Christine Stuart photo

According to municipal officials present for a closed-door meeting with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, the governor intends to veto any education reform bill that doesn’t have the teacher tenure changes he wants.

“We need to make substantial headway if we’re going to have a meaningful package that I can support,” Malloy said later at a press conference following the meeting.

Malloy met behind closed doors at the state Capitol with municipal officials to encourage them to support his education reform proposal, which was weakened by the legislature’s Education Committee. The most controversial change the committee made was deciding to put off tying a new teacher evaluation system to tenure for another year.

With an additional $39.5 million in education funding at risk for the 30 lowest performing school districts, Malloy told local leaders not to depend on the money as they prepare their local budgets.

“I think this money is very much in the lurch until we have an educational bill we can agree on,” Malloy said.

Malloy didn’t use the word “veto” during the press conference, but he reiterated that “in its current form, this is not a bill I can support.”

And with little more than three weeks left in the legislative session, Malloy admitted there are no formal meetings going on between his administration and the state’s two teacher unions. The two teacher unions, AFT Connecticut and the Connecticut Education Association, had been at the table before the Education Committee unveiled its bill March 26.

The unions and their representatives have been speaking with legislative leaders, who are informally speaking with the governor about how to move forward.

In fact, legislative leadership and the co-chairs of the Education Committee were holding a meeting late Thursday afternoon.

Asked about Malloy’s remarks, House Speaker Chris Donovan said he was getting together with his caucus to see what they can live with.

“Right now we’re talking to each other,” Donovan said.

Despite the game of telephone, Malloy remained optimistic about the chances he will be able to reach a compromise with the legislature.

“I anticipate we’ll get to a bill,” Malloy said. “That’s certainly what I want to do.”

Christine Stuart photo

Malloy admitted he was clearly lobbying the local officials to garner support for his proposal, but he insisted he didn’t put any pressure on them.

“I also invited them to stand with me if they wanted to, and if they didn’t want to stand with me I said I would understand it,” Malloy said, answering for local officials standing behind him. “I think there’s an appreciation amongst these folks that we have work to do in the remaining weeks of the legislative session.”

The reaction of local elected officials and state lawmakers was mixed.

Education Committee Co-Chairs Sen. Andrea Stillman, D-Waterford, and Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, D-West Hartford, said they didn’t remove any of the money Malloy put in the bill to help fund the lowest performing school districts.

“I understand the governor doesn’t like the bill as it came out of committee,” Stillman said. “I also understand we’ll continue to have discussions.”

She said she thinks they’ll slowly be able to bring various parties back to the table.

Fleischmann said some of the changes the Education Committee made to the governor’s bill was based on feedback they received from municipal leaders. He said the back and forth between lawmakers, local officials, and other stakeholders is a natural part of the legislative process.

New Britain Mayor Tim O’Brien, a former lawmaker, wouldn’t say which version of the legislation he likes better, the governor’s or the Education Committee’s.

“We need to be making significant steps to move education forward in our state,” O’Brien said. “I definitely appreciate the governor’s leadership in moving that forward.”

Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch said he appreciates the governor’s bill because it allows low performing school districts like his to do things it currently can’t do, such as extend school days or set up Saturday academies. He said that as far as he knows, Bridgeport’s legislative delegation is supportive of the governor’s bill.

Jim Finley, executive director of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, who also attended the closed-door meeting, said the organization supports an education reform bill closer to the governor’s vision than that which was reported out of the Education Committee. The state’s largest municipal lobby had been somewhat critical of the legislation, calling it a “triage approach” to funding the Education Cost Sharing formula.

“The governor indicated that his proposal was the first step in a process and committed to comprehensive and significant education finance reform in the meeting with municipal officials,” Finley said.

Malloy created a task force to look at revising the Education Cost Sharing formula, but their report won’t be available until October.

“This is a down payment on education reform,” Malloy said. “It can also be viewed as representing changes in the ECS formula that will, in fact, allow us to concentrate on that 41 percent of students that are served by these districts.”