Matthew Valenti’s Year 2 Letter to Connecticut Teachers

These are dark time for our students, parents, teachers and public schools, as well as our entire country.

Connecticut continues to  historically underfund its school funding formula.  The crisis is now being exacerbated by Governor Malloy and the Democratic legislature’s decision to implement the deepest education budget cuts in state history.

At the same time, the legislature completed its 2016 session without addressing the fundamental problems associated with the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core SBAC testing scheme, nor did it step forward and require that the Malloy administration develop a teacher evaluation system that is not reliant on the scores of this failed and disastrous testing program.

People should be outraged and should be demanding that elected officials be held accountable for their actions.

In this guest commentary piece, Connecticut educator Matthew Valenti puts into words what many are thinking.

Valenti is not only a retired school teacher and champion on behalf of public education, he is one of the most outspoken advocates for teachers and the teaching profession.

Exactly one year ago, Matt Valenti wrote an open letter to Connecticut teachers that first appeared here in Wait, What.  It was entitled, An Open Letter To Every Teacher in the State of Connecticut (By Matthew Valenti).  Now, a year later, Matt returns to reflect on the state of the state when it comes to Connecticut’s teachers and public education.

Matt Valenti writes;

Last year, I wrote an open letter to all teachers in Connecticut and what a sad day it was for them.  http://jonathanpelto.com/2015/05/21/an-open-letter-to-every-teacher-in-the-state-of-connecticut-by-matthew-valenti/.  My letter dealt with the ineffectiveness of the newly elected second term Connecticut Education Association officers and how they ever could have been re-elected after their second term endorsement for a governor who slaps public school teachers around at every turn.  After reading my letter a year later, I thought it interesting to reflect on this past year’s events in our state on the teacher front.

After 40.5 years as a public school teacher, I retired in 2014.  This past school year, I taught a .4 position in a public school.  I was evaluated in April.  The evaluation system in Connecticut stinks!  As a veteran teacher, I could see no validity to the process.  It doesn’t help teachers or education.  Even the principal admitted to me that the new evaluation harms great teachers.  And I talked to teachers…..they are ready to leave.  So I ask all of you, how has CEA made our profession better for teachers or students this past year?  Just look at the recent post by Jonathan Pelto in Wait What about how the legislators treated teachers, students, and parents by reading what Jonathan wrote a few days ago  http://jonathanpelto.com/2016/05/20/ct-legislators-support-students-parents-teachers-malloy-common-core-testing-mania/
The majority of these were the endorsed candidates of CEA.

And where does public school funding stand?  Massive cuts from the state budget again!  What about testing?  Increased testing!  What about charter schools?  More support for charter schools and Common Core.  So, what exactly did our second term CEA leaders accomplish this past year?  You decide.  But I’m sure they have been effective with golf tournaments, teddy bears, and dinner meetings at Aqua Turf, or whatever “restaurant de jour” they chose to meet at this year!

Years ago, I signed up to be a lifelong member of CEA and NEA Retired because it was a one time payment and far less expensive than being billed the rest of my life.  So, I’m wondering what I get for my dues?  Threats of cutting my measly monthly 220 dollar health benefits I earned, threats of pension loss due to the outrageous behavior of the CEA endorsed legislators, a pension I paid into for 40.5 years?

When I took the.4 position, I was notified that my CEA and NEA retired status would be suspended and I would have to start paying half dues since I was considered active.  I railed against that!  CEA blocked me from making comments on their Facebook page, because they don’t want teachers to know the truth, and I have to pay dues?  And, did you ever look at their Facebook page?  Stories about planting flowers, lesson ideas for Memorial Day, 5 new books for children to read…..this is a union?  I want my dues to protect teachers from corrupt legislators, not hide in fear from a bully governor and report fluff on their social media page!

My suggestion for this election season is to see who CEA endorses, and vote the other way.

No one can think that voting for the CEA endorsed candidates will improve the state.  Look at the “progress” from the last election.

Best;

Matthew P. Valenti
Semi-Retired Teacher and Union President

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