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New Haven advocates call for more public school funding amid staffing shortage

Parents, teachers and school workers marched along New Haven streets Wednesday to call on the state to give public schools more money to address what they say is a staffing shortage crisis.

“We need more teachers. And to do that, we really need our public schools, specifically our urban public schools, to be fairly funded,” said Leslie Blatteau, president of the New Haven Federation of Teachers.

Teachers are overworked and leaving the industry, said Blatteau, who taught history before taking the helm of the NHFT. She said that fully funding public schools could make a huge difference because the district is losing teachers to wealthier districts that can offer higher wages and benefits. And New Haven can’t compete.

“We can do something about this,” Blatteau said. “We can improve salaries for starting teachers. We can stop freezing teachers’ salaries and make sure that they make an increase in their salary every year in our contractual bargaining agreements. We have options to provide more support.”

The “March for Public Funding” came after two years of strained environments for teachers and students. Blatteau joined members of Connecticut’s various school unions and grassroots organizations in front of the New Haven’s Board of Education Central Office to make their voices heard. Those gathered demanded livable wages for high-demand school jobs, like paraprofessionals.

March for Our Classrooms in New Haven
Ryan Caron King
/
Connecticut Public
Leslie Blatteau, president of the New Haven Federation of Teachers, leads a large crowd during a march in support of increasing funding for public schools across the state to address staffing shortages. Many protesters spoke about the strain the pandemic put on classrooms, low wages for teachers and paraprofessionals and the decreasing amount of resources and funding available to schools.

Organizers said the purpose of the march from the central office to City Hall was to call more attention to the ongoing problem and to ask the state to fully fund a comprehensive system of public schools, colleges and universities for residents in Connecticut.

The Rev. Josh Pawelek marched as a clergy leader with Recovery for All, a statewide coalition of labor, community and faith organizations. He said the pandemic exposed economic gaps within education on all levels.

“I hope we send a message to people who make education policy -- and to people who fund public education in Connecticut -- that we got to do better. Our children and families are relying on us, and I hope we’re being heard,” he said.

Nayeli Garcia Romero echoed Pawelek’s point at the rally. She’s a member of Unidad Latina en Acción, a New Haven-based grassroots organization fighting for immigrant workers’ rights. She said she marched for her immigrant friends and families, who aren’t getting the education and services they need.

“Connecticut is one of the richest states in this country,” she said. “So we hope to get the education. We need it right now, and we’re here to demand it.”

Educators at the rally said current wages aren’t sustainable. The action came as the city and the state consider funding levels for next year.

Catherine Shen is a Connecticut Public’s education reporter. The Los Angeles native comes to CT Public after a decade of print and digital reporting across the country.