An Open Letter To Every Teacher in the State of Connecticut (By Matthew Valenti)

Connecticut educator Matthew Valenti sent in this “An Open Letter To Every Teacher in the State of Connecticut”

May 16th was a dark day for every one of the 43,000 public school teachers in Connecticut. 

For on that day, 1 percent of that number of teachers at the CEA-RA chose for a second term Sheila Cohen and Jeff Leake as president and vice president of the Connecticut Education Association.

In the words of Jonathan Pelto:  WAIT, WHAT?

What were the majority of these educators thinking when they cast their vote?  Obviously they were not.  I felt that the decisions the past three years made by these two leaders could not possibly have earned them a second term.  In my mind their biggest blunder in their first term was the decision to endorse the bully governor Dannel Malloy.  Even legislators in his own party are beginning to call Malloy a bully.  That has to tell you something.

Now some may argue that the endorsement was not Cohen and Leake’s decision alone, that the CEA Board of Directors were involved in it as well.  But I am sure that if Cohen and Leake were against the endorsement, the Board of Directors would never have over-ridden their wishes.

So, a governor was endorsed by CEA who:  Slapped every public school teacher in the face by proposing the most punishing evaluation model for teachers in the nation, slapped every public school teacher in the face by cutting hundreds of millions of dollars from public schools, slapped every public school teacher in the face by giving a 25 percent increase to charter schools, slapped every public school teacher in the face by mandating and promoting Smarter Balanced Testing, and slapped every retired public school teacher in the face by trying to eliminate the state’s contribution to the retired teacher’s health fund.

The most egregious thing to me was that Malloy in February of 2012 said all a teacher had to do was show up and they received tenure, and then he was in Newtown 10 months later to honor teachers who paid the ultimate price, one of them a non-tenured teacher who “showed up” to work.   How does one answer for that absurdity?

And despite all the above, this is the governor CEA endorsed for a second term!  And then during their own first term, these two leaders resisted supporting the op-out movement that other unions backed.  And virtually at the end of testing this year, they scheduled a rally against testing!  TOO LATE!  They didn’t even defend themselves against points I made against them in my letter to Wait, What? on April 29th as to why they should not be re-elected.  If they wouldn’t or couldn’t  do that, how were they going to go toe to toe with Dannel?

I mailed to each representative that same letter that appeared in Wait, What? to each of their homes.  And yet, with all that information at their fingertips, 1 percent of 43,000 teachers who were slapped around for 4 years voted to re-elect these two neutralized individuals. So was it stupidity or loyalty by these RA members to re-elect Cohen/Leake?   That I can’t answer because it’s impossible to say.  Could have been both, but I actually would be more comfortable with just pure stupidity.  When something affects my pocketbook like the Malloy and CEA decisions have, loyalty should fly out the window.  Stupidity isn’t easily fixed. I just didn’t expect stupidity from teachers who were representatives.  But in this case, perhaps loyalty equaled stupidity.

So, how do we fix this?  First, we need to change the way the CEA officers are elected.  The current election rules highly favor the incumbents. We need to have EVERY member vote.  43,000 teachers should not have 435 teachers representing them.   Second, the County Councils are a joke at election time. Candidates have a few minutes to make their case, and if you go one second over, you’re stopped.  Teachers need to hear the truth about what’s happening in their profession.  Currently, there is more time put on golf tournaments, teddy bears, socializing and food at County Councils than there are about teacher’s futures in public school.

I know how it works because I ran for president against Rosemary Coyle in 2003.  She was running unopposed on a ridiculous platform of “indoor air quality” when I felt she should  have been running on “secure teacher retirement” because it certainly wasn’t secure.  So I entered the race.  I made my platform “retirement” and she changed hers right after I made my speech at the first county council, a speech which I was rudely cut off from after 5 minutes.  I knew I wasn’t going to win, but I ran to achieve a greater good.  For during that election, teachers were pushed by Coyle to call legislators about the injustice, and that’s the year the contractual right of retirement was voted in by the legislators.  I believe it was done because she perceived me as a real threat.  I still took 1/3 of the vote with a campaign committee of me!

While it is true that the AFT leadership endorsed the bully two months before CEA did, at least AFT members elected someone who appears ready to fight Malloy instead of placating him.  According to Wait, What? (May 15th) Jan Hochadel is a fighter, unlike her predecessor, and is scheduled to take AFT over as president.  Maybe with a new president AFT can cross over and fix the teacher problems in this state, because if the past three years are any indication as to how CEA will function the next three, there will be little advocating for the membership.  As long as CEA continues to be an apologist organization for Malloy, the 43,000 members of CEA should probably start to look for other careers.  And it’s only going to get worse my fellow colleagues.  We had two real fighters that would have changed the face of public school teaching…but Martin Walsh and Scott Minnick lost, despite a tremendous effort on their part.  We all had a definitive chance with them.  And you can all thank the 1 percent that stopped that effort on Saturday.

I’m retired….the majority of you are not.  All I have to worry about now is having my measly 210 dollars a month for health insurance from the state getting cut completely, which I predict will happen this budget season with no one equipped to fight for us. And, I’m sure future teacher pensions will be in jeopardy soon with the passivity of the current leadership.  Remember all of this when you decide you can’t take it any more and want to leave the profession.  Look around you, because I’ve never heard so much discontent in our noble profession as I’ve heard the last four years.

Best;

Matthew P. Valenti
40.5 years public school teacher, Retired
12 year STRONG union president, Torrington

  • Bill Morrison

    I most emphatically agree! Every teacher should have a vote for the leadership of their Unions at the local, state, and national levels. We are the ones who are supposedly being represented. Instead, the Union leadership of both AFT-CT and CEA endorsed the most anti-teacher, anti-public education governor in American history. We the members were forced to finance his campaign through our dues monies without our consent because we had no vote in our Union elections. This is corruption in its most despicable form.

    I would therefore ask that we teachers unite from both Unions to create a grass-roots drive for direct democratic elections. We also need the right to have recall elections should our Union leaders act against our collective good. I am willing to host any meetings if anyone out there has had enough.

    • Bill Morrison

      I have sent the following letter to Matt O’Connor at the national chapter of AFT:

      Dear Mr. O’Conner,

      I would like to make two proposals in the way that we elect our Union leaders at the national and state levels. First,I am calling for direct democratic elections by the Union membership. Second, I am calling for the right to have recall elections when the leadership acts against
      the interests of the membership.

      Membership currently feels powerless within our own Union. This is especially true in Connecticut, where our Union leadership has endorsed the most anti-education, anti-teacher governor in Connecticut history, Dannel
      Malloy. Malloy implemented an extremely prejudicial evaluation system for teachers, brought in Common Core and its associated testing (SBAC), crushed the OPT OUT movement, reduced funding for public schools while
      increasing funding for Achievement First Charter Schools, increased funding for CONNCan (a private Charter School advocacy group), appointed Stefan Pryor (CEO of Achievement First) as Commissioner of Education,
      vastly increased standardized testing throughout the state, and tried to abolish of tenure for teachers, all endorsed and supported by Melodie Peters against the wishes of the membership in CT. Peters then endorsed Malloy for reelection and spent OUR Union dues for Malloy’s campaign.

      In other words, the leadership is out of touch with membership. We need to reclaim power. OUR Union is unresponsive to our needs and only works for its own benefit, often at our expense. It is time for a change in
      how we elect our officials; it is time to make our leadership serve the membership. It is time for democracy.

      Sincerely,

      Bill Morrison

      • ANTI-MALLOY

        Great letter. I think I will send something similar.

        • Bill Morrison

          Thank you!

    • Let us move on

      And who decides if the Union leaders act against the collective good? Sounds very subjective.

      Also, just to be clear… no money was given to the candidate from CEA after the endorsement was made. It was a rubber stamp. Please understand that it was nothing more than a rubber stamp. While I personally cannot stand Malloy, the alternative was sad to say going to be worse for education in the state.

      • Bill Morrison

        But, one alternative you seem to be passing over was Jon Pelto. Also, Foley, for all of his ills, had pledged to abolish CCSS and SBAC. He also denied the accusation that he would end collective bargaining, although I do not trust him here. Malloy did, however, attempt to do just that while simultaneously trying to abolish tenure for many teachers.

        Also, financing campaigns goes far, far beyond merely giving the candidate money. In our case in AFT-CT, Peters oversaw the distribution of campaign literature and mailings, efforts that include paying employees of the Union for writing, editing, stuffing envelopes, postage, etc. How much did the printer cartridges cost for printing address labels and printing that literature on behalf of Malloy? I’m sure that CEA did the same.

        Finally, who decides if the leadership acts against the collective good? The membership does. It is called a democracy. Try it sometime.

    • Tom Burns

      If you only knew–but you don’t

      • R.L.

        And, of course, you do? NOT. The unions will die because they have alienated their membership. There is nothing democratic about them. They take my money and endorse my enemy. There was a choice in the last election, a choice to step out of the “two” party system, which is a complete disaster. They did not have the balls to do it. Leadership requires balls sometimes.

      • Bill Morrison

        Tom,

        Then enlighten me . . . what do I know and what do I not know? And, what does this have to do with our non-democratic “elections”?

        • Bill Morrison

          Tom,

          Since you are avoiding answering my question,, let me tell you something I do know. My school in Hartford is losing two Special Education teachers because of Malloy’s new budget cuts to public education while simultaneously increasing spending for his cherished charter schools in my district. This is in spite of 33% of our students in my school being designated as Special Needs Students. The same is happening in districts throughout our state. The Unions endorsed Malloy, thereby harming public schools and public school students.

          We cannot afford to lose these two teachers because of our huge population of Special Needs students. In fact, we could use two more. But, Malloy is ensuring that these students lose services while increasing spending for corporate charter schools. Union endorsements and financial support helped reelect this monster.

        • mookalaboona

          Sounds like you two are on the same page. What are you arguing about?

        • Bill Morrison

          We are not on the same page at all! Tom Burns is a huge supporter of Melodie Peters, the now departing President of AFT-CT who was a strong supporter of Malloy, Common Core, increased standardized testing, increased funding for Charter Schools, etc. Peters was simply a mouthpiece for Malloy at our expense.

          My intent was really not to argue with Mr. Burns. He fired the opening shot, and I am simply responding to him.

        • mookalaboona

          My bad….I saw a post that looked like you were answering him, and noticed now you were answering your own post. If Mr. Burns is a teacher, I don’t know HOW he can side with Peters, Cohen, Leake, Malloy and their ilk. It’s outrageous. For CEA and AFT to make the claims about Malloy being the better person for teachers, outrageous. My only problem with the endorsement of Malloy was that they endorsed someone who kicked us all around his first four years. To endorse someone like that, well, it’s unspeakable. Neither Foley nor Malloy should have been endorsed period. We had an advocate they could have helped in Jonathan. Because of the way elections are rigged, most likely Jonathan would have lost, but CEA and AFT would have held their head high that they did not endorse anyone who was anti-teacher. That’s my issue!

        • Bill Morrison

          Agreed, though to be fair, Mr. Burns has claimed to be anti-Malloy while supporting Ms. Peters. Yet Peters is a huge Malloy supporter who has strongly endorsed Malloy’s reform program in its entirety, including increased standardized testing, VAM, and increased spending for Charter Schools while cutting spending on public schools. Mr. Burns has said that Foley would have been worse than Malloy but has never offered any evidence to support his position. I’m no Foley advocate; indeed, I voted for Jon, but Malloy was the proven enemy while Foley pledged to end Common Core in CT, abolish SBAC, and return control of public education to local districts. Foley was a hypothetical enemy; Malloy was one in fact.

        • mookalaboona

          Yes I wrote in Jon’s name as well. Could not stomach voting for the other two.

  • ANTI-MALLOY

    I’ve known Valenti a very long time. He was a super strong union president in Torrington for 12 years and challenged CEA most of those years. His first year he turned around the weak Torrington union and made it a union that didn’t take any guff from administrators or superintendents by filing unfair labor practices and grievances over and over, until the administrators woke up and stopped pulling the crap they had been pulling for years. No surprise to me he would come out and write this after the sham of an election last week. Very well said.

  • Let us move on

    I am disappointed to see that because the individuals Matt did not support were re-elected he is now attacking the election process and the educators who took the time to go to the RA to vote. The election is over, and what Matt did not point out was that his actions actually hurt the opponents as he was a huge topic of discuss at the RA. For those who are unaware of it, Matt sent letters to all the delegates which left many teachers outraged. How did Matt gain access to their personal home addresses? How was it that he was able to send messages out while not a candidate?
    However, what I am the most disappointed in is the fact that the election is over, and instead of trying to mend fences, instead of doing what is best for education, children, and teachers…. Matt is continuing to personally attack the union and it’s leadership.
    As a former student of Matt’s I would like to call him out to join us, put his feelings aside for the time being and help CEA, the teachers, the parents, and the students fight for a better tomorrow. Lets work together instead of trying to tear one another apart. I know Matt is a music man… so to quote Ceasar Rodney of Delaware in the musical 1776 “The Enemy is out there”.

    Let us all work together…. Martin, Scott, Matt, Jonathan, Sheila, Jeff, the CEA Board of Directors, our new education friendly (former educator) Commission of Education…. Lets stop attacking one another as nothing good comes out it. Lets go after the enemy… the testing, the evaluations…..

    • ANTI-MALLOY

      If Matt was a huge topic of discussion at the RA, then the RA is totally screwed up. CEA itself can’t stand the truth, and the letter he wrote had nothing in it that wasn’t the truth. The letter written did not hurt the candidates, what hurt the candidates is the terrible election process CEA has put in place that absolutely guarantees incumbents the win. Unfortunately, the union is not fixable as long as impotent leadership continues to be voted in.

      • Let us move on

        If you think it “is not fixable as long as impotent leadership continues to be voted in”… why don’t you run? And if you have run, why did you not win? Time to put the big boy pants on and get over your issues… As for Matt’s letter, the contents were not even discussed, what was discussed was how he received personal information that he should not have. Our home addresses, etc. You do a good job of ignoring the real issues and trying to talk around the points.

        • R.L.

          The real issue is the “teacher’s” unions leadership took their member’s money and got an enemy of public education elected for Governor. Not much to it really.

        • mookalaboona

          YES!

        • mookalaboona

          I was a delegate six years ago when Phil was running for a second term and I distinctly remember Matt Valenti writing a strong letter of support for PhIl and it was sent to every delegate to their home addresses. Yet there was no discussion about how addresses and information. Is that because it’s ok for someone to do this only if it’s a CEA picked candidate? I contend that it’s only because CEA doesn’t want teachers to know truth and the letter told the truth in every detail! It’s sickening how the CEA machine behaves!

        • Bill Morrison

          This is the crux of the matter . . . the Unions only allow delegates to run, and becoming a delegate is shrouded in mystery (at least in AFT). Then only delegates can vote. We want open, direct democratic elections with an open method of becoming a candidate. Do you object to that?

    • R.L.

      There is no moving on until some folks are moved out. There is no mending fences with Malloy apologists.

  • Tom Burns

    You mustn’t know anything about Tom Foley–the only other choice–he is actually worse–and I didn’t think anyone could be worse than phony Dan–but he would be worse–Now moving forward, is Mr. Pelto serious in mounting a real challenge to the status quo–he is my hero on this blog–but I would like him to start a real movement now–too late last time–don’t let it happen again–OR-if the Repubs run anyone other than Foley we will ALL back that person–coming from New Haven–Tom

    • mookalaboona

      No one wanted CEA to back Foley, what we wanted was to have no endorsement for either candidate. I remember the headline in the Hartford Courant that made me madder than anything…..”Teachers Endorse Malloy”. I think I almost threw up! CEA endorsed Malloy, not the teachers who he slapped around, not the teachers he messed with on their evaluations and all the other crap he pulled. It made CEA, my union, look terribly powerless, ineffective, and incompetent. I will NEVER forget that….never. They could have helped Jonathan get his petitions going, but that would never had happened, because all along they were going with Malloy, because they were scared. Well, scared is NOT how you handle a proven first term bully! What happens is you inherit a second term bully.

      • Bill Morrison

        The Unions would not even allow Jon to participate in any Union-sponsored debate. They did not consider endorsing Jon, the only candidate would was a friend to us.

        • mookalaboona

          You tell them Bill. My thoughts exactly.

    • R.L.

      “The only other choice”. I could have sworn Jonathan Pelto was running. Besides, the democrats needed to be admonished for how they undermined education in this state. Now, since “the teachers” endorsed Malloy, the democrats can continue, with “our” blessing, to pursue the policies that have been so helpful for teachers, students and education in general. At least Melodie Peters seems to be on her way out. Small victories.