NEW MILFORD — Disgruntled teachers turned out in force at Tuesday night’s Board of Education, dressed in black shirts and wearing pins saying, “It’s All About Respect.”

Kim Patella, president of the New Milford Education Association teachers’ union, announced the launch of an advocacy group that will be politically active to support New Milford schools.

The group, New Milford Partnership for Education, comprises teachers, support staff, parents and community members. Patella said they are “united in support of New Milford public schools.”

“We will be working together to bring demonstrated support for learning and professions within the education system, respect for employee associations/unions and the collective bargaining process, and fully and thoughtfully funding education programs,” Patella said.

Other goals include educating school board members on how state and federal polices and practices affect teachers, supporting staff and students; and promoting collaborative and transparent decision-making on the board’s part.

“In the upcoming weeks, we will be working with the community, including candidates for the Board of Education, to promote this agenda,” Patella said.

The teachers union has filed a grievance with the state labor board claiming a breach of contact involving last-minute calendar changes for 2015-16, including adding nine unpaid after-school commitments for teachers.

“There are family commitments set by teachers who counted on the history of past calendars when making them,” said Meg Jones, a New Milford teacher who spoke on behalf of her colleagues, including the 48 teachers she has spoken to during the first week of school who have criticized the nine-day requirement.

“There are day-care contracts that charge $1 a minute for every minute a parent is late picking up their child,” Jones said. “One teacher cares for a 75-year-old father in the early stages of Alzheimer’s who has doctors appointments set. There’s a teacher who has cancer treatments scheduled only up to 4 p.m., and teachers who had to give up second jobs they were working to make ends meet.”

Former New Milford teacher J.T. Schemm pointed to the 17 recent resignations and five retirements as a cause for concern.

“I look at the long list of resignations and ask ‘What do we do when that experience walks out the door? Have we become a district that trains but does not retain teachers?”

Director of Personnel Ella Mae Baldelli said there are a number of reasons why employees have left the district. She said some have left for higher-paying jobs, others for a better benefits package and some because they don’t believe New Milford is the right fit.

“I’m well aware of where and why they went, and it had nothing to do with anything happening in the district,” said Paddyfote, who told school board members at the end of the meeting that she plans to retire in January. “One took an administrative job closer to home. One took a different position that matched their new certification. Another teacher moved to a different part of the state.”

Schemm and Board member David Lawson referred to the Strategic Plan fashioned with community input several years ago.

“In the Strategic Plan, we talked about retention of staff,” Lawson said. “We had a lot of feedback from the community on what they wanted in our district. I think we’ve strayed from some of that.”; 203-731-3352