Stamford Teachers Call Out Superintendent in No Confidence Vote

(CT Examiner)


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STAMFORD – First there were red-outs, then walk-ins, now high school teachers have issued no-confidences.

According to teachers, votes were taken at all three of the city’s public high schools attesting that a majority of teachers do not trust the leadership of Superintendent Tamu Lucero. 

The protests stem from Lucero proposals to change class schedules at the high schools, moves teachers say were made without their input. 

Lucero in November proposed that teachers add a sixth class to their schedules. Amid protest, Lucero amended the change last month to remain at five classes but increase instruction time.

In this latest protest, tenured Stamford High teachers wrote to Board of Education President Jackie Heftman saying they held a vote last week. According to the letter, 98 of the 126 tenured teachers took part. Among the 98 tenured teachers, 92 supported a statement of no confidence in Lucero, the letter reads.

In all three high schools, non-tenured teachers were not allowed to vote because they do not have the rights of tenured teachers that protect them from losing their jobs. Tenured teachers did not want to be quoted for this story because, they said, they fear retaliation from school district administrators. 

The vote results are numbers without names. Tenured teachers said to refer to letters they sent to the school board. The letters are not signed by individuals. 

One was signed “Stamford High School Tenured SEA Members.” The Stamford Education Association is the teachers’ union.

The Stamford High letter said Lucero “is not making educationally sound decisions in the implementation of several new policies and budgeting decisions.” 

Fix the fiscal cliff?

In 2020 Lucero funded a number of school district jobs with federal pandemic-relief money that runs out in June, and teachers say Lucero now needs to find savings if she is to retain the positions.

“Lucero and her staff have known since 2020 that we did not have the funding from the city’s Board of Finance to continue to provide the level of education that Stamford students require and deserve,” Stamford High teachers wrote. “These budgeting shortcomings are now being placed on the shoulders of teachers, asking us to take on the work of educating 20 percent more students for no additional pay.”

The teachers at Westhill High School wrote that 140 tenured teachers agreed with a statement of no confidence in Lucero, and five abstained or failed to vote. Roughly 40 non-tenured teachers did not vote, according to the letter.

Westhill High teachers wrote that the schedule changes, which increase their workload without added pay and diminish what they can deliver to students, “is being done to fix a fiscal cliff of the superintendent’s own creation.” 

Westhill teachers “will not tolerate this continued poor leadership, attacks against our contractual rights, attempts to union-bust, refusal to be collaborative with educators or our union, or the absolute lack of high school knowledge the superintendent and her cabinet have shown and the board has supported,” the letter reads. “We have no confidence in the superintendent’s leadership abilities or vision for Stamford, and fear for our students and their futures under her tenure.”

They addressed the significance of a no-confidence vote.

“While we recognize this is a largely symbolic gesture, we hope the Board of Education will take our concerns about the superintendent – per our statement – seriously, and finally ensure a change in district leadership,” Westhill teachers wrote.

Five reasons

The letter from the city’s interdistrict magnet high school, the Academy of Information Technology & Engineering, was signed “AITE Faculty.” It says 41 teachers voted “not confident” and one voted “confident.” Four tenured teachers abstained, and non-tenured teachers did not take part in the vote, according to the letter.

It lists five reasons AITE teachers voted “not confident:”

  • Lucero has “continually attempted to change AITE’s schedule without consultation or support” from teachers, parents and students.
  • Lucero “has violated the spirit and letter” of a school board policy that outlines staff involvement in decisions.
  • Lucero “has put forward policies and helped create an environment that discourages the retention and recruitment of quality faculty.”
  • Lucero “has supported the implementation of policies that endanger the future status of AITE as a State of Connecticut interdistrict magnet school.”
  • Lucero “has repeatedly attempted to put AITE on a course that is not in the best educational interests of its students.”

According to the vote tallies reported from the three high schools, a total of seven teachers supported Lucero.

Kathleen Steinberg, spokesperson for Stamford Public Schools, said Thursday the Board of Education and Lucero “are aware of the symbolic votes of no confidence, but right now they are focused on rallying support for the (school board’s) proposed 2024-25 operating budget as it moves to the boards of Finance and Representatives for approval.”  

Those boards, not Lucero, will determine how much funding the school district receives next year, Steinberg said.  

“We urge everyone to remember that what happens during this budget cycle will have direct and potentially significant implications for both students and educators. The teachers’ concerns about the high school schedule will be addressed through mediation and arbitration,” Steinberg said. “In the meantime, we hope teachers will heed the request from their union’s leadership to join us in advocating for full funding of the 2024-25 proposed operating budget.”

“In’s” and “out’s”

The protests began after November, when Lucero’s administration announced that, starting this September, high school teachers will teach six classes instead of five. Teachers countered that cuts to non-instructional time would result in burnout, resignations, and limits to one-on-one help and other services provided to students.  

In some protests, teachers dressed in red, which they called red-outs. In other protests, they waited for each other outside their buildings in the morning to enter in unison, which they called walk-ins. 

Some teachers cut back on service to students during non-instructional time to illustrate what would happen if class loads are increased.

In February Lucero backed off the six-class proposal and announced a new schedule. It sticks to five classes but increases instruction time by 20 minutes. According to a letter Lucero wrote to district employees at the time, she reversed the six-class proposal in part because protesting teachers were withholding services from students, making it impossible for negotiations to continue. 

School administrators said at the time that they didn’t need Board of Education approval to change the schedule, and didn’t intend to pay teachers more for the extra class, which could be built into the type of block scheduling used in the high schools.

Silent no more

Stamford Education Association President John Corcoran said then that the union has the right to bargain over the schedule change. Teachers who take on a sixth class to cover a vacancy now are paid a sum equal to 20 percent of their salary, Corcoran said at the time, so there is no case for not paying them for the added hours that come with Lucero’s proposal.

Thursday Corcoran said the union and the administration met for informal mediation March 6 but made no progress. Another session is slated for March 28, he said.

“I pray and hope we can come to a deal” and avoid arbitration, Corcoran said, but the two sides are far apart.

The idea of no-confidence votes did not come from the union, he said.

“It’s not an SEA thing. It’s a teacher thing,” Corcoran said. “Westhill and AITE have done it before, but Stamford High doesn’t join in. This time, they’re finally fed up and tired.” 

It’s reflected in their letter.

“Critical among all of this has been a failure of leadership to unite teachers in a common purpose or create a vision for the district that is consistent and not forever changing,” Stamford High teachers wrote. “Multiple initiatives that have been recently launched with little planning and even less support from downtown leadership have left the high schools reeling.”

Angela Carella

For 36 years prior to joining the Connecticut Examiner, Angela Carella was a beat reporter, investigative reporter, editor and columnist for the Stamford Advocate. Carella reports on Stamford and Fairfield County. T: 203 722 6811.