Hundreds of Stamford students, teachers, parents, and other community members showed their opposition to plans to cut the school budget by more than $15 million during a car caravan rally yesterday afternoon and at a virtual Board of Finance meeting last night.
“The community’s show of support is amazing,” said Stamford Education Association President Diane Phanos. “Thousands of residents have been actively involved in speaking out at four virtual town budget meetings, and hundreds attended today’s car caravan, urging city officials not to cut the education budget.”
Increased class sizes and the reduction or elimination of positions—including reading teachers, media specialists, technology teachers, social workers, school counselors, EL specialists, and art, physical education, and music teachers, as well as security personnel and paraprofessionals—are just some of the changes in store if Stamford Pubic Schools Superintendent Tamu Lucero’s budget-cutting plan is adopted. That plan has been proposed unless teachers accept $15 million in concessions, including a two-year salary freeze and $4 million in unspecified additional cuts or a 10% increase in the teacher health care premium cost share.
“As we try to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, our students will need more resources. These proposed cuts will jeopardize their education, their emotional well-being, and their future. We urge our elected leaders to listen to the public and do what’s right for Stamford,” said Phanos.
Ringing bells, displaying signs, and honking horns, teachers, students, and parents participated in a rolling caravan to voice their opposition to the proposed cuts to education. For over 45 minutes, more than 150 cars caravanned around the Stamford Government Center in a unified show of support for public schools. Watch a video here.
“It was a huge success,” said Phanos. “We thank all the teachers who came out after putting in a full day of teaching to support their students and the need for an appropriate budget. It is so important that our elected officials hear us.”
And hear them they did. Media showed up in force to report on the event. Many teachers, wearing masks and adhering to social distancing guidelines, stood on the sidewalks holding signs and cheering on the rolling caravan as it circled the Government Center, where the Board of Finance, Board of Representatives, and Board of Education offices are located.
Suzanne Rixon, a Stamford High School math teacher and SEA Treasurer, said it was gratifying to see so many parents, students, and community members join teachers in advocating for Stamford schools.
Cars displayed signs that read Support Stamford Schools, Budget Cuts Hurt Kids, Education Is Your Smartest Investment, Support Our Students, and Stamford Teachers and Students Are Counting on You.
Advocating for students
During last night’s Board of Finance meeting, 200 people, including parents, administrators, business leaders, and doctors, joined teachers’ voices against plans to cut the education budget.
“Our teachers inspire young people, and they inspire me,” said Westville High School principal Michael Rinaldi. “They are heroic and worth every penny they make, and they are happy to be accountable to their students. Our students will never be able to recover from the unconscionable harm that awaits them if we don’t find a solution.”
Jennifer Forman, the parent of Strawberry Hill Elementary School students, said Stamford must protect the most vulnerable among us. “Our children and our students are the ones who will feel the effects of these budget cuts for the long term. We owe it to them to find a way to keep our schools—their lifeline—strong, especially now. We are better when our schools are stronger.”
Instead of cutting the education budget, Phanos told the Board of Finance that there are other options to balance the budget, including deferring small capital projects and road paving and deferring demolition of the police station, which would result in a combined savings of $15 million, the very amount the Board of Finance seeks to cut from the Board of Education budget. Tapping into the rainy day fund could also make up for the shortfall, she suggested.
“I implore you to truly explore any and all options, including the rainy day fund, to obviate the need for these draconian cuts to the BOE budget. Doing so will put Stamford’s students, families, and educators first. The cuts you seek would be catastrophic to them as well as to the city of Stamford,” explained Phanos.
The board is expected to vote on the budget on May 27.