One of the four bills Gov. Dannel P. Malloy vetoed Tuesday would have prescribed educational qualifications for the state’s Education Commissioner.
Connecticut Education Association Executive Director Mark Waxenberg said he was “stunned” by the veto. He said it’s good public policy that doesn’t take away any of the governor’s authority to choose a qualified individual for the job.
Just like teachers have to be certified, the state’s Education Commissioner should have minimum qualifications, Waxenberg said.
He said his members will be angry about this veto and will speak with legislative leaders to “seriously consider an override session.”
Malloy faced harsh criticism from the state’s two teacher unions during his first term for choosing Stefan Pryor, a lawyer with an economic development background who also co-founded a New Haven public charter school.
Last summer, a coalition of state unions adopted a resolution that would require an Education Commissioner to have the same professional experience of a school superintendent. The symbolic requirement was a direct shot at Pryor, who did not have a doctorate in education or classroom teaching experience.
In his second term, Malloy nominated Education Commissioner Dianne Wentzell, who has been an educator for 25 years. Her appointment was applauded by the state’s two teacher unions, but didn’t end their support for the legislation.
AFT Connecticut President Jan Hochadel said she’s “disappointed” in the veto, but to Malloy’s credit he heard their voices and “chose a new commissioner with extensive background in the classroom.”
Hochadel added: “We expect that he and future governors would follow this example in recommending leadership for the state’s education agency. Our state’s students and their parents deserve nothing less.”
But Malloy made it clear in his veto message that he should have the ability to hire the most qualified candidate, regardless of their background.
“Open-mindedness and flexibility are paramount in a search for the right candidate who can best respond to the educational challenges that face our state,” Malloy said in his veto message. “The establishment of qualification for the Commissioner of Education in statute closes the door on a broad pool of talented and diverse leaders who would otherwise be eligible and could foster greatness in our schools.”
Malloy said he’s concerned it would unintentionally reduce the diversity of future commissioner applicant polls, since representation of African American and Hispanic teachers and administrators remains disproportionately low.
Also, Malloy said the appointment process is unique and any commissioner is first vetted by the state Board of Education before reaching his desk. Then after a candidate is nominated by the governor they are subject to the legislative review process and approved by the General Assembly.
Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, who chairs the legislature’s Education Committee, said he was ”disappointed by the veto.” He said the standards proposed were the standards every school superintendent needs to get hired in the state.
Fleischmann said if he were to agree with the logic in the governor’s veto message then, it could be said the standards for superintendents are “too stringent.”
He described the standards proposed for the commissioner as “very basic.”
Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano and Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, said this veto is typical of Malloy’s attitude toward teachers.
“Since taking office in January 2011, Governor Malloy has been highly critical of teachers and retired teachers,” Fasano and Boucher said. “Today’s veto of an important measure will surely give them cause for concern.”
Fasano was left scratching his head on the veto.
“The governor made education experience a priority when searching for his new commissioner, after distancing himself from a previous controversial choice. So why reject a bipartisan effort to ensure that education experience is always a priority?” Fasano said.
The bill required an Education Commissioner to have at least five years of experience as a teacher and three years as an administrator in a school or district in Connecticut or another state.
It is just one of a handful of bills Malloy vetoed, which received broad legislative support. The bill passed the Senate unanimously and the House 138-5.
In addition, Malloy vetoed another union supported bill that would have required that school districts employ at least 1 school nurse for every 750 students. Eighteen percent of districts, according to AFSCME Council 4, do not meet this standard currently.
In his veto message Malloy said the bill established a standard for school nurses then permitted an annual waiver, “which undermines the very purpose of the requirement.”
The bill passed the House 116-26 and the Senate 25-11.
He also vetoed a bill that would require school districts to report information on all special education students to the state. In his veto message , he expressed concern the bill would violated federal law and would be an unfunded mandate on local school districts.
The last bill he vetoed would have prohibited certain insurance companies from including coinsurance clauses in their commercial fire insurance policies.
Malloy has signed 175 bills and vetoed 8 so far this year.