“I find it’s important to stay involved in our Association and pay it forward,” said John Battista, one of nearly 200 retired Connecticut educators who converged on the Legislative Office Building this week for Retired Teachers Lobby Day. The event, a joint effort of CEA-Retired, the Association of Retired Teachers of Connecticut (ARTC), and AFT Connecticut, brought longtime educators and their elected officials face to face to discuss issues important to both retired and active teachers.
Battista, a former physical education teacher in Westbrook, said, “I wasn’t an advocate early in my career, but over time I developed a passion for the issues critical to active and retired teachers. Teachers are the most important part of our economy. I want to see our profession lifted up to where it should be. ”
CEA-Retired legislative committee co-chair Myles Cohen, a middle school guidance counselor for more than 37 years, said, “My commitment to the teaching profession didn’t end when I retired. We are blessed in this state to have the benefits we have, but we need to protect them—and we need to protect the young teachers coming up. Legislators need to hear from their constituents.”
“Although we are retired, we continue to be advocates for teachers, students, and public education,” said CEA-Retired President Gloria Brown. “We know that legislators listen when constituents like us take the time to come to Hartford to talk to them. Our major issues right now are funding of the State Teachers’ Retirement Board healthcare fund, taxation of teachers’ retirement income, and the governor’s proposal to have towns shoulder 30 percent of the cost of their teachers’ pensions.”
CEA President Sheila Cohen has warned that the governor’s proposal could result in cuts to cities’ and towns’ education budgets, resulting in programmatic cuts, teacher layoffs, and larger class sizes.
“This plan would have unintended, long-term consequences for all of our students,” Cohen said.
Boots on the ground
CEA-Retired legislative committee co-chair Karen O’Connell met with Representative Jeff Currey in his office. “I’m here to advocate for retired and active teachers,” O’Connell said. “I feel very strongly that we have priority issues that we need to speak to. Forcing towns to fund one-third of their teachers’ pensions puts a great burden on towns and could cut education programs and teachers’ jobs. We need an Education Cost Sharing formula that provides consistent and adequate funding for towns, because they depend on it. We also want to maintain the healthcare that retired teachers earned and deserve.”
Currey acknowledged that hearing directly from retired teachers is critical for lawmakers because, “You’re the boots on the ground. You’re the subject matter experts, and we need to hear from you.” Regarding the governor’s proposal to shift one-third of the cost of teacher pensions onto towns, Currey said, “Unfortunately, the proposal puts a financial burden on taxpayers across the state.” He added, “I think this automatic shift right out of the gate is untenable.”
“The budget is a reflection of our values,” said State Comptroller Kevin Lembo, who thanked teachers for educating every child and for taking those who are “on an uncertain path and giving them a positive, productive future. It really matters that you’re here—that we see you and hear from you.”
“Participating in Lobby Day is really important for me,” said newly retired teacher and former CEA Secretary Pat Jordan, who taught high school math in Waterford. “This is my first full year as a retired teacher, and there are so many issues confronting retired teachers that coalesce with the issues facing working teachers. It’s critical that we have a voice. We need to explain to legislators what our issues are and how they can help Connecticut’s children and teachers.”
CEA is a major voice
CEA-Retired teacher Susan Barrett, who taught in Stratford, is also a former state representative and knows firsthand the importance of face-to-face communication between constituents and their elected officials.
“CEA is a major voice here at the Capitol, and I’m a proud member of CEA-Retired,” Barrett said. “I’m here to help guide legislators in seeing what’s real and to look past these wild-card proposals. Everything is local. So it’s important for local educators to get involved.”
Diane Ethier, a retired high school math teacher in Plainfield, met with Senator Tony Guglielmo. “My big issue is the crucial nature of funding for teachers’ healthcare,” Ethier said.
Guglielmo, whose wife is a retired teacher and whose daughter is an active teacher, said, “I get it.” He added, “Teaching is not an easy job because of all the restrictions and mandates put on you. There is less and less time for teaching and more time spent on mandates that make very little sense and have very little value. It’s time to gear back.”
Addressing the entire group of teachers gathered, Representative Joseph Gresko reiterated his appreciation for the hard work retired teachers have done and indicated that the governor’s proposal to push a third of the cost of teachers’ pensions onto cities and towns is unpopular among his constituents and colleagues. “The prevailing wind going into this now is that a third is off the table. The legislators in my caucus are overwhelmingly against this.” The room broke into applause.
Representative Mike Demicco, a former teacher whose daughter is also studying to be a teacher, agreed. “The one-third idea does not have a whole lot of support. There’s significant pushback on that.”
Representative Gregg Haddad added, “We’re a citizen legislature here. We depend on citizens to come up here and tell us what’s important, and there’s nothing more important for me than making sure our system of public education remains strong. Aside from my parents, my teachers were most important to my success, and I remember each one of them, from kindergarten on up, by name. I have a three-year-old daughter, and I know that investing in education means investing in teachers—and following through on our commitment to our retired teachers.”