to support state legislation mandating the enrollment of full-time paraprofessionals in the pension system when they are hired by the NYC Department of Education. In contrast to teachers, who are automatically enrolled in the Teachers’ Retirement System, paras are not. Since 1983, paraprofessionals have had the right to “opt in” to the retirement system and pay their portion through payroll deductions.
I strongly encourage you to check with the payroll office at your school to ensure you are enrolled in the retirement system. If you have not yet enrolled, you can get an application at your school, at your UFT borough office or by writing to: Teachers’ Retirement System, 55 Water St., New York, NY 10041.
Pension eligibility: You must have at least five years of credited service as a member of TRS. Please be aware that membership in TRS is permanent. Once you join, you can't stop contributing while you work for the Department of Education.
For more information about pensions for paraprofessionals, visit the UFT website.
Share your #UnionProud stories
We all have a story of what a difference the union has made in our lives. Now we have an amazing new online platform to share these stories far and wide. If you haven’t already done so, please take a moment to read our #UnionProud stories, subscribe to read new ones as they are added, and share your favorite stories on social media. Have your own story to tell? Please let us know by filling out our Union Loud and Proud testimonial form.
Save the dates!
Please mark your calendars for these important events:
Saturday, April 16: Join your colleagues at the UFT 3rd Annual 5K Family Fun Run/Walk from 8:30 a.m. to noon. The run is sponsored by the UFT Middle School Division. The starting point is in front of the Coney Island boardwalk. You have until Thursday, April 14 to register. The fee is $25 for adults, $15 for children, age 12 or younger. For more information and to register, see the event listing »
Saturday, May 7: The UFT's annual Spring Education Conference will be held from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the New York Hilton Midtown. We’re offering a morning panel, exciting workshops, innovative exhibits and a gala luncheon. Registration closes on Friday, April 15. For more information and to register, see the event listing »
Sign up for text messages
The UFT is now sending text messages to members’ mobile phones to get you information you need fast. This includes updates on weather emergencies, reminders about rallies and other union actions; and updates on vital news. We promise not to inundate you. We’ll still send most of our messages via email.
Sign up to receive UFT text messages by texting “paras” to 30644 from your mobile phone, or you can sign up online.