A tremendous turnout of Stratford educators, families, and CEA leaders and staff at a special budget meeting of the new town council last night ensured that municipal leaders heard—and sent—a clear message to Stratford’s superintendent of schools: No teacher layoffs.
While the nine-member council ultimately voted 8–1 to accept a budget that includes $700,000 in education cuts, they strongly denounced any plans to cut teachers’ jobs. At issue was the superintendent’s proposal to lay off 43 teachers, including half of the district’s reading specialists, in the middle of the current school year.
One of those reading specialists, 21-year veteran Melanie Saxa, who teaches at Eli Whitney School, said, “The idea of replacing teachers midway through the school year is so detrimental to our students. We are here showing solidarity with teachers who may lose their jobs, and with our students, who deserve better than this.” Saxa said reading specialists play a key role in student outcomes, especially at the elementary level. “We have advanced degrees and certifications, and we provide professional development for teachers on site on a daily basis. Reading specialists build teacher capacity, and taking those positions away means setting our students and our teachers up for failure.”
“When students lose their teachers, that impacts their classroom environment and puts their learning at risk, all in the middle of the school year,” added Stratford Education Association (SEA) Secondary Vice President Kristen Record.
Although the special budget meeting did not allow for public comment, community members turned out in force, wearing stickers and holding signs protesting the threat of massive teacher layoffs as well as the potential elimination or reduction of valuable educational programs and services. Voicing their opposition were nearly 600 teachers, students, parents, and community members—a crowd that exceeded capacity in the town hall, forcing the budget meeting to relocate to Stratford High School.
Risking students’ futures
Like nearly all public school districts, Stratford faces a budget deficit created primarily by cuts in state aid. (One of the towns hardest hit by the governor’s draconian cuts, Stratford stands to lose $2.89 million and was the last town to pass a budget.) While teachers and parents say they understand the difficult decisions facing Stratford town leaders, they stand firmly against cuts to teaching staff, proposed furlough days that would close the entire school district, and other actions that threaten to erode their students’ education.
“We are already doing more with less,” said SEA President Michael Fiorello, “and our schools can’t absorb more cuts that would result in even fewer resources, the elimination of programs for students, larger class sizes, as well as teacher layoffs and involuntary teacher transfers.”
The first of several town councilors voicing his support for the hundreds of teachers gathered, Wali Kadeem said, “As you know, education is the foundation of all that we do. We can’t lose steps now that we’re making strides.” Pleading for teachers’ jobs, Kadeem indicated that with the superintendent’s proposed layoffs, “You’re hurting the town, you’re hurting the students, you’re hurting the teachers.”
His remarks were met with vigorous applause.
“We must find a solution that supports Stratford students and provides the high-quality education they deserve and their parents have come to expect,” said Fiorello. “There are other options, and we are willing to talk to the superintendent and Board of Education about these.”
SEA leaders have requested a meeting with the superintendent today, one day after the budget vote, to discuss some of these options and ask for her to call a special meeting of the Board of Education.