In a packed room at the Raymond Public Library in East Hartford, more than 15 teachers from East Hartford and neighboring Manchester told their state legislators to pass a budget without creating further hardships for teachers, families, schools, and overburdened municipalities.
The teachers, many of whom wore bright yellow stickers identifying themselves as educators, were among nearly 100 attendees at a budget workshop for citizens, led by Representatives Jason Rojas and Jeff Curry and Senator Henry Genga. The workshop was meant to be an exercise in the kind of debate and negotiation that elected officials are currently engaged in at the Capitol—although many in the room said they would prefer instead to hear the legislators’ plans for balancing the budget.
East Hartford teacher Jill McNulty, who comes from a two-teacher household with school-age and college-age children, urged her lawmakers to steer clear of any budget proposals that would increase teachers’ contributions to their pensions or shift the cost of those pensions onto cities and towns.
“We are adamantly opposed to shifting teacher retirement costs onto cities and towns,” she said. “That’s breaking the agreement that the state had made with us.” Many in the room raised their hands and voices in agreement.
McNulty pointed out that she and her spouse have already gone to a higher-deductible healthcare plan, with greater out-of-pocket expenses, and that some of the state budget proposals on the table would amount to a $7,000 decrease in her own household budget.
“The proposed pension increase and cost shift are devastating,” she said. “Combined with other recent sacrifices East Hartford teachers have made, this would effectively erase any raises I received in the last ten years. If this passes, I will actually be worse off today—with a decade more teaching experience—than I was ten years ago.”
“They don’t know what we give back year in and year out,” East Hartford teacher Teddy Tauris agreed.
East Hartford Education Association President Annie Irvine pointed out that in her district, teachers in recent years have accepted modest raises or none at all.
“The insensitivity to that fact—and the fact that we have always contributed to our pensions and have always been paying in—shows that this isn’t about education at all,” said Manchester Education Association President Kate Dias.
East Hartford teacher Susan Budde remarked, “The state needs to have a good cadre of teachers—teachers who are given the pay, benefits, and respect that educators deserve. What happens to our schools when we don’t pay teachers well? When we keep expecting them to shoulder more and more costs?”
“Do we want to be the state that can’t attract teachers?” Dias asked. Enrollment in Connecticut’s teacher preparation programs is already down more than 30%, and schools are facing shortages in key subject areas.
Legislators are expected to convene at the State Capitol for a vote on the state budget on Tuesday, July 18.