Public officials are elected to represent the interests of local residents, but members of the Stratford Board of Education abdicated their responsibility to town residents Monday by shutting them out of a public meeting.
Though the board had received notice days in advance that the number of teachers, parents, and community members expected to attend the first meeting of the board, which was elected in November, would exceed the room’s capacity, the board refused to change the venue.
Some teachers, parents, and community members were consequently shut out from participating in their town’s democratic process at a crucial time for Stratford’s schools and students.
Many of those who did make it into the packed room and were able to give public comment urged the board to act in the best interest of town residents and increase transparency into the education budgeting process.
Stratford schools have been struggling to try to maintain a strong education system due to severe cuts in education funding from the state. (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.)
Stratford Education Association members were refused the emergency board of education meeting they had requested in December, and reluctantly earlier this month voted in favor of a two-day furlough. The Stratford superintendent of schools had given teachers two choices: accept furloughs or face layoffs—both would cause chaos and major disruptions for students, parents, teachers, and the community and do not address long-term budgeting solutions.
Stratford Education Association President Michael Fiorello told the board, “I have heard from many teachers reluctant to accept furloughs that this forced choice was a false choice, that other savings were and are possible. Now, I don’t know if that is true, but the only antidote to this perceptions is openness.”
When the Stratford Town Council met in December, it urged the board of education to be transparent with its budget but that has not yet happened.
“Teachers sacrifice for our students,” Fiorello said. “We buy books and bookcases for our classrooms. We make sacrifices of our time and money. We do not want larger class sizes to be the new normal, nor reduced services and opportunities for students.”
Fiorello added that the education budget must be transparent so that Stratford can chart a way forward to continue providing the high-quality education students and parents have come to expect.