Increased class sizes, 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 cuts Stamford Pubic Schools Superintendent Tamu Lucero outlined last night during a virtual Board of Finance (BOF) special budget meeting. Lucero threatened the cuts if teachers refuse to 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.
“Penalizing teachers by requiring concessions and eliminating essential positions—including social workers—when we need them more than ever is penny-wise and pound foolish,” said Stamford Education Association President Diane Phanos. “Making drastic cuts is not the right course for our residents or our community during these unprecedented times. When we return to school, our students will need more resources, not fewer, and we have to be prepared to provide remediation and handle students’ emotional trauma caused by the pandemic.”
The SEA successfully organized members to participate in last night’s BOF virtual meeting, with hundreds of teachers among the 800 participants. Despite the record numbers, however, the board allowed only eight participants to speak, cutting off public comment after just 40 minutes. All eight speakers were Stamford teachers who spoke out against the budget cuts, while dozens of others submitted written comments echoing concerns that the cuts would be devastating to students now and in the future, compounded by the trauma and chaos caused by the coronavirus.
“As we move forward, schools will need additional funding to ensure the health and safety of students and staff, which includes making changes to ensure social distancing occurs in our schools and creating smaller classrooms, which means retaining or increasing the current staff, not cutting it,” said Phanos.
Alexis Schwach, a social worker dedicated to supporting students’ social-emotional well-being, is in a unique position to see the detrimental effects budget cuts have on the mental health and well-being of students and families. “In making concessions time and again, it is the community that is losing its most vital asset,” said Schwach. “We are losing the ability to invest in this community’s greatest opportunity to provide children with educational stability and the promise to create contributing members of a global society.”
Strawberry Hill School teacher Helene Anglaret echoed the need to emotionally support students. “Our most vulnerable students will be coming back to school looking for support and stability after going through extreme anxiety and having everything turned upside down.” She urged the board not to cut school budgets so that teachers can address the academic and social emotional needs of Stamford students.
“We are currently at an important decision point regarding our children’s future,” said Stamford parent and chemistry teacher Donna Kaiser. “Now is not the time to reduce resources to the institutions that help to build the future. The upcoming school year, with so many pandemic-related unknowns, is the time when our students need support the most. Let’s not disappoint them.”
Ann Herz, department head for world language at Westhill High School, said there is already a shortage of teachers, and if more are cut, students will be unable to take classed required for graduation.
“The budget cuts will mean we can’t get the additional teachers our children need,” said Herz. “Salaries will be less competitive, and prospective teachers will not apply to Stamford. The shortage of language teachers is real, and this will only further hamper our ability to find good language teachers.”
“The decision is much farther-reaching than hampering the quality of children’s learning today,” added Schwach. “It has even greater implications beyond their career as students, robbing children of their rights to achieve success in our schools and beyond.”
The board is meeting again on May 20 and May 21. A final vote is expected on May 27.
“I am so proud of all the hard-working, dedicated teachers who took time to join tonight’s meeting, speak out, and submit written comments,” said Phanos. “We made a huge statement with 800 participants in the virtual meeting, and that won’t go unnoticed, but our work is not over yet. We need every educator standing together, advocating for our students and our profession.”
SEA is planning a parade of vehicles on Thursday, May 21, at 4 p.m., to circle the Government Center, where the Board of Finance, Board of Representatives, and Board of Education offices are located.
“We hope hundreds of teachers, parents, and students join the car parade in a huge show of support to urge our elected officials to do what is right for our students and the future of our city,” Phanos concluded.