Dave Cicarella, the teachers union president, narrowly defeated two challengers to win reelection to a fifth term at the helm of the New Haven Federation of Teachers.
After a month of electioneering, nearly 900 teachers mailed in their picks before Tuesday’s final deadline. The private firm MK Elections picked the ballots up from a post-office box on and then tallied up the numbers at the union hall on Chapel Street Tuesday night.
The preliminary results put Cicarella, who has held the presidency since 2006, over the top with 392 votes. Just behind him, Tom Burns, the outgoing vice-president, earned 372 votes and Cameo Thorne, a trainer in restorative practices, earned 122 votes.
Down-ballot, other executive leadership positions went to candidates aligned with Burns, while Cicarella collected a majority across the entire board.
The election saw more ballots submitted than any race in the last two decades, with about half of the 1,800 union members marking their choice.
The campaign largely focused on whether the union should take a more aggressive stance in its negotiations with the new superintendent, particularly as the threat of furlough days, layoffs and school closures loom with this year’s $8.89 million deficit.
Cicarella, the president for the past 12 years who guided the district through school reforms that earned national recognition, argued that collaboration with Central Office administrators was still the best way to go.
His two challengers, Burns and Thorne, said that they felt the union needs to be more confrontational. Thorne said a broader constituency needed to join the fight for public education, while Burns said tough negotiations with administrators could win more concessions.
“With the new superintendent, there’s a lot of work to be done, and one of the reasons I stayed is because there’s two paths you can go on. My concern was that we were going to veer off in the wrong direction,” Cicarella said. “We have to continue with collaboration. It’s not the absence of conflict, not at all; it’s just how you manage it. There will be arguments, there will be fights, but you try to manage it so you don’t break the relationship.”
Cicarella said that he listened to his opponents’ criticisms.
He said he accepts that he could communicate with the teaching force more regularly, and he accepted that he could take a tougher line in public on select issues.
He said he’ll focus on getting more teachers involved in decision-making by asking them to join standing committees on performance evaluations, climate surveys and other big topics.
But Cicarella said his approach overall wouldn’t change much.
“I am who I am: I really strongly believe in collaboration,” he said. “I always try to look for the balance.”
Burns: “My Voice Will Be Silent”
After the preliminary results came in, Burns said that he’ll step back from his work with the union.
“The people made their choice,” he said. “My voice will be silent, from this day forward.”
Thorne, on the other hand, said that her work is just beginning.
A longtime English teacher who now trains others in restorative practices, Thorne said that she felt her run had already invigorated the union membership. She pointed to the highest turnout in decades as proof.
“While I would have loved to have won the election, I do not view this as a loss,” she wrote in an emailed statement. “I know we started a movement here. … This will change what it means to be a union member and energize teachers for the good.”
Thorne added that she will continue to speak out on behalf of other teachers and students, as she pushes for “social justice” and “teacher voices” to matter in New Haven’s public schools.
“Union president or not, I will continue to fight for what I believe is just and will benefit all of our students,” she wrote in the statement. “I will remain dedicated to improving conditions for educator wellness, encourage other teachers to run for union leadership and hold the current leadership accountable.”
Further down from the presidency, Burns’s slate of candidates claimed top spots in the union’s leadership. Both of his running mates won open seats.
Pat DeLucia, a special education teacher at Riverside Academy, will become executive vice-president. Jennifer Chisholm, a school counselor at Columbus Family Academy and East Rock Magnet, will become executive secretary.
Mike Pantaleo, the union’s current treasurer, ran for reelection unopposed.
Cicarella said that he looks forward to having DeLucia as his right-hand man, a teacher who he said is “beloved” throughout the district.
“He’s probably one of the most trusted people,” Cicarella said. “Anything big and small, I would always check with Pat. He doesn’t get the credit because he’s quieter. There’s no question the union is going to be well served with him.”
DeLucia said that he doesn’t view the union anywhere near as “fractured” as two decades ago. He said the main issue will be figuring out the union’s posture toward the new superintendent.
“[Cicarella and I have] done this work together for 15 years. Our visions got a little bit off track, and now we have to come together again,” he said. “I can agree with the collaboration. I just think we have to be careful now. Those players have changed. Naturally, you’re concerned about more layoffs, about closing schools again. Hopefully, we can stem that this year. Now that Birks has been in and Dave is still in, we could be a little more prepared and maybe come up with some ideas ourselves” as alternatives.
Close to 9:30 p.m., the union certified the winners. Burns gave Cicarella a hug, as everyone left at the union hall applauded.
The other candidates who will be seated on the executive board next year are:
- Treasurer: Mike Pantaleo
- Vice President for High Schools: David Low
- Vice President for Middle Schools: Judith Leach
- Vice President for Elementary Schools: Tracy Paige-Harris
- Vice President for Special Services: Ray Pompano
- Executive Board (High School): Joe Steele, Toni Criscuolo, Vin Sullo
- Executive Board (PreK-8): Iris Festa, Michael Soares, Erica McDaniel-Epps, Michael Mazzacane, Reginald Augustine, Kara Steele-Distante, Ashley Hayes Newton
- Executive Board (Special Services): J. Peter Wilson, Jane Roth
- Trustees: Derlene Ortiz, Orlando Hernandez, Kris Wetmore, Rachele Thomas, Joe Gonzalez
In total, most of the union’s executive board ran on a ticket with Cicarella: 16 out of 25. Just over half of the representatives will hold their positions for the first time: 13 out of 25.
Fifteen other delegates will represent the union in national elections: Jennifer Wells-Jackson, Joe Steele, Toni Criscuolo, Al Meadows, J. Peter Wilson, Kara Steele-Distante, Reginald Augustine, Kris Wetmore, Orlando Hernandez, Judith Leach, Rachele Thomas, Kirsten Hopes-McFadden, Jane Roth, Melody Gallagher, and Steve Mikolike.