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Malloy: Let Cities And Towns Protect Talented Newer Teachers From Layoffs

Governor Says That's What He Means By Tenure Reform

Grace E. Merritt

February 17, 2011

A day after tucking a little bombshell in his budget speech, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy Thursday explained what he meant by his surprise announcement that he wants to reform teacher tenure rules.

Malloy said Thursday that he believes in the concept of tenure to protect teachers' rights, but wants school districts struggling with budget constraints and layoff decisions to have the flexibility to retain new, talented teachers rather than simply going by seniority.

"All's I'm saying is the quality of the teacher should be taken into consideration," Malloy said. "This is not a blockbuster. This is just good education decision-making, and we can't maintain the status quo in this environment."

Malloy, who has not proposed any legislation to address tenure, said he is looking into it. He also pointed out that such agreements could be reached through negotiations with teachers unions, as was the case in New Haven.

Malloy's announcement pleased school reform advocates and made teachers unions somewhat wary. The state's largest union, the Connecticut Education Association, opted not to comment until Malloy actually proposes a bill.

The other statewide teachers union, AFT Connecticut, contends that tenure isn't really the issue.

"As far as our position goes, it's a red herring. They are barking up the wrong tree," said Sharon Palmer, president of AFT Connecticut. "The real issue is having an appropriate evaluation. It's mentoring and professional development. That's been our position all along. It needs to be fixed."

As dictated by reforms the legislature passed in May, a new committee is studying how to link student performance to teacher evaluations. The committee expects to work over the next several months to develop models for school districts to use.

In conjunction with that, Malloy set aside $2 million in the budget to build a data system to track student and teacher performance.

Palmer, of AFT Connecticut, also said the union is concerned that changes in tenure and seniority could make more experienced and higher paid teachers more vulnerable during layoffs.

"If you give a school district the ability to pick between a more experienced teacher and a less experienced teacher, even if both are highly effective, in a tough budget year they are going to lay off the more senior teacher because you save money," Palmer said.

The "tenure" rule is actually a misnomer, said Kathy Frega, CEA spokeswoman. Teachers are protected under a fair dismissal law, which gives teachers the right to due process, the right to a fair hearing and the opportunity to respond, she said.

Malloy's announcement gratified Steve Simmons, who served as chairman of the Connecticut Commission on Educational Achievement. Then-Gov. M. Jodi Rell appointed the commission to recommend ways to narrow the state's achievement gap between low-income students and their wealthier peers. Teacher tenure reform was among the commission's 65 recommendations.

"The teacher tenure proposal essentially is saying we need to make sure school districts can retain talented teachers, regardless of seniority," Simmons said. "We think this is critically important. We must make it possible to fairly but quickly terminate teachers who are ineffective."

Simmons said other states, including Colorado and, more recently, New York, are moving to pass laws that allow school districts to remove ineffective teachers.

"There's a big movement afoot in many states for this requirement," Simmons said.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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