What New Haven Teachers Union Leadership Challenge Might Mean for the District

NEW HAVEN – Ballots are in the mail.

For the second time in this calendar year, Local 933 is about to choose a new leader.

The question is whether the majority continues as it has done seven times in a row – including two repeat elections, one of which took place in June – or votes for change.

“We need a new vision of how we perceive our union and our role within it,” said Leslie Blatteau, professor of history at the Metropolitan Business Academy who runs a list called “Fighting For Our Future ”.

Leslie Blatteau, history professor at the Metropolitan Business Academy who runs a New Haven Federation of Teachers list called “Fighting For Our Future”.

Contributed /

After what the district has been through for the past year and a half with the pandemic, Blatteau said, it is time for the union to hire more teachers as it deals with understaffing and compensation issues for the loss of learning.

David Cicarella has something to say about this.

Union president for 15 years, Cicarella wants a new three-year term, and said it’s not just because he still enjoys the job.

“People know me,” Cicarella said. “I know the system. I don’t have to go in and start over. It takes time to build relationships and trust.

What is there for teachers

Whoever wins the December 7 election will be in charge when a new teaching contract is negotiated. The current contract expires in the summer of 2023, but negotiations begin next summer.

Under Cicarella, five contracts were negotiated.

During the last go-around, there was a contractual wage freeze in exchange for a three-year promise with no layoffs, involuntary transfers or higher medical bills.

But Blatteau said job security has not resulted in a stable workforce. The teachers leave. A dozen teacher resignations were on the agenda of the last school board. The union should find out why and work to do something, Blatteau said.

While some may relate to wages, Blatteau said, there is more. New teachers, for example, don’t have access to the same robust health insurance options as more experienced teachers. That, she said, must change.

Roberto Clemente School in New Haven, Connecticut.

Roberto Clemente School in New Haven, Connecticut.

/ Photo from Hearst Connecticut media file

Beyond the contract, said Blatteau, the union needs to update its bylaws and make better use of subcommittees to engage members.

There is a gap, she argues, between ordinary teachers and the union.

“Our approach is more direct with people,” said Blatteau. “I admit my opponent says teachers are busy, they don’t have time.”

Blatteau said that cannot be assumed.

If she were president, Blatteau said the power structure would be reversed and a more distributed leadership model would be put in place.

She said the union would work more with unions representing paraprofessionals, supervisory staff, cafeteria workers and others to fight for fully funded schools.

“I won’t be the president of the union for 15 years,” said Blatteau. “We need to train the current members to create a pool of union leaders. “

Cicarella maintains that the union leadership has reached out to the grassroots and that not everyone has time to participate.

“When I put out appeals to committees, the education committee, the grievances committee, the political action committee, the crickets,” Cicarella said.

In this file photo, David Cicarella, president of the New Haven Teachers' Federation.

In this file photo, David Cicarella, president of the New Haven Teachers’ Federation.

Arnold Gold / Hearst Connecticut Photo Media File

He said he was not going to berate teachers who get up early, go to work, then pick up kids or go to class or part-time jobs before going home to prepare for the next day.

“Many do not have time to be active in the union,” he said.

He noted that two teachers on the other side, Blatteau included, have served on committees.

What is there for everyone

Both sides said union working conditions translate into learning conditions for students.

“What’s good for teachers is what’s good for students,” said Blatteau.

That means whether it’s about fighting for workload ceilings in classrooms, making sure buildings are safe, or getting the resources needed, she said.

“This campaign is clearly about children,” she added. “We need our teachers to be the most empowered so that our children can be too. “

Worthington Hooker School in New Haven, 2021.

Worthington Hooker School in New Haven, 2021.

Arnold Gold / Hearst Connecticut Photo Media File

An educator in a public school since 1999, this is the first time that Blatteau has run for president of the union.

She has been working in the neighborhood since 2007, lives in the city and her daughter is in first grade in a city school.

“It was really intentional in our campaign not to talk about denigrating Dave and what he did,” said Blatteau.

“When I called him to tell him I was considering running, I told him, ‘it’s not going to be personal’,” she said. “This will really be our vision for the future. “

Cicarella was first elected president in 2007 and has said he has experienced a huge learning curve in the role.

He sees the school reform efforts as one of his main achievements. Recommendations from teachers’ unions have played an important role in the changes in how teachers are assessed and how student test scores are used in the district.

New Haven was considered unique at the time in that the teachers’ union agreed to major reforms that included the use of stricter teacher assessments.

“We use ratings (now) but a lot of it is performance based,” Cicarella said.

During the pandemic, New Haven stood out for being the only system to remain largely distant for the 2020-21 school year.

In this file photo, then school principal Dr Reginald Mayo and NHFT president David Cicarella as the New Haven school system announced a

In this file photo, then school principal Dr Reginald Mayo and NHFT president David Cicarella as the New Haven school system announced a “turnaround” effort in 2012 , to which the teachers’ union would be a part.

/ Hearst Connecticut Media photo fiule

“It had to be done,” Cicarella said. “It wasn’t a popular choice in some circles, but our HVAC systems were a mess. We couldn’t put people in dangerous buildings.

Federal COVID funds have been spent on repairing buildings and improving air quality.

The Fight For Our Future slate would like some COVID funds to be used to improve teachers’ salaries.

Cicarella said conditions attached to the funds prevent this from happening.

The current president is sometimes criticized for not being more forceful in his challenge to the administration.

Cicarella said stepping on the podium every week to point fingers at the superintendent or the mayor was not her style.

“Nothing is done that way,” he said. “We don’t always agree, but at the end of the day I have to work with people.

That said, Cicarella said that at some point the city needed to cut spending and properly fund its schools.

“I know money is tight, but we have a moral imperative,” he said.

The election

There is no campaign allowed inside school buildings.

Professional emails are also prohibited. Both sides are using off-peak hours to campaign.

Blatteau said she heard that not all members received their ballots. One campaign promise the slate has made is to make sure member databases are up to date, to create a user-friendly website, and to make the onboarding process for new members easier.

Leslie Blatteau, professor of social studies at the Metropolitan Business Academy, speaks at a meeting of the education board in 2019.

Leslie Blatteau, professor of social studies at the Metropolitan Business Academy, speaks at a meeting of the education board in 2019.

Brian Zahn / Hearst Connecticut / Media File Photo

On December 7, a company hired to oversee the election will collect the ballots at the post office and bring them to the union headquarters for the count.

Unlike June, there will be no judicial review of the count by the Ministry of Labor.

The Cicarella slate is made up of 24 educators, including current Vice President Pat DeLucia, who is undisputed. About a third are not currently board members.

Blatteau said the Fight For Our Future slate didn’t deliberately challenge the executive vice president as a sign that if they won, they didn’t want to “blow it all up and start over.”

Blatteau’s list includes executive secretary candidate Mia Comulada Breuler and others.

Teachers can divide their ballots.

If the turnout was similar to the previous election, just under half of eligible teachers would vote.

Cicarella thinks he could go higher this time.

“This group, to their credit, is very, very organized,” said Cicarella, who never came forward unopposed.

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