Teachers Stand Up for Public Education; Talk Priorities with Legislators
CEA President Sheila Cohen addressed hundreds of teachers who came to the CEA Hartford County Forum Monday night to speak with legislators.
April 4, 2017
Hundreds of teachers at CEA County Forums throughout the state are speaking directly to local legislators about issues impacting education—including funding for public schools, teacher healthcare, and retirement. With a proposed state budget that would divide Connecticut's school districts into winners and losers and saddle towns with one-third of the cost of their teachers' pensions, CEA members and leaders are taking their concerns to their elected officials.
Legislators are hearing firsthand from teachers in their districts about how proposed cuts in funding are eliminating teacher positions and school programs—to the detriment of students.
At the first of these forums, held in South Windsor on April 3, Representative Russ Morin fielded questions on the state's precarious fiscal situation and the uncertainty it is causing for municipalities trying to set their own budgets. The son of retired educators who started his career as a board of education member, Morin is serving a sixth term in the House.
Morin fielded questions on how he would vote on proposals to modify collective bargaining for teachers ("No!"), require greater transparency for charter school management organizations, or CMOs ("Yes"), and shift teacher retirement costs onto cities and towns ("No"). On this last point, he remarked, "It's our responsibility to keep funding it. It's our commitment. This is not the solution."
"There's got to be another way," Simsbury K-6 library media specialist Jamie Sepa agreed. "This is unacceptable. No one talks about raising revenue—something that needs to be done. We need structural changes."
"So much comes down from the state," said Mary White, first-grade teacher at the Robert J. O'Brien STEM Academy in East Hartford. "To meet the social and academic needs of our students and to better support kids and schools, it all comes down to funding, and it's scary how they're proposing a shift in that."
Calling Morin a good friend of education, CEA Director of Policy, Research, and Reform Donald Williams said, "We have serious issues in the legislature, and I thank Russ for coming out to listen to our concerns and speak for us at the Capitol."
"Our collective vote means something," emphasized CEA President Sheila Cohen. "I welcome the fact that we have a legislator here who is willing to hear your personal stories, take your questions, and respond to them."
Opening the lines of communication
"CEA County Forums are a great way to get more information on legislation that affects teachers," said West Hartford music teacher Lorri Cetto. "I'm here to ask for a long-term commitment to retired teachers' benefits."
"I came here because I'm interested in what my legislators have to say about the impact of the governor's proposal to cut funding to municipalities and shift a third of the cost of teacher pensions onto towns," said Stacey Paley, a fifth-grade teacher at the John F. Kennedy Intermediate School. "Windsor, where I teach, was hit hard with reductions in state funding."
Teachers throughout Hartford county shared stories of their own districts preemptively cutting important educational programs, teacher positions, or both in anticipation of reduced funding from the state. Highland Park Elementary School numeracy coach and former summer school director Grace DeAngelis noted that her district—Manchester—has had to cut its summer school and breakfast/lunch program for 300 children based on the state's projections.
"That's a done deal. We've already lost that because of what the governor has proposed. And other towns are following. It's a tradeoff—you either don't renew a certain number of teachers or you cut six weeks of summer school."
When Morin asked why Manchester determined its budget and related cuts so early, DeAngelis explained that parents had to be able to plan for their children over the summer. Those who were going to lose free breakfast, lunch, and transportation for summer school needed time to find alternatives. Even still, many Manchester families are in a bind because many summer camps are prohibitively expensive, and some—as early as March—are already full. DeAngelis noted that teachers are feeling the pinch too and are increasingly buying their own copy paper and other classroom necessities. "I've been giving out coupons to office supply stores to help my colleagues," she shared.
"Windsor has lost its summer program too," added Miriam Klein, who—like Paley—teaches at JFK. "The town had to either fire or not renew teachers or cut summer school. That was the dilemma."
"We've cut 250 teachers," said West Hartford teacher Mark DiBiasio. "And we're considered an affluent community. What about less-affluent communities? How will these cuts affect them? We are all CEA."
In addition to the Hartford County Forum held on April 3, forums are scheduled in every Connecticut county from now through April 20, with legislators invited to each one.