In the early hours after dawn, members of the East Haven Education Association (EHEA) assembled outside the high school on the morning of their convocation. Greeting them with warm pastries and hot coffee, members of their union’s bargaining team—working hard on their behalf to secure better contracts—also distributed RedforEd shirts and stickers asking for a fair contract.
“We are in a tough negotiations process,” said EHEA President Cynthia Wintjen, who has served in that role for 25 of her 30 years as an East Haven high school science teacher. “The incoming proposal is probably the worst I’ve ever seen in 30 years. Overall, it diminishes the environment for our profession. At the same time the town government has been cutting taxes and lowering the mill rate, it’s giving nothing to our board of education.”
CEA UniServ Rep Gloria Dimon agrees that it has been an uphill battle and that to win it, teachers need to stand united and get their message out.
One of the challenges, Wintjen explains, is that voters and those elected to represent them aren’t necessarily aware of how stretched East Haven teachers are.
“The teachers in this town love the kids in this town. My colleagues refuse to not go above and beyond for their schools and their students, no matter what. They are dishing out their own hard-earned money to help the kids in their classrooms and provide a good experience for them, even though they themselves haven’t gotten raises or step increases.”
Many students in East Haven, she says, live in low-income households, and teachers throughout the year enthusiastically participate in fundraisers to benefit those families—raising money to provide gift cards, for example, that families can use to buy groceries or other essentials.
Meanwhile, she adds, the town “is chopping away at teachers’ benefits.”
Investing in education
High school culinary arts teachers Joe Tartaglia and Daniel Trzcinski—in their second and tenth years, respectively—wore their new stickers and T-shirts with pride.
“We trust in our local association president and are here to unite with our colleagues,” Trzcinski said, noting that East Haven’s 260 teachers are among the lowest-paid in the area, making his district a “stepping stone” for educators who realize within a few years of starting here that they cannot afford to stay.
“We experience constant turnover because of this,” said Tartaglia, “and that’s not a good outcome for our students. There are too many breaks in continuity, always having to adjust to new teachers and new teaching styles.”
“Teachers are backing teachers today,” said Wintjen, “and we will be showing up at town council meetings and board of finance meetings in our RedforEd shirts to make sure we continue to be seen and our message is heard.” The next town meeting is scheduled for September 14.
EHEA’s T-shirts read, “East Haven Teachers Are Worth It,” and “Education Is An Investment, Not An Expense.”