Teacher union leader: Malloy’s plans for low-achieving schools returns state to the ‘dark ages of labor history’

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s plans to intervene in the state’s lowest-performing schools rely heavily on getting the support from teachers unions.

On Wednesday they rejected his proposal, with the leader of the state’s largest teachers union telling the Education Committee it would return them “to the dark ages of labor history.”

“Contracts that have been negotiated and are in place would have to be nullified,” said Mary Loftus Levine, executive director of the Connecticut Education Association.

The legislature’s nonpartisan research office also cast doubt on whether it’s legal for the state to take over up to 30 schools.

These interventions could be “vulnerable to a court challenge regarding existing contracts legally entered into by two parties,” the Office of Legislative Research wrote Wednesday.

When announcing this initiative at a Hartford public school this month, Malloy acknowledged that buy-in would be needed from teachers.

“I am asking the legislature to give us the tools necessary to reorganize schools, pursuant to agreement that will be reached with those systems,” Malloy said.

The state is awaiting a Supreme Court decision in whether it overstepped its authority when it replaced Bridgeport’s Board of Education. When the state intervened in Windham’s school district last year, the state preserved the local contract with the union.

“We can do it within collective bargaining,” Levine said, but added that the way this bill is written, contracts will be thrown out. The analysis by OLR says this proposal “greatly restricts” the collectively bargained contracts.

The administration has not announced in which schools they intend to intervene, but after Wednesday’s hearing, it’s apparent that neither the CEA nor the American Federation of Teachers will give the education commissioner the authority to reorganize those schools.

“Quite frankly, we are concerned there is too much power being given to the education commissioner,” Sharon Palmer, president of the state’s chapter of the AFT, told the committee. “If you want buy-in from teachers, collective bargaining gives you buy in… You don’t get that by one group deciding what the other group is going to do.”

She held up a list she had compiled of all the new powers the commissioner would gain under Malloy’s proposed bill.

Even after the unions’ avid rejection of the proposals, Rep. Andy Fleischmann, D-West Hartford, co-chairman of the Education Committee, said he needs some convincing that there’s a better approach.

“Obviously, what is needed is dramatic action. What this bill does is it allows the commissioner to scoop these schools up and reorganize them,” he said. “Given the seriousness and problems these schools face, one can understand why the commissioner and governor put this forward.”