Teacher anger, attendance dwindle at Malloy’s forums

Berlin — Teachers’ anger toward Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, seems to have diminished at the town hall meetings where he has been trying to sell his education reforms.

“I would love for you to give me some ideas,” Malloy told a half-full auditorium in Catherine M. McGee Middle School on Wednesday evening. “I would love for you to challenge me. Well, I’m not sure I’ll love it, but I keep doing these [town halls] one way or another.”

But there was little evidence over the next hour of teachers’ earlier anger, aside from some live, sharp exchanges on Twitter during the forum.

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A half-full auditorium in Berlin for Malloy’s education forum

One reason may be that the Connecticut Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, began urging their members to stop attending what often devolved into shout fests.

“We have urged people not to go [to Malloy’s town hall meetings]. We do not think it’s productive,” Mary Loftus Levine, the CEA’s director, said at an education conference at Yale.

And while the union’s video tracker can still be found recording every word the governor says during these forums, the union’s focus has turned to lobbying legislators to reject the governor’s reform proposals.

Dozens of teachers traveled to Hartford last week to meet with legislators on the Education Committee ahead of the committee’s vote Monday. The committee’s co-chairwoman said that she received thousands of emails from both teachers and those supportive of Malloy’s proposal, the volume interfering with her work for other committees she serves on.

“If your legislators are not members of the Education Committee, urge them to discuss your concerns with Education Committee members,” CEA members were urged the weekend before the committee vote.

State Rep. Joseph Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, was one of those lawmakers who was contacted by 300 teachers from his district in the weeks leading up to the committee vote.

“Oh, I heard from them,” he said. Aresimowicz attended Malloy’s forum Wednesday, although he doesn’t serve on the Education Committee.

A smiling Loftus Levine acknowledged after the Education Committee’s vote that “they’re listening to teachers.” She immediately said, though, that there is a long way to go before the changes she thinks are necessary are made to the state’s education system.

Asked his view on why so few people attended Wednesday’s forum, a spokesman for the governor said, “I don’t have a good answer for that.”

While there may be no words, the sight of one regular attendee of these events illustrates the stark difference.

Jennifer Drury has been one of dozens of angry teachers at earlier forums, holding signs such as “Your plan gets an F,” or “2 easy, 2 blame teachers, 4 society’s problems.” Wednesday night, Drury may have been there holding up one of her placards. However this night, she sat amid a sea of empty chairs.