Teachers are working tirelessly to provide distance learning during an unprecedented pandemic and are keeping students engaged and learning while providing a slice of normalcy and stability for them and their families. When schools reopen, students will need additional supports to catch up and deal with the trauma caused by the pandemic. Now is not the time to cut the Stamford education budget and eliminate teachers and resources students need.
That was the message teachers delivered in the first half-hour of last night’s Stamford Board of Finance meeting. Despite a $14 million budget surplus, Stamford officials are planning to cut the education budget and are asking teachers for concessions and pay freezes or they will eliminate positions and resources and increase class sizes.
The Stamford Education Association (SEA) organized teachers to join the virtual meeting to voice their opposition to plans to cut the education budget and explain why any cuts at this time would be catastrophic for students, teachers, and the district.
SEA President Diane Phanos said that taking a pay freeze will amount to a pay cut for teachers, because health insurance costs will continue to rise while teacher salaries remain stagnant.
“Penalizing teachers and students is the wrong course for the Stamford community and families,” said Phanos. “As we move forward, it will be important to maintain small class sizes that allow for social distancing. To ensure small class sizes, we will need to retain or increase the staff that we have.”
“We are aware of the economic upheaval,” said one teacher. “Stamford teachers have taken pay freezes in the past, and it is premature to ask teachers to give up what little they receive.”
“Each day, as teachers, we give 100 percent to our students to develop the academic and social growth of our children,” said John Corcoran, a sixth grade math teacher and vice president of the SEA, who is disheartened to hear of the cuts, which he calls premature.
“Let’s see what happens with funding from the federal and state governments before we commit to budget cuts.”
Teacher Danielle Cohen told board members that teachers have stepped up to educate, reach, and connect with their students and provide them with a sense of normalcy in a chaotic world. “The students are clinging to any strands of normalcy, and teachers have turned their lives upside down to keep others right side up.” She urged the board not to take away student learning.
Elyssa Walker, a member of the Newfield Elementary School intervention team, said teachers are working harder than ever to support students and families. “We are needed. We are essential. If interventionists are let go, our students will fall further behind. We are needed more than ever and will be needed even more after surviving the pandemic.”
She urged members to think outside the box to come up with cuts and not to freeze teacher pay or eliminate interventionists or other teaching positions.
“Cutting us will prevent all kids from reaching their highest academic success,” she said.
Also on the chopping block are media specialists. A 48-year veteran teacher said media specialists have been the backbone of Stamford’s distance learning success. “Media specialists have been behind us making sure we were well prepared for distance learning, and we couldn’t do it without them.”
Cami Murace, a Springdale Elementary teacher, said she is more concerned about what teachers will face in the fall when schools reopen. “We need more, not less. This has been a Herculean effort, and teachers have done an amazing job. Our kids are having a tough time with distance learning, and when they return, they will need remediation. We need resources, and without funding, we can’t help or educate our students. It will be devastating.”
Sixth grade teacher Jimmy Sapia says teachers are under siege. “Please respect our professionalism, and allow us to perform our jobs without incident to our contract. Please do the right thing.”
Despite dozens of teachers on the line waiting to speak and many more having submitted letters, board members opted to end public comment and not read the letters until their next meeting, on Monday, May 18 at 7 p.m.
The SEA says it will continue to organize members to attend the next four meetings to speak out against the cuts.
“We do not want SEA teachers to suffer a pay cut, nor do we want teacher layoffs or cuts in positions,” said Phanos. “We need teachers, friends, and community members to come out in force and speak out against these cuts and the negative impact they will have on students, teachers, and Stamford’s future.”