Gov. Dannel P. Malloy remained confident Thursday that once the legislature’s Education Committee finishes making revisions to his 163-page education bill “we will have a very robust educational reform package to act on.“
“Legislation is a lot like making sausage,” Malloy said after a meeting with African-American clergy. “And I’ve made sausage and I never served in the legislature. It’s not pretty, it’s work and it’s getting done.”
The co-chairs of the Education Committee have been working on the bill behind closed doors and have been mum about the changes they will ask the committee to vote on as early as next week.
Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, co-chairman of the committee, said he respects the closed-door nature of the negotiations and hopes others would too. He said he doesn’t plan on saying anything about the changes to the bill until it’s finished.
Earlier this week he said they were “close” but refused to say what areas were under discussion.
Perhaps the most controversial portion of the legislation involves Malloy’s proposal to make teachers earn and certification through new job evaluation process based partially on student performance.
During a meeting with African-American clergy he was urged to focus on student achievement. A handful of people in the room expressed concern about how the public dialogue has been focused on the professional teaching requirements and tenure and not the students.
“There are a number of things that frustrate me, but I can’t allow my frustrations to interfere with what we have to do. And what we have to do is get a robust reform package passed in this legislative session,” Malloy said. “If it doesn’t we’ll be back doing it again.”
In an editorial that ran in the Journal Inquirer this weekend, Malloy said having to choose between student achievement and tenure reform is a false choice.
“Some have suggested over the past few weeks that rather than reforming tenure we should be directing more resources to struggling students. That’s a false choice; I think we should be doing both,” he wrote
Aside from the provisions regarding teacher tenure there are several more distractions offered by the legislation, which have several lawmakers concerned.
First there was the provision to ensure, no matter what happened with a lawsuit challenging the takeover of the Bridgeport Public Schools by the state, that an appointed Board of Education could remain in charge. The attorney representing two of the former Bridgeport Board of Education members was so concerned the legislature would take action earlier this month to overturn the Supreme Court’s ruling he held office hours in the Capitol.
It’s unclear if the Bridgeport language will remain in the bill or if the Education Committee will leave it up to the courts to sort the matter out. The court ruled in late February that the replacement of the school board was flawed because it ignored a training provision for the elected members before replacing them with appointed members. As it weaves its way through the court, no election has been scheduled and the appointed board remains.
Then there’s language that allows the Education Commission to offer superintendents a certification waiver and lets them join the state Teachers Retirement System.
Blogger Jonathan Pelto has surmised that the provision would benefit Steven Adamowski, the former superintendent in Hartford who is currently the special master in Windham.
“I don’t think there’s an Adamowski provision,” Malloy said. “If we decide that it’s acceptable to get the best talent from other states to come into our state to be superintendents they should be treated as the talent in the state is being treated.”
“But whether it’s in or not, it’s not the biggest issue about education reform before us I can assure you,” Malloy added.
“Under current statute, only certified education professionals are eligible for a pension,“ state Education Department’s spokesman Mark Linabury said earlier this week. “Anyone who has their certification waived is not eligible for the pension system.“
Adamowski has not earned his certification yet. But any superintendent that currently has it could now be eligible for a pension if the provision stays in the bill.
“As Connecticut moves to attract the best superintendent candidates from across the country, some of whom may not have Connecticut certification, we aim to offer them access to a pension or we will not be competitive with the many other states and districts also recruiting them,” Linabury said.
The teacher unions aren’t enamored with the provision.
“The question is how does this improve the education of children,” Eric Bailey spokesman for AFT Connecticut said. “It doesn’t.”
The legislation includes a number of special provisions for various constituencies. It gives a pass to the Big Picture School in Bloomfield, which has been struggling to meet its diversity requirements under the landmark court decision Sheff v. O’Neill.
The state Department of Education “agreed to continue funding the school at current levels for the upcoming year; however, this requires legislation to allow the continuation in funding,” Linabury said.
Then there’s the issue of funding and which districts will receive more money than others.
There’s a provision in the bill that would give from $3,000 to $6,000 more per student to two towns if they increased the number of out-of-district students.
“The idea here is to incentivize large districts to increase the number of out-of-district students they accept into the district in pursuit of the integration goals of the Sheff decision,” Linabury said.
However, the only two towns that would benefit based on how the language in the bill is written are Hartford and West Hartford.
One legislative fix has already been made to the proposal and that’s to maintain funding for Norwalk Public Schools.
Earlier this week the Norwalk delegation announced that the $72,000 loss in education funding they received under Malloy’s original bill will be restored. According to a press release, the agreement to restore the funding was reached through discussions between Sen. Bob Duff, House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, and Malloy’s administration.