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