Connecticut: The Republic of Debt

The 2013 session of the Connecticut General Assembly ended with the adoption of record amounts of additional state borrowing. 

They adopted $750 million in state bonds to pay a portion of the cost associated with moving Connecticut to Generally Acceptable Accounting Principles (GAAP).  Then there was the $1.6 billion for Malloy’s UConn initiative “to overhaul the state’s flagship university over the next decade,” this coming after the state’s $2.3 billion UConn 2000 program.  And then, of course there are hundreds of millions more in bonding for programs and services that should be funded out of the State’s General Fund rather than state borrowing, such as Malloy’s massive corporate welfare program and the state’s Stem Cell Research Program.

The fact is that the FY14-FY15 state budget relies heavily on record borrowing.

And this is occurring in a state that already has record amounts of debt.

Even before this latest bonding spree, the balance on Connecticut’s state credit card was more than $19.3 billion.

Referred to as “bonded indebtedness,” it is the amount of outstanding debt that Connecticut’s taxpayers must pay back, with interest, over the next 20 years.

This amount does not include the taxpayer funds that must also be paid to fund the state’s various unfunded liabilities such as the state and teachers’ pensions, health and other post-employment benefits.  That amount adds another $40 billion plus to the state’s fiscal ledger.

The $19.3 billion is only the existing bonds that must be paid…

When it comes to the level of state debt, no other state in the nation comes close to the level of official indebtedness facing Connecticut and its citizens.

The average per capita debt burden among the 50 states is $1,408.  That is, every man, woman and child in the average state is “on the hook” for $1,408.

In Connecticut, the per capita debt burden is $5,096.

But that’s not all.                                                                               

When it comes to facing the ramifications of the growing debt, Connecticut’s elected officials actually took a giant step backwards this year.

Not only did Malloy and the legislature add record amounts of debt, they ducked debt payments that were supposed to be made during this upcoming budget cycle, thereby pushing the burden until after the next gubernatorial election.

Back in Fiscal Year 2009, Governor Rell and the Democratic-controlled legislature addressed a massive state deficit by approving a series of special, short-term bonds called Economic Recovery Notes.  Each year the state is supposed to be paying off a portion of those notes. 

However, the two year budget just passed by the General Assembly delayed $196 million in Economic Recovery Note payments next year and the year after.  The additional interest cost to Connecticut taxpayers for this “restructuring” will be about $45 million

Ironically, when you strip away all the political spin, that amount is about what Malloy and his administration added to education spending in Connecticut…and the gall to claim it was a “historic” investment in education.

During the last gubernatorial campaign candidate Dan Malloy called these types of budget gimmicks, “kicking the can down the road,” and promised never to do it.

Now Governor Dannel Malloy is making these gimmicks a regular approach to his budget plans.

Teacher Evaluation Program: Malloy, Pryor and General Assembly slam door on a locally developed plans

Implementing Connecticut’s new “teacher evaluation program” will be the most costly initiative local boards of education will be facing over the next couple of years.  No one dismisses the importance of developing more effective teacher evaluation efforts, but the convoluted and complex system being developed by Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor will have a massive impact on how local schools function.

With limited state support, Connecticut’s cities and towns will collectively have to pay tens of millions to implement the new, state-mandated evaluation system.  Add in the time required of superintendents, principals, administrators and teachers and the impact will be extraordinary, both in terms of cost and time taken away from instructional work.

When Governor Malloy’s “education reform” bill passed during the 2012 session of the Connecticut General Assembly it included an important provision that allowed towns to develop their own teacher evaluation systems, as long as those systems were approved by the State Board of Education.

The ability of towns to tailor their own evaluation systems was one of the few provisions that honored Connecticut’s historic commitment to allowing the citizens of each community to govern their own school systems.

At the time, legislators recognized the fundamental right of communities to develop teacher evaluation systems that meet state standards but took into consideration all the factors that go into managing a local school system.

But then, as the clock approached midnight on the second to last night of the recent legislative session, an incredible and stunning amendment was adopted by the legislature.

In the bill that allowed towns to “phase-in” the state’s new teacher evaluation system over the next two years, rather than forcing all of the changes this year, the legislature added two significant restrictions to a town’s right to develop their own system.

Using language provided by Commissioner Pryor’s staff, the legislation was changed to read that towns could only develop their own teacher evaluation systems if they, “expressed an intent, not later than July 1, 2013, to adopt a teacher evaluation program.”

The language means that even though the state system has not been finalized, if school superintendents and local boards of education do not inform Commissioner Pryor by July 1, 2013 that they intend to create a locally-developed system, they are prohibited from ever developing their own plan and must instead utilize the state plan no matter how bad it may be for their community.

Second, under the old language, the Connecticut’s State Board of Education was required to approve or reject a town’s locally developed plan.  The Board’s participation assured that these decisions would be made in an open and transparent way and the local boards of education and the citizens of the community could come to a public board meeting to make their case, hear the discussion and see the vote.

Instead, the new amendment removed the role of the State Board and simply authorized Commissioner Pryor to decide the fate of any community-developed teacher evaluation plans.

One moment the law guaranteed that the state’s decisions were made in the light of day and in a public setting and the next, local communities were left twisting in the wind, forced into a situation where their local plans will be simply approved or rejected behind closed doors.

So now, as a result of the changes put forward by the Malloy Administration and Commissioner Pryor, and approved by the Connecticut General Assembly, superintendents and local boards of education have only TWO WEEKS to submit their intent should they want to develop their own local teacher evaluation systems…and even if they do submit a plan, its fate rests solely in the hands of a Commissioner who has no educational experience.

The new law now reads as follows:

“Section 10-151b (d) A local or regional board of education may phase in full implementation of the teacher evaluation and support program adopted pursuant to subsection (b) of this section during the school years commencing July 1, 2013, and July 1, 2014, pursuant to a teacher evaluation and support program implementation plan adopted by the State Board of Education, in consultation with the Performance Evaluation Advisory Council, not later than July 1, 2013. The Commissioner of Education may waive the provisions of subsection (b) of this section and the implementation plan provisions of this subsection for any local or regional board of education that has expressed an intent, not later than July 1, 2013, to adopt a teacher evaluation program for which such board requests a waiver in accordance with this subsection.”

The amendment passed the House of Representatives unanimously, with all Democrats and Republicans voting yes, on June 4th, 2013 at 10:49 p.m.

When it comes to our state’s economy, our elected officials are our own worst enemies…

With a state-economy ranked 50th in the nation, one would think that Governor Malloy and our elected officials who drop their economic development strategy that relies on corporate welfare to lure hedge fund companies and other corporate giants to move or stay in Connecticut.

But in the legislative session that just ended, Malloy and the majority decided to stay the course and, in the process, throw Connecticut’s hospitals under the bus.  Despite the rhetoric from the Malloy Administration that the massive cut to hospitals would have no impact, policymakers knew the consequences and turned a blind eye to the fact that the new state budget would lead to the loss of hundreds of Connecticut jobs.

The CT Mirror summarized the situations when they listed Connecticut’s hospitals as one of the biggest “losers” during the recent session.  The CT Mirror wrote:

“Hospitals: Hospital officials decried the governor’s proposal to cut more than $500 million in funding from hospitals, saying it will lead to job cuts and hurt patient care. But their pleas went largely unanswered. The next two-year budget slashes payments hospitals receive to compensate them for treating uninsured and underinsured patients, and money they currently receive as reimbursement for a provider tax they pay. The Malloy administration says the hospitals will still receive more money because more people will have health insurance, but hospitals counter that the funds will only come from treating thousands more poor patients…”

The impact of the Malloy administration’s approach started to be seen earlier this week when, according to the Connecticut Post, St. Vincent’s Medical Center “eliminated 100 positions and laid off nearly 50 employees this week, including some nurses and doctors. The cuts are expected to save the hospital about $10 million.”

As hospital’s vice president for health services explained, “This is a case of trying to look forward and protecting the direction and mission of our organization as the ground shifts beneath us.”

There is no question that many senior hospital administrators are overpaid and are diverting scarce resources away from patient care, but rather than confront that controversy head on, Malloy and the legislature simply slashed the amount of state funds going to hospitals and left the overcompensation issue unaddressed.

According to the Connecticut Post article, “Layoffs began Monday and continued Tuesday. The cuts were across all levels of the hospital, and included some nurse and doctor positions…Of the positions cut, 48 were filled and resulted in layoffs.”

As the Connecticut Hospital Association warned during the legislative session, “A state budget that cuts hospitals by $550 million will result in job loss and the loss of programs and services…”

There is simply no question that most hospitals around the state will be laying off employees as a result of the new state budget.

And for the record, these aren’t mythical six figure jobs that companies are supposed to be creating over the next ten years; these are the very real jobs of the very real residents in communities across Connecticut.

Adding to the disaster is the fact that not only will Connecticut residents be losing their jobs, but access to quality health care in our local hospitals will be undermined.

You can read more about the St. Vincent’s Medical Center layoffs here:  http://www.ctpost.com/local/article/St-Vincent-s-to-eliminate-100-jobs-4593474.php

Don’t let the word Democrat confuse you…

Connecticut Mirror, March 22, 2010;

“The state Supreme Court [ruled] that Connecticut schoolchildren are guaranteed an adequate standard of quality in their public schools — a crucial legal victory for a coalition seeking to force a dramatic increase in state spending on education.”

Connecticut Mirror, April 10, 2013:

“State moves to dismiss long-standing challenge to education funding

Calling their demands “extreme and radical” as a trial draws nearer, the Connecticut attorney general has asked a judge to dismiss the lawsuit filed by parents and educators demanding more funding for education.

In a motion to dismiss filed earlier this year, Attorney General George C. Jepsen argues that the education problems in the complaint dating back to 2003 have since been addressed by lawmakers through the changes to state law made in 2012.”

So there you have it.  Democrat Attorney General, George Jepsen, calling the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education funding (CCJEF), “extreme and radical.”

Democratic Attorney General, telling the CT Mirror’s Jacqueline Rabe Thomas, that, “’It is too late to evaluate the adequacy of the education system that existed at the time the lawsuit was filed’…By the same token, he added, ‘It is too early to adjudicate Connecticut’s newly reformed education system.’”

However, despite Jepsen’s outrageous comments, everyone associated with Connecticut public education recognizes that the State’s ECS funding formula is at least $2 billion under-funded.  Even the Malloy Administration’s own budget director, Ben Barnes, has confirmed that number.

Even more to the point, as a Connecticut State Representative, State Senator and candidate for Governor, George Jepsen, like all major Democratic leaders, pledged to increase Connecticut’s education funding up to a level in which the state paid at least 50% of the total costs of primary and secondary education, while local property tax payers were left paying the remaining amount.

In fact, the decision to adopt an income tax was driven, in no small part, by the commitment Democrats made to shift the responsibility for funding education away from local property taxpayers and onto the state.

Now, more than 20 years later, Connecticut is far where it needs to be when it comes to adequately funding its public education system.

And now, leaders like Governor Malloy and Attorney General Jepsen are conveniently forgetting the promises they made time and time again.

As Wait, What? readers read last week, Governor Malloy was not only a supporter of the CCEJF school funding lawsuit, he was one of the initial plaintiffs in the case.

In the earlier Wait, What? post entitled, “The Dan to Dannel transformation on the most important education lawsuit in Connecticut history,” we reviewed how candidate Dan Malloy approached the most important education lawsuit of our lifetime.

That approach included a November 22, 2005 press release by Stamford Mayor and Gubernatorial Candidate Dan Malloy entitled “Malloy Supports Lawsuit Challenging Education Funding System…says that reforming the education funding system is an issue of ‘fundamental fairness.’”

As a candidate seeking votes, Malloy’s gubernatorial campaign wrote, “Stamford Mayor and Gubernatorial Candidate Dan Malloy joined fellow members of the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding [CCJEF] today in filing a lawsuit challenging Connecticut’s existing school funding formula as inadequate. Malloy is a founding member of CCJEF coalition, which commissioned a June 2005 cost study demonstrating that 92 of Connecticut’s 166 school districts fell short of funding levels deemed to be necessary for providing children with an adequate education, as demanded under Federal and State law.”

Malloy’s press release quoted him as saying, “The bottom line is that Connecticut’s Education Cost Sharing [ECS] Formula should be scrapped and rebuilt and the State of Connecticut must finally live up to its obligation and pay its share of our education costs. The existing ECS formula has been deliberately under-funded and arbitrarily capped. This isn’t an urban versus suburban issue or a big government versus small government issue; it’s an issue of fundamental fairness. Every child in Connecticut deserves the opportunity to get an adequate education. Our constitution demands it.”

Over the years, George Jepsen claimed to be equally committed to a fairer, more equitable school funding program.  But now, as Connecticut’s Attorney General, Jepsen is asking the courts to dismiss this historic and fundamentally important lawsuit.

Instead of standing up to ensure Connecticut’s Constitution is followed, Jepsen is maneuvering to try to keep the judicial branch of government from playing the very role it was created to do.

In the recent motion to dismiss the case Jepsen wrote, “The bottom line is that plaintiffs’ extreme and radical requested relief would amount to taking the state’s funding decisions for public schools away from the citizens’ elected representatives…”

That statement is totally and absolutely untrue.

It is beyond untrue, it is an outright lie.

No one is expected the Connecticut courts to eliminate the role of the Connecticut General Assembly, and Attorney General Jepson knows that better than anyone.

The fact is that the Connecticut Supreme Court has ruled that Connecticut’s children have a Constitutional right to a quality education.

A series of Connecticut governors and Legislatures have refused to provide the funding necessary to fulfill that Constitutional requirement.

The lawsuit is a necessary and appropriate mechanism to ask the courts to require that governors and legislatures actually stop ducking their constitutional responsibilities

It is one thing for Attorney General Jepsen to argue that the state doesn’t want to provide sufficient funding; it would even be plausible for Attorney General Jepsen to argue that the existing funding is enough to provide a quality education, but it is beyond outrageous that any elected official, especially a Democrat, would claim that his lawsuit is radical or extreme.

By clicking the link below, you can read the full CTMIrror story, including the powerful and persuasive counter-argument to Attorney General Jepsen’ that is being put forward by State Representative Gary Holder-Winfield.  Unfortunately, a full reading of the article will drive home the appreciation that for some politicians, there is simply no limit to their willingness to say anything in their effort to stretch and twist the truth.

The complete CTMirror story is here: http://ctmirror.org/story/19681/were-education-reforms-passed-enough-derail-school-funding-lawsuit

 

Commissioner Pryor, where is your Department’s mandated report on school safety and bullying?

It is one of the most important reports that the State Department of Education produces.

It was supposed to include recommendations for how to create safer school environments.

It WAS DUE February 1, 2012…almost fifteen months ago!

Where is it?

Although Connecticut is learning the hard way that lawyers, with no classroom or education background, don’t make the best education leaders, it’s impossible to believe that Governor Malloy’s Education Commissioner, Stefan Pryor, and his senior leadership team fail to understand that creating a safe school environment is one of the most important educational issues of our time.

At the very least, we would expect that as lawyers, these “education leaders” would appreciate the need to follow the law.  But these days, even that appears to be a reach.

The fact is that parents expect and demand that our state, the Department of Education and our schools are doing everything possible to keep our children safe.  It is especially understood that a safe and healthy school environment is the single most important element in creating successful learning environments.

It is also the law in the State of Connecticut.

Although some elected officials can’t seem to get enough of the limelight on school safety issues since the nightmare of Newtown, some of our most dedicated elected officials have made creating a safer school environment a top priority for years.

Connecticut’s initial school bullying law dates back to 2002.  It was passed following the tragic suicide of a Meriden student who killed himself after being bullied.  The law was significantly expanded in 2007 and included additional responsibilities for the State Department of Education including a requirement that the Commissioner of Education submit a Bullying Policies in Connecticut Schools report on February 1, 2010.  (See http://www.cga.ct.gov/coc/PDFs/bullying/SDE_bullying_report_02-01-10.pdf)

Reading news headlines over the past few weeks, one might think today’s leaders are coming to the school safety issue for the first time.  However, in July 2011, Governor Malloy signed Public Act 11-232, An Act Concerning the Strengthening of School Bullying laws.

This comprehensive new law was called one of the most important school safety initiatives in the nation.

The legislation required schools and districts to develop “safe school climate plans,”  it established deadlines for reporting, investigating, and notifying parents about bullying incidents, it prohibited retaliation against those who report bullying (i.e. the Torrington situation) and required school officials to notify police when they believe bullying conduct constitutes a crime.

The law further required that no later than February 1, 2012, the Connecticut State Department of Education submit a report on “the number of verified acts of bullying in the state, an analysis of the responsive action taken by school districts and any recommendations it may have regarding additional activities or funding to prevent bullying in schools and improve school climate.”

For reasons beyond comprehension, it appears that Stefan Pryor, Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, never released the report.

At a legislative public hearing on this major safe schools legislation, those who spoke or wrote in support of the legislation included Attorney General George Jepsen, Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, State Representatives Mary Mushinsky and Catherine Abercrombie, State Senator Edith Prague, the Executive Director for the CT Permanent Commission on the Status of Women, the Executive Director of the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, the Legislative Analyst of the African-American Affairs Commission (AAAC), the state’s Victim Advocate, the Connecticut Education Association,  CT Regional Director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL),  CT Association of School Psychologists (CASP),  National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI-CT) , Governor’s Partnership to Protect CT’s Workforce , Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network,  Family Equity Council , Planned Parenthood of Southern New England,  CT Psychological Association  and dozens of students, parents and school administrators who recounted their own experiences with bulling and the effects of bullying.

The legislation passed multiple committees, the Connecticut State Senate and the Connecticut House of Representatives

As the Vice President of the United States, Joe Bidden, would say…it was a “Big F***ing Deal.”

But the vital report required by Public Act 11-232 was never forthcoming.

Yet the law required the report be given to the Legislature.

And the report would certainly have contained vitally important information.

But the report is nowhere to be found!

Making the whole situation even more disturbing is the fact that just last week, with extraordinary bipartisan fanfare, Governor Malloy and the Connecticut General Assembly passed and signed into law Connecticut’s response to the Newtown tragedy.

In addition to what is being described as the nation’s toughest gun control law, the measure included a series of provisions designed to create safer school environments.

Leading the way is Section 89 of the new gun control and school safety bill.  It seeks to strengthen Connecticut’s anti-bullying and school climate laws by requiring the State Department of Education to do more to determine what schools are doing, identify best practices, to provide training to  school districts and generally ensure that schools are doing everything they can to create safer learning environments for their students.

And the cornerstone of that new effort is?

(You can guess what’s coming)

The report that the State Department of Education was supposed to produce on a biennial basis must now be produced on an annual basis.

The VERY REPORT that the Governor and General Assembly are expecting to use on an annual basis to track the school safety elements of this new legislation is the VERY REPORT that Commissioner Pryor failed to produce despite the law requiring him to do so.

All the speeches, all the reporters, all the cameras, all the publicity and neither the Governor nor his Commissioner of Education bothered to admit or explain how it is possible that Commissioner Pryor and the Malloy Administration failed to fulfill the existing law on creating a safer school climate.

The President of the United States is coming to Connecticut to get in on the act.  He will undoubtedly use Connecticut’s new law as a clarion call for action in Washington.

Let’s just hope that no one tells him that inside this new law are elements of the very problem that people find so frustrating.  As we have all come to recognize, it doesn’t do any good to have strong laws, if you have leaders who are unable or unwilling to enforce those laws.

So I ask again…Commissioner Pryor, where is the State Department of Education’s mandated report on school safety and bullying and why wasn’t it released, as legally required, no later than February 1, 2012?

News Flash: What the Hell is going on…Malloy snubs nose at Connecticut law

Earlier today, Connecticut’s Board of Regents for Higher Education met and voted to forward three names to Governor Malloy with the request that he pick one to serve as President of the combined State University and Community College System.

But the fact is that neither the Board of Regents nor the Governor has the authority to make the choice in this way.

According to Connecticut law, the Governor nominates the majority of the members of the Board of Regents and, according to the new Board of Regents law passed in 2011, “The Governor shall appoint the chairperson of the board…”

However when it comes to choosing the President of the Connecticut Board of Regents system, the law is absolutely and completely clear.

Section 10a-1b of the Connecticut State Statutes reads, “(a) The Governor shall appoint an interim president of the Board of Regents for Higher Education who shall serve as president until a successor is appointed and confirmed. On or after January 1, 2012, the president of the Board of Regents for Higher Education shall be recommended by the board and appointed by the Governor…”

Governor Malloy did appoint an interim President who was forced to resign after it was discovered that he inappropriately provided hundreds of thousands of dollars in bonuses to his staff.

And now it is “on or after January 1, 2012.”

The law is that, “the president of the Board of Regents for Higher Education shall be recommended by the board and appointed by the Governor…”

According to a story that has been posted on the CTMirror website, the Chairman of the Board of Regents, appointed by Malloy, said that the board sent three names for Governor Malloy to pick from following “a request from the governor’s chief of staff to do so.”

The CT Mirror reports that Board of Regents Chairman Lewis Robinson said, “Which ever one he chooses, we have a fine leader…I think all three are outstanding. I am excited.”

But as the CT Mirror goes on to note, “State law requires the board to recommend “the president” to the governor. The board’s decision was announced during a two-minute public meeting following an hour-long meeting of the board behind closed doors.”

“The governor had requested three. And I thought as a courtesy or respect to his office, it would be appropriate to accede to that wish,” Robinson told the CT Mirror.

But the law is the law.

And, this is a law that the Governor’s Chief of Staff helped write and personally lobbied.

If the Governor and General Assembly meant to have the Board of Regents forward three names to a sitting governor so that the governor could then wheel and deal, they would have done that.

Instead it was written in a way similar to the law for the University of Connecticut.

Connecticut law has always been clear that it is not the role of politicians to decide which academic should run our institutions of higher education.

Instead, the approach has always been that governors nominate and legislatures approved the members of the various boards who then have the duty to make the key personnel decisions removed, or at least somewhat, from the realm of partisan and personal politics.

The debate about how best to choose the President of the Board of Regents took place two years ago.  A process was decided and that process was put into law.

That process provided that the Board of Regents would go through the selection process and choose who they deemed to be the best person for the job…and the governor would then appoint that person to the post.

The law is the law.

The Chairman of the Board of Regents had an obligation to tell Governor Malloy that the Board was legally obligated to follow the law.

The Board of Regents itself was obligated to tell the Governor that the Board was legally obligated to follow the law.

And Governor Malloy and his Chief of Staff should never have requested that the Board of Regents do anything but follow the law.

As citizens of the state of Connecticut we are left wondering…

What will it take for the Governor of this state to admit that even he is not above the laws of Connecticut?

Meanwhile, Connecticut’s Attorney General should be on the phone right now ordering the Board of Regents to re-convene and conduct themselves in a manner that fulfills their duties under the laws of Connecticut, regardless of what the Governor has asked them to do.

You can find the CT Mirror story here:  http://www.ctmirror.com/story/19641/governor-will-get-pick-next-college-president

Pesticides: A school child’s best friend

In 2010, New York State passed the Child Safe Playing Field Act, legislation that banned the application of pesticides on the play areas of all schools, pre-K through 12th grade.

The New York bill started out as a ban on all outdoor school grounds, but it was narrowed to cover only school playgrounds and playing fields.  It also allows “emergency application of pesticides for infestations.”

Here in Connecticut, pesticides have been banned on school play areas, but only for pre-k through 8th grade.

A bill was introduced this year, House bill 6385, to expand the ban on pesticides to high schools.  The bill passed the Education Committee but it now appears that legislation will be changed into a “task force study bill.”

When in doubt, call for a study. Continue reading “Pesticides: A school child’s best friend”

Heck, with an average age of 75, retired teachers may not even remember it was Malloy’s proposal

Last month, in a post entitled, Define fiscally and morally irresponsible? Malloy’s plan for older, retired teachers. Wait, What? readers had a chance to learn about Governor Malloy’s budget proposal to eliminate the state’s contribution to the retired teacher’s health insurance fund. 

The fund pays a portion of the health insurance premiums of retired teachers.  The bulk of the cost still rests on the individual teachers.

The Legislature’s Appropriations Committee will be holding a public hearing on Malloy’s proposal tomorrow.

Malloy’s plan would force the Connecticut Teacher Retirement Board to spend the existing fund down to almost zero over the next two years.

According to an article in yesterday’s CTMirror, while Malloy’s plan would “save the state” $70.7 million in the upcoming FY14-FY15 biannual budget, but it would “put the plan’s funding at a ‘dangerous level in two years.”

Why take such a fiscally irresponsible action you ask?

Because eliminating the contribution would make the state budget look more balanced during the next gubernatorial election cycle, although the “rob Peter to pay Paul” approach would require a massive boost in the state contribution to the teacher’s retirement fund in FY 16, the year after the next election. Continue reading “Heck, with an average age of 75, retired teachers may not even remember it was Malloy’s proposal”

One Adam-12, One Adam-12, we have a COI in progress

COI as in Conflict of Interest…

(Written by Jonathan Pelto and Wendy Lecker)

Yesterday, the Connecticut State Department of Education held an eight-hour training session for elected officials, administrators and parents associated with the “turnaround” schools that make up the Commissioner’s Network.

Among various education reformers, the “training event” featured none other than the Jumoke Academy’s CEO Michael Sharpe and COO Andrea Comer.  They explained the theory and practice behind the corporate education reform’s successful privatization movement.  Not only does Jumoke Academy collect millions of taxpayer dollars as a result of their Hartford-based charter school, but they are now collecting a state-funded management fee of $345,000 a year to run “The Jumoke Academy at Milner,” the former Hartford elementary school that was given to Jumoke as part of the Commissioner’s Network.

Flush with public funds, this private non-profit corporation has even started a new charter school management company called FUSE, Inc.

Tomorrow, the Connecticut House of Representatives may take up House Joint Resolution No. 75. , A resolution confirming Governor Malloy’s nomination of ANDREA COMER (Jumoke’s COO) to serve as a member of the State board of Education.

Is it a conflict of interest for the COO of a charter school company to sit on the State Board of Education where she will vote on a variety of measures that will directly help Jumoke and other charter schools in the state?  Not in Malloy’s mind.

Under Connecticut law, it would be conflict if she was President or Senior Vice President or Treasurer of Jumoke, but because the law doesn’t specifically use the term Chief Operating Officer, the Office of State Ethics says there is no legal conflict.

But of course there is a conflict of interest.

As Wait, What? readers learned in a recent post entitled Malloy nominates charter school corporate officer to Connecticut State Board of Education, Andrea Comer worked for Charter School Management company, Achievement First, Inc., a company co-founded by Connecticut Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor, from  2009 to 2011 and started with Fuse/Jumoke Academy  in 2012.

Just a few weeks ago, Comer came before the legislature’s Appropriations Committee saying that she was representing “Jumoke Academy and its charter management organization FUSE, as its Chief Operating Officer…”

As a member of the State Board of Education, Comer will be voting on a wide variety of issues directly and indirectly affecting the profitability of the company she works for and Connecticut’s other charter schools.

Her boss, Michael Sharpe is not only the CEO of Jumoke Academy but has served as the President of the Connecticut Charter School Network, one of the organizations that is registered to lobby for charter schools.

Comer claims she has no conflict of interest despite the fact that she will be voting to review and reauthorize Jumoke’s Charter, review and vote on issues relating to the Jumoke Academy at Milner, review and vote on any requests by Jumoke Academy to expand, and vote on all regulations and funding decisions for Connecticut’s charter schools.

And those conflicts will occur on a continuous basis.

Just the other day, Jumoke’s Michael Sharpe was testifying before the General Assembly.  In a response to a question about how things were going with Jumoke’s takeover of the Milner School, he let slip a most interesting comment.  Sharpe said, “We’re actually extending it a little bit further in that Jumoke Academy has committed to working with the City of Hartford and possibly taking over schools like Milner School in a fee structure that allows us to help the City and the City also help our bottom line.”

Be sure to check back, because in the coming days we’ll be learning more about this secret deal between Sharpe, Jumoke and some officials within the City of Hartford.

These deals may very well have to go before the State Board of Education for approval where education reformers like Governor Malloy and Commissioner Pryor will count on the support of the newest member of the State Board of Education, who also just happens to be Fuse/Jumoke’s Chief Operating Officer.

Every day it becomes more and more apparent that Governor Malloy’s definition of following the law doesn’t actually include following the “spirit” of that law.

It will be interesting to see if any legislators are willing to stand up and speak out against Malloy’s nomination of Andrea Comer for a seat on the State Board of Education.

Define fiscally and morally irresponsible? Malloy’s plan for older, retired teachers.

There are a lot of crazy, irresponsible and down-right mean things in Governor Malloy’s budget proposal, but his plan to totally eliminate Connecticut’s contribution to the retired teachers’ health insurance fund may very well take the cake.

For nearly sixty years, the State of Connecticut has been helping retired teachers acquire health insurance. 

Prior to 1986, active teachers did not pay into the Federal Medicare system, so when they retired, they didn’t qualify for Medicare, the primary health insurance system for older Americans. 

Furthermore, since teacher salaries were historically so low prior to the educational enhancement act of 1986, older teachers were retiring with very small pensions.  With no Medicare and limited incomes, few could afford the most basic level of health insurance coverage, without some type of subsidy.

For nearly 4 decades, the State of Connecticut utilized a variety of different mechanisms to help these older, retired teachers get some health insurance.  In 1991 it settled on the creation of the Retired Teachers Health Insurance Fund. 

To fund the program, active teachers contribute 1.2 percent of their income into the health fund.  This year that amounts to about $45 million.

The premiums that retired teachers pay for their insurance brings in about $37 million.

And state law required that the State of Connecticut contribute 33 percent of the cost of a Medicare supplement plan into the Insurance Fund.

Together these funds were used to help retired teachers get health insurance through the Teacher’s Retirement Board or through their last employing board of education.  The subsidy isn’t much, only $110 per month, and despite the massive increase in health insurance premium costs, the subsidy hasn’t been increased since 2000.  The Teachers Retirement Board has determined that the $110 subsidy “now covers “on average” only 14% of the monthly premium for the retiree, further eroding the value of the retiree’s pension.

But as bad as things have become, even the $110 helped a little as these retired teachers were forced to shell out of their own pockets an additional $500 to $900 a month to buy insurance through their former boards of education.

Meanwhile, some towns are engaging in a whole separate effort to change the rules and unfairly force teachers off their municipal plans, but I’ll cover that growing problem under a separate post.

In any case, for good or for bad, the present system has been functioning fairly well. 

And then to balance the state budget in Fiscal year 2010 and 2011, Governor Rell and the Democrats decided to insert language that allowed the state to forgo any contribution for two years.  The lack of funding created a situation that began to derail the financial stability of the Retired Teachers Health Insurance Fund. 

When Governor Malloy was sworn in, rather than recommit the state to the appropriate level of funding, he proposed shifting the burden onto the backs of the retired teachers.  The Legislature rightfully rejected the move, but “compromised” by agreeing to only allocate 25% of the value of a Medicare supplement plan rather than the 33% required by the law.

While the state did deposit $35 million in Fiscal Year 2012 and $18 million in Fiscal Year 2013, by refusing to deposit the appropriate amount the Fund was, yet again, undermined.

And then came this year…

Malloy went for broke and proposed simply making no payments what-so-ever into the fund.

Irresponsible
Outrageous
Inappropriate
Incredible
Breathtaking

This Governor, who ran on a platform of fiscal responsibility, proposing that the state simply forgo putting $70 million into the Retired Teachers Health Insurance Fund.

Here are the facts;

In 2012 the Teacher Retirement Board health plan was serving 18,804 retired teachers

In 2012, the Teacher Retirement Board was also paying the town subsidy on behalf of 16,725 retired teachers.

The average age of the retired teacher on the Teacher Retirement Board’s plan is 75 years old.

These teachers received a $0 cost of living adjustment in their pensions in 2010 and 2011.

The Governor’s plan is simply outrageous.

Oh, and by the way, the General Assembly’s Appropriations Committee is holding a public hearing today on Malloy’s Teachers Retirement Health Care proposal.

Appropriations Committee Public Hearing

Thursday, February 21
Elementary & Secondary Education (Room 2D)
2:00- 2:30 PM Teachers’ Retirement Board
2:30- 3:00 State Library
3:00- 4:30 Department of Education
Public Budget Hearings (Room 2C) 6:00 PM