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News

Longtime Substitute Teacher Diane Walsh talks about town educators who earn less than the state’s minimum wage

~The Advocate Asks~

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For this week’s interview, we sat down with longtime Substitute Teacher Diane Walsh and asked her about the challenges of working in a school district where substitute teachers are among the state’s lowest paid. She subs several days a week at the Veterans Memorial Elementary School, in Kindergarten through Grade Five. She is a 1978 Saugus High School graduate and received her associate’s degree from Salem State University. She aspired to become a schoolteacher, but never completed her education. Since 1999 she has been a substitute teacher with the Saugus Public Schools, working at all grade levels.

Walsh has been an advocate for improving wages and providing benefits to substitute teachers who work in the town’s education system. Last week, Walsh addressed the School Committee on increasing pay for substitute teachers. Her daughter, Leanna Walsh, teaches students in the post-graduate Life Skills Program at Saugus High School. Walsh has served on several town committees, including the Saugus Veterans Wall/Monument Committee and the Veterans School Monument Fundraiser. Highlights of the interview follow:

 

Q: What are you primary concerns as a longtime substitute teacher working in the town of Saugus?

A: Well, I see that role changing. You have to know more. It’s not a babysitting job. And many years ago, it could be at times. But today, you definitely have to be more proactive. You definitely have to know more about what’s going on in the schools. There are so many more kids’ issues that you have to be aware of in order to take care of them the right way. And, if they don’t pay people, they’re not going to get anyone that wants to do anything but babysit them.

Q: What do you get paid a day now?

A: $60.

Q: How long have you been getting paid $60 a day?

A: It hasn’t been that long. I don’t know how long ago they raised it – maybe four years, tops.

Q: How does that compute to the hourly wage?

A: As a substitute, you make $9.54 an hour. It’s a 6.3-hour day.

Q: $9.54 an hour, which is below the minimum wage in Massachusetts, where the state minimum wage is now $11 an hour.

A: Yes, it just went up to $11.

Q: What has been your response when you mention that to people?

A: A lot of us have to work other jobs. People ask what we make, and I say not as much as the [state] minimum wage. People ask, ‘Well, isn’t that illegal?’ So, I looked into it, and some of the other substitutes said, ‘Well, yeah. Shouldn’t we make the minimum wage?’ So, I’ve looked into it.

Q: Have you talked with federal wage and hour people?

A: Yes, I did. First I called the Massachusetts department, and they were not very helpful. As soon as I said I was a substitute teacher, the lady said, ‘Well, that doesn’t matter. You’re union,’ or something like that. I said we’re not affiliated with any union whatsoever, and she was very unhelpful. And then she said, ‘Call the feds.’ So, I went on the federal site and I called them, and they didn’t know what to tell me at first. But they can’t really do anything because the federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. There are only about five states left that are at that point. Everybody else is above that.

Q: So, at the state level, where the minimum wage is higher than federal minimum wage, they don’t seem interested in doing anything about substitute teachers making less than the state minimum wage?

A: The person I spoke with acted like they couldn’t be bothered. I’m sure there are worse violations out there, so maybe that was it. The second she heard the word “teacher,” she didn’t want to deal with it.

Q: Have you done any research on what other communities pay their substitute teachers?

A: Yes. That’s the first thing I did. A number of years ago when they changed it, I did the same type of speech [before the Saugus School Committee] and I called all the communities around here, and there was only one town that paid the same. And everybody else was far above, or at least $10 above. So they [the Saugus School Committee] made the jump. It was still low, but we weren’t the lowest anymore. And now, it’s the same thing. We’re among the lowest in the state. Melrose is right around us, and they’re supposed to be such a fancy community. Some of the other ones in the area are well above us. I didn’t call Lynn, but Lynn has always been much higher. They have huge federal funding in their schools.

Q: You have been doing this since 1999, so the role and responsibilities of being a substitute have changed a lot since then.

A: Yes. It’s been incredible.

Q: Like, you have to worry about the fanny packs that follow students who have allergies and medical conditions that need to be monitored.

A: Yes. You have to be well aware of everyone’s IEPs – Individualized Education Plans – so you have to be aware of those. You have to be aware of behavior modifications. And allergies. We’re not allowed to bring food into the classroom. We don’t even have parties anymore, or the parties are downsized. The kids can give out pencils, but no food. If lollipops come in, they have to go home. You can’t have anything like that in school. And there are just so many more rules.

Q: Since you began, do you feel like substitute teachers in Saugus are respected more or respected less?

A: It depends upon who you ask. If you go into my school and ask the teachers about the people who substitute in our building, you’ll find that there’s a huge respect, but if you ask outsiders, they are like, ‘Uh, they’re just babysitters.’ Lots of times, teachers come to me. ... I don’t do four days anymore. I’ve cut down for financial reasons … and they ask, ‘Are you going to be in on this day? I want you in my classroom.’ Or for maternity leaves – I have done a number of maternity leaves … ‘I want you on my maternity leave.’ So, I’m requested. They know I know what I’m doing.

Q: You could make more money at a fast-food place than as a substitute teacher.

A: Yes. But I was in college to get my degree as a teacher, but I got divorced and had to help my daughter out. So, no degree for me. But this is work that I have enjoyed.

Q: What’s the morale like of the subs you run into at the Saugus Public Schools?

A: I only know a couple of them well. And I only sub in Veterans Memorial and don’t get to talk with many of them.

Q: What’s the most challenging aspect of being a substitute teacher in Saugus?

A: I like what I do. I like going into the different places. I like just the variety.

Q: But the public has the perception, ‘This is just a babysitter’s job.’

A: Right. So I don’t find a lot of it challenging. Some days, like the day before a vacation, the kids are crazed. The day after Halloween, the kids are all sugared-out. Sometimes dealing with behavior – that can be challenging. That can be very challenging. If someone’s having a bad day, sometimes it’s draining, or when you have a lot of sick kids and they’re dropping like flies in your classroom. But as far as anything else that other people might find challenging – I can walk into the building and I’m told, ‘You are going to do this today.’ I’ve got 15 minutes to formulate a teacher’s plan. I was an art major, so it’s something I can do in that class. Anyway, I like the challenge of preparing a plan for a particular day.

Q: As a sub, do you have the issues like social media or the cellphones? Or is that more in the upper grades?

A: We don’t allow children to have cellphones. Some of the fifth graders have them in their backpacks to call parents at the end of the day, but they must stay in the backpack. Or it gets taken away and the parent has to get it back from the principal if it’s out. Some parents request you to be friends. But I learned a long time ago that it’s not a good thing to do, so I don’t have to bother with that. But when I was at the High School visiting my daughter, the kids were like this, walking around the school, talking on the cellphone. I was shocked.

Q: What are your hopes and expectations – coming from your recent comments to the School Committee?

A: It would be nice if they gave us a raise and they gave the building substitutes a little more because we do a lot of other stuff. When the colleges get out, they hire a lot of the college kids who are thinking about going into teaching. So, they come along in May and they work for a couple of weeks and they get the same pay as I do, when I have to do CPI [Crisis Prevention Institute] training – for physical restraint and students who are out of control – and I have to do that and all of these other things and I have to get fingerprinted. To get paid the same, you know, that’s really not right.

Q: So, as a substitute teacher, you don’t get any benefits?

A: Nothing. You don’t get anything – no sick days, no holidays, no vacation.

Q: What’s been your most challenging day as a sub in Saugus?

A: Wow, it’s been a long time … I’ve been bit. I’ve been kicked. I’ve been shoved. I’ve had days where three kids in the classroom threw up and I got thrown up on. Those are not fun days. I’ve been called all sorts of names, too.

Q: And you’ve had to call the principal into the classroom for those days?

A: Yes.

Q: There’s been some tough days. But nothing really sticks out that caused me to say, ‘I’m quitting this job.’ There’s definitely days when you go home exhausted and say to yourself, ‘Why do I do this?’ Especially when we’re making 50 bucks a day. Yeah, you ask yourself, ‘Why am I doing this for 50 bucks?’

Q: But you’ve been doing this since 1999. Aren’t there a lot more laws that come into play that make it a much more difficult job?

A: There have been a lot of changes like MCAS, and this and that. And actually, the CPI training has changed a lot, too. You’re really not even supposed to restrain a child. Even if a kid picks up a chair and throws it at you, you’re just supposed to stand there. You’re not supposed to stop them, which I don’t agree with, because what if he’s throwing it at another kid? If that was my kid he was throwing it at, I’d be upset. And adults are not supposed to do anything? That’s not protecting the other children. And the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one.

Q: So you really got a lot of responsibility, like with the EpiPen.

A: Yes. You just pray that nobody eats the peanuts or whatever they’re allergic to. Yes, there’s a lot about food allergies, and a few times, you have to worry about bee stings. So, you take them out to recess. I’ve never had to use one, thank goodness. A girl broke her arm once, but that was not a challenging day for me.

Q: So, what do you think that substitutes should be making an hour in Saugus if the school system really values them?

A: The same as a para [paraprofessional]. I mean, if you are going to be the building sub or the permanent sub that fills in all of those things, you should get paid for that work. I’ve had to do lesson plans. I’ve had to do parent conferences and a lot of other stuff, so why shouldn’t I get paid to do lesson plans? Why shouldn’t I get paid to go talk to the parents or have the parents come talk to me? I’ve had to do everything that a teacher would do during maternity leave, illnesses and what not, so why should I make less than $10 an hour when I am doing all of that work? A substitute should get paid what a para [paraprofessional] gets paid. I even talked to a union representative at one point and asked whether we should join some kind of union. I don’t know if it’s feasible or can be done. I’m think about the earned sick time act. Why can’t we have that? Because a lot of the sicknesses I get, I get from them [the students]. And bereavement? Why shouldn’t I get a day of pay?

Q: What’s the most rewarding part about being a substitute teacher in Saugus?

A: I was going to get my teaching degree. I like the kids. They make me laugh. They make you think differently sometimes. You do something that you’ve done for a long time, and you think you know what you’re doing, and they show you that you didn’t know all the ways to do something – and they give you a fresh perspective. I love kids’ art. It’s pure. There’s nothing to read into it.

Q: Anything else that you would like to share?

A: It’s a good job. I don’t want anyone to think that I don’t love my job. But financially, it’s not good. I had to cut back my days, which makes me sad.

Q: And your expectations and hopes are that they [school officials] would at least pay the minimum wage of Massachusetts?

A: Yes, and think about the earned sick time. If people in Burger King can get earned sick time, why shouldn’t I? Why shouldn’t the substitutes get treated the way other people like to be treated?

 

“We are lucky because …”

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Children and a few adults get to count their St. Patrick’s Day blessings in a creative way at Saugus Public Library

Mia DeAngelo said she has a lot to feel lucky about as she looked forward to St. Patrick’s Day. “I love my family, my friends, my home and my birthday – it’s the day before St. Patrick’s Day,” said Mia, who turned 8 yesterday.

Mia, a second grader at the Our Lady of Assumption School, said she loved her grandmother and “Miss Amy,” too, referring to Amy Melton, the children’s librarian at the Saugus Public Library. Melton made it possible for Mia and other children visiting the library this month to be creative while counting their St. Patrick’s Day blessings on shamrocks cut out of green construction paper. Children were encouraged to finish the sentence “We are lucky because …” and write it on their shamrock, which was displayed on a wall board in the children’s section of the library or given to the child to take home.

Mia needed two paper shamrocks to explain why she is lucky. She used one of them exclusively for her grandmother. “I’m lucky because I have a grandmother who showed me this library,” Mia wrote. “If it wasn’t for her, I’d never experience this library.”

Sheri Habib, 5, who is in the kindergarten at the Waybright Elementary School, couldn’t name everybody she wanted to on her shamrock. “People made me lucky,” Sheri said. “I am lucky because of everyone.”

Honoring their Irish heritage

Melton cut out her own shamrock and inscribed a blessing on it that expressed gratitude for the job she began at the library about a year ago. “I am lucky because I get to work in a beautiful library with so many wonderful children and families,” she wrote on a paper shamrock displayed in a plastic stand on the table where the children worked on their own shamrocks.

It was a drop-in craft activity, designed to get the children to think about good things in their lives. “I think it’s nice to focus on our blessings,” Melton said.

“Some of the children wanted to pin them up on the wall and some wanted to take them home,” Melton said.

As part of the library’s St. Patrick’s Day observance, the children’s section featured a table that displayed a selection of books to encourage young readers to learn more about Irish heritage. Green shamrocks suspended on strings hung from the ceiling made it easy to spot the table.

“A lot of us have Irish heritage … Some of us have to go back a few generations to find it. My mom was Irish. Her maiden name was Smith. But Maroney was the name of her grandfather who came over from Ireland and through Ellis Island,” Melton noted.

Cody Abraham, a four-year-old from Lynn, shares the heritage that Melton celebrates this month in the children’s section of the library. Besides honoring his family, friends and cats, Cody’s shamrock was dedicated to his Irish-born grandmother, Margaret O’Flaherty.

Puppy love and healthy children

The children and adults who displayed handmade paper shamrocks on the “We are lucky because …” board counted a wide range of blessings.

“I am lucky to have a puppy that loves me,” wrote one child.

“I am lucky because I am strong, smart, nice and funny … I am also lucky to have a wonderful family,” another wrote.

Julianna considered herself lucky “because I get pizza from Charlie’s Pizzeria.”

“I am lucky because I get diamonds for Christmas,” Tina wrote.

Dylan cited “many ‘Curious George’ movies to watch with my brother.”

Several of the shamrock artists wrote about the good fortune of having “healthy” and “wonderful” families.

“I am lucky because I have two healthy children,” CH wrote.

There’s still plenty of construction paper left to make shamrocks and lots of room on the “lucky” board for people – young and old – who want to count their own St. Patrick’s Day blessings when they visit the library today.

   

Patriots Super Bowl run helps Gordon Shepard’s fund-raising efforts to restore Civil War cemetery markers

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Super Bowl Week turned into a fund-raising bonanza for Gordon Shepard in his latest efforts to honor forgotten soldiers at Riverside Cemetery. Time has worn the names off several markers in the Civil War burial plot. But Shepard – a Vietnam War veteran who has initiated several volunteer projects over the years for the betterment of veterans’ grave sites – has credited the New England Patriots Super Bowl run with paving the way for a better financed project.

“I sold 470 tickets alone from last Monday to Sunday. And that’s close to the 1,000 tickets we sold overall,” Shepard said in an interview this week at the Arthur F. DeFranzo Veterans of Foreign War Post 2346.

“Having the Patriots playing right up to the Super Bowl has really helped our raffle this year. I had one guy who was walking on the sidewalk down on Cliftondale Square … That last six days was like a feeding frenzy,” Shepard said.

“Our main goal this year is to get some lettering on those markers so that anyone who goes up in the graveside area can see who is there,” he said.

Star Pats quarterback Tom Brady and the Patriots made the project possible by donating an autographed photo that was used as a centerpiece in a Super Bowl collage that includes replica tickets for the first four Super Bowl games won by the Patriots.

Caroline Lentini, owner of the All About Hair salon, won the Brady prize when it was drawn during the raffle held at last Sunday night’s Super Bowl party at the VFW lodge. Gail Winters picked out the winning ticket at halftime. “This is great. I’m going to have it put up in my living room,” Lentini said.

More than 200 were on hand for the VFW Super Bowl party.

“It was very gloomy at halftime. But the Patriots rallied to come back … so it was a great game. And with the Patriots playing all the way to the Super Bowl, this really helped out,” Shepard said.

“Tom Brady and the Patriots are responsible for this project. And we are grateful to them and all 1,000 people who donated by buying a raffle ticket … I’d like to thank Tom Brady and Stacey James of the New England Patriots for making this raffle possible,” he said.

To prevent cars from running over the grass, Shepard said, he would like to install curbing. “I also want to re-letter the Civil War markers and have the wall around the burial area re-pointed,” he said. Shepard said another part of the project involves the replacement of granite cannonballs that once stood on platforms near the two granite cannons that flank the steps leading into the Civil War burial plot.

Anyone interested in donating to the veterans’ cemetery projects can contact Shepard at 781-231-0374.

 

   

Town Meeting vote showed “proactive leadership” to protect Rumney Marshes

~ Letter to the Editor ~

By voting in favor of local by-law changes at a Special Town Meeting on February 6th, Saugus Town Meeting members have taken an important step toward protecting critical environmental resources in the Town of Saugus. Thanks to their proactive leadership, the Rumney Marshes Area of Critical Environmental Concern will now be protected from new or expanded landfills or ash landfills in the region. At the same time, a new zoning limit will prevent landfills or ash landfills in Saugus from expanding beyond a 50-foot height limitation.

Though not targeted to any particular facility, the approved by-law changes will have an impact on the Wheelabrator Saugus ash landfill. For one thing, Wheelabrator now has clear direction from Saugus that the community will not support or permit an ash landfill that expands beyond the currently permitted 50-foot height limit. Instead of pouring an unending stream of funds into public relations and making threats to sue the town, it is our sincere hope that Wheelabrator will shift their focus from expansion of this site to engaging in a dialogue with the Town of Saugus and with state environmental officials to implement the final closure plan and associated environmental protections for this vulnerable site.

With its location along the Saugus / Pines River estuary and reliance on clay and groundwater flows instead of the protective liners in place at every other ash landfill in the state, the risks to the community and region associated with this site will unfortunately not end with closure. Anticipated sea level rise combined with increasing intensity and frequency of coastal storms mean that this coastal landfill is at risk for potential erosion into the future. Any leaching from this ash landfill is of particular concern because it contains fly ash laden with dangerous contaminants such as lead and mercury. Yes, this is the same ash that required a hazardous waste cleanup company to come in when it was accidently spilled on land near the Wheelabrator buildings twice in 2016.

While it is important to see the community of Saugus come together in support of environmental protection for the future, it is equally important for Wheelabrator to live up to its promise of being a ‘good neighbor’ by moving forward with closure plans that are already more than 20 years overdue and working with state environmental officials to ensure that the final closure plan for the ash landfill incorporates mitigation measures that will protect our wetlands, waterways and community into the future.

The Saugus River Watershed Council is a non-profit organization founded in 1991 to protect and restore the natural resources of the watershed. The groups is also a founding member of the Alliance for Health and Environment.

Signed,

Joan LeBlanc

Executive Director

Saugus River Watershed Council

   

Alliance for Health and Environment Lauds Passage of Town By-law Changes

SAUGUS – The Alliance for Health and Environment is elated that this week, the Town of Saugus took the first steps to prevent further expansion of any landfill in the Town by passing three responsible zoning by-laws which would limit the vertical height of a landfill to 50 feet.After being recommended favorably by the Saugus Planning Board on Thursday evening, members of Town Meeting voted to ratify the articles during a special meeting Monday night.While not targeted to any specific business or site, these by-law changes will keep the Wheelabrator Saugus ash landfill adjacent to the Rumney Marshes Area of Critical Environmental Concern from expanding beyond a height of 50 feet.

Kirstie Pecci, an attorney with Conservation Law Foundation, agreed that the by-laws were sensible and well within the Town’s zoning powers.“When our air and water suffer, our people suffer – it’s as simple as that,” said Pecci. “If we allow landfills to be built higher and higher with no end in sight, then we are telling our neighbors that their health and their safety don’t matter. Last night, the Town of Saugus stood on the side of families and communities by placing limits on the future buildout of landfills. There is still work to be done in managing toxic methane emissions, groundwater contamination, and other serious health issues that accompany these sites, but the by-laws established last night is an important step in the right direction.”

“The Alliance appreciates the fact Saugus community leaders are taking steps that will protect environmental resources in Saugus, as well as surrounding neighborhoods, including in Revere,” said State Representative RoseLee Vincent.“Saugus has the right to govern itself, and I applaud and thank those Town Meeting members who stood up to do the right thing by adopting these very reasonable zoning changes.Now, Wheelabrator has an opportunity to become a good neighbor to the Town by participating in a process that will eventually lead to final closure of the ash landfill.”

“As a Town Meeting Member and as President of Saugus Action Volunteers for the Environment (SAVE), I am very pleased and encouraged by the vote of Town Meeting, which passed all three articles to define landfills and impose reasonable conditions to help protect the environment and the public health,” said Saugus resident Ann Devlin.“With SAVE’s long history of working to provide a better quality of life in Saugus through environmental action and concern, this is a great step in working toward those goals.”

“These by-laws were the next logical step for the town to safeguard its citizens, where our main concern is the health, welfare, and safety of our Saugus citizens and our neighboring communities,” said Saugus Board of Selectman Chairwoman Deb Panetta.“I sincerely appreciate the vote taken by Town Meeting Monday night.”

“By approving local by-law changes, Saugus has taken a leadership role in protecting critical environmental resources and public health for the future,” said Saugus River Watershed Council Executive Director Joan LeBlanc.“With anticipated sea level rise and increasingly intense coastal storms, it’s extremely important to shift the focus from expanding disposal of contaminated ash at this vulnerable coastal site to ensuring that our valuable marshes, waterways and local beaches are protected from risks related to the millions of tons of ash already on the site.”

“Ash landfills are chock-full of toxic heavy metals like mercury,” said Ben Weilerstein, organizer at Toxics Action Center, “so Saugus families will be safer with these new by-laws. The people of Saugus have spoken and are taking action. Mass DEP should hear them loud and clear: unlined dumps are dirty and dangerous!”

“With this vote, the residents of Saugus took a common sense, reasonable stand in support of protecting their health – particularly the health of young children and pregnant women who are most vulnerable to persistent toxins like dioxin and lead, “ said Cindy Luppi, New England Director of Clean Water Action. “Shouldering this unique health burden for decades, Saugus and neighbors deserve relief – and today, we are one step closer to a healthier community for all.”

   

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