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News from AFT Massachusetts and President Beth Kontos - February 2023

A Message from President Beth Kontos

Welcome to March, and happy Public Schools Week! I’ve loved seeing how schools across the state are celebrating the dedicated educators & staff who keep our students learning and growing.
The best way to honor the work educators do is by providing the resources we need, and thanks to our collective advocacy, state leaders continue to prioritize investments in public education. This week, Governor Maura Healey filed her proposed budget for the 2023-2024 fiscal year, which includes fully funding the Student Opportunity Act for the 3rd year of the law’s six-year implementation period. Highlights of the Governor’s budget proposal include:
  • a record $6.58 billion appropriation for Chapter 70 local school aid, a 9.8 percent increase over the current FY23 budget
  • $503 million for the Special Education Circuit Breaker
  • $243 million for charter school reimbursement
  • $28.67 million for homeless student transportation costs
  • Including the surtax investments, higher education would be in line for an increase of $371 million or 23 percent in the Healey budget
  • $39.7 million in local aid for public libraries, a 12 percent increase
We’re grateful to Governor Healey for this plan, which would result in significant new resources for our classrooms and libraries. However, record inflation is putting financial pressure on many school districts, and throughout the state budget process (which next moves to the House of Representatives), we will be pushing for additional funding to account for the increased costs of daily operations and expenses such as goods, services, heat, and electricity.
We’re also focused on talking to state leaders about our legislative priorities, which include:
  • The Thrive Act, which would replace the state’s failed approach to educational assessment and improvement, including the undemocratic state takeover system and the MCAS-based graduation requirement, with policies that will help all students to succeed and thrive. The Thrive Act would establish a modified graduation requirement based on coursework rather than high-stakes standardized testing, and implement a new ‘comprehensive support and improvement’ system designed to empower local communities to give students the tools and resources they need to succeed. Learn more here.
  • An Act committing to higher education the resources to insure a strong and healthy public higher education system - the "CHERISH Act" creates a framework for adequate public higher education funding levels, including expanded support for student services; ensures debt-free public higher education for all; improves wages and working conditions for faculty and staff, including benefits for adjunct faculty and part time staff; and invests in green and healthy public college and university buildings.
  • An Act to guarantee debt-free public higher education, which would establish a right to free public higher education for all students, and create a grant program to pay the equivalent of tuition and mandatory fees to an eligible student at any Massachusetts public college or university.
  • An Act uplifting families and securing the right to strike for certain public employees, which would restore to educators the right to strike, so that in the rare cases when obstinate school committees refuse to bargain, we can have the leverage we need to win fair contracts that benefit our students and communities.
  • Two bills to improve educator retirement benefits, including legislation that would allow educators who didn’t properly enroll in the TARP enhanced retirement option to opt in to the program, and legislation that would ensure greater economic security for retired educators by increasing the COLA base and protect retirees from rising healthcare costs. Learn more and contact your legislators to ask them to support the legislation:
I’m also thrilled to have joined the Massachusetts AFL-CIO’s Climate Jobs Board of Directors, where I’m working to pass legislation, An act relative to healthy and sustainable schools, (HD3802/SD2256) that would establish a statewide goal and plan to decarbonize public schools, public universities, and community colleges. The bill would mandate energy audits and dedicate a budget to financing energy efficiency upgrades and renewable energy systems in our schools and college campuses.
Beacon Hill was again a major focus this month as the new legislative session gets into gear, but I also found time to visit the Joseph Lee School in Boston with AFT Massachusetts Secretary-Treasurer Brant Duncan, BTU President Jessica Tang, and BTU Vice President Eric Berg as part of AFT’s Reading Opens the World campaign. We read to the first and second graders and distributed 200 books to the students, including copies of "Alma and How She Got Her Name.” I love the look on kids’ faces when they discover a new book.
I am constantly inspired by the incredible work being done by AFT Massachusetts members across the state, both in and out of the workplace. As always, I’m proud to be working alongside you to build a better world.

#AFTVoices: Rosalinda Midence, School Counselor at Madison Vocational Technical Park High School

As a union, when we fight for strong contracts, we’re not only fighting for better working conditions – we’re fighting for better schools for our students. In many ways, we still haven’t recovered from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on our schools and communities. Many Latino families at Madison Park and throughout the state were struggling with housing insecurity, job loss, no access to the internet for remote learning, and adjusting IEPs. Educators were left with the difficult task of supporting families with limited resources, all while trying to process our own experiences in the midst of a global pandemic.
I’m proud of the work our caucus is doing to create a space for Latino educators to come together. Affinity spaces and caucuses are a crucial part of union organizing because they allow us to identify and amplify the issues that are impacting our communities. The ability to relate to our students’ lived experience allows us to advocate for culturally-responsive solutions. When educators come together to build identity-based caucuses, we can ensure that our unions are prioritizing the fight for racial justice in our organizing. Read More.

#AFTVoices: Kathy Peluso, Para Educator at Chelmsford High School

“Paraprofessionals are a catch-all term for the various positions we fill in our schools. It’s important to retain paraprofessionals for the long term, but that’s not going to happen if they aren’t paid what they deserve or continue to be invisible within the larger educational community,” says Chelmsford Federation of Teachers leader Kathy Peluso. “When we launched our campaign, people were blown away at how little we were making. Such low pay leads to a revolving door, and with such overturn, kids are not receiving the support they need.”

When looking ahead, Kathy pauses. She mentions how empowered her and her team felt from this contract fight, but acknowledges the work is not over. “Moving forward, we still need to become a stronger union. We can do that by educating more para-educators about what our union is for, which includes providing resources for us to feel good about our jobs and to know that we are a vital part of the school system.” Read More.

2023 Paraprofessionals and School Related Personnel Conference

Now, more than ever, paraprofessionals are uniting together and making their voices heard. From winning historic wage increase campaigns, to demanding respect both in the school house and in the community, paraprofessionals and school related personnel (PSRPs) are on the precipice of changing the educational landscape that would improve all our lives. PSRPs are the connectors between educators, parents, students and the community, ensuring we all have what we need to thrive.  
Join AFT Massachusetts and the Boston Teachers Union at the annual conference for Paraprofessionals and School Related Personnel on April 1, 2023. This is where we will find our common ground, strategize the ways we can improve our communities, while demanding respect in the schools and a living wage.
Through the pandemic, budget cuts, and lack of appreciation, PSRPs have consistently shown up for others. At this conference, we are making sure that PSRPs show up for themselves. Join us and make your voice heard!
Follow the link to learn more:

AFT Massachusetts is hosting a retirement planning workshop and all members are welcome!

The financial professionals of Teacher Retirement Solutions (TRS) have partnered with AFT Massachusetts and specialize in providing independent financial guidance, strategies and solutions to educators, school employees, librarians and their families throughout New England. Join TRS’ John Gregorio, a Certified Financial Planner, on April 5, 2023 for a comprehensive workshop for prospective retirees. The Massachusetts' public employee retirement formula, Social Security and living in retirement will be among the topics discussed. Virtual workshops in May and June will be announced soon!
What: Retirement Planning Workshop for AFT Members
Who: Members of AFT Massachusetts
Where: AOH Peabody located at 58 Lowell Street in Peabody
When: April 5, 2023 from 6 to 8 pm

2023 Awards Dinner and Annual Convention

AFT Massachusetts members are Moving Forward Together at the 2023 AFT Massachusetts Convention
The past year has brought important changes to the educational landscape in Massachusetts, from the passage of the Fair Share Amendment to the election of a new Governor who is a strong supporter of public education. In this new era, AFT Massachusetts is working to deliver the schools and libraries our communities deserve, the services and staffing our students need, and the workplace protections AFT Mass members rely on.
On April 29, convention delegates from across the state will celebrate our victories, discuss the battles we face, and be inspired to act. We’ll welcome new members of our union, celebrate new caucuses, hear about important initiatives, and further develop our collective strength as educators and organizers. We’ll hear from speakers, including:
AFT Massachusetts President Beth Kontos & Secretary-Treasurer Brant Duncan
Massachusetts AFL-CIO President Steve Tolman
AFT Massachusetts leaders from across the state
We have multiple important campaigns ahead of us: fully implementing the Student Opportunity Act; ending the failed state takeover/receivership system; fully funding all of our public schools; winning living wages for paraprofessionals and school-related personnel; delivering affordable, high-quality public higher ed for all; providing fair and affordable public retiree benefits; and more. By moving forward together, we have the power to win these victories and build the schools, libraries, and communities we dream of.
Save the date, and join your fellow educators and AFT Massachusetts members in celebrating our success and organizing for our future!
#AFTMA #MovingForwardTogether23

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