Last Year, Bridgeport’s BOE Missed Prime Opportunity to Improve Schools

What if I used the term “mentally retarded children” on my blog to describe students with intellectual disabilities?

I imagine my inbox would be full of emails rightly admonishing me for using such antiqued and offensive language.

Yet, despite having renegotiated the terms only last year, for some reason the Bridgeport Board of Education continues to use the term “mentally retarded children” in their union contract with the Bridgeport Education Association (BEA).

(Don’t believe me? Check out page 50 for yourself.)

One has to wonder: Did anyone at the BOE even bother to do a cursory reading of the contract before signing off on it? Or was this just another rubber stamp job?

The sad part is that wiping the contract clean of outdated, derogatory language wasn’t the only place the BOE dropped the ball.

While the inclusion of the word “retarded” illustrates the BOE’s blaring neglect, it’s by no means the most injurious example.

You see, after three years under what some commentators called “the worst contract they’ve ever seen,” the BOE had the chance to enact meaningful changes to the outdated document, but they didn’t.

As I’ve written before, the BOE was given the perfect opportunity to explore reforms last year, just as other urban districts had. Like New Haven, Bridgeport could have seized the opportunity to discuss reforms like linking pay to performance or other incentives that reward outstanding teachers.

It wasn’t just New Haven either that used contract negotiations to discuss reforms. In Hartford, provisions that linked longevity payments to evaluations were added to the contract.

So, what did Bridgeport do? Well, taking a look at ConnCAN’s teacher database, which was updated about two weeks ago, Bridgeport’s major “reform” was giving teachers an 8.9 percent pay increase.

Great, except if you look at the fine print.

Upon further inspection of the new contract, that money wasn’t evenly distributed among every teacher in Bridgeport. Instead, they gave the lion’s share of the raises to older teachers. While teachers in the district for over 14 years saw an $3,500 increase in pay, new teachers saw their salary only increase by around$400 over three years.

That’s a big problem and here’s why: Research shows that teacher quality and retention dramatically affect student achievement. So what is Bridgeport doing to attract new talent to the district? For that matter, what are they doing to retain the talent already in the district?

Considering that only a few months ago the district’s Human Resources Director Kathleen Jaeger said there were around 22 classrooms without teachers, it’s pretty obvious that Bridgeport is lacking in this area.

Which brings me back to the contract. Wouldn’t it have been nice if the BOE demanded we reward great teachers, rather than the almost retired?

Bridgeport’s BOE should be doing everything in their power to make sure that quality teachers stay in the district, while attracting new talent.

As it stands, they missed a prime opportunity to do both.



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