Hartford Schools: Arbitration Panel Rejects Adamowski's Bid For School-Based Seniority
Vanessa De La Torre
February 22, 2011
An arbitration panel has rejected the school system's attempt to enforce school-based seniority in the next teachers' union contract, erecting a hurdle for Superintendent Steven Adamowski, who has long made the issue a key piece of his reform efforts.
The current practice of citywide seniority means that newer teachers would be the first to receive pink slips should there be layoffs. An educator targeted for layoff at a neighborhood school, for example, could "bump" a teacher who was hired more recently at one of the city's redesigned specialty schools or academies.
Adamowski has advocated a system in which such seniority bumping would occur only within individual schools.
In a majority opinion released Thursday, however, a three-member state arbitration panel said it believed that such a system would give school principals too much power in deciding which teachers to lay off, including those with tenure.
"Decisions concerning staffing are made by the principal to build a faculty of their choosing that is a 'fit' with the school culture and program," the panel wrote. "The language as proposed … is overly broad and may be inconsistently applied across the district."
But arbitrator John Romanow warned in his dissenting opinion of "irreparable harm" to the city's efforts at closing the achievement gap. Romanow also contended that "there are many teachers in the Hartford school system that would gladly have their job status determined on merit as opposed to a 'quality blind' seniority system."
The panel heard arguments from the schools and the Hartford Federation of Teachers during hearings last month. The issue of school-based seniority was the only item that went to arbitration in a proposed three-year labor agreement with the union.
Details of that contract, which still requires approval by the school board and city council, include extending the school day by 30 minutes starting in July and offering $2,500 bonuses at the end of the academic year to teachers from schools that significantly improve student achievement.
Teachers would receive general wage increases of 2 percent in the coming fiscal year, 2 percent in 2012-13 and 3 percent in 2013-14, plus an annual "step" raise for seniority.
Andrea Johnson, the teachers' union president, called it a fair contract and said Monday that she considered "quality blind" a "buzzword when you don't want to give credit to hardworking people who have proven themselves over and over again."
"We have nothing against our younger teachers — obviously we were all younger teachers at one time," Johnson said. "And as you progress in your profession, not only do you get better at it, you also gain seniority."
Adamowski could not be reached for comment Monday. In a statement, school spokesman David Medina said district administrators anticipated the panel's decision against school-based seniority and intend to take the issue to the state Board of Education in March.
Last year, Adamowski also asked the state board to order a change in the layoff rules, but the board was reluctant to intervene and asked the union and schools to try to settle their differences in the next labor contract.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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