Two approaches to reform: Compromise and conflict

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has made it clear that he does not want the state to wait for a consensus with special interest groups before moving forward on the changes he has proposed to the state’s public schools. Some state legislators showed Monday night they have other plans.

“I hope it’s something we can all agree on,” Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, D-West Hartford, the co-chairman of the legislature’s Education Committee, said before the panel voted 28-5 to downgrade major elements of Malloy’s proposals to a study.

“It’s appreciated,” Sen. Andrea Stillman, the other co-chair, said of the administration’s proposal, “but it’s also an issue that we have to come to the meeting of the minds on, and we will.”

But Malloy and his education commissioner have said they don’t believe a consensus package would get the changes the state needs.

teacher union leaders

Teacher union leaders take questions on changes to the bill: ‘We’re cautiously optimistic.’ Leaders of ConnCAN, an education reform group in the state watch overhead.

“If we wait until there’s total agreement on anything we are going to do, then we aren’t going to do anything,” Malloy told a packed audience at a high school in New Haven earlier this month.

Essentially, he has accepted that people — namely teachers’ unions — are not going to be happy with what he wants to do to the education system.

“Change isn’t easy,” Malloy said.

One group happy with the new language were the leaders of the state’s two teachers’ unions.

“We’re cautiously optimistic,” said Sharon Palmer, president of the state chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, noting there’s a long road ahead before anything becomes law. “Some folks believe this is a capitulation to unions. We don’t think that’s the case.”

The teachers’ unions vehemently opposed a long list of changes sought by Malloy, including tying performance evaluations to earning tenure, pay and certification. Asked Monday what’s not to like for them in the committee’s modified bill, Palmer and Mary Loftus Levine, the executive director of the Connecticut Education Association, could point to only one thing from their quick review of what they would like to see go.

That remaining gripe is that the committee’s bill would give local school districts the ability to send $1,000 to charter schools for each student they enroll. Malloy’s bill would have made it a requirement; the committee bill makes it optional.

“There’s still a lot of work to do,” Loftus Levine said. “We know that other stakeholders have positions that have been acknowledged in the [modified] bill.”

One legislator had a different take.

“Everything was thrown out with the bath water,” Rep. DebraLee Hovey, R-Monroe, said while approaching the CEA leader before the committee vote.

The bill relegates to a study Malloy’s initiatives linking teacher tenure, pay and certification to performance evaluations. (See that full story here.) Committee members did roll back their plans to first study Malloy’s plans for the state to intervene in the lowest-performing schools. They voted on an amendment to intervene in the state’s bottom 10 schools this coming school year, but would not give the commissioner the ability to have every teacher reapply to keep his or her job in those schools as proposed.

When rolling out the administration’s plans, education chief Stefan Pryor warned the Education Committee last month not to delay these initiatives by making them objects of study.

“Some of you asked if we should wait,” Pryor said. “This is our moment. This is the year. We cannot let it pass us by.”

On Monday, the governor’s senior adviser, Roy Occhiogrosso, said the administration’s stance is unchanged.

“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,” Occhiogrosso said. “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.”