In contested races, 428 teacher delegates elected a new president, Jeff Leake, and vice president, Tom Nicholas, to lead the Connecticut Education Association for the next three years. The election took place on May 19 at the 170th CEA Representative Assembly (CEA RA). The president and vice president’s three-year terms begin July 15.
In addition, in uncontested races, delegates elected directors to represent them on the NEA Board of Directors. Vernon teacher David Jedidian was elected NEA director, and Tara Flaherty, a teacher at Shepaug Valley School in Washington, was elected NEA director alternate. Their three-year terms begin September 1.
New CEA Leaders
Leake received 242 votes, to 184 votes received by challenger Robert Smoler, a math teacher and president of the Fairfield Education Association.
Leake, who has been CEA vice president for the past six years as well as president of the Connecticut Education Foundation, promised to continue working hard to champion public education and the teaching profession.
An ardent supporter of collective bargaining rights, which increasingly have been under fire around the country, Leake said, “Collective bargaining lifts up everyone and empowers teachers to fight for the rights of their students and public education. We must not forget that teachers need the right to collectively negotiate for decent, equitable pay, affordable healthcare, quality schools, and vibrant communities.”
Newly elected CEA Vice President Tom Nicholas received 296 votes, to 132 votes garnered by challenger Mia Dimbo, a Bridgeport teacher and member of CEA’s Board of Directors who ran from the floor.
A Manchester social worker, Nicholas currently serves as CEA treasurer, a post he was elected to in 2012. He also serves on numerous CEA boards and committees, and his positions have included county director, past NEA director, and local Association president.
“With all the attacks on public education,” he said, “it is crucial to continue working with legislators and the State Department of Education to ensure adequate and equitable funding for our public schools.”
New Business, New Budget
On this, the second day of the two-day meeting, delegates overwhelmingly adopted a new CEA budget for fiscal year 2018-2019, with no increase in membership dues.
Delegates also adopted a new business item that would reconstitute a Poverty Task Force appointed by the incoming president to propose legislation and other appropriate steps to reduce poverty and diminish its impact on students.
Cohen Reflects on Career as Teacher, Education Leader
Reflecting on nearly 50 years in public education and 21 years in official roles at CEA, outgoing President Sheila Cohen—whose term ends July 15—urged teachers to continue the fight to protect students, public education, and the teaching profession.
Addressing delegates as CEA president for the sixth and final time, Cohen called this one of her most poignant days, as well as one of her proudest.
“Even when faced with daunting challenges, constantly changing mandates, frustrations that can bring you to tears, funding cuts to education, and political attacks on our profession and our union,” she said, “teaching is still the only job for me, and the best job in the world. From the time I first became your NEA Director in 1997, until today, I have never been afraid to take calculated risks and to be an outspoken advocate for our collective bargaining rights, our professional development, social justice issues, and our political organizing. I have been vigilant on the issue of our pensions—the benefits we were promised and have worked so hard for—so that we can retire with dignity.”
Cohen spoke about issues from testing to certification, to finally getting an assault bill passed that will guarantee the safety of students and teachers, to the decoupling of a single standardized test score counting as 22.5% of our evaluations, to the squashing of any attempt to diminish collective bargaining in the legislature. We knew that education cost sharing was getting the short end of the stick, and in partnership with locals, parents, and students, we filed an injunction against a gubernatorial executive order.
Miraculously,” she said with a wave of her hand, “more money appeared.”
Crediting the thousands of CEA members who stood together on these and other issues—attending rallies, providing oral and written testimony, and contacting their legislators, Cohen said, “All of you stepped up, answered the challenges, and kept moving forward for the sake of your students, your profession, and our belief that together we can change our public education for the better. My achievements are our achievements,” said Cohen, “and they would not have been possible without you.”
She implored her colleagues to keep up the fight. “While we did not win every battle, we learned something from each and everyone—something that helped us move forward and made us stronger for the next battle—which always comes.”