Three years ago, more than 200 School-Related Professionals were laid off in Schenectady City School District a few days before the start of that school year.
Tracy Cimino was one of them.
“It was a horrible experience that still resonates in our unit,” she said. “We felt disposable. Not everybody came back after that, so we lost a lot of good people with a lot of experience.”
A few months later, Cimino returned to her position and has since worked her way to vice president and head of the negotiating team for the Schenectady Federation of Teachers Paraprofessional Unit, which recently ratified a four-year competitive contract. Aside from a salary increase, Cimino says she’s pleased with significant gains they made to improve members’ professional and personal lives such as tuition reimbursement for teaching assistant and teaching certificates and a mentorship program for first-year hires.
“I’m feeling amazing – it’s the best deal I’ve seen,” said Cimino. “I’m thrilled with what we were able to gain for our members.”
The negotiating team started by putting out a survey to members asking what they wanted to see in a new contract and then brought a proposal to the district.
“I don’t think that there is one thing that we brought to the table where we didn’t make at least some gain for members,” said SFT President Mike Silvestri.
The roughly 300-member unit voted unanimously in 10 out of 17 buildings to approve the contract.
“I’ve never seen a vote like this,” Silvestri said. “It shows that we did what members asked us to do.”
Silvestri says he can’t remember the last time a deal was agreed upon without blowing past the contract expiration date and needing mediation. After years of feeling disrespected and like numbers on a page, Cimino and Silvestri say this new contract is a hopeful sign from the new district leadership.
“To be able to finalize a deal, and an excellent deal at that, on time – it really shows a higher level of respect for the unit,” Silvestri said. “We worked well together and laid a lot of good groundwork. I think the district was really listening to the needs of the unit.”