Teachers Share Their Concerns

March 28, 2012

Over the past few weeks, I joined teachers, administrators and other educational professionals at five forums around our district to discuss the education reform package that is currently before the legislature. As parents, we know that the stakes are high to make sure our children get the best possible education. During these meetings, teachers voiced their opinion on these proposals and their message is clear. They are sincerely concerned about changes to evaluations and tenure and an increase in retirement healthcare insurance premiums.

Like many teachers, I was disappointed when Governor Malloy said that “basically the only thing you have to do is show up for four years” to gain tenure. It is not just showing up. Teaching involves hard work and dedication to help students meet high levels of achievement and prepare them for future success. I agree that a nonperforming teacher should be removed from the classroom, but I believe that it is first important to understand the tenure system before considering any changes.

Tenure refers to a teacher’s right to avoid having their employment terminated without just cause. A teacher gains tenure after providing four years of satisfactory performance at a school district, depending on a series of evaluations ranging from “satisfactory” to “unsatisfactory” performance. The large majority of teachers are effective and passionate educators, so it is little wonder that many teachers achieve tenure in four years. However, if a teacher is nonperforming, they must be deemed “incompetent” before beginning the dismissal process. The hearing process operated by a local board of education or a three-person panel may take a full school year to be completed.

Meanwhile, the 43,000 member Connecticut Education Association (CEA) has proposed plans to reform tenure. In its 2012 report, the group agreed with the Governor that “it is time to end teacher tenure as we know it.” However, they disagreed as how to best undertake this change. One of their proposals would shorten the dismissal process from 120 days to 85 days. It would also reduce costs associated with the hearings by requiring only one arbitrator versus the current requirement of three that can result in large legal expenses. A third step would protect teachers from unfair firings by holding an appeal before a neutral third party.

While the debate on education reform will continue, we must also shine a light on another proposal affecting teachers that has been largely overshadowed. The Appropriations Committee is currently considering House Bill 5016, “An Act Implementing The Governor’s Recommendations Concerning General Government” which would lessen the amount that the state pays for retired teachers’ healthcare insurance premiums and raise the amount that the teachers must pay for themselves. Despite the many who testified against this bill, Governor Malloy has already committed this bill to being passed by including the $9.6 million potential reduction into his proposed budget.

This is simply a poor decision because it affects retired teachers who often live on a fixed income. Today, the premium is split three ways with the state covering one-third, the municipality covering another third, and the teacher paying the final third. This 33% share of the insurance premium means that teachers currently pay $124 per month. The proposed change would require teachers to pay 42% of the cost at $156 per month, an increase of $32 per month. This proposal is a matter of great concern for retired teachers, and those who are concerned should voice their opinions with the Governor’s Office and members of the Appropriations Committee.

In the end, some form of education reform will most likely pass during this session. It is understandable that teachers have shared serious concerns over several provisions of this legislation. I believe it is also unfair to force retired teachers to pay more for their healthcare premiums since many live on fixed budgets and retired based on certain benefits and their costs. After hosting these forums, I would like to thank each and every teacher who took the time to come out and speak with me.