Professional development, political action and social justice defined the 2014 School-Related Professionals Leadership Conference Oct. 24-26 in Albany.
NYSUT Vice President Paul Pecorale, in his keynote speech to attendees, thanked SRP leaders for all they do. "Each and every day, within your disciplines, you bring great value to your professions and you bring great value to your union," he said
He charged leaders with an important task: "Define who we are as an organization, because you can do it. We must work together, hand in hand, to fight back, fix the wrongs and expand on what is right," Pecorale said as he spoke of the attacks on earned benefits such as pensions, Medicare and Social Security. He warned that the attacks on teacher tenure also impact SRPs since it has been tied into seniority. Unity on these issues is critical, he said.
He emphasized the importance of NYSUT's social justice agenda and how it needs to keep going beyond fundraising efforts. "We need to be step in step with the LBGT issues, step in step with domestic violence intervention," Pecorale said, including protecting collective bargaining rights, fighting privatization, and protecting Medicare and social security rights within important social justice initiatives.
"Our strength in Albany really comes from your strength," he said. "The stronger you are as a local, the stronger we are as a statewide union." He urged leaders to attend and participate in meetings, nominate a candidate for 2015 SRP of the Year, and perhaps most importantly, to take what they learn from the SRP leadership conference and "be the teacher. Make this union the best it can be."
Margie Brumfield, president of the Rochester Association of Paraprofessionals, thanked leaders for honoring her as the 2014 SRP of the Year. "It's not about being SRP of the Year. It's about being all you can be and supporting our students and our members," she said. "I'm humbled, grateful and glad to be recognized as an SRP."
NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta thanked SRP leaders for their support of VOTE-COPE, the union's voluntary political action fund, and said their continued support and activism is needed. "We are up against some tough odds" in some hotly contested races this year because other side has big money, Pallotta said. "But we're able to compete because of VOTE-COPE." Pallotta presented 21 VOTE-COPE awards to locals.
SRP leaders were delighted that all five NYSUT officers attended the conference and addressed attendees. In their remarks to participants NYSUT President Karen E. Magee, Vice President Catalina Fortino and Secretary-Treasurer Martin Messner, thanked leaders for their support, and urged them to vote on Nov. 4.
The conference was attended by 255 SRP Leaders from 55 locals. The numerous workshops covered diverse topics, such as CPR/AED, supporting students with autism, resolution writing, what you can find on NYSUT.org, and many others.
"This is my 10th SRP Leadership Conference," said Laura Haas, SRP Advisory Committee member and Frontier Central Employees Association president. "And I learn something new every time."
Leslie McDonnell, OT/PT Chapter leader for UFT, said she and her three colleagues attended the workshop, "Mobilizing Members through Social Media," so they can "better communicate among members. We are spread out over five boroughs," she said, and utilizing social media can make physical distance challenges evaporate.
Once again SRPs gave generously. They collected enough toiletries to fill two tubs, which will be donated to a local women's shelter. A raffle raised $2,500 for the NYSUT Disaster Relief Fund, which newly appointed SRP Advisory Committee Chairperson JoAnn Sweat presented to the SRP At-Large Directors on the NYSUT Board. Sweat is president of the Buffalo Education Support Team.
SRPs also donated 600 books, which Hempstead Teaching Assistants Association President Sirlentor Berry accepted for his local. "We will put these in our newly renovated annex," he told attendees as he thanked them.
Pecorale urged all leaders to participate in SRP Recognition Day, Nov. 18. "Follow up with your employers and celebrate the day." NYSUT has celebration planning materials available online at www.nysut.org/srp.