By Christine Stuart
Published by CT News Junkie, February 14, 2012
A diverse group of stakeholders in this year’s education debate got together Tuesday and laid out their own agenda for education reform. Some of the proposals are similar to what Gov. Dannel P. Malloy proposed last week during his budget address, while others take a slightly different approach.
The Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents, Connecticut Association of Schools, Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, Connecticut Business and Industry Association, Connecticut Council for Education Reform, and the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now gathered at a Capitol press conference to talk about their shared goals.
“We think it is high time we really start addressing that not every child in this state gets the educational program or achieves at the level they need to achieve for us to be satisfied with the results that they get,” Joseph Cirasuolo, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Public Schools Superintendents, said.
And while they all don’t agree on everything, Rae Ann Knopf, executive director of the Connecticut Council for Education Reform, said they all agree on how to support teachers, principals, and superintendents.
Knopf warned the media against trying to pick apart any of the proposals the group agreed upon. She opined that the proposals could not be picked apart because each is dependent on the other.
The group’s agenda is not a “blanket endorsement” of everything Malloy proposed last week, but Patrick Riccards, CEO of ConnCAN, said the coalition agrees on far more than it disagrees.
The coalition’s agenda includes support for teacher and principal evaluations and school district accountability, but it also seeks to change binding arbitration.
Cirasuolo said when a teacher contract goes to binding arbitration, arbiters have guidelines they used in order to determine whose last best offer to grant.
“Right now there is very little, if anything in those criteria, that talks about what students need,” he said. “So our specific proposal is: the primary factor used by the arbitration panel in deciding which last best offer to grant is which one best meets the learning needs of the students.”
He said that will change the culture of those negotiations as they move forward. But binding arbitration will be a tough sell to the legislature’s Democratic majority, who have been reluctant to change binding arbitration for any public employee group.
Eric Bailey, a spokesman for AFT Connecticut, said he doesn’t understand how increasing a co-pay for teacher health insurance, which is one of the items sometimes discussed in arbitration, has any impact on student achievement.
“We think what they’re really saying is they want to get rid of binding arbitration,” Bailey said.
Can the teacher unions find common ground with these groups?
“Sure, in an ideal world that would be ideal,” Bailey said. “But this isn’t an ideal world.”
He said there’s stuff in Malloy’s proposal that each of the groups, including the teacher unions, don’t agree with. He said the unions will go testify and talk to legislators, like they do every session.
Cirasuolo said he’s very open to having conversations with the two teacher unions, “but we’re not going to sacrifice what needs to be done just for the sake of finding common ground.”
Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield of New Haven, who watched the press conference from the back of the room said he’s just happy everyone is talking about education.
“It’s an important conversation about education reform and it needs to be repeated, over, and over again,” he said. “We need to have people thinking about these issues.”
He said he sees the coalition as a good thing because it means the conversation is continuing. He did not comment on specifically on any of the proposals.
Sen. Toni Boucher, the ranking Republican on the Education Committee, said she is extremely supportive of the coalition’s agenda, even going so far as to call them “superheroes.”
“I tease them and say lets put a cape on them and make them our superhero team for this session,” Boucher said Tuesday.
She agreed that the state’s binding arbitration laws should be amended to make the quality of education and service to Connecticut’s students the ultimate goal.
“The No. 1 priority is the students,” Boucher said. “You would think that would be so for everyone, because isn’t that what we’re all here for?”
The reason the conversation is happening is because of the leadership Malloy and Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor have shown on the issue, Cirasuolo said.
“The leadership they provided set the context.”
Joseph Adinolfi contributed to this report.
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