There was no shortage of questions Monday night when Milford's state delegation hosted a public meeting on a controversial bill to reform education in Connecticut.
Following an overview of SB24 by state Rep. Paul Davis, the crowd of about 75 had the opportunity to share their concerns and get answers. For the most part, the conversation -- initiated by a mix of teachers, parents and education advocates in attendance at -- centered around three topics that Davis picked out as among the most controversial:
- Salary linkage to evaluation
“There are concerns," Davis said, "however, the bill has a broad base of supprt in many areas.”
He rang off a list of organizations that have lent their support to the bill, including the Connecticut Association of School Superintendents and the Connecticut Council for Education Reform.
He added, “There is a public perception out there that something needs to be done.”
Davis himself hasn’t taken a final position on the bill because, he said, it will undoubtedly undergo significant changes during the legislative process. He said it's important to create an environment in which teachers are supported and where everyone -- educators and students -- can improve.
“If it's bad for teachers, it's bad for kids,” Davis said.
The Proposed Bill
Called "An Act Concering Educational Competiveness," SB24 is a 163-page bill. The Office of Legislative Research analyzed it and put together a summary which the Milford delegates took excerpts from and printed out for those who came to the meeting.
According to that document, teachers' job performance would be evaluated on a four-tier scale consisting of below standard, developing, proficient and exemplary. Only those who are evaluated at developing or above would be covered by the state's teacher tenure law.
"The bill requires any tenured or nontenured teacher to be designated as ineffective if he or she is, at any time, rated below standard (the lowest rating) on an evaluation," the document states. "In addition, a tenured teacher must be designated as ineffective if he or she is rated as developoing (the second-lowest rating) for two or more consecutive years."
The bill allows districts to terminate a teacher on the grounds of ineffectiveness. "Unlike the existing termination process, the bill's process for termination based on ineffectiveness does not allow a tenured teacher to appeal the result to Superior Court," the document states.
The bill also ties salaries to evaluations and would supercede existing teacher collective bargaining law.
Currently, salaries are negotiated by the unions and boards of education. Under the proposed bill, according to the summary, boards of education would have to negotiate with unions to establish new salary schedules that align with the new teacher certification categories (below standard, developing, proficient and exemplary).
On the certification front, the bill would revamp the tiering structure currently in place and also tie certification renewal to the evaluation process.
A teacher's professional certication is renewable every five years. The bill would get rid of an existing requirement of having 90 hours of continuing education for renewal. In its place a teacher could only obtain renewal if he or she receives at least three evaluations of proficient or exemplary, or a combination of the two, during the preceeding five years.
Who would be doing the evaluating and what kind of training would they have?
Davis said anyone conducting the evaluations would be trained and that evaluation systems would be customized by each local school district based on the state model.
One audience member expressed concern that boards of education would give older, higher paid teachers bad evaluations so they can bring in younger, lesser paid teachers to save money.
Davis said that would not be the case. “I really don't think they’re out to get anyone,” he said of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor who overseas the State Board of Education (SBE).
The Political Process
The bill is currently in the education committee, where it is being discussed, debated, negotiated and modified. There will be public hearings in committee and then it will go to a vote, most likely by March 28. If passed, it will then head to any other pertinent committees that may have jurisdiction over the subject matter.
From there, it would then hit the Senate floor where it would once again be discussed, possibly amended, debated and voted on. If approved, the bill would go through that same process in the House and, ultimately, land on the governor's desk.
“That entire process takes a tremendous amout of time and effort," Davis said. "It's not an easy process ... it’s not designed to be.”
Voice Your Opinion
“The best thing you can do is, No. 1, contact your legislator,” Davis said -- both where you work and live. “Talk to them about your specific concerns,” he stressed.
Here are links to your Milford delegates' web pages:
Do you support the bill? What parts are good and what's not?