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State Report

Statewide Pay Hike for ESPs

North Carolina  The state’s General Assembly recently passed legislation to increase salaries for 12-month non-certified education support professionals (ESPs) to no less than $20,112. The 5.5 percent average increase was the result of intense lobbying by members and staff of the Durham Association of Educators (DAE) and the North Carolina Association of Educators. Teachers, ESPs, and Association staff called legislators, wrote letters, and sent e-mails supporting the measure. “The lobbying involved certified and non-certified members working together,” says DAE President Linda Self. For some ESPs, the pay hike will mean not having to work extra jobs, Self added. Some of the lowest-paid ESPs won a 7–8 percent hike.

Charter Teachers Join Union

Florida Teachers of the Pembroke Pines Charter School System recently voted to join the Broward Teachers Union (BTU), becoming the state’s first charter system to unionize.

“This is a historic day for our county, state, and country,” says BTU President Pat Santeramo. “Charter school teachers recognize the value of having union representation, a contract, job security, and a voice in their schools.” The 181 to 46 vote affects about 300 employees at seven municipally run charter schools. Though it could take a year for BTU to negotiate a contract between the city of Pembroke Pines and the teachers, says Santeramo, the vote from teachers, guidance counselors, and other professional staff overwhelmingly favored joining BTU.

According to news sources, some teachers who voted with the majority say they want the right to negotiate policies on everything from pay schedules and due process procedures to representation during grievance hearings. The teachers won’t pay dues (about $600 a year) until a contract is settled.

Following the vote, teachers at several other charter schools in Broward contacted BTU expressing interest in unionizing, says Santeramo.

Pension Plan Defined

Michigan The Michigan Education Association (MEA) and several public employee groups recently fought efforts by some state legislators to change the state’s defined-benefit pension plan that covers teachers and other public employees. Ultimately, legislators failed to institute a defined-contribution plan in which the state would have put money into an employee’s retirement account, but that account would not guarantee a set retirement income. “It’s so much of a lesser-program that adds costs to schools,” says Chuck Agerstrand, MEA retirement program consultant. “We operated in concert with other employee groups who have an interest in preserving and protecting pensions.”

At the national level, NEA is working with public employee organizations and pro-retirement security groups to defend retirement security. Thus the National Public Pension Coalition, of which NEA President Reg Weaver is chair and secretary, was born. It includes the Council of Institutional Investors, National Conference on Public Employee Retirement Systems, National Council on Teacher Retirement, National Association of State Retirement Administrators, and other labor organizations, such as the AFL-CIO, AFSCME, AFT, IAFF, and SEIU. The coalition’s goal is to preserve defined-benefit plans for public employees. It also opposes threats to privatize Social Security and the shift of health and pension benefit costs to employees, both private and public.

Looming Teacher Shortage

Maryland Teachers are going to other states or to professions with higher salaries, says Dale Templeton, assistant executive director for the Maryland State Teachers Association. Association and state education officials spoke to legislators recently saying that Maryland needs to pay higher salaries, offer tuition reimbursement, and reduce class sizes to recruit and retain teachers for public schools, especially in low-performing districts. Officials say the state will need about 8,000 new teachers in 2008. As with many states, Maryland loses about 30 percent of new teachers within their first five years, while also losing thousands of retiring educators.

Home Ownership Assistance

New York An agreement reached by the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), the community group ACORN, and two banks will allow thousands of additional educators to qualify for breaks on home mortgages. Bank of America and Citigroup have relaxed household income limits for UFT members to qualify for favorable interest rates and grants to cover down payments and closing costs. Teachers with a household income of less than $118,400 will be eligible for Bank of America’s mortgage products, while teachers with a household income of less than $97,680 will now qualify for Citigroup offerings. “Teachers want to live in the communities in which they work,” says UFT President Randi Weingarten.

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