A presentation to a national teacher’s union explaining how its Connecticut chapter “diffused” a legislative proposal that gives parents more say in how failing schools are run was never meant to be public.
The presentation given by AFT Connecticut lobbyist Jennifer Berigan last month at a gathering in Washington D.C. claimed credit for turning a bill the union opposed into something it could support by watering down parental control over failing schools.
In the process of giving the presentation on how the so-called “parent trigger” passed in 2010, Berigan’s presentation pulled few punches bragging about the union’s lobbying role in the process and angering parents who supported stronger legislation.
After posting the presentation briefly on its website, AFT pulled it down, but not before Dropout Nation, a Washington blog that covers education issues, put it on its own website.
“We stand by the legislation and the work we did on it,” Eric Bailey, spokesman for AFT Connecticut, said Monday.
But Gwen Samuel, a parent and former chairwoman of the State of Black Connecticut Alliance that fought for a stronger parent trigger, said the presentation really put parents on edge.
“Why is it when parents want to help children they are suddenly anti-teacher?” Samuel asked Monday. She said the Power Point presentation is “wicked” because it was given at a workshop to other union organizers to “teach someone how to circumvent the stakeholders” in their child’s education.
Samuel said she was inviting the head of the national AFT to the state for a meeting. She said parents want to ensure that they have nothing to worry about during this 2011-12 school year as it relates to teachers and parents working together to ensure students and teachers succeed in the classroom.
Samuel held a conference call Tuesday afternoon with other parent groups from around the country to discuss parental involvement and the AFT presentation.
Bailey said his organization didn’t work to exclude anyone in the process. Rather, they simply sought to make the legislation better. He said his union believes parents need to be part of the education process.
In addition, “the employee has been appropriately disciplined and procedures have been reviewed to ensure statements are accurate in the future,” Bailey said in reference to Berigan.
But Samuel said the presentation doesn’t exactly make clear what happened in Connecticut. In fact, she said it looks like the union, based on the presentation, wanted to make sure parents were excluded from the process.
The 2010 law, which was initially modeled after similar legislation in California, helped create school governance councils where parents can act in an advisory capacity. The draft legislation never allowed a majority of parents to close a school, like the California legislation did, but it would have allowed them to petition their local school board to reconstitute a failing school.
The school governance councils were described by Berigan as a “misnomer” in the presentation because “they are advisory and do not have true governing authority.”
The presentation went on to brag that it had the votes to kill the bill in committee, but since the Education Committee’s co-chairman was running for majority leader it says he let the bill out as a “work in progress.” It also touted the fact that charter school groups which supported the legislation were not at the table.
Bergian’s presentation also described how the Connecticut Education Association, a rival teacher union, had to be “dragged … kicking and screaming” to the negotiating table. The final slide titled “Karma” celebrates the fact that the bill’s main proponent, former state Rep. Jason Bartlett of Bethel, didn’t win re-election the following year and goes on to mention that Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, who co-chairs the Education Committee, lost his bid for House majority leader as a result of the legislation. The legislation was supported by the Black and Puerto Rican caucus, which Fleischmann would have needed to secure the position.
Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, D-New Haven, who was involved in the negotiations, said the way AFT tells the story in the presentation isn’t true to what actually happened. But he also said any legislator “worth a grain a salt” will tell you a pure parent trigger never would have passed the legislature.
“I think they put this out there as a little chest puffing,” Holder-Winfield said Monday.
He said this 2010 interview he did with AFT Connecticut President Sharon Palmer shows that the legislation, like all legislation, was going to be a compromise.
He said what’s disappointing is that the presentation tells people, like parents, who aren’t connected to the legislative process, “it’s useless to lobby for something,” but he hopes it doesn’t act to discourage anyone from coming up and speaking their mind or getting involved in the process.
As a “community organizer trying to be a legislator, I’m still figuring it out,” Holder-Winfield said of the legislative process.
Paul Wessel, executive director of CT Parent Power, said the legislature is a strange place where people have “delusions of grandeur.” He said the report was “unfortunate at best and at worst reprehensible,” but in the end it was just a “lobbyist strutting her stuff.”
He said he doesn’t think it reflects anyone’s perception of reality. It was just a look into the normal legislative sausage making. He said people including Samuel were at the table working out the details and a compromise until the very end.