Mayor John DeStefano Jr. has recruited the Yale College Democrats to help advance his primary re-election campaign push moving into Tuesday’s election: improving New Haven’s schools.
The New Haven Federation of Teachers, the mayor and school officials reached a consensus this month in ratifying a union contract reforming teacher and school evaluation methods. Now the Dems are focusing on the Board of Aldermen’s upcoming vote to approve the contract Nov. 5. This is the first time DeStefano has reached out to the Dems for lobbying help, Ben Stango ’11, lobbying coordinator for the Yale Democrats said. Dems are calling individual aldermen and rallying parents and teachers to attend the aldermanic vote.
“I think what comes out of that is a broader sense of ownership in the community about remaining a progressive and healthy place,” DeStefano said of the collaboration.
Sam Schoenburg ’11, campus coordinator for the Dems, worked this summer at the Yale Law School clinic in educational reform and was the one who first approached Mayor’s Office personnel to express interest in helping with education reform. Emily Byrne, policy assistant to the mayor, said DeStefano then asked the Dems to launch their lobbying efforts with him because they have previous experience lobbying for health care reform and are familiar with the Board of Aldermen.
The teacher contract needs to pass by a majority vote at City Hall before progressing to the state legislature, Stango said, and the Dems have focused their efforts on persuading aldermen who are still hesitant.
Mike Gocksch ’12, co-lobbying captain for education for the Dems, said he has been working up to two hours every day, organizing phone calls between the Board of Aldermen and members of the 15 to 20 Yale students in the Lobbying Committee.
“Playing a direct role in appealing to legislators and watching the process unfold has been both empowering and inspiring,” Gocksch said.
The Dems have also organized a coalition with the undergraduate group New Haven Action and Dwight Hall to rally parents and teachers at the aldermanic meeting, Stango said.
Failed attempts at agreement between teachers’ unions and municipal governments in other cities have been problematic for educational reform in these cities, making New Haven a focal point for educational reformers across the country, Stango said.
If the Board of Aldermen votes to pass the contract at the aldermanic meeting, Stango said, each of the 47 schools in the New Haven Public Schools District will have the autonomy to reorganize educational infrastructure as they see fit.
Stango said Wednesday that he was optimistic about the contract passing in New Haven. He said he is looking forward to the next step: getting the Connecticut legislature to approve the state’s application for federal funding in February.
For the Yale Dems, who spent much of last year focusing on national events like the presidential election, the work with DeStefano marks an effort to bring national politics to a local level.
“This is really exciting,” Schoenburg said. “It’s the type of reform Obama wants for urban school districts across the country.”
The contract between the New Haven Federation of Teachers and New Haven Public Schools District was ratified Oct. 13, with a vote of 842 to 39 in favor.
Esther Zuckerman contributed reporting.