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News from AFT Massachusetts and President Beth Kontos - September 2023

A Message from Beth Kontos

Climate Corner - This month, I’m excited to introduce our monthly Climate Corner, highlighting ways that AFT Massachusetts is working to tackle climate change and build more environmentally resilient communities. Recently, the AFT Massachusetts Executive Board voted to participate in the Climate Resilient Schools Coalition, a diverse network of environmental and public health organizations, school districts, student groups, teachers, social justice groups and others working together to increase the safety and resilience of our schools by advocating for healthy and clean school infrastructure and comprehensive climate education.
Are you concerned about climate change, but not sure you know enough to teach it with confidence? Mass Audubon Education is offering a 3-part online class, beginning on Thursday, October 12, that will give you tools and strategies to teach about climate change in a hopeful and developmentally appropriate way. The series will explore the basics of climate change science, climate justice, and practical approaches for teaching the topic to elementary-aged children. Learn more and sign up here.
Advocating for Intellectual Freedom, School Building Reforms, Higher Education for All, and State House Workers - This month, the AFT Massachusetts Executive Board voted to support a resolution by the Massachusetts Library Staff Association in support of intellectual freedom and libraries, and opposing censorship and book banning. As librarians and educators, we stand for intellectual freedom, freedom of expression, diverse programming, and the right to read, learn and share ideas free from viewpoint-based censorship.
AFT Massachusetts leaders were also busy at the State House, testifying in support of bills that advance several of our union’s priorities. AFT Massachusetts Secretary-Treasurer Brant Duncan, Lawrence Teachers Union President Kim Barry, and Boston Teachers Union Political Director Johnny McInnis spoke to legislators at a hearing on school building reforms, calling for the passage of legislation that would support school districts with greater funding that keeps up with the rising cost of school building projects.
Brant Duncan, Grant O’Rielly, President of the UMass Faculty Federation at UMass Dartmouth, and Nick Gula, President of the AFTMA Maintainers at UMass Dartmouth, all testified in support of two bills that would transform our public higher education system for the better. And I spoke in support of State House workers who are seeking to form a union to negotiate livable wages and a seat at the table.
Scholarships for Future Teachers - Preparing the next generation of teachers is a priority for AFT Massachusetts. Applications are now available for Tomorrow’s Teachers, a state scholarship program that seeks to address the teacher shortage in Massachusetts and support individuals with up to $25,000 per year toward their college education. Statewide, a total of $7.5 million is available for candidates enrolled in undergraduate or post-baccalaureate coursework who intend to obtain their teaching license. Eligibility and application information is available here. The deadline is October 15, 2023.
AFT Massachusetts in the Field - I was proud to join paraprofessionals in the North Reading public schools for a rally on the Town Common, calling for a living wage after decades of working for low wages. We stand with the North Reading Federation of Paraprofessionals as they negotiate a new contract, and it was wonderful to see parents and students supporting them as well.
I also joined striking UAW autoworkers on the picket line in Mansfield to support their historic stand-up strike against the Big 3 automakers. The automakers have made record profits in recent years, and their CEOs have seen their compensation increase by 40%. Their workers deserve a record contract too.
I joined members of the carpenter's union to support their efforts to end wage theft. Wage theft and worker misclassification affect hundreds of thousands of workers across the Commonwealth. Year after year, over $1 billion in wages are stolen from workers by unscrupulous employers who have created a business model out of taking advantage of the most vulnerable workers among us. This is money stolen from families, communities, municipalities, and our Commonwealth.
Union Highlights -  Also this month, the Lynn Teachers Union received a $10K grant from AFT to facilitate skill-building workshops that will help educators alleviate stress and improve their well being. And AFT Amesbury received a $2,500 grant to increase civic engagement, action, and public awareness as part of their students’ civic action projects.
Finally, I’m very pleased to welcome two new members to the AFT Massachusetts Executive Board: Katy Sullivan of Chelmsford and Rose Bergeron of Lowell.
Katy Sullivan has been a member of the Social Sciences Department at Chelmsford High School since 1996, and an active union member and leader for just as long. Katy has served as a building rep, negotiating team member, and President of the Chelmsford Federation of Teachers, and takes her union work very seriously. Both her parents and her grandfather were union members - needless to say Katy’s belief in organized labor is genetic.
Rose Bergeron has been a paraprofessional in Lowell for 26 years and has served as the United Teachers of Lowell’s Paraprofessional Chapter Chair since July 2022, as well as serving as a building rep and member organizer. She regularly volunteers and recruits others to support all union events including rallies, back to school events, book fairs, phone banking, food drives, and food deliveries.
We look forward to Katy and Rose’s experience and leadership as they join the AFT Massachusetts Executive Board.

Thrive Act Legislative Hearing to Be Held on October 4 at State House

The Thrive Act, a major education bill and legislative priority of AFT Massachusetts, has been scheduled for hearing by the Joint Committee on Education on October 4, 2023, starting at 2 p.m. in Gardner Auditorium at the State House.
“The upcoming hearing will be a critical opportunity for educators, students, parents, and community members to impress upon legislators the harm caused by state takeovers and the high-stakes use of MCAS standardized tests, and to show there’s a better way forward—the Thrive Act,” says AFT Massachusetts President Beth Kontos. “We will be reaching out to local presidents to mobilize members and community allies for this event.”
“It continues to be all hands on deck,” says Kontos. “This is a special opportunity to put our imprint on education for years to come—to move from a deficit model of test and punish to an asset-based model of resources and support. And to a model that supports the whole child—all facets of learning and growth. We must seize the moment and work strenuously in partnership with our allies to make this bill a reality.” READ MORE.

AFT Leaders Testify in Support of School Building Reforms

“All of our students deserve world-class school facilities. Too many Massachusetts students can’t put their full focus on learning, because they’re in buildings with windows that don’t open, crumbling cement and bricks, and a lack of reliable temperature control,” said AFT Massachusetts Secretary-Treasurer Brant Duncan. “We need to rebuild and renovate our schools while prioritizing environmental sustainability and energy efficiency, so that students and educators can focus fully on learning and teaching.”
H.441/S.251, An Act modernizing school construction, filed by Rep. Dan Cahill and Sen. Brendan Crighton, would double the amount of sales tax revenue automatically earmarked for the MSBA, lift a cap on reimbursement, and update how the funding formula considers a project's impact on low-income schools. Many high-poverty school districts, which have the oldest buildings and the greatest need for building repair and replacement, lack the property tax base to afford school building projects without additional support from the state. READ MORE.

AFT Massachusetts Organizing with Higher Education For All Campaign

“With the passage of the Fair Share Amendment, Massachusetts has an opportunity to build a public higher education system that lives up to our values and prepares Massachusetts students to be active, engaged participants in their communities, the workforce, and our society,” said AFT Massachusetts President Beth Kontos. “Students today are struggling with the cost of college and a lack of adequate support services, while adjunct educators struggle with low pay and limited benefits. Our public college campuses have insufficient funding to address crumbling buildings, rising student needs, and staffing shortages. We’re pleased to support the Higher Ed for All campaign to reverse the budget cuts that have occurred over the past several decades, and begin rebuilding a truly public state college and university system.”
On Monday, September 18, AFT Massachusetts Secretary-Treasurer Brant Duncan, Grant O’Rielly, President of the UMass Faculty Federation at UMass Dartmouth, and Nick Gula, President of the AFTMA Maintainers at UMass Dartmouth, all testified before a hearing of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Higher Education in support of two bills that would transform our public higher education system for the better. The hearing was attended by dozens of energetic educators, students, and community members, and watched by supporters across the state, including at a UMass Dartmouth watch party. READ MORE.

North Reading Paraprofessionals Rally for Living Wage, Speak Out on Town Common

“Paras work hard to support the needs of North Reading students in the classroom every day, and we are members of this community. Some of us are your neighbors, some are your fellow parents, and some are graduates of North Reading schools. But for too long, our basic needs have been short-changed,” said Nancy Scioli, a Paraprofessional at the Little School and President of the North Reading Federation of Paraprofessionals. “As paraprofessionals, we should not have to work 2 or 3 jobs to pay our bills and feed our families, as two thirds of us do currently. We choose to work as Paraprofessionals because we love working with children, but we shouldn’t have to sacrifice so much to follow our desired career path. It’s time to stop under-valuing, under-paying and under-respecting the Paraprofessionals in the North Reading Public Schools!” READ MORE.

Weingarten launches new campaign: ‘Real Solutions for Kids and Communities’

The AFT has always been a solutions-driven union, and our new campaign, launched during TEACH on July 21, proves it once again with a fresh, practical approach to strengthening public education. As AFT President Randi Weingarten pointed out during her keynote speech, the $5 million, yearlong campaign, “Real Solutions for Kids and Communities,” stands up against attacks on public schools and offers real-world solutions to build up, rather than break down, our communities. READ MORE.

Student Debt Clinics for AFT Members

Questions about student debt? AFT is hosting virtual student debt clinics on October 3, 11, 19, 23 and 31 at 7 PM ET to help our members navigate their debt. Learn more about PSLF and how you can save with Summer.
➡️ Register:

Retirement Workshop for AFT Members

AFT Massachusetts is hosting a retirement planning workshop on October 18, 2023 at 6 pm via Zoom 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 October 18, 2023 via Zoom 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. An automated email with the details of the Zoom meeting will be sent to members that register.

Long-Term Care Discount Program

Long-Term Care Insurance [LTCi] is a vital part of financial planning as it is designed to protect your retirement income and your family’s lifestyle. LTCi pays for the expenses associated with needing care for an extended period of time at home or even a stay in a long-term care facility.
AFT Massachusetts is hosting an informational meeting on the attributes of LTCi and the discount available to AFT members on November 8, 2023 at 6 pm via Zoom and all members are welcome!  An automated email with the details of the Zoom meeting will be sent to members that register.

Upcoming Events

  • Student Debt Clinics - October 3, 11, 19, 23 and 31, 2023
  • Retirement Planning Workshop for AFT Members - October 18, 2023
  • Annual AFT Massachusetts Leadership Conference - November 4, 2023
  • Informational Meeting Highlighting the Long-Term Care Discount Program for AFT Members - November 8, 2023
  • Annual AFT Massachusetts Boston Teachers Union Paraprofessionals and School Related Personnel Conference - April 6, 2024
  • Annual AFT Massachusetts Awards Dinner - May 3, 2024
  • Annual AFT Massachusetts Convention - May 4, 2024

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