HARTFORD, Conn. — Hartford Public School teachers and staff are raising their voices for change and calling on the district for higher salaries and more affordable health care.
Unions representing educators, Special Police Officers, food service workers and others rallied outside of Weaver High School Tuesday evening.
“Teachers are feeling overworked and under appreciated and under compensated,” Carol Gale, president of Hartford Federation of Teachers, said.
Sanchez Elementary School first grade teacher Kaitlin Starr says she works three jobs to get by.
“I work obviously at Sanchez but I also work two part time jobs to make ends meet,” she says. “It’s just been very hard, especially in the middle of a pandemic. Two of my part-time jobs stopped so I was surviving on just my Hartford salary and it really was not enough.”
The Special Police Officers union is one of multiple unions that say they’re working under expired contracts and want a raise.
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“We’re looking for an answer for our contract. It’s been 7 years. I don’t understand what’s the delay. I don’t understand why we can’t come to an [agreement],” Grace Figueroa, vice president of SPO local 1019 said. “We’ve worked the frontlines during the pandemic. We were considered essential.”
We reached out to the district about union concerns and in a statement to FOX61, Hartford public schools said:
“As we navigated an incredibly challenging 18 months, we engaged deeply with our staff through surveys and virtual Town Hall meetings to gather their input and feedback. In addition, district leadership meets regularly with the leadership of all bargaining units that operate within Hartford Public Schools to provide critical updates, address concerns, and increase collaboration.”
See below for the district’s full statement.
The district said they have a Three Year Strategic Plan that includes increased teacher recruitment, signing bonuses and retention incentives for teachers.
The Hartford Federation of Teachers tells me contract negotiations for teachers begin on October 4.
At Hartford Public Schools, we care deeply about all our students, families, staff, partners, and the entire Hartford community. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, our team has worked tirelessly to respond to and meet the needs of all stakeholders, including our dedicated teachers, administrators, and support staff. As we navigated an incredibly challenging 18 months, we engaged deeply with our staff through surveys and virtual Town Hall meetings to gather their input and feedback.
In addition, district leadership meets regularly with the leadership of all bargaining units that operate within Hartford Public Schools to provide critical updates, address concerns, and increase collaboration.
Our new Three Year Strategic Plan continues to focus on the major priorities our community established in our District Model for Excellence: High-quality Teaching and Learning, Welcoming Culture and Nurturing Climate, Engaging Family and Community Partnerships, and Skillful Staff and Effective Operations. It intentionally responds to feedback from all our stakeholders and includes specific benefits for staff:
· Increased recruitment of high-quality and diverse teachers
· Signing bonuses for teachers in hard to fill areas (such as special education, bilingual, math, and science)
· Retention incentives for teachers who serve in schools with higher needs, and incentive for teachers in summer programs, and an employee referral incentive
· Increased hiring of resource teachers and other student support staff
· Updated, high-quality curriculum
· Increased collaboration and learning time for teachers
· More staff development to support trauma-informed, anti-bias, and anti-racist practices
· Increased coaching and support for teachers and school leaders
Our federal COVID relief funding (ESSER II and ARP ESSER) has been approved by the state, and 95% of those funds are dedicated to schools, including 92% of new roles created. Of the new staff positions in ESSER II and ARP ESSER, 60% are for teachers and social workers and 92% total are school-based or shared school services.
Since the start of the school year, the Office of Talent Management in partnership with the Chief of Schools and Executive Directors, have been consistently assessing the ongoing staffing needs of each school. We have placed long term substitutes in vacant positions and continue to host hiring fairs to source candidates for teaching and paraprofessional positions. We have placed 94 student teachers across 30 schools.
When facing needs in hard-to-fill areas, we have innovated by creating additional partnerships to ensure students have access to qualified professionals. This helps keep class sizes smaller, and allows us to meet the individual needs of our learners.
As the Three Year Plan was being developed in the spring, HPS also collaborated with local health partners to set up mass vaccine clinics for staff. To date, over 83% of HPS staff are fully vaccinated, including over 90% of teachers. Providing access to vaccines is part of the district’s comprehensive COVID-19 Health and Safety efforts to ensure the health and safety of our students, staff, and partners.
Additionally, in response to staff feedback, we announced Be Well HPS!, a new initiative to support staff health and wellness. The initiative included offerings for the body, mind, and spirit. Staff participated in free virtual mindfulness sessions; stress management learning sessions; a Step Up walking challenge; yoga and fitness classes; and staff running groups organized in collaboration with the Hartford Marathon Foundation. In addition, all schools had the opportunity to apply for wellness mini-grants supported by the Nellie Mae Education Foundation. Participants in any of the Be Well programs were entered into drawings to win a free Fitbit, mindfulness book, and other prizes.
During this year, our teachers, paraprofessionals, and support staff adapted to unprecedented challenges and demonstrated strong commitment to all our students. At HPS, we recognize and thank our staff for the care and support they have provided one another and, of course, our students. Those crucial connections with students go far beyond teaching and learning. Our educators have also served as tutors and mentors who understand and meet the needs of the whole student. Their genuine partnerships with staff and with our families create school cultures that support students, and ensure they feel valued, included, and safe.
We look forward to the continued partnership with all our staff in service of our beautiful and capable students.
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