Let’s get one thing straight: The current Commissioner’s Network process is hardly democratic, and in practice, the resulting plans are rarely representative of the broader community.
It’s almost laughable that the Connecticut Education Association (CEA), is now claiming that their opposition to Senate Bill 5551, which reforms the Commissioner’s Network, is about “protecting the rights” of children and parents, since they were responsible for ensuring that communities were left out of the school turnaround process in the first place.
Back in 2012, when the state passed Governor Dannel P. Malloy’s Education Reform bill, the state’s two largest teachers unions, spent a record breaking $1.6 million on lobbying state legislators. The result was a bill that included heavy union concessions, including a watered down Commissioner’s Network that ceded the power of turnaround committees to the two unions.
As the law is currently written, after a school is selected for turnaround, the local school board establishes a turnaround committee that develops a school plan and negotiates waivers from the district’s union agreement associated with that plan.
Guess who has the largest stake on these committees? Yup. The teacher’s union.
While state statute gives other stakeholder groups one or two appointees each, the teachers’ union gets to pick two teachers and a parent. Though, often that parent is also a union member. This has caused huge problems.
Last year, Luis Munoz Marin School’s turnaround committee had only one parent member with children in the school.
Rosa Torres, the sole parent on the Marin’s committee, reported that right before the plan was submitted certain members took over and changed it, removing parent suggestions. She fought back and was able to get the superintendent to commit to some of the community’s suggested measures, but ultimately the amended plan was still pushed through.
Marin in a unique school, where about a third of the students population are English language learners. There are challenges that a person from outside of the community might not be aware of, or understand. Yet, the turnaround plan was shaped almost entirely by union appointees with little connection with the community? Obviously, the process is flawed.
The CEA and their buddies are scared of allowing urban parents a larger roles in turning around the schools in their communities, so they resort to scare tactics, claiming that the state Department of Education is “coming for your schools.”
In truth, this bill would allow for greater community input because turnaround committees wouldn’t be restricted by mandated appointments. They would no longer be controlled by unions.
This bill does much more than that, though. It removes the cap on the number of Commissioner Network Schools a district can have, and allows for schools to remain in the network for as long as they need. This could be a game changer for a place like Bridgeport, where 19 out of 34 schools are rated among the bottom 10 percent in the state. This would allow more money and resources to go to the schools that need it the most and would ensure that these schools continue to receive support so that turnaround is sustainable.
Clearly, the union’s opposition to Senate Bill 5551 isn’t about protecting students, it’s about protecting themselves.
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