BERLIN — In what was by most accounts one of the quieter of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s education-related town hall events, the governor did his best to flatter Berlin residents.
Speaking in front of a set for the Catherine M. McGee Middle School play, he told them about how Berlin schools performed higher than the state average, and about how a lot of the more intensive reforms he was proposing might not be necessary for a town like Berlin.
A lot of the flattery came in comparison to — and for some, at the expense of — the schools in neighboring New Britain. These reforms were necessary, Malloy said, in places like New Britain where parents had on occasion put pressure on Berlin by illegally moving their kids into town’s better schools.
All the New Britain-bashing was a bit too much for Fran Gallagher, a native of the city who taught in the schools for 34 years.
Malloy had earlier told David Bosso, the state’s 2012 Teacher of the Year award winner, that he wanted more teachers like Bosso in New Britain.
“There’s just nuances [in New Britain schools] that I’m uncomfortable with and sensitive to . . . And the fact that you would [mention] New Britain and then tell this town’s teacher of the year that you want more of him? I have a very hard time with that,” Gallagher told the governor, eliciting applause from many in the crowd.
“People would say ‘Oh Fran I’m not talking about you.’ You put down teachers [in New Britain]? Of course you’re putting me down,” she said after the town hall.
Malloy took his licks from Gallagher, but gave as good as he got.
“In a system that in one case spent over $100,000 to rid itself of a teacher that you knew wasn’t doing the job. Was that fair?” he asked.
“In a poor district, in a district that doesn’t have the assets necessary to educate, to give books to its children, should any district have to spend $100,000 to get rid of a teacher that every teacher in that school system knew shouldn’t be there?”
“No, you’re absolutely right,” Gallagher replied.
The two eventually came to a “consensus” — in Gallagher’s words — on the over-reliance on property taxes to fund public education. Malloy pointed out that he had maintained level funding to local schools and noted that it saved 700 teacher jobs in New Britain.
The visit to Berlin was Malloy’s first such event since the Education Committee gutted much of his reform package, rewriting the legislation to have studies conducted of many of the more controversial initiatives, such as tying a new teacher evaluation system to tenure, rather than mandating the proposals.
But Bosso, the teacher of the year award winner, said he was encouraged by the latest Education Committee draft and felt studying the issue for a year will inspire “much more thought and dialogue.”
Earlier in the day, Malloy had sent a letter to lawmakers centered around the phrase “we can’t wait,” and the phrase appeared several times in his remarks during the town hall meeting.
The letter was a thinly veiled attack on the Education Committee’s decision to turn many of his proposals into year-long studies.
The governor also sought to fire back at criticism that much of the education reform package placed the larger burden of wealth disparity and economic opportunity on the shoulders of the state’s teachers.
“If I have to solve the world’s poverty problem before I can have a discussion about our state’s education problem, we’ll never make progress on anything,” he said.