4 CEA ADVISOR FEBRUARY - MARCH 2018 MOBILIZING TEACHERS URGE SOLUTIONS TO CHRONIC SCHOOL UNDERFUNDING Locals organize to fight furloughs, shortsighted ‘fixes’ that shortchange students From Stratford to Ledyard, Brooklyn to Fairfield, teachers have been at the forefront of efforts to end the chronic state underfunding that shortchanges students and communities. CEA leaders and teachers continue to work hard to ensure adequate ECS funding (see next page), minimize disruption to students, save public schools from massive cuts, and protect teachers’ jobs. In several districts, the shortage of state funds has prompted teachers to accept furlough days. While teachers’ sacrifices have not gone unnoticed, neither has the need for long-term solutions, says CEA President Sheila Cohen. “We cannot continue to force a choice between layoffs and furloughs while we ignore the real problem— chronic underfunding,” Cohen says. “Both layoffs and furloughs are disruptive for students, parents, teachers, and the community, and neither option addresses the kind of long-term budgeting solutions so desperately needed.” To address a budget deficit in excess of $700,000, Stratford teachers voted to accept two furlough days. Brooklyn teachers agreed unanimously to two furlough days to offset two layoffs, and Hamden voted to accept furloughs to avoid more than 20 layoffs. Although the magnitude of education budget cuts will still likely result in layoffs in Ledyard, teachers in that district were able to cut the number of anticipated layoffs in half by accepting furloughs. “Teachers voted to sacrifice for their students and colleagues,” says Stratford Education Association (SEA) President Michael Fiorello. “But addressing the gaping $700,000 shortfall in education funding should not be an either-or proposition. This vote was a short-term solution and underscores the fact that local government is not meeting the needs of its residents, especially its children. We can no longer downplay the long- term consequences of short-term thinking.” Though teachers accepted the unpaid furlough days, they united in calling for real, sustainable solutions to the town’s education budget. “Teachers sacrifice for our students,” Fiorello explains. “We buy books and bookcases for our classrooms. We make sacrifices of our time and money. We do not want larger class sizes to be the new normal, nor reduced services and opportunities for students.” Short-term fix, not a long-term solution Stratford—facing a loss of $2.89 million—was one of the public school districts hardest hit by the governor’s cuts in state aid. If SEA members voted against furloughs, dozens of teachers could have lost their jobs in January. “We want to be part of the solution,” says SEA Secondary Vice President Kristen Record. “But we need real plans that address the town’s funding problems for years to come.” Fiorello adds, “SEA members should not be put in the position of putting out fires when budget problems ignite, disrupting the teaching and learning of hundreds of students in our public schools. That does not serve the needs of students and parents, who deserve a long-term vision to ensure high-quality public education.” In December, Stratford educators, families, and CEA leaders and staff turned out in force at a special budget meeting of the new town council to send a clear message to Stratford’s municipal leaders and superintendent of schools: no teacher layoffs. While the council ultimately voted 8–1 to accept a budget that includes $700,000 in education cuts, they denounced any plans to cut teachers’ jobs. At issue was the superintendent’s proposal to lay off 43 teachers, including half of the district’s reading specialists, in the middle of the current school year. One of those reading specialists, 21-year veteran Melanie Saxa, who teaches at Eli Whitney School, said, “The idea of losing teachers midway through the school year is so detrimental to our students. We are here showing solidarity with teachers who may lose their jobs, and with our students, who deserve better than this.” Saxa says reading specialists play a key role in student outcomes, especially at the elementary level. “We have advanced degrees and certifications, and we provide professional development for teachers on-site on a daily basis. Reading specialists build teacher capacity, and taking those positions away means setting our students and our teachers up for failure.” Cuts hurt kids “When students lose their teachers, that impacts their classroom environment and puts their learning at risk,” says Record. Although the special budget meeting did not allow for public comment, community members wore stickers and held signs protesting the threat of massive teacher layoffs as well as the potential elimination or reduction of valuable educational programs and services. Voicing their opposition were nearly 600 teachers, students, parents, and community members—a crowd that exceeded capacity in the town hall, forcing the budget meeting to relocate to Stratford High School. While teachers and parents say they understand the difficult decisions facing town leaders, they stand firmly against cuts to teaching staff and other actions that threaten to erode their students’ education. “We are already doing more with less,” says Fiorello, “and our schools can’t absorb more cuts that would result in even fewer resources, the elimination of programs for students, larger class sizes, as well as teacher layoffs and involuntary teacher transfers.” CCJEF RULING FAILS CONNECTICUT STUDENTS Allows state to continue underfunding schools Stratford teachers, parents, and students came out in force to decry the underfunding of public schools. “We do not want larger class sizes to be the new normal, nor reduced services and opportunities for students.” Michael Fiorello, Stratford Education Association President The long-awaited State Supreme Court ruling in Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding (CCJEF) v. Rell delivered a mixed verdict. The decision was bad for school funding, but it also rejected burdensome schemes for testing, teacher evaluation, and education policy. The key issue in the CCJEF case was whether school funding in Connecticut is adequate. On this issue, the Court found that state funding meets the minimally adequate level required. This finding flies in the face of mounting evidence of poorly funded and resourced public schools throughout the state, especially in high-poverty communities. “This decision fails to protect education funding,” said CEA President Sheila Cohen, adding, “Communities all over Connecticut have already seen the state withdraw from its obligation to fund our public schools. Rather than protect the quality of education in our communities, this decision allows the governor and the legislature to continue to slash funding to our schools and children.” While Connecticut's schools and students on the whole do well compared to those in other states and countries, high-poverty districts have continuing challenges and achievement gaps as well as fewer resources and local revenues to support their schools. The January 17 decision also rejected an attempt by the lower court judge to usurp the authority of the governor, legislature, and State Department of Education in setting educational policy and mandates on a variety of issues. The State Supreme Court found no legal or constitutional authority for the judge to assume such authority. “If Connecticut is to be an educational leader now and in the future,” said Cohen, “it will require that elected officials honor their duty to provide the equitable funding and resources all children deserve. CEA stands ready to work with educational partners toward this goal of fully funding our public schools. The future of our students and our state depends on it.” CCJEF submitted a 20-page document requesting that the court reconsider its decision regarding funding. On February 1, the state’s highest court denied that request. Stratford Education Association President Michael Fiorello talks to news media about his school district’s budget crisis.