Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s first stop on his education tour was in Hartford, but the first question of the evening came from a former member of the Bridgeport Board of Education.

“I want to know if your plan to reform our schools is all about disenfranchising parents and schools all over the state, like you’re attempting to do in Bridgeport?” said Maria Pereira, the former school board member who voted against a state takeover. Her comments drew a smattering of applause around The Village’s community room, which served as the setting for Malloy’s first stop on his education reform tour. 

Malloy, who relishes verbal sparring with anyone who challenges him or his policies, told Pereira he doesn’t want to be in a situation where the state has to take over a school system.

“I wish you lived in a city that had responded to its requirements to educate all of the children, including your own children, which you know and I know hasn’t been happening,” Malloy told Pereira.

“Really can you look at me and say that the Bridgeport Board of Education has done a good job the last 10 years?” Malloy asked.

“No, the Bridgeport Board of Education hasn’t done a good job in the last 20 years it’s been controlled by Democrats, that’s why,” Pereira said. “This is a democracy, not tyranny.”

When Pereira was done speaking, Malloy began to respond. When Pereira tried to interject, the governor told her she was done speaking at that point and went on to explain his position regarding the Bridgeport Public Schools.

“What tyranny is, is sending children to a school year, after year, after year, knowing that they’re not performing at a rate that will allow a vast majority of the children graduating from that school, and finishing that program, to compete — not just on a statewide basis, not just a national basis, but an international basis,” Malloy said.

He said he didn’t want to take over Bridgeport’s school board, but the board voted to disband itself. “Your school board basically threw up its hands and ran away. That’s a reality,“ Malloy said.

Pereira was one of the three members to vote against a state takeover. She went on to sue the state. Earlier this week, Pereira won her lawsuit when the Supreme Court decided the state had violated the law when it disbanded the city’s elected school board and replaced it with an appointed board.

However, there’s already language in Malloy’s 163-page education reform proposal that would keep that appointed board in place. Further, some lawmakers are working to see that the appointed board stays in place by taking legislative action next week before the city can hold a special election.

Asked after the event if he would like to see the current Bridgeport school board remain in place, Malloy said “that’s up to the legislature.”

“Let’s concentrate on this for a second here. Beyond all of that the children of the city of Bridgeport have been let down for a generation, so it‘s time to do something about it,” Malloy said. “And if it’s going to go back to the old way it’s even more imperative that this package be passed.”

Malloy’s reform package also includes incentives for the state’s lowest performing school districts. However, the proposal further says that if the districts agree to allow the state to help them govern their schools, they also have to give up a certain amount of control over things such as collective bargaining with the teachers.

“I do want to be able to step in and supervise . . . the lowest 25 performing schools because if we don’t do that there’s no penalty,” Malloy said. “The woman who came from Bridgeport — she didn’t deny that the children had been let down terribly . . . As a former board of education member she gave no argument at all that the children of Bridgeport were let down for a generation.”

Tenure

The third question of evening started out with a comment on Malloy’s desire to change how tenure works for teachers.

Malloy’s plan would require teachers to re-earn their tenure every five years, based on evaluations tied largely to student achievement. Under the proposal, new teachers would get tenure after three years if they earn two “exemplary” evaluations and after five years with three “proficient” or “exemplary” evaluations.

Christine Ladd, a teacher and counselor at the Sports Sciences Academy in Hartford, said “tenure is not the reason our schools are struggling.”

“Many students in urban and poor districts come to school hungry, without appropriate medical care, and without a safe place to live,” Ladd said. “What does your proposal do to address the significant socio-economic issues that children bring with them to the classroom? This is where the achievement gap begins and where it first must be addressed.”

Ladd received a warm round of applause for her question.

“You are absolutely right,” Malloy responded.

“We don’t do a whole lot about tenure in this package,” Malloy said. “I don’t know what you’ve been told by other people. What we do is we implement the evaluation system that your union has already agreed to.”

“And when we had those discussions with your union about that evaluation system, we weren’t talking about simply applying it to untenured faculty,” Malloy said. “Otherwise, we didn’t really need to have that discussion.”

Attendees pushed back on some of the governor’s statements about how teachers can or can’t be replaced.

“I want to be very clear with what happens to tenure. It stays in place,” Malloy said. “The only difference is every person you teach with needs to meet the same standard that you do.”

The problem is, under the current system if you have tenure, “we can’t replace you, we have to help you,” Malloy said. 

Ladd told the governor that his statement was not true. Malloy insisted that it was true, and elicited loud grumbling from the crowd. At least one man shouted, “you don’t even know.”

Next came the question about tying tenure to certification from a man who identified himself as a West Hartford teacher. He told Malloy he’s never heard of a medical doctor losing his license because of his performance.

“I think that putting these two things together is like comparing apples and oranges and putting these two things into the same basket,” the man said.

Malloy responded, saying, “By the way, doctors do lose their licenses for being bad doctors.”

If a teacher isn’t a good fit for a school, Malloy said, the teacher should recognize that and find another school. Malloy said his proposal doesn’t change anything about that.

The governor then posed a hypothetical to the West Hartford man and asked if the state should step in and take away licenses from teachers who get bounced through three or four schools.

“At that school, were there teachers with tenure that you thought shouldn’t be teaching there anymore?“ Malloy asked.

“Absolutely,” the man responded. “And they are gone.”

In a brief interview with reporters after the hour-long event, Malloy said he was happy with the evening’s discussion.

“I’m happy with the whole process,” Malloy said. “I’m happy that folks had an opportunity to say what’s on their minds and I had an opportunity to explain what we’re trying to do.”

Click here for a list of Malloy’s scheduled stops.

Thursday’s event was similar to the 17 town hall forums Malloy used to discuss his budget last year. About a dozen individuals got to ask the governor a question and their names were chosen at random from a shopping bag by Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra.