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Posts from the ‘Legislative session 2013’ Category

Educators Unite to Protect the Retired Teachers’ Health Insurance Fund

Nearly 30 retired teachers came to Hartford to urge legislators to preserve the Retired Teachers’ Health Insurance Fund today. Pictured left to right are Don Demers, John Battista, Mike Lingaro, Karin Pyskaty, CEA President Sheila Cohen, Jane Shugg, Mary-Jo Vocke, Rhea Klein, Ronald Green, Fonda Green, Bill Murray, and Walt Liplinski.

Nearly 30 retired teachers came to Hartford to urge legislators to preserve the Retired Teachers’ Health Insurance Fund today. Pictured left to right are Don Demers, John Battista, Mike Ungoro, Karin Pyskaty, CEA President Sheila Cohen, Jane Shugg, Mary-Jo Vocke, Rhea Klein, Ronald Green, Fonda Green, Bill Murray, and Walt Ciplinski.

“I paid $15,000 a year out of my pocket for health insurance before my wife and I turned 65 and were eligible for Medicare.”

“Retired teachers are on fixed incomes and we don’t get Social Security, so increases in our health care insurance costs are difficult to manage.”

“Both active and retired teachers have been paying more than their fair share—now it’s time for the state to keep its promise and continue funding the Retired Teachers’ Health Insurance Fund.”

Those are just some of the comments from nearly 30 retired teachers who attended an Appropriations Committee hearing at the State Legislative Office Building in Hartford today to show their support and urge legislators to preserve the Retired Teachers’ Health Insurance Fund.

The governor’s budget proposal eliminates the state’s contribution to the fund for the next two years.

CEA President Sheila Cohen, testifying before the committee, said the state is not upholding its end of the bargain, and is breaking its promise to active and retired teachers in Connecticut.

“The governor’s plan puts the Retired Teachers’ Health Insurance fund in serious jeopardy, and that’s totally unacceptable,” she said.

Cohen added, “Active and retired teachers have always dutifully made their required health insurance contribution with the understanding that it will be there for them when they retire. The state should honor its obligation to Connecticut teachers.”

CEA is urging all teachers—active and retired—to call their legislators and tell them to continue the state’s 33 percent contribution to the fund.

Active teachers contribute 1.25% of their salary annually into the Retired Teachers’ Health Insurance Fund—this represents the largest contribution to the fund—over $45 million in 2012-2013.

Retired teachers also contribute to the fund—nearly $38 million in 2012-2013.

Members need to call, email, or write to their legislators and explain how the cuts to the fund would directly affect them.

Call your state representative and state senator and ask them to ensure that the budget restores the state’s funding to the Retired Teachers’ Health Insurance Fund. Click here to look up your state legislator.

•  House Democrats: 1-800-842-1902

•  House Republicans: 1-800-842-1423

•  Senate Democrats: 1-800-842-1420

•  Senate Republicans: 1-800-842-1421

Bring Your Classroom to the People Who Make the Laws

From left, retired teacher Gene Schultz, Senator Andrea Stillman, Senator Don Williams, and East Hampton teacher Rob Wyllie.

From left, retired teacher Gene Schultz, Senator Andrea Stillman, Senator Don Williams, and East Hampton teacher Rob Wyllie.

In an ideal world, state lawmakers would be able to visit your classroom to see firsthand the pace of change and the impact of school reform initiatives. But it’s not a perfect world. So, if you want lawmakers to understand the challenges you face and your students confront, then you have to bring your classroom to them.

Lawmakers adopt legislation that can have a big impact in the classroom. In order to have a say in policy decisions, teachers need to maintain connections with legislators and create opportunities for conversations.

That’s exactly what many CEA members are doing this legislative session. And it’s what you can do if you decide to stand up and speak out for your profession.

CEA members across the state are out talking to their legislators and making sure their voices are heard on important issues that affect the teaching profession. Last week, a teacher and a retired teacher met up with Education Committee Chair Senator Andrea Stillman, Senate President Don Williams, and other lawmakers at a meeting of the East Lyme Democratic Town Party.

The committee gave Senator Stillman an award for her dedication and hard work, especially in the area of public education. CEA Retired Advisory Council Member Gene Schultz and East Hampton teacher Rob Wyllie attended to thank Senator Stillman for her efforts and to talk with other legislators.

Wyllie says that when you meet with your legislators, “It puts a face on CEA and teachers. It makes education issues personal.” Legislators have to deal with lots of different issues, not just education, Wyllie says — which is why teacher input is so important.

Hearing personal stories from their own constituents makes a big difference to legislators. You don’t need to know all the details of proposed legislation to talk to your legislator, you just need to talk about how the legislation will affect you.

At the East Lyme event, Schultz took the opportunity to talk to legislators about the need to protect funding for the Retired Teachers’ Health Insurance Fund.

Schultz told legislators that the state made a commitment a long time ago to fund a portion of retired teachers’ health insurance. “I go back 57 years being connected to the teaching profession,” he said. “The state made a deal where we retired teachers pay one-third, active teachers pay one-third, and the state pays one-third.”

“There are teachers who retired a long time ago, before the Education Enhancement Act,” he said. “They receive a very small pension. This proposal would hurt them badly.”

Schultz is frequently in contact with his legislators and says that during last year’s legislative session he talked with them weekly. However, he knows that some teachers are hesitant to meet with their legislators.

“I understand because I’d probably feel the same way if I were to meet the president of the United States,” he said. But he reminds teachers, “Your legislators are regular people. They live in your town, their children go to the same schools as yours. It’s like talking to your next door neighbor.”

And if a legislator asks you a question you don’t have an answer to, Schultz says to tell them, “I will find out and get back to you as soon as I can.”

If you are interested in organizing a meeting with legislators for teachers in your local, contact your CEA Local Political Coordinator, UniServ Representative, or CEA Political Action Specialist Conor Casey.

Protecting the Retired Teachers’ Health Insurance Fund is an important issue that CEA members need to be in touch with their legislators about right now. Click here to find out more.

CEA Retirees Spring into Action to Protect the Teachers’ Health Insurance Fund

Retired South Windsor teacher Marcia Baretta, at right, with past Hebron Education Association co-presidents Nancy Millerick (at left), and Althea Carr

From left, retired Hebron teachers and past co-presidents of their local Nancy Millerick and Althea Carr and retired South Windsor teacher Marsha Baretta learned more about the governor’s proposal to eliminate the state’s contribution to the retired teachers’ health insurance fund.

“Active and retired teachers need to get involved in issues of importance to the profession,” said Marsha Baretta, a retired South Windsor teacher. “And right now a key issue is our teachers’ health insurance fund, and it affects all teachers.”

Baretta, who was among a group of retirees at a CEA Retired Regional Member Activist Workshop in Glastonbury today, was talking about the governor’s proposed budget plan that completely eliminates the state’s contribution to the retired teachers’ health insurance fund for the next two years.

Jon-Paul Roden, CEA-Retired president and NEA-Retired Executive Council member, told his colleagues that the governor’s plan puts the retired health insurance fund in jeopardy. He called on the retirees to speak up on the issue and become more politically active. “Do whatever you can and whatever you can fit into your schedules,” said Roden. “It could be making a phone call, talking to other retirees about the issue, sending an email, or writing a letter to legislators—anything that will increase your activism and let your voices be heard.”

Retired  West Hartford teacher Ken Carpenter talks with Judy Baxter, retired Mansfield teacher and CEA local political coordinator.

Retired West Hartford teacher Ken Carpenter talks with Judy Baxter, retired Mansfield teacher and CEA local political coordinator.

CEA Political Action Coordinator Conor Casey told the group to tell their individual stories about how the cuts would impact them. When asked how many attendees had already called their legislators, more than half of those in the room raised their hands.

Many of the retirees, including Ken Carpenter, a retired West Hartford teacher, said their phone calls were taken very seriously.  “My call was transferred to the House Speaker’s office,” said Carpenter. “The Speaker’s aide was very receptive. He listened to my concerns and suggested sending emails or letters that could be given directly to the speaker.”

Casey agreed, telling the group, “Handwritten notes are important because legislators rarely get them and they pay more attention to them.”  He added, “There’s still plenty of opportunities for you to let your voices be heard by calling, emailing, or writing—take your choice, but do something.”

Click here to find out how to contact your legislator.

Your Retiree Health Insurance Threatened: Call Now

Retiree Health InsuranceThe governor’s proposed budget completely eliminates the state’s contribution to the retired teachers’ health insurance fund for the next two years.  This puts your retired health insurance fund in serious jeopardy.

The governor and your legislators need to hear from you now. Tell them to protect the solvency of the fund.

Call Governor Malloy

Call the governor at 1-800-406-1527 and ask him to restore the state’s funding to the retired teachers’ health insurance fund.

Call your State Representative and State Senator

Ask them to ensure that the budget restores the state’s funding to the retired teachers’ health insurance fund. Click here to look up your state legislator.

  • House Democrats: 1-800-842-1902
  • House Republicans: 1-800-842-1423
  • Senate Democrats: 1-800-842-1420
  • Senate Republicans:1-800-842-1421

Here are some basic facts about the governor’s proposals:

  • The law requires the state to pay one-third of the medical costs for retirees. The governor’s budget proposal overrides this law and eliminates the state’s contribution to the health fund for two years, shortchanging the fund by over $70 million.
  • The reduction in the state’s contribution to the health fund will negatively affect its long-term solvency. Active and retired teachers have been paying into the health fund with the understanding that it will be there for them when they retire.
  • Active teachers make the largest contribution to the retired teachers’ health insurance fund — contributing 1.25% of salary annually. In 2012-13, contributions from active teachers of over $45 million will be deposited into the health fund.
  • The state should honor its obligation – active and retired teachers have always dutifully made their required health insurance contribution.
  • Retired teachers participating in the State Teachers’ Retirement Board’s Medicare supplement plan also contribute a premium share to the Fund. In 2012-13, retirees’ contributions will amount to almost $38 million.
  • Retired teachers and spouses under age 65 and over-65 retirees who are not Medicare eligible obtain insurance through last employing board of education. They typically pay full cost of insurance, minus a $110 per month subsidy paid from the health fund. Monthly costs currently range from around $400 to over $900 per person, depending on local plans.

Please call today.

Workshops Support Teachers in Making Their Voices Heard: Sign Up Now

Manchester teacher Cristina Rodrigues talks with Vernon Education Association President Kevin about legislative education proposals at a CEA workshop last week.

CEA Reforum workshops are being held around the state this month. At a recent Reforum, Manchester teacher Cristina Rodrigues talked to East Granby Education Association Co-President Kevin Iapichino-Dorr about legislative education proposals.

A Manchester teacher says she sometimes feels like she’s in her own little world in her classroom, but she now has a solution: come to a CEA workshop. Second-grade teacher Cristina Rodrigues had never attended a CEA workshop before but she realized, “I need to know what’s going on.” After attending a CEA Reforum in Rocky Hill she’s now encouraging other CEA members to sign up.

Eight Reforums are being held around the state this month and there’s still time to sign up. CEA members are learning about education funding and the governor’s budget proposal, school safety issues and CEA’s member survey, and teacher evaluation and professional development.

Glenn Spencer, a Bloomfield Education Association Building Representative, said that he attends CEA events like the Reforum in order to be a better advocate for the members in his local. “I like to come so I can inform my colleagues,” he said.

Sign Up for a Reforum Workshop

Upcoming Reforum workshops will be held at the dates and locations below. Registration and hors d’oeuvres start at 4:00 p.m. and the program runs from 4:30 – 6:30.

Sign up by clicking here. You will need to enter your member ID number. (If you don’t know your ID number, click here.)

  • Monday, February 25 – Trumbull Marriott, Trumbull
  • Monday, February 25 – The Spa at the Norwich Inn, Norwich
  • Tuesday, February 26 – Georgina’s, Bolton
  • Tuesday, February 26 – The Italian Center of Stamford, Stamford
  • Wednesday, February 27 – Heritage Hotel, Southbury
  • Thursday, February 28 –  Crystal Peak, Winsted
  • Thursday, February 28 – Cascades, Hamden

Why Your Stories Matter

Last year teachers played a pivotal role in making sure education reform legislation reflected the realities of the classroom. Joanne Gay, CEA Director of Education Reform Initiatives, told members that the meetings teachers had with legislators in their home districts last year made a big difference.

“The numbers of teachers that came out for the meetings greatly impressed legislators,” said Gay. “There were more than 145 face to face meetings with legislators last year. The voice of CEA teachers was heard. We must continue to speak up for our profession,” she said.

CEA  Research and Policy Development Specialist Ray Rossomando said that when legislators sit in a room for an hour with teachers, “legislators learn a lot that they didn’t realize about teaching.”

“You don’t necessarily have to understand all the details of a legislative proposal” in order to give feedback, said Rossomando. He said it’s enough to be able to give legislators examples about how policies affect you, and say, for example, ‘we’re now paying for supplies out of our pockets that the board of education used to cover.’

Biden: “We Will Be Judged as a Society if We Do Nothing”

Vice President Joe Biden today said. Photo by Jim Greenhill via Flickr.

Vice President Joe Biden today said that it’s unacceptable for politicians not to take on legislation to prevent gun violence. Photo by Jim Greenhill via Flickr.

We will never be the same as we were before the tragedy in Newtown, Governor Dannel Malloy said this morning at a conference on reducing gun violence. “We have changed,” he said. “And I believe it is now time for our laws to do the same.”

The conference, held at Western CT State University, included Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and dozens of educators, law enforcement officials, and state and local government leaders, including CEA President Sheila Cohen.

Malloy told the audience that he has today issued a gun violence prevention proposal that includes:

• Making Background Checks Universal and Comprehensive
• Banning Large Capacity Magazines
• Strengthening the Assault Weapons Ban
• Promoting Safer Gun Storage
• Improving Enforcement of Existing Laws

“We run a risk of letting this critical moment in history pass us by,” Malloy said. Read his complete proposal here.

This morning’s conference was organized by Senators Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal and Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty. They emphasized the need for action not just here in Connecticut, but on the national level.

Blumenthal said, “Connecticut can’t go it alone; we need national action. It can’t just be rhetoric.” Esty said, “There are common sense laws that we will pass. Not just in this state, but in Washington too.”

Vice President Biden, who himself lost his young daughter and his wife to a tragic traffic accident soon after being elected to the Senate, told the families of the Sandy Hook victims that he greatly admires their courage. “We owe you a debt of courage for being willing to stay in the ring,” he said. “I didn’t have the courage to do what you’re doing.”

Biden continued, saying that it’s not too much to ask politicians to show some courage too. “People write about the political risk, but it’s unacceptable not to take this on.” The audience responded with loud applause and the Vice President added, “If you’re concerned about your political survival, you should be concerned about the survival of our children.”

“I can’t imagine how we will be judged as a society if we do nothing — what will be written of us 20 and 30 years from now if we don’t act,” Biden said.

In addition to the discussion on reducing gun violence, the conference also included a panel that addressed mental health and school safety initiatives.

Lynn McDonnell, the mother of seven-year-old Grace who died at Sandy Hook, said, “We are strengthened by the commitment of everyone here to make a change.” She continued, “We ask that our representatives look into their hearts and remember the 26 beautiful lives that we lost and pass meaningful laws to make sure that this never happens again.”

Governor Outlines Commitment to Funding for Many Public Schools

CEA President Sheila Cohen joined Governor Malloy and other state and teacher union leaders

At a State Capitol news conference today CEA President Sheila Cohen said she is happy that the governor recognizes the need for increased funding for public schools.

Despite the state’s fiscal woes, Governor Dannel P. Malloy today announced a proposal to increase Education Cost Sharing (ECS) funding to 117 of the state’s 169 cities and towns, while maintaining level funding for the remaining municipalities.

CEA President Sheila Cohen, CEA Vice President Jeff Leake, CEA Executive Director Mark Waxenberg, AFT-CT President Melodie Peters, and AFT-CT First Vice President Stephen McKeever joined the governor, Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman, and State Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor at a news conference at the State Capitol for the announcement.

The governor said that education is a priority and the state needs to provide additional money, especially to build on the Alliance District, Commissioner’s Network, and other school improvement efforts. Malloy said, “We have an obligation to each and every student in our schools to provide them with a quality public education so they can compete in the 21st century economy.”

Cohen said, “Connecticut is fortunate to have a governor who understands that investing in public education will bring future economic, social, and fiscal returns. Too often decisions about our children’s future are driven by budgetary realities, rather than what would ultimately be best for public schools students in the long term. Connecticut can’t build a strong local economy unless it provides high-quality education, and the state can’t have high-quality schools without adequate funding.”

Under the plan, ECS funding will increase by more than $50 million in 2014, and more than $101 million in 2015.

The governor also announced a new collaboration between the State Department of Education and CEA and AFT-CT.  According to state officials, the new partnership is aimed at promoting the teaching profession by attracting top teaching candidates to Connecticut schools, retaining our best teachers, and providing advancement opportunities for teachers over the course of their careers. The plan calls for several million dollars in competitive grants to fund recruiting and retaining programs in two or three districts.

“We are pleased with this partnership, which appears to create the conditions necessary to further the teaching profession,” said Cohen. “It is imperative that Connecticut do all it can to recruit, attract, and keep the best and brightest teachers in the classroom. These professionals need to keep growing and learning, increasing their effectiveness so that they can elevate achievement and prepare students for the future challenges in our 21st century workforce.”

The governor will outline specifics of the proposal during his budget address to the legislature tomorrow afternoon.

School Safety Takes Center Stage at Legislature

Educators, first responders, parents, and others who testified before a new legislative task force today urged lawmakers not to make schools fortresses, but to maintain their status as warm and welcoming places of academic learning.

They acknowledged that this is a difficult balancing act in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre last month. In response to that tragedy, the state legislature created the Bipartisan Task Force on Gun Violence Prevention and Children’s Safety. Today the task force’s School Security Subcommittee held its first public hearing.

Cost associated with what’s being called the effort to “harden schools” by making them less penetrable by an assailant appeared to be on everyone’s mind. So, too, was flexibility for local school districts in addressing the complex topic of making schools safe.

CEA Executive Director Mark Waxenberg told the subcommittee that there does not seem to be a one-size-fits-all approach to school safety. “State policymakers need to listen to ideas advanced by students, educators, parents, and others in our communities and also ensure that localities have the resources necessary to implement new practices.”

According to Waxenberg, state legislators need to utilize their capacity to create statute, policy, and new funding as swiftly as possible. In his written testimony, Waxenberg also encouraged lawmakers to examine reallocation of funds. He wrote, “Even though state dollars are limited, your work on this new state task force provides a key opportunity to reassess priorities and determine how state dollars are invested in public education.” Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton told the subcommittee that “safety should not depend on money.”

Watch Waxenberg testify before the task force on the importance of forming School Safety committees in each and every school.

Darryl Alexander, the director of the American Federation of Teachers’ (AFT) Health and Safety Program, said that AFT has been working on school safety and emergency response for more than 12 years. Alexander said that the AFT has found that state legislation is not enough—it takes the commitment of every tier of society, from local government to school districts to the actual school site, to have genuine school safety that’s dynamic and effective.

“The goal is to get genuine school safety committees at every school,” said Alexander. “That means school district have to prepare a school committee that has representatives of all stakeholders—including teachers, other school staff, local emergency responders, and police. These folks need to examine templates and plans and refine them for their particular school building.”

State Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor urged the subcommittee to consider the following.  “How might we fortify the school environment without creating impenetrable fortresses that are not conducive to learning, but nonetheless are safe and secure? Those are critical questions for us,” Pryor said.

Pryor said there is a long list of changes schools can consider such as the following:

  • Improvements to exterior and interior windows that create transparency and enable the visibility of threat to occur in creating such improvements.
  • Door and window improvements that likewise harden the facility and prevent some of the kind of problems that can enter into the facility.
  • Construction of schools, with the enclosure of an exterior courtyard in a way that may be invisible when you look at it casually but provides for a perimeter that may be safer.
  • Construction of corridors within a school that create even more light, even more brightness, even more warmth for students, but also create the kind of view corridor that may be necessary in order to ensure that a school is even more safe.
  • Architectural design elements that influence the walls of a schools.
  • Security infrastructure, the technological infrastructure, camera systems that can be valuable.

What do you think of these kinds of changes to schools? What is being considered at your school? Are you worried about schools becoming fortresses?