As teacher layoff notices go out, no change in seniority rules [CT Mirror]

March 31, 2011

By Jacqueline Rabe
CT Mirror
Story as it appeared on the Connecticut Mirror on March 29, 2011

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s announced plans to give school districts the “flexibility they need to retain new, talented teachers” will not come soon enough for this year’s round of layoffs — as hundreds of teachers this week are expected to receive pink slips based on their tenure, not on the quality of their teaching.

The Education Committee last week rejected a proposal that would restrict districts from only considering years of service when making layoff decisions, instead opting to wait for a model teacher evaluation to first be created.

“Given the fact that we know there are districts that lack robust evaluative systems… it’s hard to see how this is the time,” Rep. Andy M. Fleischmann, D-West Hartford, and co-chairman of the Education Committee, said before voting against the proposal. “This would allow for senior teachers, who may be good teachers but expensive to a district, to become particularly vulnerable to layoff by a district that is focused on dollars during these tough fiscal times.”

In a review of more than half the school districts in the state, 77 percent used seniority as the sole or primary factor when making layoff decisions, the state’s largest teachers union told lawmakers last month.

“We should not be allowing seniority to be the only factor,” said Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton and ranking Republican on the Education Committee. “We have hundreds of teachers being laid off and we should require a more equitable measure.”

A recent survey conducted by the education reform group ConnCAN shows 89 percent of the participants felt layoff decisions should not be only decided by how many years a teacher has been in the classroom.

Last year, 1,500 teachers were laid off and education officials are expecting a similar number to be let go this year.

And while the American Federation of Teachers, Malloy and the co-chair of the education committee acknowledge something needs to change so districts can retain great new teachers, all say it is too soon to make that shift this year.

As part of its Race to the Top bid last year, the state committed to creating a model evaluation system that will include student outcomes, but it will not be complete and ready for districts to consider using until July 2013.

Lawmakers are considering pushing up that deadline by a year — to July 2012 — and also requiring it include a 100-day dismissal process for teachers who fail the evaluation.

“The process can go on for a very long time and it’s very expensive for the boards of education to dismiss a teacher,” said Sharon Palmer, president of American Federation of Teachers-Connecticut. “If the teacher does not improve in one school year, then that’s it, they will have 100 days’ notice.”

Malloy is in favor of the 100-day deadline and bumping up the deadline.

“I support tenure but I think the AFT recommendations are a good way to go at reforming it. It is taking into consideration not just how long someone has been teaching but what they’ve been teaching with excellence as well,” he said. “I think it’s a start. I think it’s a very bold and brave move on their part.”

But the proposal has its critics, including the state’s other major teachers’ union, the Connecticut Education Association.

John Yrchik, CEA’s executive director, said the proposal “would impose a one-size-fits-all approach to teacher evaluation. This is not necessary and not productive.”

But Patrice McCarthy, general counsel of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, said it would just be an option for districts to use and not a requirement.

“We need a good evaluation system out there,” she said. Last in, first out “is a major issue as teachers face layoffs.”

Alex Johnston, leader of the New Haven school-reform group ConnCAN, said even absent a model evaluation being ready, he is disappointed districts won’t have the ability to retain new teachers.

“Everyday we are seeing more and more news of more layoffs. The sooner we fix this the better,” he said.

At Capital Preparatory Magnet School in Hartford the impact is real, says principal Steve Perry, who is frustrated the state is waiting for an evaluation system to be in place.

“Every other job allows the boss to decide if their employees are doing a good job — except in education,” he said. He said the current system has restricted him from hiring interested teachers from other districts — including the “teacher of the year” from South Windsor — because they know they will be the first to be fired when layoff decisions are made. “That’s just crazy. There’s a wall around this city.”