Malloy’s tenure reforms get major rewrite by committee

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s plans for education reform got a dramatic rewrite Monday by the legislature’s Education Committee, but the changes are only one step in a process that some leaders say will end with high-level negotiations by top lawmakers and the administration.

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Clerks for the Education Committee head into a closed-door meeting with the substitute language to Malloy’s bill in tow.

“The bill the Education Committee appears set to approve represents just one step in the legislative process.  Gov. Malloy has made it clear that he’s determined to begin fixing what’s broken in our public schools, no matter how long it takes,” said Roy Occhiogrosso, the governor’s senior adviser. “In the coming weeks, members of this administration will continue to work with legislators and other key stakeholders until there is a bill that represents meaningful education reform.”

Occhiogrosso made that statement before the Education Committee voted 28-5 for extensive substitute language.

The version approved by the committee Monday night after an all-day closed-door caucus would relegate Malloy’s teacher tenure reforms to a study to be completed by next year.

It also would minimize his efforts to increase funding for charter schools. The revisions would cut his $2,600-per-pupil increase for students in charter schools to $1,100. A $1,000 local contribution for each student that heads to a charter school would become optional.

Copies of the revised language became available at midday, leaving lobbyists, reporters and even some legislators to scramble to see what is still in the bill, which Malloy has designated as his top priority in 2012.

“We’re punting on all the important stuff,” said Rep. Gary Holder Winfield, D-New Haven, and a leader of the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus. “Tenure, collective bargaining, everything.” He would prefer for a decision to be made, not start another study or task force.

Rep. Andy Fleischmann, D-West Hartford, co-chairman of the Education Committee, called language negotiated over the weeked “version 2.” He said the caucus of Democratic committee members would last until every member’s question was answered.

Other notable changes:

• Small school districts with expensive per/student price tags would have been forced to cut spending or lose state funding. The committee’s bill will require the State Department of Education to complete a study first.

• Any new state funding for the state’s 30 lowest performing districts would have been directed to the state’s education commissioner to be spent on necessary reforms. The committee’s bill will require “key stakeholders” to first come to an argreement of which reforms to finance.

• Allow local school districts to include the results of local charter school students when reporting their districts’ standardized test results and graduation rates.

• Malloy’s plans would have allowed the education commissioner and the State Board of Education to assume responsibility of the state’s lowest-performing schools, which would have been about 25 schools. Instead, the committee bill has the education commissioner study the plan for a year and report back to the committee by next year.

• The bill completely strips out tying teacher performance evaluations to earning tenure or earning their certifications to teach. Instead, the University of Connecticut’s education college will run a pilot in 10 districts to see how well the evaluations work before linking it to certification, tenure or pay.

These changes did not sit well with some.

“It’s really hard to change schools. It’s even harder when you ask school officials to do it under the current existing rules that have already failed them for decades,” said Pat Riccards, the leader of the New Haven education reform group ConnCAN.

Leaders of the Republican minority, Sen. John McKinney of Fairfield and Rep. Lawrence F. Cafero Jr. of Norwalk, called the closed-door talks with the unions an affront to the process. Absent from the talks were Republicans and rank-and-file Democrats.

At midday Monday, Cafero pulled Fleischmann aside in the atrium of the Legislative Office Building. The conversation appeared intense, but cordial.

“What we’re seeing is substitute language here that appears to be signficiantly different from the bill that the governor had proposed, and, quite frankly, we are very troubled the process,” McKinney said.

The GOP leaders focused their anger on the Democratic co-chairs, not the Malloy administration.

But even they said that the bill will continue to evolve, with the administration promising them a seat at the table.

“I think this is just a step in the process. There will be a lot of work left on the education bill to go,” McKinney said. “Education’s a critically important issue. We don’t need more studies and more testing and more evaluation. We need more action, and we need that action now.”

Malloy, who was in Washington, D.C., is expected to take the same stance as McKinney.