Mark Boughton

Mayor, City of Danbury

Waiting for Reform?…Keep waiting..

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On Monday the Education Committee in the General Assembly voted out the new and improved “reform package” that takes Governor Malloy’s proposals and sends them on a long walk off a very short pier (several legislators- you know who you are, owe me lunch as I predicted a “study” or a Blue Ribbon Commission to study teacher tenure as the final outcome).

Not that it mattered, as a certified teacher I can tell you that teacher tenure is a minor problem with Connecticut’s schools to begin with. Are there bad teachers? Absolutely. I saw a few in my career with the Danbury Public School system. Should the notion of teacher tenure be evaluated and updated? Sure – all the time.

As far as teacher terminations go, proponents of the “reforms” are right, there are relatively few teacher terminations each school year. But, generally, that’s due to most teachers, when actually confronted with overwhelming evidence of insubordination or poor performance opt to resign rather than face the humiliating aspect of a termination. In addition, some smart and savvy administrators just refuse to offer a contract or reorganize a department to eliminate a poor performing teacher.

Having said all that, the only challenge that we do have terms of teacher evaluations and management generally arises when an administration team in a school either can’t or won’t address a poor performing teacher. The reasons for that can vary, many people who have been promoted through the teaching ranks to administrative positions have developed long standing relationships with teachers who were once colleagues and it becomes difficult to then become the disciplinarian – tough to fire a friend or even hold them accountable if you have vacationed with them and spent the holidays together.

In addition, many administrators have not developed the right skill set in managing people and ultimately outcomes, administrative training can be strong on curriculum but, weak on understanding modern human resource operations and employment law.

And then there’s the employment climate in Connecticut. Connecticut is the bluest state in the union, we live in a pro-labor anti-management culture that undermines the ability of any public administrator to, well, administrate. Smart public employees facing disciplinary action hire lawyers, file CHRO complaints, and do what ever they can to delay disciplinary proceedings and to hold onto their jobs – to the detriment of the organization they work for. It’s our state statutes that have in many cases become so twisted that in the relationship between employees and their employers things like discipline and accountability become irrelevant or impossible.

Collective bargaining and unions are an important part of our labor history and I am generally supportive of our current process, it can work if supported by employment law that holds both sides to the same standard. Unfortunately, under our current system, it doesn’t always work because the General Assembly over the years has undermined management in an effort to curry favor with various special interest groups.

Now, proposals that strengthened management’s ability to discipline and legislation that would limit frivolous claims by employees facing discipline or termination in our public agencies would be extremly helpful.

It’s the employment climate people.

For our schools, teacher tenure is one small part of a much larger problem….

Categories: General