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Mass. teacher's union to prioritize higher support staff pay, right to strike next year

The state's largest teachers union unveiled its legislative priorities for the upcoming session, including increasing wages for support staff and boosting the cost of living adjustment for retired educators.

At a news conference at the state Capitol Thursday, leaders with the Massachusetts Teachers Association said three of its five priorities require more state funding. MTA leaders lifted up the new voter-approved Fair Share Amendment, which would impose a 4% tax on personal income above $1 million to be spent on education and transportation.

"[The priorities] focus on crucial efforts to make sure public education gets a fair share of the Fair Share," said Betsy Preval, a teacher at Cambridge Public Schools and chair of the MTA government relations committee.

The union said it will push to fund public education beyond what's currently required by the Student Opportunity Act of 2019. At the press event, several speakers highlighted the importance of increasing the number of school counselors at schools. The MTA has also been vocal about making public higher education in the state more affordable so that students graduate with less debt.

The union wants to ensure that para-professionals earn a living wage — estimated to be roughly $43,000 per year for a single person with no children based on a recent MIT calculation. Such educators, who often provide one-on-one support to students with special needs, make much less than licensed lead teachers, whose average salaries are typically around $84,000, according to MTA.

"We are educators and should be treated and respected as such," said Saul Ramos, a para-professional with Worcester Public Schools.

The MTA also seeks to raise the cost of living adjustment for retired educators so pension payments increase at a rate that keeps pace with inflation.

The union will also push to restore the right to strike for public sector employees, which include teachers.

"We shouldn’t have less rights than any other worker in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts," said Deb Gesualdo, a Malden public schools music educator and president of the Malden Education Association. Teachers in Malden went on a one-day strike in October to protest low pay and overcrowded classrooms.

The MTA is also taking aim at the state's standardized test, known as the MCAS. It wants to see the test eliminated altogether. The MCAS, which plays a significant role in how the state monitors school accountability and performance, has been used in Massachusetts since the mid-90's. The union argues that the standardized test has not fulfilled its purpose of improving school quality, but rather, has widened the opportunity gap.

Previous efforts to minimize the impact of the MCAS have been unsuccessful in the Massachusetts legislature, including bills that proposed removing it as a high school graduation requirement. In August, the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted 8-3 to increase the minimum passing score.

MTA President Max Page did not say which priorities he felt have the best chances of success next session, but expressed optimism with a new incoming governor and potential additional revenue.

"Our only mistake would be to think too small at this moment," he said. "We have to think transformatively."

Related:

Carrie Jung Twitter Senior Reporter, Education
Carrie is a senior education reporter.

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