Did you catch the education reform bomb that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy dropped near the end of his budget speech?
"We can't maintain the status quo, and everyone in this chamber knows it," Malloy said, turning to public schools. "That's why I'm proposing reform of the teacher tenure rules to give local school districts the flexibility they need to retain new, talented teachers."
If it wasn't the year of the biggest tax increase to deal with the biggest deficit, this one-sentence game-changer might be on the front page today. If the governor is serious, and he said later that he was, this proposal has far-reaching implications for nearly every school district in Connecticut.
If Malloy is successful - and this would require a new law to supersede local bargaining agreements - it means that veteran teachers would no longer be protected merely because they've been on the job a long time. It means that when school districts fill jobs internally, it won't be just the teacher who has the most seniority who prevails, but the one who is most qualified.
Most significantly, it represents a giant step toward rewarding good teaching.
Malloy's aides told me that the legislation still must be written, but they promised me that the governor wasn't merely tossing out a bargaining chip that he will use to force other concessions from unions in a year when he needs $1 billion in givebacks.
"Boards of education should have the flexibility to make decisions based on performance, not seniority," Malloy adviser Roy Occhiogrosso told me when I found him after his boss spoke. The governor "insisted on putting this in the speech."
Leo Canty, a vice president of the Connecticut Federation of Teachers and a spokesman for the coalition of unions negotiating concessions with the governor, was also listening intently. He told me that Malloy's union seniority proposal was a surprise.
But John Rathgeber, CEO of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association and a member of a recent commission studying school reform, told me that reform advocates have been talking to Malloy about proposals such as this one.
In the state's urban school districts - which will probably face laying off young talented teachers this year - the governor's words weren't overlooked.
"It would help reform attempts immeasurably," Torrington Superintendent Christopher Leone told me when I called. "The larger issue is if we are going to reform, we have to look at the antiquated practice of 'last in, first out, quality-blind' seniority."
"It has to be done in conjunction with other things," Leone said. "You have to have good evaluations in place. You have to be able to measure good performance."
With layoffs coming, districts need immediate flexibility to make sure that the best teachers stay in the classroom. Malloy's idea, to encourage and support good teaching, is the sort of sound school reform we need more of.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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