Red for Ed campaign unites educators with BOE

Educators wear red in support of $7.3 million increase in funding for city schools


Kiara Kaltschnee

Lindsey Stoffa, psychology teacher, wears the Red for Ed t-shirt on Wednesday, March 20, in support of NEA-Danbury’s school budget campaign. Stoffa is also the union’s co-chair of its Teacher Evaluation Committee.

Kiara Kaltschnee, Staff Writer

Updated at 5pm April 3 with comments from Mayor Mark Boughton’s office. 

Every Wednesday, flames erupt across DHS as the staff wears red. For each member of the DHS community that wears red, the flames grow bigger, and the Red for Ed movement grows stronger.

The Red for Ed campaign supports full funding by the City of Danbury of the school board’s budget proposal. “Red for Ed has been a successful movement in other states to support teachers and students,” said Juliane Armentano, NEA-Danbury’s building chair for the high school.

The teacher’s union is spearheading the campaign with the Board of Education’s unofficial blessing. The board develops the budget, but must present it to the City Council for approval. Generally, the city does not fully fund the proposal. It’s in that review process now.

In previous years, the budget proposal for Danbury schools has always ended up substantially cut by the city. “Ultimately if we are able to make our presence incredibly strong,” Armentano said, “the budget will be passed rather than the cycle of it being cut in half and the potential budget disappearing for students.”

There are over 3,000 students in this school. With the size of our school, we should be in the top 20 [in pupil funding].”

— Ashley Corrie, senior

This cycle has led Danbury to be ranked 169 out of 169 districts in pupil spending across all of Connecticut. Each student in Danbury receives $3,200 less than the statewide average, which totals $35.6 million districtwide, according to figures compiled by the Connecticut Education Association.

“No one wants to say they are from the town from the least funding in the state, and no one wants to move to a town with the least amount of funding,” Armentano said.

Consequently, NEA-Danbury has agreed with the Board of Education’s proposal of a $7.3 million increase to the budget to reduce this spending gap for the upcoming school year.

With the budget increase, the board is asking to hire five more teachers, a dean of the freshman academy, a counselor, a technical support analyst — all at the high school — and four more K-12 special education teachers.

Part of the aim for the budget increase is to help incoming students fulfill a new requirement of 25 credits (from 21) to graduate with a more feasible schedule. Armentano said, “If we can get all these things and everything is approved, we’d like to be able to afford a better version of the block schedule.”

Furthermore, DHS is experiencing a 1 to 2 percent increase in student population per year. “Danbury High is experiencing an increase in students,” said Soraya Bilbao, active NEA-Danbury member and ELL teacher. “[Other schools] and their numbers are going down while we are adding buildings.”

As enrollment grows, the increase in transportation fees as well as the need to advance educational programs, core instruction, and programs for struggling learners are the driving forces for this year’s budget increase.

Students have expressed interest in the movement and the impact a higher grant would have on their education. Morgan Albano, sophomore, said she thinks the funding given to Danbury students is unfair because she “feel[s] like students at DHS should have the same opportunities as everyone else in Connecticut.”

Another student, senior Ashley Corrie, said “There are over 3,000 students in this school. With the size of our school, we should be in the top 20 [in pupil funding].”

Along with the school’s lack of funding, online programs such as Membean and textbooks are not accessible to all students and teachers, mentioned senior Destiny Cabello.

Concerning the deficiency in resources, Bilbao said, “It’s not right that we don’t receive the resources that are needed to make sure we as a team succeed. We work hard for our students. I see first hand the stress and what we do for our students with limited resources.”

Overall, the budget increase is driven by the growing population, new graduation requirements, need for resources to support educational programs, and the stigma that comes with the rank 169.

Wearing red each Wednesday during the budget season has caught on throughout the district’s schools. The union is providing Red for Ed t-shirts as long as the members commit to wearing them each Wednesday. If they don’t have a t-shirt, they are encouraged to wear anything red from their closets.

Armentano said it “shows the town and families that we care and that we will fight for their students.”

She also said the reason why Red for Ed has worked in the past is because “Our country is built on unions and the impact unions and people can have with strength in numbers and using voices, so the union is a presence that can make a difference if it’s used adequately.”

Kiara Kaltschnee
Juliane Armentano, English teacher, has this poster on her door in support of the Red for Ed campaign and her students.

In the upcoming months, meetings have been set for the budget discussion in which educators plan to rally or have a presence, and they include:

  • Mayor’s Budget Presentation, April 2, 7:30 p.m., at City Hall
  • City Council Education Budget Committee Meeting, TBA at City Hall
  • Public comments on the City of Danbury Budget, TBA at City Hall
  • City of Danbury’s Final Budget Adoption, May 7, 7:30 p.m. at City Hall

Regarding the meeting on April 2, the mayor’s office sent the following email to the Hatters’ Herald on Wednesday, April 3: “We were still finalizing our budget presentation Monday and yesterday, but the Mayor’s proposed budget was made available today on the website. We have proposed a budget increase of $2.2 million from the City and a new Student Impact Fee that the Mayor created with the new developers of the Matrix property at $550,000 for this year. With the Alliance District funding increase at $2.4 million, that puts the total proposed increase to the Board of Education at $5.1 million.”

By May 7, the budget will be finalized.

In the meantime, teachers will continue wearing red for the Red for Ed campaign.

“I’m not accepting 169, so I’m doing something,” said Bilbao.