Malloy vetoes bill requiring that education commissioner have education experience

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Dannel shows his true stripes yet again…

The CT Newsjunkie headline reads- Union Leader ‘Stunned’ By Malloy Veto of Standards For Education Commish while the CT Mirror exclaims Malloy vetoes qualifications for education commissioner

The leader of Connecticut’s teacher unions are stunned because the Right Honorable Governor Dannel P. Malloy decided to veto legislation that would have required that the state education commissioners have “a strong classroom background, something his first education commissioner lacked.”

The legislation passed the Education Committee 32 to 0

It passed the State Senate 36 – 0

And it passed the Connecticut House of Representatives  138-5

Only one Democratic legislator voted against the bill in the House.

But Dannel Malloy vetoed it anyway.

The story?

Harken back just over one year ago, and the Connecticut AFL-CIO’s was holding its political endorsing convention.

As a candidate attempting to petition on to the ballot, the union refused to allow me to address the delegates.

Instead, as the CT Mirror called it, the convention was “a two-day infomercial promoting the re-election of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, with one carefully choreographed note of discord: A rebuke to the Democratic governor’s choice of Stefan Pryor as commissioner of education.”

Before formally endorsing Malloy, the statewide labor federation adopted a resolution Tuesday calling for a requirement that an education commissioner hold the same credential as a school superintendent, a standard that Pryor does not meet.

“We’re hoping the governor’s listening,” said Melodie Peters, the president of AFT-Connecticut, one of the state’s two major teachers’ unions.

The resolution drawn up by the AFT, which separately endorsed Malloy ahead of the AFL-CIO convention, was a message to a Democratic governor and to labor’s rank-and-file. It was meant as a gentle rebuke to Malloy, not a rejection; a way to soothe educators, not provoke them.

Pryor never was mentioned by name, but he has become a pressure-relief valve for labor, which acknowledges a need to draw anger away from the governor. Peters agreed when asked if the resolution was a second-term message to Malloy about a need for a new commissioner.

Now, a year later, having failed to testify against the union’s proposed bill or even voice any opposition what-so-ever, Malloy vetoed the very concept  was submitted as a result of that AFL-CIO resolution.

As the CT Mirror explained last year,

Teacher unrest has given Jonathan Pelto, an education blogger and former Democratic state legislator, an opening to try to organize a third-party run for governor.

Malloy told the delegates Monday in a well-received speech that he’s made mistakes, but he stopped far short of apologizing for what teachers still say was a gratuitous and deliberate insult.

The task for union leaders has been to manage the anger of the rank-and-file, sharply contrasting the overall labor record of Connecticut’s first Democratic governor in a generation with the hostility to labor and collective bargaining by GOP governors in once-union friendly states like Wisconsin and Michigan.

[…]

A procession of delegates stepped up to microphones Tuesday to speak in favor the resolution.

“Education is a profession, not a hobby,” said Edward Leavy of AFT Local 4200 A.

The delegates cheered.

Anna Montalvo, the president of AFSCME Local 1522, which represents paraprofessionals in Bridgeport, said a superintendent and education commissioner should meet standards, as do her members.

The delegates cheered again.

But the message of the convention eventually circled back to a simple equation: What would be best for labor, the re-election of a Democratic governor or a Republican?

Sharon Palmer, a former AFT-Connecticut president who is Malloy’s labor commissioner, vouched for the governor’s commitment to labor.

“Let me say from up close and personal, he is a good boss,” Palmer said. “Sometimes he has a sharp tongue, but more often than not he uses that sharp tongue to fight off those who would diminish us.”

Palmer, Peters and Randi Weingarten, the national AFT president who was the second-day keynote speaker, all reminded the members of Malloy’s support for a broad labor agenda and his defense of locked out health workers represented by AFT at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital.

Weingarten ended the convention with a loud, passionate pitch for Malloy. She acknowledged rough spots in AFT’s relationship with Malloy over tenure.

“Yeah, I don’t like some of the things he’s said, either,” Weingarten said. “But what he’s done, he’s increased funding for K-12, increased funding by seven percent for K-12, making Connecticut the second-highest education spender in the country since the recession.”

She called Pelto a friend who has some important things to say, but his candidacy is a distraction and a danger that can only draw votes away from Malloy.

[…]

She told reporters after the convention that she spoke by telephone the previous day with Pelto, who had complained he wasn’t invited to speak. Only the major-party endorsed candidates addressed the convention.

Weingarten said third-party candidates can play an important role, and she has supported some in the past.

She said the stakes in Connecticut are too high: “The stakes here are whether you’re going to have a Dan Malloy or a Tom Foley as governor, whether you are going to have a Connecticut that acts as Connecticut or that emulates Wisconsin.”

As to why Dannel Malloy would veto the bill out of the blue?

According to the CT Newsjunkie,

In his veto message, Malloy said the legislation “encroaches on the purview” of the chief executive and would prevent them from picking “the best candidate to lead the department.”

Connecticut Education Association Executive Director Mark Waxenberg said he was “stunned” by the veto. He said it’s good public policy that doesn’t take away any of the governor’s authority to choose a qualified individual for the job.

Just like teachers have to be certified, the state’s Education Commissioner should have minimum qualifications, Waxenberg said.

He said his members will be angry about this veto and will speak with legislative leaders to “seriously consider an override session.”

[…]

AFT Connecticut President Jan Hochadel said she’s “disappointed” in the veto, but to Malloy’s credit he heard their voices and “chose a new commissioner with extensive background in the classroom.”

Hochadel added: “We expect that he and future governors would follow this example in recommending leadership for the state’s education agency. Our state’s students and their parents deserve nothing less.”

But Malloy made it clear in his veto message that he should have the ability to hire the most qualified candidate, regardless of their background.

“Open-mindedness and flexibility are paramount in a search for the right candidate who can best respond to the educational challenges that face our state,” Malloy said in his veto message. “The establishment of qualification for the Commissioner of Education in statute closes the door on a broad pool of talented and diverse leaders who would otherwise be eligible and could foster greatness in our schools.”

Malloy said he’s concerned it would unintentionally reduce the diversity of future commissioner applicant polls, since representation of African American and Hispanic teachers and administrators remains disproportionately low.

As the legislative report (JR report) explains, when the Education Committee held its public hearing, the testimony was almost unanimous in favor of the bill.

Melodie Peters, President, AFT Connecticut AFL-CIO spoke;

Ms. Peters and AFT Connecticut support the proposed bill citing the role of the Commissioner in providing, “direction and guidance to districts, schools and educators.” AFT believes the credibility of the Commissioner of Education depends, in part, on the shared experience of the Commissioner with teachers, administrators, and superintendents.”

Dr. Anne Jellison, Chair, Connecticut Association of School Administrators spoke:

“Dr. Jellison testified in favor noting that it is critical for the Commissioner of Education to have credibility and expertise among all stakeholders in Connecticut’s education system. She included that an effective, credible Commissioner needs “first-hand knowledge” of Connecticut schools and understands the impact of not only day-to-day situations but how policies impact the school environment.”

Jeff Leake, Vice President, Connecticut Education Association spoke:

“Mr. Leake testified in support of the bill, commenting that many of the members of the CEA are also in favor of a person with a background in the education field serving as Commissioner. The CEA feels the bill may be too basic in the required qualifications but stressed to the committee that their organization is looking for a commissioner who understands the qualities necessary to be a true educator.”

Lori Pelletier, Executive Secretary Treasurer, Connecticut AFL-CIO spoke:

“Ms. Pelletier testified in support of the bill. The position of the AFL-CIO is that high standards that have been set for teachers, administrators, and superintendents should also be a standard for the Commissioner of Education.”

But there was one person who rose to oppose the requirement that Connecticut’s Commissioner of Education have substantive educational experience…

Jennifer Alexander, Chief Executive Officer, ConnCAN:

“ConnCAN opposes the proposed bill because they believe the requirements laid out in the bill for the Commissioner of Education would severely limit Connecticut’s ability to recruit talent and would, “unnecessarily exclude qualified and experienced candidates from being considered for appointment as Education Commissioner.”

So there you go…

No Victory on “CT Transportation Initiative” despite claims

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The 2015 Session of the Connecticut General Assembly is over and as you listen to Connecticut politicians claiming victory on a new transportation initiative – face it – they are quite simply…lying!

The lack of the promised transportation funding “Lockbox” and the successful effort to by-pass Connecticut’s competitive bidding laws have become the pillars of Governor Dannel Malloy’s purported “transportation initiative.”

Although it failed to garner any media attention, included in the massive 686-page “budget implementation” bill just passed the legislature were sections rolling back an important aspect of Connecticut’s competitive bidding laws for transportation projects.

As noted in yesterday’s Wait, What? post entitled, WARNING! “Budget Implementation Bill” includes language undoing post-Rowland competitive bidding reforms, the Malloy administration and Democratic legislative leaders embedded language into the “budget implementation” bill that allows the Malloy administration to side-step competitive bidding requirements on what will likely be the largest transportation projects the agency undertakes.

Equally astonishing is that while the legislature approved Malloy’s request for billions of dollars in transportation bonding, the General Assembly failed to ensure that the taxes intended to pay for the transportation program will actually be spent on the transportation program.

As the CT Mirror Reports,

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy got the $2.8 billion in bonding he needs to launch his transportation overhaul initiative — but not the legal ‘lockbox’ he insisted upon to protect it.

The transportation safeguards lawmakers approved Monday lack a mandated pledge to bondholders — something Malloy had said was essential to ensure dollars earmarked for transportation are spent for that purpose.

Instead legislators merely wrote in statute that transportation funds can’t be diverted for other purposes. For more than a decade, legislators and governors have assigned resources to transportation with one law, and then redirected them for other purposes with another law.

The CT Mirror goes on to remind readers that Malloy promised that he would VETO any transportation funding bill that did not include a “Lockbox” to protect taxpayer investment in transportation improvements.

In his State of the State Address in January, the governor said the state must pledge in its transportation bond covenant — effectively the control between the state and its investors — not to divert transportation funds.

“No gimmicks, no diversion,” the governor said. “And we should include a covenant with bondholders and all people of Connecticut to ensure that money set aside for transportation projects is only used for that purpose.”

Malloy added that until the legislature passed legislation with this safeguard, “I will veto any attempt to levy additional sources of new revenue for transportation.”

By way of response, the governor’s spokesperson dismissed Malloy’s earlier rhetoric about the need for a “Lockbox” noting,

“Today’s vote is the first step towards the future of a best-in-class transportation system,” Malloy spokesman Devon Puglia said. “This issue is too important — for jobs, for businesses, and for families. We would like to thank the legislature for sharing the governor’s vision to transform our infrastructure.  This one vote will have ramifications that will benefit generations of residents.”

You can read more about Malloy’s “Transportation Victory” at:

CT Mirror: http://ctmirror.org/2015/06/29/senate-approves-initial-bonding-for-malloys-transportation-overhaul/

CT Newsjunkie:  http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/archives/entry/language_implementing_budget_includes_dozens_of_other_legislative_concepts/

Courant: http://www.courant.com/politics/capitol-watch/hc-senate-debating-budget-implementer-20150629-story.html#page=1

WARNING! “Budget Implementation Bill” includes language undoing post-Rowland competitive bidding reforms.

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While the effort has yet to be reported, the bill to implement the new state budget includes a shocking move to undermine Connecticut’s competitive bidding laws.

Not satisfied with undermining Connecticut’s landmark campaign finance laws that were adopted following Governor John Rowland’s fall from grace and resulting first trip to prison, Governor Dannel Malloy is now trying to use the massive 529 section budget implementation bill to sneak through language undoing some of the most important aspects of the post-Rowland reforms to Connecticut state bidding laws.

Malloy’s proposal, which failed to make it through the legislative process during the regular legislative session, is buried deep inside the massive budget implementation bill that is being considered in today’s special session of the Connecticut General Assembly.

Sections 161 and 162 blow a huge gaping hole in the laws that were enacted to stop the illegal activities, abuses and contract steering that brought down Rowland and his administration in 2005.

However, rather than adhering to appropriate competitive bidding requirements, Malloy has embedded language in the budget implementation bill that would make it far easier to direct massive state contracts to selected bidders.

The following summary is provided by the General Assembly’s Office of Legislative Research, but even if legislators can find and understand the provisions, the demand by Malloy and the General Assembly’s Democratic leaders to pass the bill unchanged will likely mean that Malloy’s devious scheme will be adopted.

As a result of the loop-hole this language creates, some of Malloy’s largest campaign donors will find it much, much easier to get massive state contracts from the Department of Transportation.

Particularly note the language that been highlighted in red.

Emergency Certified Bill: SB 1502 – AN ACT IMPLEMENTING PROVISIONS OF THE STATE BUDGET FOR THE BIENNIUM ENDING JUNE 30, 2017 CONCERNING GENERAL GOVERNMENT, EDUCATION AND HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES.

Section§ 161 — DOT ALTERNATIVE CONSTRUCTION METHODS

By law, the DOT commissioner may designate certain projects to be built using alternatives to the traditional “design-bid-build” construction process. Such alternatives include the “construction manager at risk” (CMAR) and “design-build” processes.

In a CMAR contract, an owner (e.g., DOT) contracts with a construction manager who works with the project designer and provides labor, material, and project management during construction. By law, the CMAR contract must guarantee the maximum price.

The bill allows the commissioner, when he designates a project to use a contract with a CMAR contract with a guaranteed maximum price, to have DOT personnel do the design work or contract with an architect or engineer to do so. As under current law, it requires the CMAR contractor to provide input during the design process.

Under current law, the CMAR contractor (1) is responsible for the project’s construction and (2) must select subcontractors for this work through a low sealed bid process. The bill allows, rather than requires, the CMAR contractor to be responsible for construction, and eliminates the CMAR’s responsibility to select subcontractors through sealed bids.

The bill instead allows the DOT commissioner to permit the CMAR contractor to undertake a portion of the construction itself if the commissioner finds the construction manager general contractor is able to perform this work more cost-effectively than a subcontractor. It requires trade subcontractors, selected through a process the commissioner approves, to perform all the work the general contractor does not perform.

The bill allows the commissioner to put the project out to bid under DOT’s traditional bid process if he and the CMAR contractor cannot agree on a guaranteed maximum price

By law, the commissioner must obtain competitive proposals by advertising the project at least once in a newspaper with a substantial circulation in the area where the project is located. The bill allows him to also provide this notice on DAS’s State Contracting Portal or other advertising methods likely to reach qualified CMAR general contractors. Under the bill, he may similarly advertise projects for which he is using the design-build method. In a design-build contract, an owner (e.g., DOT) contracts with a single entity that both designs and builds a project.

EFFECTIVE DATE: Upon passage

Section 162 — USE OF CONSULTANTS FOR DOT PROJECTS USING ALTERNATIVE CONSTRUCTION METHODS

The law seeks to have DOT gradually reduce the use of consultants and, where possible, have its employees perform development and inspection work.

By law, the commissioner must use DOT employees for development and inspection work after the performance of the first two projects using alternative construction methods, (although he may continue to use consultants after this time if needed to complete work on projects authorized for alternative construction contracts). Development services include the size, type, and design of the project, performance specifications, quality of materials, equipment, workmanship and preliminary plans other information needed for DOT to issue a bid package. The bill requires the department to issue a request for proposal, rather than bid package, when using alternative contracting methods.

The bill allows the commissioner, after the first two projects are performed, to use consultants to design the project to be built by a CMAR if he determines that DOT lacks the capacity and technical expertise to design it. He must make this determination after assessing the project delivery schedule, staffing capacity, and required technical expertise required for a CMAR project. But it specifies that detailed design work on design-build contracts remains the contractor’s responsibility. The bill requires the commissioner to create a program to train DOT employees to support alternative project delivery methods. This training may be provided on projects using consultants. The commissioner must report annually, by October 1, to the governor on (1) the department’s progress in training its employees, (2) improving the diversity of its technical expertise, and (3) building internal project delivery capacity.

The commissioner’s authority to use consultants under current law ends on the earlier of (1) when the governor notifies the Transportation Committee that consultants are no longer needed to complete alternative construction projects or (2) January 1, 2019 unless the legislature reauthorizes their use.

The bill extends (1) how long DOT can use consultants by three years, to January 1, 2022, and (2) the 2022 deadline another three years, until January 1, 2025, if the governor certifies that the continued use of consultants is necessary to complete alternative delivery projects.

EFFECTIVE DATE: Upon passage

 

CT’s Legislative Democrats set to make a bad budget worse

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Governor Dannel Malloy must have been singing the children’s song “Roll Over, Roll Over,” because it appears that Democrats in the Connecticut State Senate and House of Representatives will return to Hartford today to “fix” a bad state budget by making it worse.

As the CT Mirror reported on Friday,

“The House and Senate will return Monday at 10 a.m. for what the leaders hope will be a one-day special session to pass budget revisions and implementer bills, a bond package and two criminal justice measures.”

In an effort to appease big business, the changes to the budget include another $25 million in health care cuts to Connecticut’s poorest residents and a $25 million in cuts from an “undisclosed list” of government services and programs.

Among the most bizarre maneuvers is an effort to screw state employees by predetermining the outcome of next year’s state contract negotiations, unless of course, it is just a ruse to make it look like a cut when, in fact, they intend to put the money back in to the budget in the 2017.

As CT Mirror explained,

“House Speaker J. Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, said the bill also would reduce salary reserve funding in the second year of the biennium, a nudge to the administration to obtain concessions in coming contract negotiations.

“We are setting a direction to the governor as to what we’d like to see in terms of concessions, so to speak, in year two when he negotiates those contracts,” Sharkey said.”

According to the CT Mirror,

“With these changes, overall tax hikes in the new, two-year budget would drop from $1.5 billion to just over $1.3 billion. The new budget also cancels close to $500 million in previously approved tax cuts that were supposed to be implemented in the coming biennium.”

Under both the “old” and “new” budget plan, the state will continue to implement record budget cuts to a variety of vital state programs and services.

In addition, although the legislature’s original tax plan added a minor bump in the income tax rate for the super-rich; both the original and revised versions of the state budget continue Governor Malloy’s long-standing commitment to coddle Connecticut’s wealthiest taxpayers by refusing to require them to pay their fair share in income taxes.

On another front, the “new” state budget continues to send the vast majority of the new money for nursing home care to those facilities that are unionized rather than the long-standing approach which treated residents of long-term care facilities the same – regardless of whether they are living in unionized or non-unionized nursing homes.

The decision to favor the unionized facilities raises serious legal issues which are being reported by CT Newsjunkie in an article entitled, Association Says Nursing Home Allocation Violates Federal Law.

The state’s largest association of skilled nursing facilities says the way lawmakers are planning to distribute funds to nursing homes violates federal law.

The Connecticut Association of Health Care Facilities warned Sunday night in a statement that distributing $9 million to raise wages in 60 unionized nursing homes and only $4 million to 170 non-unionized skilled nursing facilities is “blatantly unfair and discriminatory to the non-union workers who do the exact same work as the union workers with the same Connecticut taxpayer money.”

Matthew Barrett, executive vice president of the association, said nursing homes in Connecticut are overwhelmingly non-union with only 30 percent associated with organized labor.

That means non-union workers would see overall wages increase 0.75 percent, while unionized nursing homes would receive a 5.5 percent increase. According to Barrett this amounts to a 10 cent raise for non-union workers, and an 80 cent raise for union workers — eight times the increase non-union workers would receive.

Barrett warned that if lawmakers approve the allocation they are putting at risk federal matching funds for $1.2 billion in Medicaid nursing home expenditures.

Legislative leaders Friday said they put an additional $1 million into the budget for non-union homes, bringing the wage increase funding for those homes up to $4 million.

House Speaker Brendan Sharkey said Friday that they were giving an additional $1 million to the non-union homes to “provide a little bit more equity.”

[…]

Barrett said there’s well-established case law that doesn’t allow for this type of inequity to exist between union and non-union homes.

For more about the “new” state budget read;

CT Mirror at http://ctmirror.org/2015/06/26/democrats-whittle-down-future-town-aid-to-cut-business-taxes-now/ and CT Newsjunkie at http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/archives/entry/democrats_roll_back_raises_for_state_employees_increase_money_for_hospitals/

Charter School Industry money persuades legislators to give them your tax dollars

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The Connecticut General Assembly is returning to Hartford for a special session to pass the statutory language needed to implement the state budget that the Democratic controlled legislature passed earlier this month.

While legislators are going into special session, cities and towns across Connecticut are cutting local public school programs as a result of the inadequate education funding that is part of the state budget that was agreed upon in a deal between Governor Dannel Malloy and Democratic legislators earlier this month.

But while the people reel from the impact of the major tax increases and deep spending cuts to vital services that are part of the new budget, there is one group that is overjoyed with the state budget that is receiving so much criticism from across the political spectrum.

Thanks to their record spending on lobbyists and lobbying, Connecticut’s charter school industry is sitting pretty thanks to the decision by Malloy and the Democrats to give the privately owned, but publicly funded charter schools record amounts of public funds.

Having created a myriad of front groups with names like Families for Excellent Schools/Coalition for Every Child; North East Charter School Network; Connecticut Council for Education Reform; Achievement First, Inc., Bronx Charter School of Excellence, Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, Inc., Educators 4 Excellence and FaithActs for Education, charter school owners and the corporate executives behind the education reform industry have poured another $1 million into their successful campaign to persuade legislators to give private charter school companies even more public funds while leaving their own local schools high and dry and twisting in the wind.

In just the first 150 days of the 2015 session of the Connecticut General Assembly, the charter schools and their front groups spent more than $1,149,800.70 to “persuade” legislators to fund their corporate entities rather than our public schools.

The Charter School and Corporate Education Reform groups involved in the lobbying include;

Corporate Education Reform Organization Amount Spent on Lobbying
   
Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, Inc. (ConnCAN) $69,894.80
   
Achievement First, Inc. (Dacia Toll/Stefan Pryor) $4,489.01
   
Connecticut Council for Education Reform  (CCER) $39,959.00
   
North East Charter School Network $85,608.24
   
Families for Excellent Schools Inc./Coalition for Every Child $938,923.47
   
Bronx Charter School for Excellence $10,936.27
   
TOTAL LOBBYING EXPENDITURES BY CHARTER SCHOOL INDUSTRY

January 1, 2015 – May 31, 2015

$1,149,800.70

 

Since the corporate education reform industry began ramping up their lobbying efforts as part of Governor Malloy’s education reform initiative of 2012, the various charter school advocates and education reform groups have spent a record breaking $7.9 million on behalf of their pro-charter school, pro-common core, anti-teacher agenda.

To help grease their success, the various charter school advocacy groups has even spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to hire Governor Malloy’s chief advisor and his former press secretary.

During the recent legislative session, Families for Excellent Schools/Coalition for Every Child ran television ads calling upon Connecticut’s elected officials to divert even more scarce taxpayer funds to charter schools.  The group was also the lead sponsored of a pro-charter school rally in which they bussed in parents and students from charter schools as far away as New York City and Boston.

Among the more curious expenditures listed in the reports filed this month with the State Ethics Commission by Families for Excellent Schools/Coalition for Every Child was a payment of just over $2,000 to the charter school management company Achievement First, Inc.

However, with Achievement First Inc. and other charter school companies claiming that they don’t have to abide by Connecticut’s Freedom of Information Act because they are private entities, there is no way to know what exactly the charter school operator is doing with its public funds or other funds that they are collecting.

A bill expanding the reach of Connecticut’s Freedom of Information law to ensure greater transparency when it comes to the charter school companies was water-downed during the last days of the legislative session as a result of intense lobbying by the charter school industry.

Dacia Toll, the Co-CEO of Achievement First Inc. testified that requiring charter school operators to adhere to Connecticut’s Freedom of Information Act would be a unfair burden.

As education advocate and commentator Sarah Darer Littman explained in a CT Newsjunkie column entitled, Keep An Eye Out for Mischief in Implementer When It Comes to Transparency, the charter school industry is simply unwilling to open its books for public inspection despite the fact that it receives well over $100 million a year in public funds from Connecticut’s taxpayers.

Sarah Darer Littman wrote,

“In her testimony to the Education Committee opposing SB 1096 in March, Achievement First President Dacia Toll complained that “it would be incredibly burdensome to CMOs, as FOIA compliance would significantly distract, undermine, and obstruct non-profit CMO resources and manpower from its most important work: providing high-quality support to charter schools, students and staff.”

In other words, Ms. Toll is more than happy to take taxpayer money, but would find it “incredibly burdensome” to comply with FOIA requests that come with being held accountable for it.

For more about the charter school industry’s successful effort to meaningful prevent transparency go to: Charter School Operators – Want taxpayer funds – just don’t want to explain how they spend it.

More on Avon CT’s decision to dump all their school social workers

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Utter disbelief continues to be the best way to describe the reaction to yesterday’s Wait, What? blog entitled, Avon CT School Board eliminates all social workers to “enhance” mental health services.

In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School Massacre, parents, teachers, school administrators and boards of education all across Connecticut are understandably and appropriately hyper-sensitive about ensuring that all children are attending schools that provide a safe and healthy school environment.

Over the last few years, tens of millions of dollars have been spent on improve security at public schools and countless training sessions are held each year to try to avoid the worst case scenarios.

Add in the broader societal factors impacting our schools and the growing stress related to the fanatical Common Core SBAC standardized testing craze and no reasonable person would suggest that public schools should be doing less, not more, when it comes developing and implementing broad-based, comprehensive mental health services for Connecticut’s children.

It is for that reason that it comes as such a shock that an elected member of the Avon Board of Education would be so insensitive as to respond to a discussion about Avon’s School Wellness program by saying

 “Ms. Shea asked the Board to exercise caution; she stated we should not be the “board of everything.”  She does not want our school system to become a mental health resource.”

Avon’s School Superintendent Gary Mala’s comments at that same board meeting was equally difficult to comprehend. In response to a question from a Board of Education member, Superintendent Gary Mala, 

“Added that it is also important to consider the mental health of our students and help staff learn to identify and refer students where needed.”

But

“[Superintendent Mala] added there is no liability if the school fails to properly identify those needs”

To suggest that school systems should not be a mental health resources or that “there is no liability if the school fails to property identify those needs,” appear to suggest a complete lack of understanding about the fundamental duty elected and appointed officials have to the children they are sworn to serve.

Then again, maybe the Avon Board of Education’s recent decision to do away with all  the school’s social workers was simply based on ignorance.

Although schools systems across Connecticut, including every school system in the Farmington Valley, utilize the expertise of school social workers, school psychologists and school guidance counselors, maybe Avon’s elected officials really don’t know or understand the different roles these professionals and certified employees perform.

True, it wouldn’t take a lot for the members of Avon’s Board of Education to know the facts.

Avon’s elected officials could just go to the Connecticut State Department of Education’s website where they could read up on the role, educational background and certification requirements for School Social Workers and School Psychologists.  

They could start with the documents entitled; 

Guidelines for Delivery of School Social Work Services: Promoting the
Social-Emotional Competencies of Students — Linking Families, Schools and Communities
 

and

Guidelines for the Practice of School Psychology

While on the State Department of Education’s website they could even read the State of Connecticut’s report on Comprehensive School Counseling, where they would learn about how school districts have been able to create successful service models and networks that maximized that role of school social workers, school psychologists, school counselors and school guidance counselors.

Heck, they could even pick up the phone or swing by neighboring Farmington or Simsbury where they would see school districts that are successfully integrating the broad range of mental health professionals on their staff as they work to promote the health and safety of their students.

Or better yet, Avon’s Board of Education members could stop talking long enough to actually listen to the social workers they just voted to dump and the more than 100 parents and Avon residents who have spoken out against the Board’s recent decision. 

But act them must; 

As the Avon Patch recently reported, Public Hearing on Social Workers’ Fate to Be Held.  The Patch explained;

 “Residents in Avon have strongly opposed the plan to eliminate the social workers’ positions from the schools.”

The public hearing on the Avon Board of Education’s decision to get rid of their school social workers will take place on Wednesday, July 1, 2015 at 7 p.m. in the Avon High School auditorium.

Avon CT School Board eliminates all social workers to “enhance” mental health services.

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Yes, you read the headline correctly…And yes, this is one you’ll need to sit down for.

Calling it part of a their plan to implement, “An Enhanced Support Model to Promote Mental and Behavioral Wellness among Students in the Avon Public Schools,” the Avon Board of Education recently voted to eliminate all social workers from that community’s prestigious public school system.

Gone are the four specially trained school social workers, a couple of whom have been providing critically important mental health services to Avon’s students for decades.

Apparently the social workers’ vital work will fall to others to perform.

However, thanks to the quick action of an outraged group of concerned parents and other citizens, Avon’s Board of Education is being forced to hold a special public hearing on July 1, 2015 at 7 pm in the Avon High School Auditorium in order, “To consider a citizen’s petition to reinstate the position of social works in the Avon School system.”

Avon was once considered a model community for attending to all of various complex and inter-connected aspects of a child’s development and education.

In fact, just two years ago, Avon was leading the charge in the post Newtown, Connecticut Sandy Hook Elementary  School Massacre.

At the time, Avon’s new “Futures Report,” called for placing even greater emphasis on student mental health through an “Increased focus on early intervening services” and the use of a “multi-tiered intervention model” to ensure that all students were getting the support and services they needed and deserved.

But that was then and this is now and something terribly wrong has apparently occurred since then.

Just last December, Gary Mala, Avon’s Superintendent of Schools was providing the members of the Avon Board of Education with his monthly update, including the latest news about the progress of the school system’s new Wellness Curriculum.

As the minutes reveal, in response to a question from a Board of Education member, Superintendent Gary Mala,

“Added that it is also important to consider the mental health of our students and help staff learn to identify and refer students where needed.”

Then, as the December 3, 2014 minutes report,

“[Superintendent Mala] added there is no liability if the school fails to property identify those needs.”

In response to the discussion, Avon Board of Education member Ames Shea weighed in,

“Ms. Shea asked the Board to exercise caution; she stated we should not be the “board of everything.”  She does not want our school system to become a mental health resource.”

The minutes go on to report that Board of Education member Jeff Bernetich agreed.

Six months later, in a fancy PowerPoint presentation, Avon’s Director of Pupil Personnel laid out the administration’s new plan to “enhance” mental health services by doing away with the school social workers altogether.

Superintendent Mala’s team explained that although their plan eliminates two social workers at Avon High School, it “Casts a larger net in order to identify students who may be experiencing academic or emotional distress as the result of changes being instituted at Avon High School.”

In a logic that is more than a bit hard to follow, their plan added that eliminating all four social works in the Avon School System, the new system addressed the need for, “Greater demands for accountability and documentation of student progress.”

The Avon plan also, “Provides more comprehensive approaches to intervening with students across all district schools” and ensures for the, “Ability to intervene with students earlier in the process and to provide support within least restrictive settings.”

Finally, the plan, they say, is needed, “To respond to increased demands for Functional Behavioral Assessments, Ecological Assessments, and Behavior Support Plans.”

Those familiar with the Common Core and the Common Core Testing scheme will notice that the language and rationale seems eerily similar to the jargon being used by the education reform industry.

With apparently little to no substantive discussion, the Avon Board of Education took the advice and voted to do away with the school system’s social workers.

The list of questions as to why such an action would be taken seems endless.

It was just a few months ago that the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission submitted their final report.

Reacting to both the unspeakable horror of the Sandy Hook Massacre and the broader recognition about the need to improve mental health services, the Sandy Hook Commission laid out a detailed set of recommendations that are diametrically opposed to the actions taken by Avon’s Board of Education.

While Avon voted to remove the number and breadth of professionally trained mental health experts, the Sandy Hook Commission recommended that there was an urgent need to dramatically increase the availability of mental health services, especially for Connecticut’ children.

The Sandy Hook Advisory Commission explained;

“Schools are essential players…both as sites for prevention, early intervention and the delivery of services and as learning communities where social and emotional health come to be seen as essential to the process of educating young members of a just and caring society.”  (Page 82-83)

The Commission observed;

“Children exist within multiple social systems, and their needs can’t be isolated from those of the systems in which they function.  Schools in particular must be understood as integral to their communities; what happens at school directly impacts the surrounding community and what happens in the community affects its schools and their occupants.  Schools must play a critical role in fostering health child development and healthy communities.”  (Page 99)

And the Commission added;

“Schools should work with all providers to enhance community resources and augment services available in schools.  For many children schools offer the only real possibility for accessing services, so districts should increase the availability of school guidance counselors, social workers, psychologists and other school health and behavioral health professionals during and after school…”

The Sandy Hook Commission’s list of recommendations about the importance of school-based mental health services go on and on and on.

Hopefully Avon’s Superintendent of Schools and the members of the Avon Board of Education will listen very carefully to the citizens who speak out at the special Board of Education hearing on July 1, 2015 and will then take immediate action to reinstate the social workers that they just dumped.

And if Avon’s elected and appointed officials fail to act, then they should step aside and allow truly dedicated people to take their positions.

Charter School Operators – Want taxpayer funds – just don’t want to explain how they spend it.

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Earlier this month, Sarah Darer Littman had a column in CT Newsjunkie reminding readers to be on the lookout for an attempt by the charter school industry and Governor Dannel Malloy to undermine efforts to hold charter school companies accountable for the public funds they get.

In an article entitled, Keep An Eye Out for Mischief in Implementer When It Comes to Transparency, education advocate and commentator Sarah Darer Littman warned about the charter school industry’s unwillingness to be transparent.  She wrote,

“In her testimony to the Education Committee opposing SB 1096 in March, Achievement First President Dacia Toll complained that “it would be incredibly burdensome to CMOs, as FOIA compliance would significantly distract, undermine, and obstruct non-profit CMO resources and manpower from its most important work: providing high-quality support to charter schools, students and staff.”

In other words, Ms. Toll is more than happy to take taxpayer money, but would find it “incredibly burdensome” to comply with FOIA requests that come with being held accountable for it.

Meanwhile, Jeremiah Grace, the Connecticut Director for Northeast Charter School Networks complained in his testimony that “this bill requires background checks for school staff and boards. Backgrounds are a safety issue that we take extremely seriously. Most of our members have been running them for all staff already, and making sure it’s the law is an important step for our children. It is worth noting that requiring charters to wait for these to be completed before hiring someone subjects charters to more stringent rules than district schools for no reason.”

I’m not sure how Mr. Grace can make the statement that “charters are being subjected to more stringent rules than district schools for no reason” with a straight face. First, we have already seen evidence that the background check issue hasn’t been taken seriously. Second, to say that having to wait for those to be completed before hiring is more stringent than in the public schools is just plain bunkum. Just to teach an after-school creative writing class in a district school, I had to undergo a full background check, including fingerprinting, and I had to ensure the background check was completed before I could commence instruction.

With the General Assembly returning to the Capitol to adopt legislation needed to implement next year’s state budget, it would be nice to believe that Connecticut’s elected officials won’t fold under the pressure to back off the demand for transparency on the part of the privately owned, but publicly funded charter schools and their holding companies.

But knowing the propensity to do the wrong thing at times like this, Connecticut’s taxpayers should make a special effort to read Sarah Darer Littman’s piece and keep a careful eye on their state legislators in the week ahead.

You can read Littman’s piece at:  http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/archives/entry/keep_an_eye_out_for_mischief_in_implementer_when_it_comes_to_transparency/

Malloy – A Governor intent on undermining public education

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Public Education advocate and columnist Wendy Lecker had yet another “MUST READ” piece in the Stamford Advocate about Governor Dannel Malloy’s un-paralleled attack on public education and his unending commitment to divert scarce public taxpayer dollars to privately owned, but publicly funded charter school operators.  The strategy may result in more campaign donations for Malloy, but it comes at a terrible price for Connecticut’s public school students, parents, teachers and the state’s taxpayers.

Wendy Lecker’s original piece can be found at:   Governor intent to undermine public education.

Wendy Lecker writes,

Governors, being politicians, spout a lot of rhetoric. However, during budget time, their true priorities emerge. Looking at three real-life situations from this year’s budget season, try to guess who the Democratic governor of Connecticut is.

One governor announced a 2-billion dollar increase in public K-12 funding, a relatively modest increase because it is spread over the next decade; but he publicly acknowledged the need to fund public schools before reforming them. The second, incensed that the legislature would not increase public school K-12 funding to adequate levels, nor adequately fund pre-K, threatened to hold up the budget. The third slashed funding for social programs, gave no increase for public K-12 education, despite a pending lawsuit alleging that the state owes almost 2 billion dollars to its public schools, and threatened to veto the state budget unless the legislature agreed to fund two charter schools in communities that vehemently opposed them.

The first governor is Republican Doug Ducey of Arizona. The second governor is a Democrat,Mark Dayton of Minnesota. The third? You guessed it — Dan Malloy of Connecticut.

Governor Malloy’s tenure has been characterized by denigrating teachers, vigorously opposing adequate funding of public schools and vastly increasing financial support for privately run charter schools which fail to serve the state’s neediest children, including English Language Learners and students with disabilities, have disturbingly harsh disciplinary policies, increase racial isolation, drain public money from needy public schools and have even been implicated in fraud and theft.

Why would Malloy favor these questionable privately run schools over underfunded public schools? One answer lies in an article reported on by the Hartford Courant, piggy-backing off the years of reporting blogger Jonathan Pelto has done on this issue.

The Courant reported that this year, unprecedented amounts of money were spent to push the charter agenda by ConnCAN, the charter lobby; Northeast Charter Network, another charter lobby founded by disgraced Jumoke leader Michael Sharpe and others; and a newer group operating in Connecticut, New York and Massachusetts: Families for Excellent Schools (FES).

The Courant further noted that the same millionaires and billionaires who copiously donated to Malloy’s campaigns are also major donors to charters and charter lobbyists. This list includes Greenwich millionaire Jonathan Sackler, the founder of ConnCAN and original board member of the Achievement First charter chain; Greenwich hedge funder Steve Mandel, who funded the players behind the illegal takeover of the Bridgeport Board of Education; embattled SAC Capital chief Steven Cohen and his wife; ConnCAN board members Arthur Reimers and Andrew Boas; Andrew Stone, a board member at Success Academy charter chain, a close ally of FES; and ConnCAN donor Marianna McCall. FES even hired two public relations firms that employ Malloy’s recently departed top aides: Roy Occhiogrosso and Andrew Doba.

The web of charter money is so thick it must have blinded Malloy to the needs and wishes of constituents from Stamford and Bridgeport.

The local opposition to these charters, by both local officials and parents, is well-documented. Malloy’s State Board of Education rubber-stamped the charters’ authorization in April 2014, ignoring local opposition and the fact that the legislature had not appropriated the funds for them.

Despite warnings by legislators that these schools might not be funded, the charter operators, Steve Perry for Bridgeport and a Bronx charter operator for Stamford, advertised widely for students in order to pressure the state to fund them.

Stamford and Bridgeport officials and residents opposed any appropriations for these schools they did not want. Bridgeport grassroots activists traveled to Hartford every week to show their opposition. Stamford residents wrote to every legislator imploring each not to fund these schools when public schools were being starved.

On the other side, the Malloy-connected, billionaire-backed charter lobbyists bused in demonstrators from Massachusetts and New York to stage demonstrations in Hartford in support of these two unwanted charters.

Legislators assured Bridgeport and Stamford residents that they were not swayed by the charter lobbying and they would not fund these schools.

But then Malloy threatened to veto the budget unless his pet charters were funded and the legislature caved. They received, as a token consolation prize, an insignificant increase in state school funding.

Connecticut has a governor intent on undermining public education and a spineless legislature that collapses when the governor so much as sneezes. Unless our citizenry elects some leaders with principles, who actually care about our public institutions rather than wealthy donors, things are looking grim for the over 95 percent of Connecticut’s children who attend our public schools.

Update on Donnelly’s move from PR to Chief of Staff at CT State Department of Education

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Commissioner of Education Dianna Wentzel’s decision to shift Kelly Donnelly from serving as the agency’s PR person to Chief of Staff apparently comes with a $25,700 pay raise despite the fact that Donnelly has no education experience and her only education policy experience has been as the press person for the State Department of Education over the past two and a half years.

At the same time, with a Special Session of the Connecticut General Assembly scheduled for next week, today’s CT Mirror headline reads, Malloy’s ‘across-the-board’ cuts target education, town aid and social servicesThe CT Mirror explains,

To offset new taxes that have rankled business groups, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy proposed trimming up to 1.5 percent of discretionary spending in the new state budget. But the administration’s proposal shows the bulk of the cuts would be likely to fall on education, municipal aid, health care and social services.

And a key legislator has warned that most of those areas could face even deeper cuts once the new fiscal year is underway. That’s because the new budget relies much more heavily than past budgets on undefined savings — making it likely that the governor will need to order midyear cuts.

While Malloy proposes cuts to education, yesterday’s Wait, What? post, Kelly Donnelly to become Chief of Staff for Connecticut Department of Education, reported that,

The key role of Chief of Staff for Malloy’s State Department of Education will go to Kelly Donnelly who was brought in from New Jersey in December 2012 to serve as former Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor’s PR person.

Although Donnelly has no work experience in public education and her only education policy experience is as the agency’s communications person, multiple sources confirm that Commissioner of Education Dianna Wentzel will by-pass numerous qualified professional staff to hand the Chief of Staff duties to Donnelly.

Donnelly was hired as Pryor’s Communication Director with a starting salary of $82,000.

In a follow up story the CT Post wrote,

“Donnelly’s salary will increase in her new job from $82,000 to $118,000.”

Actually, as a result of the pay raises ordered by Governor Dannel Malloy, Donnelly, who is listed as an Education Staff Assistant, is presently making $92,293.25 per year.

Assuming the $118,000 the CT Post is reporting is correct, Donnelly’s promotion to Chief of Staff comes with a $25,700 boost in pay.

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