A sea of #RedforEd greeted Danbury Board of Education members at the Board’s meeting last night where more than 250 Danbury teachers filled the meeting room and spilled into the hallways and outside the building.
“We are an investment for this community,” third grade teacher and NEA-Danbury President Erin Daly told Board of Education members. “When you invest in us, you’re investing in our children. When you invest in us, you’re investing in your community. If we as a community refuse to invest in our teachers, we are revealing to our students how little we value them.”
NEA-Danbury is heading into contract mediation and members showed up at the meeting in force to present a united front.
“Teachers have been very involved in this round of contract negotiations,” says CEA UniServ Rep Tom Kennedy. “They’ve been an integral part of this process and understand the importance of being visible to the Board of Ed.”
Since last school year, Danbury teachers have been reminding their elected officials that the district is in a unique position, for all the wrong reasons, as the municipality that is last in the sate in per pupil spending. And the already underfunded district is facing the additional challenge of a growing student population. Danbury administrators had expected an increase in students of up to 2 percent this year and have instead been surprised by a 5.6 percent increase in the number of students enrolled in city schools.
“The ECS formula doesn’t acknowledge that growth,” said Kennedy. “Danbury is one of few cities in the state that’s growing. The state is not funding its share and neither is the city.”
Daly shared with the Board of Education that special education teacher Leigh Viviano, who spearheaded the creation of a recently finished playground that’s accessible for students with special needs at Pembroke School, is one of too many Danbury teachers who have left the district to seek employment in a district where their efforts are valued and they’re respected as professionals.
“Leigh left Danbury to teach in another district where she can earn more as a single mom to provide for her family and to send her kids to college,” Daly said. “Leigh’s departure is surely Danbury’s great loss, but there are many other dedicated teachers just like Leigh who are leaving Danbury for similar reasons.”
Fifth grade teacher Pamela O’Neill said, “We teachers are stretched beyond our limits, physically, mentally, and emotionally. We don’t have anything more left inside of us to give.”
“When I began teaching here, I would eat lunch with my colleagues, and we would talk about lessons. Now I sometimes see them in the hall eating an apple, because there’s no time to stop and eat lunch. We are working so hard, all day,” said Sterling Miller, a technical education teacher. “We can’t take being stretched so thin. Please think about what you need to do to support us.”
“Tonight on the eve of our mediation session for a brand new negotiated contract, we want you to know that our commitment to this district can only be sustained as long as you commit to us,” said Daly. “We deserve a fair contract. An investment in teachers benefits all.”
Watch the Danbury teachers’ comments during the first 11 minutes of the Board of Education meeting below.