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Hartford schools unions survey shows unhappiness among staff

Nearly 50% of staff members who participated in the survey are either somewhat or very unsatisfied with their job in the district.

HARTFORD, Conn — A new survey in the Hartford Public Schools shows some staff members are not happy at their job and do not favor the district superintendent.

The survey, done in collaboration with the Hartford Federation of Teachers, Hartford Federation of Paraprofessionals, and AFT Connecticut, shows 45% of the 545 respondents are either somewhat or very unsatisfied with their job. Compared to 2019, 60% say it is worse now.

Hartford Federation of Teachers President Carol Gale says staff feel burnt out.

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"We have been hearing from members throughout the pandemic about the concerns of how things have affected them," the president of 2,000 staff members said. "We haven't felt that it was being listened to in the way that we were looking for in terms of concrete solutions to try and address the problems."

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The Hartford Federation of Teachers represents 2,000 staff members in the district.

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One of their big concerns is retention where 82% believe it is a major issue. In April, the district announced incentives and stipends to keep and hire educators worth more than $5 million. 

Gale says that is a positive thing but says it doesn't address the problem that staff is handling too much at one time.

"We keep adding on, adding on, adding on," she said. "There are some tasks that we are asking all of our staff to do that just feel like overload."

The survey, done in March by DFM Research, also showed 75% voted Superintendent Dr. Leslie Torres- Rodriguez as 'unfavorable' and the district at 71%.

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Gale says people don't believe the district is heading in the right direction and many feel disconnected from district leaders. They want staff to have more collaboration with district leaders on decisions within the schools.

"We have a perspective that they don’t have. We are in the trenches. We are in the classrooms," Gale said.

Jesse Sugarman, the district's senior advisor for strategy and institutional advancement, says the process for communication and collaboration does include the union.

"Those meetings occur sometimes weekly, sometimes monthly, and some happen quarterly so there’s definitely an open opportunity in channels of communication," he said. "I think our priority is on academic recovery and making sure that our students 1) are going to school every single day and 2) are with a high-quality teacher."

He said the survey results represent 17% of all staff members. Pertaining to concerns with the superintendent, where many survey participants said they never hear or see her outside of her weekly updates, Sugarman says she does try.

He said she is in multiple schools weekly connecting with the staff.

88% of respondents gave the superintendent a 'C' grade level or below for her job.

"I think that when you’re a leader of a big organization and an important organization, you’re not going to make everyone happy but I'm confident that the vast majority of people working at Hartford Public Schools has faith in the superintendent," he said.

Sugarman says the education industry as a whole is challenged because of the pandemic and declining enrollment. He said the district has done staff surveys that contradict what this one says.

When asked if it is concerning some do not enjoy their job, the senior advisor said they are concerned about morale and address it daily.

"We are constantly working at strategies that will improve morale for our staff. Make sure our students feel more engaged," he said.

Gale says they are looking for concrete solutions. They have proposed reducing class sizes, allotting teachers more time to collaborate, and shortening the students' day. Also, changing how teachers are evaluated to relieve some pressure.

The Board of Education chairman said in a statement to FOX61 the board's goal is to create a supportive and appreciative environment.

"The Board of Education has requested a copy of the survey questions and results to understand better the concerns of some of our teachers and staff. There is certainly some validity to the responses captured in the survey. Still, I would be cautious not to cast a broad interpretation that the survey is representative of all HPS educators," Phil Rigueur said. "Nonetheless, we look forward to working with Union Leaders and District Leadership to understand how best to have more thoughtful and useful discussions that move Hartford Public Schools forward."

Tony Black is a multi-media journalist at FOX61 News. He can be reached at tblack@fox61.com. Follow him on FacebookTwitter and Instagram

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