The state’s largest teachers union is lobbying legislators to override Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s controversial veto of legislation that would require education commissioners to have experience in both teaching and school administration.
The Connecticut Education Association reached out to leading lawmakers earlier this week to make its case, according to Executive Director Mark Waxenberg. The union said time is running out to convince the General Assembly to reverse Malloy’s decision.
Any veto override would have to occur during the constitutionally-required veto session that will be held July 20, according to Av Harris, spokesman for the Secretary of the State’s office. In years when legislative leaders do not choose to veto any bills, a small number of lawmakers meet anyway to “gavel in and out” as a formality.
The union’s president, Sheila Cohen, said other agencies in Connecticut already require professional experience that “directly aligns with job responsibilities.”
The Department of Public Health commissioner must be a physician or hold a master’s degree in public health, according to Cohen. The commissioner of Mental Health and Addiction Services needs at least 10 years experience in hospital, health, addiction, or mental health administration, and a master’s degree or higher in a health-related field. The Correction Department commissioner has to be an experienced correctional administrator.
“The education of our children demands experience and expertise. We cannot afford a second-rate approach to education leadership in Connecticut,” Cohen said.
The state Department of Education currently relies upon generic, statutory language requiring that any department head “be qualified by training and experience for the duties of his office.”
The bill, which specifies that education commissioners must have at least five years’ experience as a teacher and three years as an administrator, passed the House 138-5 and the Senate unanimously before being squelched by Malloy.
Democratic leadership said conversations about the possibility of any veto overrides are ongoing.
“We are in the process of talking to members about vetoed legislation, and seeing what level of interest there is to consider acting further on any of these bills,” House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, said in a release. “Once we get a final list of the governor’s vetoes, we can then determine what, if any, action will be taken by the legislature.”
Based on a two-thirds majority, 14 Republicans in the House and three Republicans in the Senate would need to join with all the Democrats in order to override Malloy’s veto.
House Deputy Republican Leader Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, said he conveyed support for the override when contacted by the union’s leadership.
“Generally speaking, I think our caucus would be supportive of a veto override,” Candelora said. “The bill made sense to us; we think it’s good policy. We all supported it out of the House and it was unfortunate the governor did veto it.”
Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano, of North Haven, said he hopes not only to speak with other members of the party, but also to sit down with representatives of the teachers union to better understand why the issue is so important to them.
Malloy faced harsh criticism from both of the state’s 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. Malloy has since appointed 25-year educator Dianne Wentzell, who replaced Pryor after he left to become Rhode Island’s first secretary of commerce.
Malloy said in his veto message that the state’s chief executive should be able to appoint anyone, regardless of the candidate’s background, whose qualifications are “tailored to the state department’s need at the time.”
He also said he’s concerned the bill would unintentionally reduce the diversity of future commissioner applicant pools, since representation of African American and Hispanic teachers and administrators remains disproportionately low.