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Norwich Teachers Rally Before Budget Hearing

DSC_2803After a city official disparaged public schools as “subsidized taxpayer-funded day care,” Norwich teachers, parents, and other school supporters turned out at a rally to set the record straight and demand a fair budget for their students’ education. The rally was held Monday night, prior to a budget hearing at Norwich City Hall.

Councilwoman Joanne Philbrick’s recent characterization of public schools as “day care,” along with other controversial comments she made about support services children receive at school, were met with widespread criticism, as was the city council’s 4-3 vote to strike down a school budget increase.

DSC_2817On her personal Facebook page, Philbrick—who says she supports teachers but voted against the budget—posted, “The school day starts at 6:30-7AM when students are dropped off to be monitored till the school day actually starts. Then when the school day is over they remain at ‘school’ for after school programs, organized play, etc. They are served breakfast, lunch, sometimes dinner and are provided with meals for the weekends and summer. There are school psychologists, interventionists, paraprofessionals, the list goes on and on. I know I am old, but what happened to walking to school with a lunch packed by your mom and playing with friends in the back yard after school. The education system, much like health care, has become in my opinion, a massive money pit.”

“That’s a pretty disparaging comment, and it can’t go unanswered,” said William Priest, president of the Norwich Teachers’ League. “While people may have varying opinions on school funding, something for which the city of Norwich does not have a stellar reputation, it is astonishing to see one of our locally elected leaders publicly insult the entire profession charged with educating the children of families who have chosen to call Norwich their home.”

DSC_2811Priest noted that Philbrick’s comments “demonstrate a profound lack of understanding not only of the responsibilities taken on by today’s educators but also of the many challenges faced by students and their families in our community, who perhaps do not have the benefit of such an idyllic upbringing for any number of reasons.” He added that teachers take pride in educating all children, regardless of their individual challenges.

“All of these children are rightfully entitled to a quality public education, and it is we, the professional educators and other school staff in this community, who take these fresh minds with their individual strengths and transform them into responsible citizens and leaders. This does not happen by chance.”

DSC_2799Denielle Sandoval (pictured above, far right), a teacher at Mahan Elementary School in Norwich, organized the rally on social media and invited colleagues, parents, school board members, and other education stakeholders to attend and make their voices heard. Dozens of teachers, students, and parents, came out in the pouring rain, holding signs, and community members chanted, “Cuts for schools, that’s not cool!”

“We’re all very passionate about education, and so hearing the disparaging comments that were made by the city council were very disheartening for us,” Sandoval said. “I felt that we needed to have a show of solidarity, because we’re all here for our students, and the funding every year is an issue. We know it’s difficult, but being put down by our city council is very hard for many of us, who put a lot of time and money into our classrooms. We’re teachers, and we take our jobs home with us, so to hear that we’re considered ‘babysitters’ is very difficult for a lot of us.”

CEA UniServ Representative Mike Casey noted that Councilwoman Philbrick’s comments came, ironically, during National Teacher Appreciation Week, a time when community members typically express their support for educators and their commitment to their students.

“I’m here to support my teachers,” Casey said.

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