Democrats protect union rights in education revisions

Hours after Democratic legislative leaders rallied with unionized teachers opposed to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s education reforms, they sent the administration revisions that largely keeps intact the unions’ authority in the state’s lowest-performing schools.

A summary of the revised bill prepared by the Office of Legislative Research indicates that the Democratic majority is unwilling to follow the Democratic governor’s proposal to limit the influence of unions in select schools, a plan teachers feared could become a broader model.

Rep. Andy Fleischmann, D-West Hartford, a co-chairman of the Education Committee, said the summary reflects an array of items under consideration. Andrew Doba, a spokesman for Malloy, had no comment other than saying the administration is reviewing the bill.

But the presence of Democratic leaders at union rallies Tuesday and Wednesday outside the State Capitol gave a sense that Democrats were uncomfortable with Malloy’s plan. Senate President Pro Tem Donald E. Williams, House Speaker Christopher G. Donovan and House Majority Leader J. Brendan Sharkey addressed the rallies.

In so-called “turnaround” or “network” schools, the unions would have to agree to reopen negotiations on contracts, with the talks limited to “implementing turnaround plans and relevant salary, hours and other employment conditions,” the summary said.

“Matters in an approved school turnaround plan that conflict with the existing union contract will be negotiated with the appropriate union under the Teachers Negotiation Act and the bill,” the summary said. “Issues at an impasse will go to an expedited arbitration process.”

That is different from what Malloy proposed in early February for the state’s 25 lowest-performing schools. He proposed giving the state’s education commissioner the authority to “assume responsibility … in the manner the department determines necessary to bring student achievement to an acceptable level.”

The proposed authority included requiring all teachers and staff in the named school to reapply for their job, and allow the commissioner to keep only teachers with “exemplary” performance evaluations. Their pay and working hours also would have been outside union contracts.

This proposal led Mary Loftus Levine, executive director of the Connecticut Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, to say this would be returning the state to the “dark ages.”

Malloy’s changes to link teacher evaluation to certification were also left out of the revised bill.

There is no explicit link between earning and maintaining tenure and evaluations in the legislature’s bill. However, a teacher can be fired for “ineffectiveness” and if the teacher objects then the legal challenge would be sped up, things the unions supported. Malloy had wanted to only allow the unions to challenge whether the district followed the evaluation process, not challenge the “ineffective” rating.

The teachers’ unions were not immediately available for comment.