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Teachers Speak Up, Share Stories With Legislators: Join Them

Teachers have a lot to say on issues from their pensions to classroom safety this legislative session, which is why local associations around Connecticut are meeting with their legislators and making their voices heard.

Hamden Education Association members including President Diane Marinaro, standing at right, had a number of questions for Rep. Mike D’Agostino, Rep. Josh Elliott, Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney, and Senator George Logan.

“Politicians make decisions that affect our students and our profession,” says Hamden Education Association Vice President David Abate. “Sitting back and waiting isn’t a solution. I don’t like politics, but for legislators to know what’s going on in our schools they have to hear from teachers.”

Abate was one of thirty Hamden teachers who came out after school yesterday to meet with Rep. Mike D’Agostino, Rep. Josh Elliott, Senator George Logan, and Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney and share what’s happening in their classrooms and their feedback on proposals before the legislature.

“Now is the time legislators need to hear from teachers en masse,” says CEA President Jeff Leake. “Legislators need to know the impact that proposed legislation will have on their many teacher constituents and hear teachers’ personal stories.”

For information on meetings with legislators about key issues in your school, contact your local association president and CEA’s Chris Donovan.

Teacher pensions

This Friday the legislature’s Appropriations Committee will hear testimony on a bill that would reamortize the unfunded liability of the Teachers’ Retirement Fund over a 30-year period to smooth out payments.

D’Agostino said that the legislature has gotten a handle on payments for state employees’ pensions and needs to do the same for teachers’ retirement. “Restructuring the debt has got to happen, and that’s going to stabilize your pension.”

Lawmakers targeted teachers with a 1 percent teacher tax increase in 2017 and this year proposed shifting a portion of the state’s teacher pension system costs onto cities and towns. Though a bill to require a cost shift failed to make it out of committee, it’s a proposal that could come back this legislative session. If such a plan were to pass, cities and towns would be left with less funding for schools, and teachers’ future salaries and health benefits would be negatively impacted.

CEA Political Action Coordinator Chris Donovan pointed out that teachers are not responsible for the state’s budget woes and shouldn’t be held liable for the state’s failure in past years to pay the required amount.

Teachers reminded legislators that they don’t receive social security, even if they previously worked a job that required them to pay into the social security fund, and have always contributed their share into the state pension fund.

“No one is asking for anything extra, just what was promised,” one teacher said.

Classroom safety

A classroom safety bill was voted out of the legislature’s Education Committee and now awaits a vote in Appropriations. Hamden teachers shared with legislators why it’s so important that lawmakers pass this legislation.

“I see more and more teachers getting hurt,” says Hamden Education Association President Diane Marinaro. “And it’s not just in Hamden. My colleagues around the state are reporting the same thing. We’re dealing with behaviors we never used to see.”

“I love working here, but there’s just a lot of drama and trauma going on with these kids,” a middle school teacher who has been in Hamden for over a decade commented. “I love my students and I would do anything for them, but now, when I’m injured because there’s a fight, I don’t feel safe for staff who are pregnant, who are near to retirement.”

Rep. Josh Elliott listens to kindergarten teacher Robin Curcio share concerns about the lack of time young students have for unstructured play and creativity.

“It’s down to the elementary level,” said elementary school teacher Mary Nelson. “The social emotional health of our elementary students keeps me up at night.”

She continued, “I’ve only been teaching for 11 years, but during that time there’s been a dramatic change in our young children. It’s not only our neediest children—it’s an epidemic of kids coming to school unable to communicate on a human level. It’s the number one issue at the elementary level.”

Kindergarten teacher Robin Curcio said more and more expectations have been pushed down to younger and younger students. “What we’re asking of them is crazy. Our students don’t have the opportunity to have a sense of adventure, discovery, and play. When the work we expect is not based on children’s developmental needs, they act out. Children are lacking unstructured play time and that’s why they don’t have social skills and can’t talk to each other.”

The Hamden teachers shared that administrators are under a lot of pressure to keep suspension rates down, leaving teachers to make do as best they can with students who exhibit problematic behavior.

Looney explained that lawmakers passed legislation limiting expulsions and out of school suspensions out of concern that many students don’t have a safe place to be outside of school, but clarified that legislators’ intent was not “keeping the kids in the classroom at all costs.”

“We want students to get the help and resources they need, we don’t want punishment,” said Marinaro. “Even our special education teachers aren’t trained to deal with some of the behaviors we’re seeing.”

Minority teacher recruitment

Marinaro said that she and Hamden’s director of human resources met recently with CEA Vice President Tom Nicholas about recruiting more Hamden students to the teaching profession and looking at ways for high school students to earn credits for education classes they take at Southern.

One teacher mentioned that there are hundreds of certified teachers of color here in Connecticut who aren’t currently working as teachers, and Marinaro said that Hamden’s human resources director will be reaching out to some of those teachers about future openings.

A bill on minority teacher recruitment and retention that was voted out of the Education Committee and now awaits consideration in the Appropriations Committee would expand the state’s mortgage assistance program for teachers and provide renewal alternatives for teachers with expired certification.

Your turn to speak out

Though teachers frequently don’t receive the respect they deserve, D’Agostino says he’s seen a shift in lawmakers’ views of teachers and public schools during his time in the legislature.

“When I got up there, the charter school lobby had a stranglehold on the legislature. Most legislators now say money has got to neighborhood public schools,” he said. “The narrative really has changed over the last few years, and that’s due in no small part to you guys having meetings back home with your legislators.”

Contact your local president or CEA’s Chris Donovan to find out about meetings with legislators happening in your area.

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