By Dina Martin
Duval "Sam" Phillips (left) was presented with the CTA ESP of the Year award by CTA President David A. Sanchez and Michael Downey, the award committee chair.
Nearly four years after several thousand education support professionals in the state merged with the California Teachers Association to become CTA ESP, these members are finding they have an even stronger voice in the state’s largest professional organization — so much so that “We are One: One Voice, One Union” was the theme of CTA’s ESP Conference, which drew paraprofessionals, school secretaries, custodians, maintenance workers, bus drivers and other classified staff from throughout the state.
More than 100 ESP turned out for the conference at the Westin Hotel in Millbrae on May 15 to take part in trainings in topics such as building a strong leadership team, reaching out to the community, navigating through the grievance process, and strategically using social media.
“It’s wonderful to be part of such a strong organization and have the same voice,” said Doreen McGuire-Grigg, conference chair and president of the Lakeport Unified Classified Employees Association.
The conference was held the weekend that kicked off Education Support Professionals Week, leading to CTA ESP Day on May 18. This year, education support professionals were part of CTA’s TV ad honoring educators throughout the state. CTA’s ESP members were also the focus of a poster created to recognize their work.
“I look forward to more of these conferences, learning more and taking it back to our members,” said Jacqueline Lee of the Association of Classified Employees of Culver City. “It’s important to take back this information to those who can’t attend.”
Vickie Stegemann, a member of the Redlands ESP Association (RESPA) and manager of the school cafeteria, said that after 14 years of being on the job, she is ready to step up and become more active in the union.
“It’s not about one person, it’s for all of the children,” she said.
ESP of the Year awarded
Conference-goers recognized Duval “Sam” Phillips, who was presented with the CTA ESP of the Year award by CTA President David A. Sanchez and Michael Downey, the award committee chair.
A utility maintenance employee in Potter Valley Community Unified School District, Phillips is also president of the Potter Valley Classified Employees Association.
“During these tough economic times, Sam stands firm in his belief that all members are important in the education of all students in Potter Valley, and has successfully recruited new members to the association by explaining to them the benefits of membership,” said Sanchez in his remarks.
Phillips is trained as a special education adviser/liaison for the students and parents in Mendocino County and has served in this advocacy role for over a decade. Phillips also served on the NEA Anti-Bullying Work Group, and has worked extensively with the Native American tribal community in Potter Valley. He also works with other tribal leaders and Northern California educators to encourage Native American students to enroll in college, and has been taking students to College Motivation Days at Mendocino Community College and Humboldt State University.
Many ESP layoffs
Although the atmosphere of the conference was upbeat and positive, ESP members also had stories to share about how the state’s budget cuts are affecting students in their schools and affecting them personally as well.
“I’ve lost one-fifth of my take-home pay due to budget cuts, while I’m watching my own kids struggle more and more because there is no one there to help,” said Sherry Furtado, a member of RESPA.
President Sanchez noted the toll that layoffs have taken, with thousands of support staff having lost their jobs already.
“When you cut the jobs of ESP, you cut the quality of our schools and communities,” he said, pointing out that 77 percent of support professionals live in the school districts where they work. “By living, working and volunteering in our local communities, you enrich our communities and our neighborhood schools. You are paying taxes in our communities, supporting businesses in our communities, and voting in our communities. Your contributions go far beyond the school boundaries.”
Ultimately, the solution to California’s budget woes is political, said Sanchez.
“Every phone call, every letter, every e-mail we send to our legislators makes a difference. Every protest and rally we stage or attend makes a difference. Every conversation we have with our neighbors makes a difference. And every vote we cast on behalf of public education makes a difference. We’re one big union, but we are only strong if we act.”
Media-Center to see a video of CTA President David A. Sanchez talking about CTA’s appreciation for education support professionals.