Union Prez Beats Back Challenges

Christopher Peak PhotosDave 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.

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posted by: Nancyteach on December 5, 2018  10:15am

Many teachers are sadly about to realize exactly what what it was Tom Burns did for them.  He was our lead contract negotiator and our grievance chair.  He was the brains behind School Reform and he developed and negotiated a phenomenal insurance package for the teachers, and his knowledge and expertise in Union matters is unmatched.  He has worked behind the scenes over the years, never, ever seeking the recognition and/or glory.  He is neither a sell-out nor is he motivated by the personal.gain that can be made though closeted backdioor dealings.  Tom ran for one reason, and one reason only.  He ran for us, the teachers of the New Haven Federatuon.  We are now regretfully about to learn what it is we have lost by not supporting him the way he has supported us.  It pains me to say it, but in the months to come, as teachers become more aware of exactly what it in store for their future, the only words that come to mind will be, “I told you so.”  Tom Burns was a treasure to every teacher in the New Haven district whether they knew it or not.  Sadly only a small number of teachers actually cared enough to know the facts and get involved. For many, this will be their greatest regret.

posted by: tmctague on December 5, 2018  11:09am

Being a teacher in New Haven has become alarmingly hopeless.

posted by: JohnTulin on December 5, 2018  12:03pm

Very surprising they don’t have a run-off.  Dave wins w/o a majority of teacher backing him?  One hundred and twenty-two teachers voted against Dave, how many of those dissatisfied teachers would have voted for Tom in a run-off?  My guess is most would have.  At least 75% probably, which means Tom wins in a run-off.  For what its worth…..
....also, kind of pathetic that only half of the teachers voted.

posted by: AliceB on December 5, 2018  12:16pm

The New Haven teachers union has just been dealt a terrible blow.  Tom is the one we all would call; never Dave. We will so miss Tom.  This is just such a sad day for most of us. Chicarella won by 19 votes; if it were a one on one race Tom would have won by much more.
The only bright spot is Pat DeLucia.  He is a great guy and we can go to him.

posted by: ctddw on December 5, 2018  12:20pm

The teacher’s pay union dues to have someone that will look out for their best interests. Everyone is entitled to their opinions on unions on whether or not they are good and “who they really protect” but the reality is under Cicarella New Haven has been able to abuse their power and get rid of teachers because of his thinking that collaboration is the way to go. His working with central administration just allows the administration to use bullying tactics in order to get rid of teachers. 
The process for investigating incidents can take as long as the administration wants and extends for months and months. Teachers that have unfounded complaints against them are still not being returned to the classrooms and the administration hopes by these bullying tactics, they will voluntarily resign. Wake up teachers you don’t have anyone looking out for you! Your union is just letting the administrators do what they want to at your expense while you pay dues.

tmctague is correct about teaching in New Haven becoming hopeless to the point no one is going to want to teach there.

This is what Burkes and Harp are accomplishing.

posted by: Molly W on December 5, 2018  12:34pm

Real question: shouldn’t anyone who holds a public school union position be required to send their own kids to public school? It’s dubious to have skin in the private non-union realm… why want your own kids to hold this exceptional privilege over the kids you claim to represent?

posted by: JohnTulin on December 5, 2018  1:07pm

What, Molly?  The NHPS Teacher’s Union represents teacher, not kids.  What does the child of a union rep have to do with anything?

posted by: Molly W on December 5, 2018  1:16pm

@JohnTulin: Their fortunes are tied.

posted by: withallduerespect on December 5, 2018  1:19pm

Tom, you nearly won the election. Almost 400 teachers wanted you to represent them. Why would you let your voice “go silent?” Seems like a toddler move - “If I don’t win, I won’t play.”

Follow Ms. Thorne’s example and continue to support teachers and work towards your ideal.

posted by: newhavenSTRONGER on December 5, 2018  1:42pm

Congratulations to Dave C and all those elected (and re-elected).  While it’s easy to say the status quo isn’t working, it’s much harder to actually be in the trenches doing the work. True collaboration should always win over conflict and a lot of noise. Dave has a great opportunity to be more transparent and accept the help (and ideas) of the general membership. The vote was too close for it not to be a clear message to him and his slate.

posted by: Nancyteach on December 5, 2018  1:51pm

@withallduerespect. Tom will no longer be part of the Officers, Executive Board, or even a Union Steward.  He will go back to counseling just like a President of the US reenters civilian life.  Why would he continue to be the voice of the Union when he didn’t win the election?  That’s why this is such a tragedy.  He’s no longer in the number two position anymore, still able to keep us on the straight and narrow. Cameo Thorne is a nice person, her rhetoric does absolutely nothing to benefit anyone.  She brought zero experience to the table…was she going to negotiate our next contract?  How about grieving the pay loss for those mentioned above who are being unfairly treated by Downtown.  Anyone who doesn’t get the gravity of this loss hasn’t been paying attention.

posted by: AliceB on December 5, 2018  2:10pm

NancyTeach you have said it better than I ever could. You are absolutely correct. Thank you.

posted by: Tonynewshound on December 5, 2018  2:24pm

So, the NHPS Advocates had a member run for executive office. She didn’t come close to winning. How many votes did she get? They are good at rounding up 8 to 10 people at Board of Ed and Board of Alders meetings with “hundreds” of signatures. Maybe they should have had some of those petition signers from China vote in the teachers union election, perhaps we would see that they really had community support.

posted by: fieldhand on December 5, 2018  2:42pm

I started working for the city of New Haven about thirteen years ago and not a part of the teacher union but the one person I thought was honest and loyal to his service was Chic! I came from the Law Enforcement side of AFSME, so I’m very aware of Union Reps selling there souls for self gain. You just voted a man in that will work only for the best interest of the Union interest and the City of New Haven and not it’s employees. Wake up New Haven especially the Teachers that work so hard at trying to change the lives of our students. Let’s Make New Haven Great Again!!!

posted by: Tonynewshound on December 5, 2018  3:02pm

I don’t understand why the NHI, and to a lesser degree the NHR, keep playing up this narrative that the NHPS Advocates are so Representative. I just looked at one of the petitions that they submitted to the BOE. Out of 400 signatures, less than 100 were from New Haven residents. But they did have signers from Rockaway NJ, Covington VA, Oakland CA, and the great New Haven loving Ireland and Hungary. See the petition for yourself, starting on page 28.


posted by: withallduerespect on December 5, 2018  4:38pm

@Nancyteach, It’s the Teachers Union, not the monarchy. Good ideas are good ideas regardless of the title of the person who originates them.

You referenced a President returning to civilian life: Obama isn’t the president anymore, but he still plays a role in his political party and he still impacts policy with his advice. I’m not saying Tom Burns is an Obama, but it’s still childish to silence himself because he didn’t win.

He’s still just as smart as he was before the election. Those 372 people who voted for him would still like to benefit from his ideas. Is he really our champion or did he just want the throne?

posted by: Jill_the_Pill on December 5, 2018  4:47pm

Hi Tony,

Not sure what sparked your annoyance at NHPS Advocates in an article that doesn’t even mention us. The petition you link was not initiated by NHPSA, though many of us signed it because “students need librarians in their schools” is not terribly controversial.

posted by: Nancyteach on December 5, 2018  6:02pm

@withalldyerespect. No offense but you obviously know very little about Tom, the human being, or the Union.  I would venture to say you’re not a teacher.  There are close to 1,500 teachers in New Haven and I’m sure many of them have great ideas; but just because you have great ideas doesn’t mean the powers that be will implement them.  I can assure you that Tom didn’t want teachers laid off, nor schools closed.  However, that was a pretty hard battle to fight when the Officers and the Executive Board were left in the dark while the President and the Superintendent came up with that agreement behind closed doors, without the knowledge nor the backing of the Executive Board. So please spare me your Imperial rhetoric, for “thou canst not speak of that thou dost not” know.  Enjoy the rest of your evening.

posted by: AliceB on December 5, 2018  6:36pm

I was speaking with some colleagues after school today.  At least 3 of them stated that they never received a ballot for the union vote; therefore, they did not cast a vote. The ballots did not look like any ballot 8 had ever seen before.  Maybe the reason so few union members voted was because they thought the ballot was an advertisement?  The upper left hand corner had the address of some firm not the NFT.

posted by: Tonynewshound on December 5, 2018  8:23pm

At Jill,

Can’t really tell if the petition belonged to NHPSA because everyone belongs to it, yet no one does. Whenever someone has an issue with the NH BOE, they belong to the NHPSA. They are always submitting petitions, and they are all the same, a small fraction signed are actually New Haven residents. Its a farce, and gives the group an outsized role in the debate.

What got me going? The fact that one of your supposed members was running, and was identified as a member of your group. She was trounced and the NHI didn’t highlight that all. Yet, if she had won, it would have been offered as evidence that your group was accepted by the masses. It is not.

posted by: Jill_the_Pill on December 5, 2018  9:22pm

Jeepers, Tony.  I am an active member of NHPSA, and to the best of my recollection, we’ve only circulated two petitions ever.  We’ve sent a few letters with multiple signatures; perhaps that is what you are describing as “always.”  Anyway, there were a number of NHPSA folks running for union spots and a handful were elected.  But, as a group, we didn’t make any endorsements. 

“everyone belongs to it, yet no one does. “

That’s a pretty fair description of a grassroots network, right there.  People drift in and out as various issues seem important to them.  There’s no officers, no dues, no secret handshake; just a list of our values and a lot of volunteers who care about public education in New Haven.