Teachers and paraprofessionals are creating a sense of urgency over the number of educators looking to leave the profession and last week they asked the legislature’s Education Committee for a raise.
Unionized teachers and paraprofessionals are looking to use $600 million in surplus funds to increase salaries, along with a $500 income tax credit and pension enhancement for retiring teachers who worked during COVID.
Torrington educator Michael McCotter said increasing educator pay will make retention easier. He said he’s worked nine years and has a masters degree, but makes only slightly more than the minimum salary.
“My student loans account for 20% of my take home pay,” McCotter said.
So in order to supplement his income he works jobs after school.
Sheena Graham, the 2019 CT Teacher of the Year and retired Bridgeport educator, said “being an underpaid educator in an underfunded district led to undeniable sacrifices for my own children. It meant having to work two to four jobs my entire career.”
Kate Dias, president of the Connecticut Education Association, said they are recommending a minimum salary at 3.25 times the Federal Poverty Level, which for a family of two, amounts to about $64,000 a year. While starting salaries vary across districts, no district offers $64,000 as a starting salary.
She said school districts alone can not be expected to bear the burden.
The funding educators are asking for is not included in the governor’s budget. The bills lawmakers debated Wednesday would be distributed as a grant and would not cover the mandated increase in teachers’ salaries.
“We recognize that Boards of Ed don’t necessarily have these resources to do this in the here and now,” Dias said during a press conference. “We think our superintendents and our boards of ed support the idea of an acceleration of moving those salary schedules up … Our salaries are really not where they need to be. However that requires an infusion of resources.”
In her testimony, Dias said, “Today, we are asking for the minimum salary to be raised to an amount that would not put a teacher who might be a single mother on state support.”
Hundreds of teachers and paraeducators testified in favor of the proposals.
“Yes this bill is expensive, but the cost of doing nothing will be far greater,” Shellye Davis, president of the Hartford Federation of Paraeducators AFT Local 2221, said.
“We implore you to stop the madness and make transformational changes,” Davis said.
Rep. Jeff Currey, co-chair of the Education Committee, said he doesn’t think people fully understand what it means to walk into a classroom with 30 children, one educator and zero support staff when half of those kids are likely high-need and walk away thinking everything was great.
“The fact that more districts have not been sued by students and families because of the lack of staffing to fulfill their legal obligations — I’m just shocked,” Currey said. “And it should never take a lawsuit to fix sometimes what we have the ability to do ourselves.”
Dias also pointed out that teachers were left out of hero pay and should be rewarded for the sacrifices they made during the pandemic.
“If your inboxes are not full on this issue alone, I am shocked,” Dias said. “But teachers are not the only interested party. Voters have again chimed in on this issue, and 71% believe that teachers who worked during the pandemic should be acknowledged for the extreme effort it took to keep education of students a high priority in often impossible situations. Let’s make this proposal a priority.”
The Connecticut Association of Public Schools Superintendents and the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education testified against one of the bills because it would change the arbitration process by eliminating the three-member board and replacing it with “a single, unelected arbitrator.”
The two groups also opposed a provision of the bill that would change teacher tenure.
“Fair teacher contract termination proceedings, though important to school boards, teachers and the public, are exceedingly rare, and these changes would not affect teacher recruitment or retention at all. Indeed, the only teachers employment would be affected by this proposed legislation would be teachers for whom the superintendent has taken the unusual step of recommending dismissal,” Patrice McCarthy, executive director of CABE, and Fran Rabinowitz, executive director of CAPSS, testified.