Organizing can be more difficult when members can’t meet face-to-face with each other, or with town officials, but that’s not stopping teachers around the state. Farmington Education Association (FEA) members are a recent example of what’s possible when teachers commit to working together.
Thanks to teachers in Farmington and the community of parents and residents who support them, the Town Council gave up pursuing concessions for next year, and the town also agreed to greater transparency in its public meetings going forward.
“We want to thank our FEA Council and all of you for tirelessly working together to make this happen,” FEA President James McNamara wrote in an email to members.
FEA just negotiated a new contract last fall but the town came asking for concessions in order to guarantee a zero percent tax increase for the coming fiscal year.
FEA leaders, with the support of CEA staff, contacted all teachers living in Farmington and asked them to speak out against the proposal at a virtual Board of Education meeting scheduled for May 4. Well over 200 people attempted to attend the Zoom meeting, however, in violation of a state order requiring transparency and public participation during the coronavirus pandemic, the meeting was capped at 100 participants.
“We know that these are unprecedented times, but the town must allow the public to participate in public meetings and ensure all voices are heard,” said McNamara. “The Board of Education was hearing public comments on the school budget, and that impacts all of us, but especially our students and teachers. To be denied a voice in the process violates the governor’s executive orders as well as our constitutional rights.”
“I was disappointed because I was denied access to an important public meeting and unable to share my views,” said Farmington resident and West Hartford teacher Theresa McKeown.
CEA UniServ Rep Justin Zartman wrote a letter to the Farmington Board of Education, letting the board know that CEA intended to pursue a formal complaint over the violation of state law at the May 4 meeting.
FEA members also sent texts and emails out to education supporters asking them to contact the Town Council and let the Council know they did not support cuts to education. Close to 100 written comments were submitted ahead of the Town Council meeting, and three out of four residents who spoke during the meeting spoke in support of the education budget.
After hearing the outpouring of support for teachers, the Town Council decided to achieve a budget with a zero percent tax increase through cuts elsewhere, attrition, and delays to capital projects.
“There will be no layoffs or freezes for teachers this year,” McNamara told members.
The town has also remedied the issue of caps on virtual meetings. Everyone who wanted to attend was able to join this week’s Town Council meeting, and the Board of Education agreed to void actions taken at the May 4 meeting that had capped public participation.
McNamara thanked members for their tireless efforts, as well as Zartman, CEA Organizer Brendan Murphy, CEA Political Engagement Coordinator Gus Melita, and all the other associations in town that stood strong.
“We are so proud to be a part of this tremendous organization,” McNamara concluded. “We are true partners who look out for one another. We are strongest when we stand together.”