(Updated 2:40 p.m.) In the final weeks of the legislative session, ConnCAN came to the Capitol on Wednesday to push legislation that would end the “last-in, first-out” policy that bases teacher layoffs on seniority.
Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, ConnCAN, brought together parents and administrators to promote the need for legislation that would prevent layoffs for younger, specialized teachers who have proven their effectiveness in the classroom.
Alex Johnston, CEO of ConnCAN, said “the issue that we have here is that this year in Connecticut there have already been hundreds of layoff notices issued to teachers across the state, and unfortunately hundreds of teachers will very likely lose their teaching positions because of the cutbacks.”
The current system would put younger teachers on the line for losing their job over teachers with more seniority, and in some cases it comes down to the last four digits of their social security number, according to Johnston.
There have been several pieces of legislation that have addressed this issue both in the House of Representatives and in the Senate, but the co-chairman of the Education Committee said passage of a measure this year is “unrealistic.”
Education Committee Co-Chairman Rep. Andrew Fleischmann said he’s surprised that in May ConnCAN seems to be shifting its focus from “Money Follows the Child” to “last-in, first out.“
“I find it surprising,” Fleischmann said. “They made it clear with me in January that their priority was to re-examine school financing this session.”
He said teacher performance can’t be examined before the establishment of a teacher evaluation system.
“You have to have a good evaluation system in place to change ‘last-in, first out’,” Fleischmann said.
He said the Performance Evaluation Advisory Council will be making recommendations later this year, but not before the end of the legislative session. He anticipated action on teacher evaluation and performance measures could be taken as early as next year.
A bill, which would require a local board of education, absent a collective bargaining agreement, create a layoff procedure that would prohibit seniority as the sole factor, never left the education committee.
In February Ronald Cordilico, legal counsel for CEA, noted the groups opposition of the bill, and cited a review of 90 contracts that demonstrated seniority the prime reason in only 21 percent of the contracts.
Sharon Palmer, president of the AFT-CT testified against the bill, she said, “some school administrators say that seniority is quality blind. We suggest those individuals need to look in the mirror and ask themselves how a teacher becomes senior if they are not a quality employee.
ConnCAN hopes to get the measure passed in the last two weeks of session through an amendment to an existing bill, according to Johnston.
Among the people urging support for legislation, Derby School Superintendent Dr. Stephen Tracy, used the example of a teacher in his system receiving a non-renewal notice.
“Derby may be unique this year in that one of those non-renewal letters went to our teacher of the year for 2011,” said Tracy. “A remarkable young woman whose impact and value to our city is obvious.”
The problem has become prevalent throughout the state with hundreds of non-renewal notices going out to teachers this year, according to Johnston.
Other states have recently adopted legislation changing the focus of layoffs from seniority, including Florida, Indiana, Ohio, Rhode Island and New York, according to Johnston.
“We are calling on legislatures to take action before June 8 to end this policy of last in first out,” Johnston said.
Hartford Public Schools were able to avoid major layoffs this year through the teachers job bill, according to Hartford Schools Superintendent Steven Adamowski, but the layoff problem has hurt the schools in the past.
“You are aware that Hartford has received quite a bit of tension on the last-in, first-out, as known as quality-blind seniority issue because the effect of this policy on Hartford and districts like ours is incredibly damaging,” said Adamowski.
Hartford undertook a model of specialized schools in 2006, which requires teachers to have very specific training, but quality-blind layoffs have been a destabilizing factor for the school system, according to Adamowski.
Schools have seen improvements throughout student body with a younger teaching staff, including the McDonough School in Middleton, with the average teacher experience is six to seven years fewer than the district average, according to Johnston.