March 27, 2009 — Waving signs held high, a small but spirited group of teachers stood in front of Addelita Cancryn Junior High School Friday morning to show their support of raises for paraprofessional and support staff.
Longtime art teacher Leba Ola-Niyi said, "We got our raises last fall, but they haven't received anything yet. We want to show our solidarity."
"We can't work without them," said Kira Hoston, seventh-grade geography teacher and the school's American Federation of Teachers representative. Hoston and Ola Nini explained that the paraprofessionals work shoulder to shoulder with the teachers. "They work as teacher's aides, they assist with report cards, in classrooms — they are a vital part of our system," Hoston said.
The demonstration was orderly, starting at 11:15 a.m. and ending at noon, as scheduled.
The school employs about 17 paraprofessionals and 10 support staff, or clerical staff.
"We want to get the word out that we are behind them," Ola-Niyi said.
If Friday's demonstration was any indication, that word is out. Passing motorists set up a chorus of honking and thumbs-up. The teachers chanted President Obama's mantra, "Yes, we can!," inspiring more motorists to honk their approval.
Meantime, as the teachers chanted, Vernelle S. de Lagarde, St. Thomas-St. John AFT President, said she was addressing that very situation. "We have met with the governor, and he asked that we submit a new proposal today. We met last week and the contract was extended until the end of the month."
De Lagarde said, "We have a teleconference meeting this afternoon with our joint team on St. Croix. It's the same process for renegotiation we always go through."
Hoston, speaking later in the day, acknowledged the ongoing negotiations: "We want to show there is solidarity between the organizations — we want to make sure they get their contract concluded."
The teachers received their long-awaited raises in August 2008, but a section laying out a one-time $1,700 salary bonus for paraprofessional and support staff was not ratified.
At the time, Tyrone Molyneaux, AFT St. Croix president said the AFT would be hammering out some dates with the government early the following week to begin negotiating the contract for paraprofessional and support staff. (See: "Teachers' Unions Ratify $25 Million Contract.")
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