Education heavyweights draw line in the sand on reforms needed

Six days. That’s how long it took for six of the state’s education heavyweights to back most of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s education reform package, including requiring teachers to have to re-earn tenure every few years.

“There is basically agreement here,” said Joseph Cirasuolo, leader of the state’s superintendentassociation, backed by leaders from two groups representing businesses, and groups reprensenting principalsschool boards and the New Haven-based school reform group ConnCAN.

And while there is no question that this kumbaya moment achieved by sometimes adversarial groups will be welcomed by the Malloy administration, the powerful teachers unions, unsurprisingly, didn’t pledge their support.

“This was politics at its best. It was kind of fun to watch,” said Eric Bailey, who works with the state’schapter of the American Federation of Teachers, which represents 28,000 teachers.

The state’s other union, the Connecticut Education Association, had a video tracker recording their opponents’ press conference Tuesday afternoon at the state Capitol complex.

So are the unions nervous about this newly announced coalition?

“We are not concerned,” Bailey said. “Of course we don’t see eye to eye.”

But with this coalition going after the unions’ most prized possession, it has have a battle ahead to convince legislators that an overhaul of teacher tenure is needed.

“It makes sense for them to join together. Strength in numbers can really help,” said Rep. Gary Holder Winfield, D-New Haven, and co-chairman of the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus.

Both Bailey and members of the coalition said they are unwilling to back down on certain issues.

“There are areas we disagree, there is no question about that,” said Pat Riccards, leader of ConnCAN, the New Haven reform group, referring to differences between the coalition and the teachers unions.

“We are not going to sacrifice quality just to find common ground,” Cirasuolo agreed.

That leaves these groups at a stalemate for now.

“No. No. No. We are not just going to stand by while they try to throw out” due process guaranteed through binding arbitration, said Bailey.

That’s where Malloy’s optimistic education chief comes in.

“Of course there will be disagreement. Our job is to get through that,” Stefan Pryor, education commissioner, said later Tuesday, shortly after testifying before a legislative committee.