December 07, 2018

Why BOCES educators need strong unions

Author: Sylvia Saunders
Source: NYSUT Communications
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Caption: NYSUT Board member Sandie Carner-Shafran and her colleagues at the Saratoga Adirondack BOCES Education Association. Photos provided.

For BOCES teaching assistant Sandie Carner-Shafran, the back of her local union’s T-shirt says it all: “In Unity There is Strength.”

When BOCES local union leaders raised personal safety concerns and worries that too many students with disabilities were not getting the specialized services they needed, NYSUT arranged a meeting last year with State Education Department Assistant Commissioner Christopher Suriano so he could hear directly from the field.

“After that meeting, changes were made and we are no longer in chaos,” said Carner-Shafran, who works in an alternative learning classroom at Washington-Saratoga-Warren-Hamilton-Essex BOCES. “Now they’ve moved our classroom from a busy intersection to a quiet area — and we only have two or three students at a time. I know there’s still a lot of work to do statewide on that issue, but for us personally, that meeting made a huge difference.”

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Carner-Shafran, a member of the statewide union’s Board of Directors, said that’s just one example of the many issues that will be tackled this weekend when NYSUT’s BOCES Leadership Council gets together for their two-day meeting.

“The council is a great avenue for us to talk with each other, share common concerns and create a strong brotherhood and sisterhood,” Carner-Shafran said. “It’s given us the collective strength that we wouldn’t have alone.”

The meeting with SED’s assistant commissioner is one of many ways the statewide union supports BOCES educators in every corner of the state. At state budget time, NYSUT co-sponsors an annual lobby day for BOCES educators to make the case for more funding, expansion of Career and Technical Education programs and to make it easier for component school districts to use BOCES services.

At a time when BOCES are experiencing a critical shortage of special education staff, NYSUT is pushing for the Regents and State Education Department to change certification regulations and allow BOCES educators to teach outside their grade-level certification and content specialty. The BOCES union activists will also learn more about NYSUT’s “Take a Look at Teaching” initiative to encourage more people to consider entering the profession.

Other items on the leadership council’s agenda include a follow-up on health and safety issues; a presentation on new mental health curriculum requirements; and the union’s upcoming legislative agenda.

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