Despite hundreds of emails, letters, heartfelt comments during virtual meetings, car caravans, and other activities protesting proposed school budget cuts, the Stamford Board of Finance last night voted unanimously to cut the education budget by more than $15 million.
“It’s unbelievable that our voices were not heard throughout this process,” said Stamford Education Association President Diane Phanos. “Teachers rose to the COVID-19 challenges, as they always do, to take care of their students and keep them engaged and learning. The consequences of the crisis cannot be budget cuts that limit teachers’ ability to help their students or cuts to resources students need.”
Prior to the vote, Board of Finance members commented about the process. Saying that the board has been transparent, member Mary Lou Rinaldi remarked, “This should be no surprise to anyone.”
Geoff Alswager said, “While these are tough and difficult actions, they could have been a lot worse.”
David Mannis went on to say that the BOF was faced with an “avalanche of circumstances, and teachers feel it’s unfortunate, and they are right.”
Finance Board Chairman Richard Freedman claimed, “There have been no honest discussions between the Board of Education and the teachers, and the onus of harming schools has been put on the BOF.” He added that there have been no realistic or partial solutions proposed and that teachers have it in their control to determine what happens, referring to teachers taking pay cuts in order to save jobs.
“Stamford teachers have always been part of the solution when budget cuts were needed and have taken two pay freezes and step reductions in recent years,” said Phanos. “It’s unfortunate that the BOF has mischaracterized our efforts and desire to do what’s right for our students, their families, and the teaching profession, especially now when our schools are so critical to our successful recovery from this health crisis.”
Jill Matturro, a Springdale Elementary School first grade teacher, told the board that lessons taught and learned by everyone in kindergarten should be heeded.
“Share: Everyone should be sharing the responsibilities of budget cuts. Be fair and don’t take things that are not yours. We agreed on a contract, and it should be upheld.”
Stamford School Superintendent Tamu Lucero said dozens of teachers’ jobs, including social workers, school counselors, EL specialists, art, physical education, and music teachers, security personnel, paraprofessionals, and other positions will be cut if teachers do not agree to 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.
Karen Liberti, a parent to two boys said, “It’s disgusting to cut costs where kids are concerned, because they are our future.”
Melissa Farrow, a kindergarten teacher at Stark Elementary School, told the board that teachers have student loan debt for earning the degrees needed to teach. “Teachers are already underpaid and have to work second and third jobs just to make ends meet.”
Jamar Greene, a sixth grade English teacher at Cloonan Middle School and the head football coach at Stamford High School, agreed. Greene, who recently completed his sixth year degree, said, “An incentive for earning my sixth year degree is a pay increase, which is now in jeopardy with a two-year pay freeze, but what won’t be frozen are the school loans I need to start paying back.”
Greene addressed the board because he said his father, Board of Education member Jack Bryant, who lost his life to the coronavirus, would have wanted him to speak out for what is right.
“The cuts you are imposing are an insult to all educators and don’t give our children the best opportunity to be successful.” Greene said he became an educator to make a difference. “I am vehemently opposed to your cuts. Give us the absolute best opportunity to teach our children. We don’t need pay freezes; we need your appreciation and support.”
Drew Denbaum, a Westhill High School English teacher, said teachers have paid their fair share and will continue to do so, but he said “Unprecedented challenges demand unprecedented solutions.” He urged the board to “set an example and create a new paradigm: civil, fiscal disobedience.”
Scofield Middle School student Alexandra Martinez spoke in support of her teachers.
“All teachers care about us and are our biggest influencers. All my teachers have been so important to me, and all have helped me. Taking teachers away from us hurts all students. We need our teachers—all of them.”