Hugh McQuaid Photo
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy (Hugh McQuaid Photo)

(Updated 8:12 p.m.) As a Democrat, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said he’s been told he can’t touch teacher tenure, but that’s exactly what he did during his education focused budget address Wednesday.

“It’s been said by some that I won’t take on the issue because it will damage my relationship with teachers,” Malloy said. “If the people in this chamber — and those watching on TV or online, or listening on the radio – if you’ve learned nothing else about me in the past 13 months, I hope you’ve learned this: I do what I say I’m going to do, and I do what I think is right for Connecticut, irrespective of the political consequences.”

Under Malloy’s proposal teachers will be expected to earn and re-earn their tenure based on their continued effectiveness in the classroom. It will be driven largely by an evaluation process, which is under development by the state.

“In terms of the tenure proposal, I think what the governor has very broadly laid out, because we don‘t have the details yet, is what people are thinking about in this state when they think about their children being educated,“ Sen. Andrea Stillman, D-Waterford, said. “And that‘s making sure the teachers are the best and the brightest we can put in the classroom.”

She said she knows some people who will be concerned about it, but “we have some very good teachers here in Connecticut.” She said she thinks the teachers in the state will look at the reforms as an opportunity to help reshape their classroom.

“You know the teachers are saying they want to be part of the solution too,“ House Speaker Chris Donovan said. “They’ve been feeling that their hands have been handcuffed for years too. I think they’re looking forward to a discussion, you know getting everybody to the table in a positive way is a good thing.”

Mary Loftus Levine, executive director of the Connecticut Education Association, said people often have a misunderstanding of exactly what tenure is. She said tenure gives teachers who have reached a certain standard a due process hearing. It’s not as many believe a stepping stone to a job for life.

Under the current law it takes a minimum of 120 days to dismiss a teacher. The process is expensive and prolonged by the fact that it can involve up to three arbitrators and several lawyers, Levine has said.

Christine Stuart photo
Mary Loftus Levine, executive director of the Connecticut Education Association (Christine Stuart photo)

CEA has recommended shortening that process to around 85 days and reducing the cost of the hearings by requiring only one arbitrator.

The governor is proposing a slightly different approach and says it must be earned every 3 to 5 years based on performance. The approach seems more in line to the five year teacher contract proposed by the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents.

What Levine said she heard the governor say Wednesday was that the state needs “strong teacher evaluation systems supported by professional development that is meaningful.”

The state is in the process of developing a more robust teacher evaluation system.

In an email to CEA members Wednesday evening, Levine said she’s still reviewing the 163-page bill, which describes how Malloy’s tenure proposal would be implemented.

“Many questions have yet to be answered,” Levine tells members.

AFT Connecticut, which represents about 28,000 teachers and paraprofessionals, said they see Malloy’s proposals as an opportunity to have a discussion about these very issues, but expressed concern about some of them including teacher tenure and teacher certification.

“Make no mistake, this will require give and take from all stakeholders,“ AFT Connecticut President Sharon Palmer, said Wednesday. “Governor Malloy has given us the starting point and now we need to work together and listen to the educators doing the work to enact legislation that improves education for all children.”

Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor said all the stakeholders have been meeting for weeks now to go over some of the proposals in Malloy’s package.

“Tenure needs to be earned and it needs to be sustained,” he said. “A removal when necessary is not incompetence, but instead much more appropriately ineffectiveness.”

He said education is entering a new era of diagnosis and support tailored to areas where teachers need the most help. He said it will help elevate the profession in the state and it’s also likely to help increase the amount of federal funding the state receives for education.

This past December was the third time the state missed out on federal Race to the Top funding.

The legislature will have three short months to take Malloy’s concepts on education and turn them into legislation.

Stillman, co-chairwoman of the Education Committee, said there’s a lot of work ahead this legislative session, but unlike 2010 “this year we actually have a plan.”

“Last year was really just working around the edges,” she said. “Now we have a governor who is focused on what rightly so is the next step toward economic revival…you can’t accomplish it without the best education.”