By SUSAN HAIGH
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ Democratic leaders of the General Assembly’s Education Committee revamped Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s plan to overhaul Connecticut’s public schools, delaying any possible changes to teacher tenure rules for a year.
State Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, D-West Hartford, the panel’s co-chairman, said the delay will give the state’s education commissioner time to evaluate how a new, proposed teacher evaluation system that’s included in the legislation is working. The commissioner will then determine how it can be linked to tenure.
“That’s what’s in the bill. There are still conversations happening, I believe, between the administration and various education stakeholders. If they’re able to develop language that moves things more quickly than that, I think we’re open to that,” Fleischmann said. “Right now, it seems like a good plan for action.”
The bill revamps the current evaluation system for teachers. Fleischmann said those who receive a top rating earn the opportunity to become a “distinguished teacher,” which entitles them to more responsibilities and higher pay. For those who rate at the bottom, there’s a chance that teacher could lose his or her job.
Malloy has made overhauling the state’s public school system a top issue for this year’s legislative session, which ends in May, arguing that improved schools are key to rejuvenating the state’s economy. The Democratic governor has called for spending an additional $128 million on education, including targeting aid to struggling districts. But his proposed changes to teacher tenure employment guarantees and teacher evaluations have been met with some of the most resistance.
Fleischmann said it’s critical that the teachers ultimately buy-in on the ultimate changes to tenure.
“If one party is unalterably opposed to a system that’s affecting all of them, it’s hard to see how it’s going to work,” he said.
The legislature’s Education Committee was scheduled to vote on the leaders’ proposed revisions to Malloy’s plan on Monday afternoon. But even before the vote, some of the changes weren’t sitting well with some lawmakers.
“I don’t like it. I think we have a job to do,” said Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, D-New Haven, regarding the proposed delay in tenure changes. “I know negotiations aren’t finished, but our job is to make decisions.”
Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, called the revised bill a “setback.” Both he and House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk, voiced concern that the Republican leaders weren’t involved in the final negotiations of the bill. Talks were held throughout the weekend but the GOP members were not part of them.
“Any time you have two people write a bill that should have been put in front of the entire community, and ultimately 187 people, you’re not going to get a good product,” McKinney said. “There’s a long way to go on this bill.”
Following are some highlights of the revised legislation:
_ The bill scraps Malloy’s proposal to encourage small Connecticut school districts to regionalize or risk losing some state aid and instead requires the State Department of Education to study various issues concerning districts with fewer than 1,000 students, such as financial incentives for consolidating.
_ It funds 600 new preschool slots for school readiness programs in 10 low-performing school districts and 400 slots in so-called “competitive school districts,” with more than 9,000 students and are located in one of the 50 poorest cities and towns.
_ The bill allows a teacher to be fired for ineffectiveness as well as for inefficiency or incompetence. It shortens the teacher termination process from 155 days to 115 days.
_ The bill creates annual competitive grants for school districts seeking to improve student performance.
_ The state’s annual grant to charter school is increased from $9,400 to $10,500 per student, and limits the approval of new charter schools to those located in low-achieving districts or districts with low-achieving schools.