Senator Kelly Hosts Education Forum in Shelton [Huntington Herald]

March 22, 2012

Article as it appeared in the Huntington Herald on March 21, 2012.

Legislators and educators criticize reform bill

By Kate Czaplinski

Teachers, administrators, school board members, and Republican elected officials all agreed Monday night that there are several problems with Gov. Dannel Malloy’s education reform bill.

State Reps. Jason Perillo and Larry Miller and state Sen. Kevin Kelly held a forum Monday night in city hall, inviting school officials and staff to discuss Senate Bill 24, which includes reforms like changing the teacher tenure process, includes more funding for charter schools and changing teacher evaluations. The bill will likely go through several revisions before any version is passed, Perillo said, and legislators have no specific agenda when it comes to the bill, other than hearing from the public and educators.

Board of Aldermen President John Anglace received applause when he said the bill unfairly targets teachers rather than looking at the bigger problems state programs cause.

“He is totally wrong,” Anglace said of the governor’s plan. “All he wants to do is blame teachers.”

Anglace said programs at the state level he called “giveaways” and children dealing with broken families and other problems make it harder for students to be motivated to learn and it’s not the fault of teachers. He said the evidence is that the high school graduation rate is going down throughout the state.

Board of Aldermen President John Anglace said the governor was wrong to place blame on teachers.

He said the state needs to get out of the way and allow the community to educate students to be a vital part of the economy.

Kelly said discussion about parents and families failing to be role models and teach self-esteem has been coming up in education discussions.

“Students are coming to school not prepared for a number of reasons,” Perillo said to teachers. “And you’re all supposed to work magic.”

Others were concerned about the bill’s lack of specifics and what that would mean if it were passed.

“This whole bill doesn’t have details, and that’s scary,” said Arlene Liscinsky, member of the Board of Education.


Teachers at the meeting expressed anger with the governor’s comments on teacher tenure, including his comment that all teachers needed to do to achieve it was “show up” for four years.

“I think the governor’s words show a lack of understanding and respect for what teachers do,” Perillo said.

Teachers and administrators agreed that teachers who aren’t cut out for the job are “counseled” out of the position during the four-year process to achieve tenure.

Also, teachers who may have tenure can be fired if they are incompetent, but are given an option to resign rather than be fired.

“That is no different than any corporation,” one teacher commented about tenured teachers being offered an option to resign.

The bill would also seek to introduce a new rating system for teacher evaluations.

Teachers felt the evaluations should not be a “one-size-fits-all” approach throughout the state but rather should be personalized for each district, since district leaders know best what the goals of each school and district are and the specific challenges teachers may face.

Teachers voiced concerns about the extent to which standardized tests would be relied on.

“If I teach a core subject area like math, you can grab my CMT scores, but if you’re a great art teacher, how does that get evaluated?” one teacher asked. “Does it count if you counsel a kid through a hard time at home — we should get credit for the things we do above mastery tests.”

School Superintendent Freeman Burr hoped to alleviate some teacher anxiety over the proposed tenure changes by explaining that test scores would be a small percentage of how teachers would be judged, according to discussions at the state level.

Charter schools

Under the current bill, charter schools would receive greater state support, something that most at the meeting thought would hurt the local district budget and make it harder for local schools to make improvements.

“Every charter school in Connecticut is a private organization with a private endowment,” Burr said. “I’m not sure why they get to share the ECS [education cost sharing] pie, which is taxpayer-funded.”

Burr also worried that the bill didn’t do anything to alleviate special education mandates. The district spends about $3.5 million to send students out of district, which includes special education, magnet schools and transportation. About 21% of the budget is going to 11% of the students in the district when it comes to special education, Burr said.

One thing Kelly supported in the bill that many in the room seemed to agree with was the funding and work to improve early childhood education. Kelly said research shows improving education at a young age will lead to better results as students get older.

Liscinsky asked if Republican legislators could find out why Malloy isn’t visiting Fairfield County on his tour around the state promoting the education bill.

“I know he was in New Haven and I heard Bethel,” Liscinsky said. “There should be something between Bridgeport and Norwalk.”

Miller assured educators that the bill would go through a lot of changes before it’s passed.

“It’s going to be day and night when the new bill comes out,” Miller said.

Shelton High School Headmaster Beth Smith also encouraged legislators to keep lines of communication open with educators, and be sure to get both sides of every story.

“I hope this is the beginning of a conversation and dialogue. We want to get it right,” Kelly said.