P.E.A. and District Come to Terms With Temporary Emergency Speech-Language Therapy Implementation
As reported in many local news reports and through information provided by the PEA Committee on Special Education OSE Committee and the Education Law Center (ELC), Paterson Public Schools continues to struggle with its ability to provide speech, occupational and behavioral therapy services which are due to many special education students. Although the district continues to implement its Corrective Action Plan and has regular meetings with the PEA COSE committee to address ongoing concerns, the PEA is gravely concerned that the factors that led to the systematic violations during previous school years have not been resolved in 2017-18.
Why Is the District Not Compliant:
In a document recently provided to the Paterson Press, several of the examples below were cited as examples of the District’s failure to properly provide speech services to our students:
1. Many prospective employees are accepting jobs in the private sector commanding anywhere between 95 and 125 dollars per hour.
2. The District attempted to pursue a private contracting company to provide these missing compensatory services. The District alleges that after they arrive at the school that they are assigned to work, they refuse to return.
3. There is a state-wide shortage of Speech-Language Therapists. The District alleges that 5 schools in New Jersey offer the Master’s Program; which is required, with a maximum of only 30 seats per year.
4. Many potential Speech Language Therapists that are qualified are not choosing Paterson.
5. The District alleges that Speech-Language Therapists will not work after-school to provide these emergency services stemming from an outdated hourly wage in the contract.
The Union’s Position:
Our students in Paterson deserve better. Make no mistake, the services not being provided to our students is not a reflection of our employees. Our employees work extremely hard and are constantly asked to do more with less. As a result, when a superintendent is hired permanently, h/she will be left with many of these same concerns. It is for this reason that the Union is pleased to step in and work collaboratively with Acting Superintendent Shafer to assure that our students receive all of the emergency speech related services that they are entitled.
Most importantly, the prospects of the District hiring yet another private contractor to provide services that should ordinarily be provided by our PEA employees only jeopardizes the standing of our Speech-Language Therapists’ job security. This is not acceptable, and as a result, and consequently, these are the reasons that I have agreed to a temporary sidebar agreement with Acting Superintendent Eileen Shafer:
1. Effective January 23, 2018, all in-house, Paterson PEA speech-language therapists shall temporarily be paid $75.00 per hour to provide compensatory services outside of the regular workday. This work outside of the regular workday and work year shall be voluntary (meaning employees are not mandated to apply for this posting.) This temporary sidebar agreement shall sunset on August 31, 2018. Effective September 1, 2018, all speech-language therapists shall be paid the hourly wage in accordance with the collective bargaining agreement.
2. I have placed a lot of thought into the sidebar agreement that was not fully honored at New Roberto Clemente and at Senator Frank Lautenberg/School 6 (SIG). Employees may recall the grievance that P.E.A. settled with the District providing money in each members pocket and the ability to work the program (but at a reduced rate) for the 17-18 school year. For those affected employees that were listed on the grievance, the P.E.A. was able to fight for one (1) additional family illness day. Thus, I am happy to report that as a result of P.E.A.’s actions, all employees that were part of the group grievance at PS 6 and NRC will receive one (1) additional family illness day added to their bank of days. This day will revert to a “Sick Day” if not used prior to June 30, 2018.
Moving forward, the Union hopes that the District recognizes the importance a competitive hourly wage for ALL employees. While the Union is currently engaged in contract negotiations, the Union calls upon the District to increase the hourly wage in negotiations to an acceptable number that is fair and equitable in comparison with other Districts in the area.
We hope that this temporary sidebar agreement helps the District finally place students first and opens the door for ALL of our employees to finally receive a fair and just contract that they deserve.
John McEntee, Jr., President