Oh for crying out loud – Here comes Malloy on Teacher Appreciation Week

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Dannel “Dan” Malloy holds the title of the most (or 2nd most) anti-teacher Democratic Governor in the nation.  (New York’s Andrew Cuomo keeps trying to push Malloy out of the top spot).

But in a “have you no shame” moment, the politician who said that that all teachers had to do was show up for four years to get tenure and that he doesn’t mind having teachers teach to the test, as the long as the test scores go up, Tweeted a picture of himself holding a “#ThankaTeacher” sign while declaring it Teacher Appreciation Week in Connecticut.

 

Malloy Teacher Appreciation Week

Malloy, whose unfair, inappropriate and faulty teacher evaluation system is causing havoc in Connecticut’s public schools, along with his unending commitment to the Common Core and the absurd Common Core Testing Scheme, proclaimed May 5-9, 2014 as National Teacher Appreciation Week in the State of Connecticut.

Celebrating his commitment to more testing and less learning, Malloy said,

“An educator’s ability to nurture student potential, ignite a love of learning, and encourage critical thinking is an unbelievable gift fundamental to the success of our democracy and our economy,” said Governor Malloy. “I’m envious of teachers’ ability to impact young people and their futures. Providing learning opportunities that level the playing field and give students a leg upis an issue very dear to my heart, one that I have been committed to for most of my career in public service. I am proud of the historic step Connecticut took this month in passing legislation that will expand high-quality early education for thousands of young childrenwho would otherwise enter primary school already behind. As Governor, I will remain committed to supporting teachers who are working hard in classrooms across Connecticut to put our students on a path to success.”

The press release went on to quote Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman and Malloy’s corporate education reform industry mouthpiece, Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor.

And then to add insult to injury…

And to highlight the complete absurdity of Malloy’s proclamation, the Governor further undermines the credibility of the union leadership that represents Connecticut’s public school teachers by including the following breathtakingly stupid quote from Stefan Pryor,

“As we work together towards higher expectations and improved outcomes for our students, we will continue listening to teachers, inviting their ideas and incorporating their feedback as we go. I would like to specifically note that I am very grateful for our partnership with the leaders of the American Federation of Teachers-Connecticut and the Connecticut Education Association, who always ensure that teachers’ voices are heard.”

No, you actually can’t make this **** up!

Teachers: Don’t Give Up (Please Don’t Give Up)

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Yesterday was an especially difficult day for many public school teachers (and students) in Connecticut and across the country. 

The  corporate education reform industry’s war on public education and public school teachers took a major step forward with the introduction of the new Common Core Smarter Balanced Field Test of a test.

Late in the day, one Connecticut teacher described the scene in her classroom as more than half of the 8 and 9-year-old students began to panic, and many started crying, when they couldn’t log onto the “test of a test.”

Even after spending hundreds of millions, the Common Core test is far from being ready to use.

In another school, a teacher reported the anger and frustration on the part of students and the teacher when the Common Core Smarter Balanced Field Test suddenly crashed with 45 minutes left before the testing period was supposed to conclude.

And a third teacher wrote to say that she managed to hold back her tears and frustration until she got home last night.

Meanwhile as reported in the Washington Post and on Diane Ravitch’s blog,

“Susan Sluyter is a veteran teacher of young children in the Cambridge Public Schools who has been connected to the district for nearly 20 years and teaching for more than 25 years. Last month she sent a resignation letter ( “with deep love and a broken heart”) explaining that she could no longer align her understanding of how young children learn best in safe, developmentally appropriate environments with the testing and data collection mandates imposed on teachers today.

Here in Connecticut, anecdotal data continues to flow in from around the state that record numbers of veteran teachers will be retiring and resigning at the end of the school years.

The devastation taking place in our public schools is a direct result of the policies being pushed by Governor Malloy, his Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, and their band of corporate education reform industry allies and thugs.

Instead of having the courage to face the realities of inadequate funding, growing poverty among students, an increased number of students facing English language barriers and more under-served students with special education needs, Malloy, Stefan Pryor and their ilk have turned to the snake oil salesman to institute a set of developmentally inappropriate Common Core Standards, an absurd and unfair Common Core Testing Scheme and an unfair and detrimental teacher evaluation system that relies on those faulty Common Core tests.

The chaos in our public schools is a direct result of the “education reforms” Governor Malloy pushed through the Connecticut General Assembly in 2012.

A prime directive of Malloy’s approach has not only been to destroy the teaching profession but to undermine the rights of parents.  In fact, Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Steven Pryor, has spent millions in taxpayer funds to mislead parents into thinking they did not even have the right to opt their children out of the detrimental Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Field Test of a test.

Their claims are about what parents and the state could or could not do have been consistently false.  As if to reiterate just how far off-base Malloy and his team have been, the Indiana Legislature recently dropped the whole Common Core program completely.

But here in Connecticut, the Malloy initiatives go forward despite a complete lack of evidence that they will have any positive impact on the quality Connecticut’s public education system.

And as a result of their arrogance and stupidity, Connecticut’s children and teachers suffer.

The sad fact is that Connecticut’s teachers, like the long-term unemployed, the working poor and the broader middle class are seeing first-hand the impact of a government that has gone amok and elected and appointed officials who have lost their ability to represent the people they swore to serve.

It is nothing short of a sad and disgusting state of affairs.

It is impossible to accurately describe the conditions in the trenches as Connecticut’s teachers fight to provide children with a safe, healthy and comprehensive educational experience.

In the face of our government’s policies, the desire to give up is understandable.

On behalf of all of us who honor teachers and the teaching profession, we hope teachers will not give up but will help us fight back against these bad public policies.

As teachers grapple with the reality of the situation, the words of a song come to mind.  It was written by my favorite musical artist, Peter Gabriel, and the lyrics are as follows.

 “Don’t Give Up” (By Peter Gabriel, ft. Kate Bush)

in this proud land we grew up strong
we were wanted all along
I was taught to fight, taught to win
I never thought I could fail

no fight left or so it seems
I am a man whose dreams have all deserted
I’ve changed my face, I’ve changed my name
but no one wants you when you lose

don’t give up
‘cos you have friends
don’t give up
you’re not beaten yet
don’t give up
I know you can make it good

though I saw it all around
never thought I could be affected
thought that we’d be the last to go
it is so strange the way things turn

drove the night toward my home
the place that I was born, on the lakeside
as daylight broke, I saw the earth
the trees had burned down to the ground

don’t give up
you still have us
don’t give up
we don’t need much of anything
don’t give up
’cause somewhere there’s a place
where we belong

rest your head
you worry too much
it’s going to be alright
when times get rough
you can fall back on us
don’t give up
please don’t give up

‘got to walk out of here
I can’t take anymore
going to stand on that bridge
keep my eyes down below
whatever may come
and whatever may go
that river’s flowing
that river’s flowing

moved on to another town
tried hard to settle down
for every job, so many men
so many men no-one needs

don’t give up
’cause you have friends
don’t give up
you’re not the only one
don’t give up
no reason to be ashamed
don’t give up
you still have us
don’t give up now
we’re proud of who you are
don’t give up
you know it’s never been easy
don’t give up
’cause I believe there’s a place
there’s a place where we belong

Here is a link to the song: http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/petergabriel/dontgiveup.html

Here is a link to a video of one of his performances:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VjEq-r2agqc

When it comes to our children, our teachers, our public schools and the future of our democratic society, the most important issue of the 2014 election is pushing back the corporate education reform industry and taking back control of our public schools.

And as we know in Connecticut, the battle is not a partisan one.  With Democratic governors like Dannel Malloy, the fight is not against Republicans or Democrats but against those who have been bought up or aligned themselves with the corporate education reform industry.

Teachers Can Be Bullied Too

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Perhaps it is only a coincidence or maybe it is a sign from the Spirits, but this afternoon’s email contained a piece from Teaching Tolerance, an extraordinary project of the Southern Poverty Law Center. 

The Southern Poverty Law Center is known for its courageous and historic efforts to end discrimination and segregation in our nation.  Teaching Tolerance is one of the center’s many projects and is a “a place for educators to find thought-provoking news, conversation and support for those who care about diversity, equal opportunity and respect for differences in schools.”

Today’s Teaching Tolerance bulletin included a commentary piece entitled; Teachers Can Be Bullied Too.”

The author wished to remain anonymous, but their message has become a familiar one.

“I sat in the department meeting paralyzed by shock as the department head railed about an administrative “crackdown” on nonconformist teachers. Glaring across the room at me, she said, “We all need to be teaching the same thing at the same time. And people who don’t like it need to get out.

This outburst wasn’t the first attack on my teaching. This teacher had gone out of her way to make me feel incompetent or fearful of losing my job several times…

[…]

After an attack, I would feel depressed, physically sick with anxiety for days. These emotions were taking over my life—until I recognized what was happening. My veteran department head (1) had more power than I did, (2) aggressively tried to intimidate me, and (3) repeated her behavior over time. After several cycles of this I was able to call it what it was: bullying.  She was bullying me.

Once I realized what was happening, I also realized I was not alone. TES Connect, an education website based in the UK, reports that one out of three teachers says he or she has experienced bullying at work. When we talk about eradicating bullying for our students, we also need to talk about confronting it amongst the faculty.

Identifying the bullying gave me direction and helped me put my self-doubt to rest. I started drawing parallels between my story and the bullying incidents I stopped in the school hallways and in my classroom. I realized that the same rules and ideas we give our kids to prevent and stop bullying apply to adult situations as well. And I started gathering my resources.

Bullying victims need allies. When I’m helping a student deal with bullying, I address the situation with school administrators and the guidance department to develop a comprehensive plan. I also provide the student with resources like the GLSEN website or novels like The Revealers. When targets of bullying feel supported, they are better able to empower themselves.

[…]

I also thought about the companionship and space I extend to my students who experience bullying; validation helps them to feel visible and stay solution oriented.

[…]

Many teachers who experience bullying at work simply leave; others detach so much from their work that their students suffer. I hope that including adult-on-adult bullying in our discussion during National Bullying Prevention Month and throughout the year can support a more comprehensive approach to creating (and modeling) supportive school climates for everyone. It behooves school leadership to protect the entire educational community from bullying—teachers included.

The Teaching Tolerance piece is a powerful reminder that teachers, as well as students, are bullied.

As What, What? readers know bullying is one of the most prevalent tactics used by those who are advocating for the education reform industry.  Lacking any evidence that their so-called “reforms” are working, many in the corporate education reform movement resort to bullying as a way to force the changes that are presently threatening the quality of education in our public schools.

Bullying is bullying.

This is a good article to keep around.

You can read the entire piece at: http://www.tolerance.org/blog/teachers-can-be-bullied-too?elq=1b57116be81f4fd9bd0e9829537183fe&elqCampaignId=172

Will Bridgeport’s teacher negotiations be another chapter in Malloy’s Waterloo?

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Many school teachers have already decided that they won’t be voting for Governor Malloy if he runs again…

And those who have yet to make up their minds may join their colleagues in voting against Malloy as they watch Malloy’s allies scapegoat teachers in the upcoming Bridgeport teacher contract negotiations.

As the Connecticut Post recently explained, “Talks to change what Mayor Bill Finch and school board Chairman Kenneth Moales Jr. have called the worst teacher’s contract” have begun in Bridgeport.

Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch, Bridgeport Board of Education Chairman Kenneth Moales Jr. and Bridgeport’s faux superintendent of schools Paul Vallas have all been leading voices for Governor Malloy, Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor and the rest of the corporate education reform industry in Connecticut.

Outrageous, insulting and irresponsible rhetoric has been one of their primary weapons.

Every school teacher in Connecticut recalls Governor Malloy’s comment that teachers need only show up for four years to get tenure and few will forget that it was Malloy who said that he didn’t mind requiring teachers to teach to the test as long as test scores went up.

As Wait, What? readers know, Finch and Moales have had their own share of incredible statements.

Calling the present Bridgeport contract the “worst teacher’s contract” is just one more example.

Meanwhile, both Finch and Moales have ducked the fact that they are violating Connecticut state law by allowing the City of Bridgeport to fail to meet Connecticut’s minimum budget expenditure law.

And Bridgeport’s failure to allocate sufficient funds for its public schools is not only hurting the quality of education for Bridgeport’s children but will cost Bridgeport taxpayers millions unless Finch can get Malloy, Pryor and the Connecticut General Assembly to exempt them from having to follow the laws that apply to every other Connecticut community.

But instead of dealing with the financial crisis that they are creating, Finch and the other Malloy supporters in Bridgeport are going to try to create a diversion by making the teachers, the Bridgeport Education Association and the teacher’s contract the “big issue” of the year.

As the Connecticut Post article reveals, when Finch presented his budget to the newspaper, “Finch said he was planning to count on Vallas to radically change the current teacher’s union contract.”

Finch told the Connecticut Post, “I am working very closely with Vallas. He’s never seen a contract as bad as this…We need major concessions in that contract and we are prepared to go to whatever extent to get them.”

  • Worst contract Vallas has ever seen?
  • “We need major concessions in that contract and we are prepared to go to whatever extent to get them.”

School teachers across Connecticut recognize that this hyperbole is so absurd that it actually makes it very clear just what these education reform industry representatives are actually pushing.

As the 2014 gubernatorial election approaches, let no one fool themselves.

Governor Malloy has aligned himself with Stefan Pryor, Bill Finch, Kenneth Moales, Paul Vallas and Steven Adamowski and these individuals are engaged in an all-out war to blame teachers and undermine teacher’s collective bargaining rights.

There is simply no doubt that Governor Malloy’s education reform bill was the most anti-teacher, anti-union “reform bill” introduced by any Democratic governor in the nation.

That same mentality is driving Finch, Moales and Vallas in Bridgeport.

The political reality is that as a result of these developments, Bridgeport’s teacher contract negotiations could very well be the nail in Malloy’s political coffin, if it hasn’t already been nailed shut.

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

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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

Governor Malloy: Dedicated to alienating the Democratic base?

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Watching the Malloy administration at work, it almost seems that the Governor and his senior appointees are constantly working to alienate the base of the Democratic Party.

As a Democrat, it is not only disturbing to watch but their actions hurt the Democratic Party and further jeopardize the Governor’s re-election chances.  An elected official has an obligation to represent everyone, but America’s democratic political system is built around a nominating and election process that requires a committed base of supporters who will work hard on behalf of their candidate.

The transformation from Dan Malloy, the candidate, to Dannel Malloy the Governor is a case study in how to leave your base behind.  In his first year the target was state employees.  In his second year it was teachers.  Both years, those who believe in the right to collectively bargain rightfully felt under assault.

The latest example arose last night in the Town of Windham, Connecticut, when Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor’s new PowerPoint on his Commissioner’s Network was handed out.

The presentation includes a particularly insulting approach to the “Election-to-Work” process that is included in Governor Malloy’s education reform bill.

Election-to-Work and Right-to-Work are two very different concepts on the collective bargaining continuum.

Right-to-Work provisions prohibit, as a matter of law, collective bargaining agreements that require employees to join unions, pay union dues or fees or participate in union activities in any way. Right-to-Work laws exist in 24 states and are seen as one of the most serious attacks that anti-union forces are mustering in their anti-collective bargaining efforts.

Election-to-Work is a very different concept.  Election-to-Work agreements provide a mechanism for a group of employees to work under a different or special set of rules from those provided for in the basic collective bargaining agreement.

Election-to-Work agreements have been used in a variety of school districts around the nation, including in New Haven, to promote pilot projects that lengthen the school day or year or outline duties and obligations that administrators and teachers have beyond those in the standard contract.

Election-to-Work agreements are a product of the school district and the teacher unions coming together to develop and agree upon the key elements that will be implemented in an effort to introduce new strategies and techniques in some schools and districts.  It is the way to include, not exclude teachers and their unions from the process.

One of the things that made Governor Malloy’s education reform bill the most anti-teacher, anti-union initiatives of any Democratic governor in the nation was his proposal that collective bargaining be completely prohibited in schools that became part of the Commissioner’s Network (also called turnaround schools).

Instead of sticking with that concept, Democrats in the legislature removed the anti-collective bargaining language and replaced it with a system that allows schools and unions to develop Election-to-Work agreements.

By the end of the process, the actual new law read;

“Nothing in this section shall alter the collective bargaining agreements applicable to the administrators and teachers employed by the local or regional board of education, subject to the provisions of sections 10-153a to 10-153n, inclusive, of the general statutes, and such collective bargaining agreements shall be considered to be in operation at schools participating in the commissioner’s network of schools, except to the extent the provisions are modified by any memorandum of understanding between the local or regional board of education and the representatives of the exclusive bargaining units for certified employees, chosen pursuant to section 10-153b of the general statutes, or are modified by a turnaround plan, including, but not limited to, any election to work agreement pursuant to such turnaround plan for such schools and negotiated in accordance with the provisions of section 20 of this act.”

While the language is a little verbose, it is actually pretty simple.

If a school becomes part of the Commissioner’s Network, collective bargaining agreements CONTINUE, but a Memorandum of Understanding can be negotiated between the board of education and the union that allows for an Election-to-Work alternative agreement to created.

It was a compromise that recognized the important role teachers and their unions need to play in the development of turnaround plans for schools that become part of the Commissioner’s Network.

So now we turn to the new presentation created by Malloy’s Education Commissioner and presented last night in Windham.

The Presentation includes a page that reads, in part, “Turnaround plans may include proposals for…Hiring and reassigning teachers and administrators, including, but not limited to, approaches such as election to work.”

A footnote note adds, “Modifications to collective bargaining agreements must be negotiated on an expedited basis that concludes, if necessary, in binding arbitration that places the highest priority on the educational interest of the state.  In some instances, only the financial impact of such modifications may be bargained.”

While the Commissioner’s language is not completely wrong, it is misleading and, even more importantly, the concept is presented in a way that undermines the fundamental spirit that legislative Democrats insisted upon — turnaround school plans must be based on communication and cooperation between the state, the local boards of education and the teachers.

The Education Commissioner’s presentation is making the rounds in communities that might become part of the Commissioner’s Network.  Most, if not all of these cities and towns are Democratic communities, with Democratic boards of education and audiences of teachers and citizens who are primarily Democrats.

These communities are also represented by state senators and state representatives who are Democrats and who worked to insert the compromise language that recognized the important role teachers and unions play in the turnaround process.

The compromise language was very clear – Election-to-Work provisions must be negotiated by the board of education AND the unions.

However, the implication of the Education Commissioner’s  phraseology is that any negotiations are almost secondary in nature.

While he admits that modifications must be negotiated, he adds that the process occurs on an expedited basis, that the arbitration process is slanted in the state’s favor and “In some instances, only the financial impact of such modifications may be bargained.”

But that is hardly the case when it comes to the key notion of the previous bullet in his Presentation which is about Election-to-Work provisions.

As a nationally recognized corporate education reformer, Commissioner Pryor’s language is designed to play to his corporate education reform allies, not teachers or those who believe in the important of unions and collective bargaining.

I suppose that it is his right, as Commissioner, to play to whatever audience he deems important, but the cost of that arrogance is that it reiterates the notion that Governor Malloy is failing to take the legislature’s education reform changes seriously and, when given the opportunity, the Malloy administration continues to belittle the role of teachers and unions – EVEN WHEN THE LAW REQUIRES THAT TEACHERS AND UNIONS PLAY A VITAL ROLE IN THE  TURNAROUND PROCESS.

Will the majority of voters notice the nuance of this issue?  NO

Will teachers and union members notice the unnecessary and misleading nature of Pryor’s language?  YES

It is, when all is said and done, yet another example of Governor Malloy’s unwillingness or inability to recognize the importance of the Democratic base to the electoral process.

Note:   Commissioner Pryor’s Powerpoint presentation was handed out in the Windham Board of Education packet last night.  If you’d like to see it, drop me a line.  It is a big file.

Teachers are True First Responders… (While State’s fiscal problems remain all too real)

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Friends;

It is so hard to come to grips with the events of Friday, especially for those of us who have school aged children and live in Connecticut.  The evil and inhumanity, alongside the stories of courage.  And overarching all is the sense of shared sadness and compassion for those who have lost a loved one.

There are so many questions, and so few answers.

But inaction is not one of the solutions.  Demanding appropriate gun control laws, honoring, enhancing and protecting our schools and our teachers, and making better use of resources to create a more justice and caring society are all parts of a broader effort to stand up to the evil and problems that seek to tear us down.

I haven’t written since Friday since it was hard to know what to say.  Below is my latest post.  It falls far short of what I wanted to get across, but it is a start.  I’d be honored if you took the time to read it.  As always, please send me your thoughts and suggestions as collectively seek to find our way forward.

Thank you,  Jonathan

Teachers are True First Responders… (While State’s fiscal problems remain all too real)

As our state and nation work to process the incomprehensible, the first thing that stands out when we look back on the Newtown tragedy, and the many other school shootings that have plagued our nation over the fourteen years since Columbine, is that time after time, faced with unimaginable horror and fear, teachers and other school personnel have inevitably stepped forward to protect their students.

We may never fully know the details about the events that took place in Newtown on Friday, but one thing is absolutely clear and that is that teachers and school personnel gave their lives to save their children.

At times of great tragedy, our elected officials lose their partisan standing and become a voice for the People.  As President Obama shed tears and spoke of his personal heartbreak, he spoke for every single American.

And Governor Dannel Malloy has echoed our collective despair and sadness in the face of this unspeakable horror.

Both the President and the Governor spoke eloquently of the courage and dedication of the teachers and the other adults in the Newtown Elementary School, as well as the first responders.

Praising each is certainly the right thing to do, and nothing should dim the light of honor that shines on the courage and dedication of the police officers, fire fighters and emergency services personnel who rose to the challenge on Friday.  As a result of their training, their character and their honor, we know that first responders run into buildings when everyone else is running out.

But to limit the definition of first responders to just those uniformed people is a mistake, for it must be said that in every sense of the word, teachers are truly first responders as well.

Every single day, thanks to their training, their character and their honor, teachers throughout this country, get up and go into their schools, dedicated to helping their children.

On most days the challenges teachers confront are related to teaching and creating an atmosphere where children can learn and grow.  But while a “regular” school day is the norm, teachers are always engaged in taking whatever steps are necessary to protect their students.

Whether it is simply the day-to-day education process, stepping up to help a child in need,  seeking to instill appropriate behavior, smoothing out an argument, breaking up a fight or stepping into the line of fire, teachers are the ones there who are truly first in line to respond to the conditions around them.

Far too often we take that for granted.

The teachers and school personnel in Newtown, those who gave up their lives and the rest who worked to ensure the safety of their students, are an incredible reminder that teachers deserve praise and respect.

As a result of Friday’s horrors, all of our leaders, regardless of party affiliation or political ideology, correctly speak of the courage of the first responders and the teachers.

But, of course, in truth, we’ve seen a growing trend in which politicians have used teachers as pawns or even scapegoats in a terrible game of political pandering and maneuvering.     Unfair, inappropriate and mean-spirited verbal attacks on teachers and their unions have become commonplace.

It wasn’t long ago that a Democratic state legislator in Rhode Island called teachers, “pigs at the public trough” during a hearing on public employee pension reform, despite the fact that it is federal law that requires that states have public teacher pension programs, and it is federal law that prohibits teachers from participating in social security, meaning those mandated state pensions are their only direct mechanism for retirement payments.

Meanwhile, Republican Governor Chris Christie’s mean-spirited attacks on New Jersey’s teachers have become legendary.

Sadly, earlier this year, as a way to build support for his education reform proposal, even our own Governor, Dannel Malloy, claimed that all a teacher need do is “show up for four years” to be given tenure, when nothing could be further from the truth.

Malloy’s comment was not unlike the one made by Republican wing-nut, Governor Bobby Jindal, who said – during the very same month, when Jindal introduced his own education reform bill – that getting tenure was nothing more than a “reward” for a teacher based on “the length of time they have been breathing.”

These types of comments are not only untrue and idiotic, but they demean teachers and the teacher profession.

All you have to do is show up for four years and you get tenure?

Tenure is nothing more than simply showing up and breathing?

On Friday, 27-year-old Victoria Soto, the smart, wonderful, beautiful, young teacher who gave up her life to save her children must have been pretty close to that four-year mark.

I don’t know if she already had reached it and had received the evaluations needed to become a tenured teacher of if that challenge was still ahead of her, but no one on this earth can say that Victoria Soto simply showed up for work or thought her job as a teacher was simply to be there and breathe.

No, teachers more than simply show up.

And December 14, 2012 will always be remembered, and one of the things that it will be remembered for is that the real truth about teachers and teaching is very different from the made up fictions concocted by the politicians.

Heroes come in many forms.

Heroes are people who dedicate their lives to helping others.

The teachers in Newtown like the police officers, firefighters and emergency personnel who arrived at Sandy Hook Elementary were heroes.

The fact is, most teachers, like most firefighters, most police officers and most emergency personnel are heroes.  They all up every day and take whatever steps are necessary to protect and enhance the lives of the people they are so dedicated to serve.

So next time we talk about first responders, let us not forget that teachers are truly first responders as well.

Meanwhile, here in Connecticut, despite the fact that the grieving process has barely begun, our state’s fiscal crisis remains very real and the Connecticut General Assembly is still scheduled to go into special session on Wednesday to deal with the projected $415 million budget deficit.

The decisions the Governor and legislators make will directly impact tens of thousands of Connecticut residents.

There are some reports that an agreement has been reached, and if so, it probably means significant cuts to vital social and health services, at the very moment we should all understand the importance of these types of services, and redouble our efforts to cut them.

The vast majority of those cuts would be unnecessary if legislators would simply stand up and require that those making more than $1 million pay their fair share in taxes.  The $1.5 billion dollar tax increase proposed by Governor Malloy, and passed by the Connecticut General Assembly, last year, shielded those who make more than $1 million from having to pay a higher tax rate.

Now, by requiring the wealthy to pay their fair share starting in January, Connecticut can put a fairer tax system in place and avert the disastrous cuts that have been proposed.

We have heard wonderful, caring words these last few days from our elected officials.  Those efforts are deeply appreciated.  But now the time for action has come and the question is whether they will use their powers to turn their words into actions.

Check back here at Wait, What? later for updates about the fiscal situation unfolding in Hartford.

Former CT Education Deputy and Stamford Superintendent put on leave in Warwick, RI.

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Thanks to a Wait, What? reader from Rhode Island, I’ve learned that according to press reports, Peter Horoschak, Superintendent of Schools in Warwick, RI, that state’s second largest school district, was put on administrative leave today.  According to the Warwick School Committee’s Vice Chairman, the action was due to a personnel matter.  Superintendent Horoschak reported that he is unaware of what the issue may be.

Few may realize that Horoschak served as the Deputy Commissioner of the Connecticut State Department of Education, and Assistant Secretary of the State Board of Education, in the mid-1970s.  He also served as Superintendent of Schools in Stamford, Connecticut, in the early 1990s.

Horoschak played a key role in the famous 1978 Bridgeport teacher’s school strike, which led to the passage of Connecticut’s landmark 1979 Teacher Collective Bargaining Act, a law that requires that deadlocked teacher contract negations are resolved through binding arbitration and not strikes.

With no mechanism to resolve issues, and strikes illegal, 1,250 Bridgeport teachers went on strike September 6, 1978.  The Bridgeport strike garnered worldwide attention. Bridgeport Superior Court Judge James Henebry ordered that teachers be rounded up and jailed.

In the first week, at least 135 Bridgeport teachers were arrested and taken to the Connecticut National Guard’s Camp Hartell.  Over the 19 day strike, a total of 274 Bridgeport teachers were sent to jail.

Despite efforts by both sides to send the unresolved issues to binding arbitration, the Connecticut court blocked the effort, claiming that binding arbitration was not allowed under Connecticut law.

Following the failure to get the issues to binding arbitration, Horoschak, who was the State Department of Education’s point person on the strike, ordered the parties back to the bargaining table.  With continued pressure from the state, the strike was eventually settled.

However, twenty years later, Bridgeport’s teachers remained the lowest paid in Fairfield County and the second lowest paid public school teachers in Connecticut.

As the Bridgeport Education Association celebrated the strike’s 20th anniversary, Jack Reh, the President of the Bridgeport Education Association, at the time, noted that “16 teachers have resigned to take better-paying jobs in other districts since school opened in August.

Now, 14 years more years have passed and the famous Bridgeport teacher’s strike was 34 years ago.

However, the City of Bridgeport started this school year off with a series of layoffs, including 14 special education teachers.

At the same time, Paul Vallas, Bridgeport’s interim superintendent, and “education reformer extraordinaire,” managed to find about $1 million to pay for a series of consultants who were hired on no-bid contracts.  Further, many of these consultants actually work for Vallas’ private consulting firm; a company that recently signed a $1 million contract to work with schools in Illinois and an $18 million contract to work with 15 schools in Indianapolis.

Despite the publicity about these out-of-state contracts, Bridgeport’s illegal Board of Education made no effort to publicly review the appropriateness of the no-bid contracts.  The new, democratically elected Board of Education has, to date, also overlooked Vallas’ use of no-bid contracts.

Sadly, these issues reflect a broader concern reality about the demise of an active and independent media.  The Connecticut Post, Bridgeport’s newspaper of record, hasn’t even written a story about Vallas’ $18 million dollar contract in Indianapolis, and it is hard to imagine that anyone there or at any Connecticut newspaper, have realized that the Warwick superintendent put on leave today is the same individual who played an important role in the great Bridgeport strike of 1978.

Mr. President, I went ahead and upgraded the shipment to next day, priority delivery.

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“And understand this: If American workers are being denied their right to organize and collectively bargain when I’m in the White House, I’ll put on a comfortable pair of shoes myself, I’ll walk on that picket line with you as President of the United States of America. Because workers deserve to know that somebody is standing in their corner.”

 - Senator Barack Obama • Spartanburg SC • November 3, 2007

 

PS, if they don’t show up by 10am, I’ve got the tracking number

Latest Poll Reveals Governor Malloy’s Public Approval Rating: Incredibly Low

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A new public opinion survey, conducted by Public Policy Polling, a survey research firm from North Carolina, reported today that their recent survey of Connecticut voters revealed that “Dan Malloy continues to be one of the most unpopular Governors in the country in our polling. Only 33% of voters approve of him to 51% who disapprove…”  For the details of the survey see: http://www.publicpolicypolling.com/main/2012/08/connecticut-miscellany.html

The survey found that “Malloy only barely gets over 50% approval even with Democrats, at 52/33. Independents disapprove of him by a more than 2:1 margin, 25/53, and with Republicans he’s at 15/73.”

The survey report concludes that “Malloy would trail a hypothetical GOP opponent for reelection right now by a 46/39 margin.”

But as the press release recognizes, by political standards, there is still “plenty of time” for Malloy to rebuild his support.

That said, the results clearly indicate that his policies and approach to governing have not only alienated the vast majority of Republicans and Unaffiliated voters, but his level of support among Democrats remains at record lows.

As far as the total electorate is concerned, the weak economy, Malloy’s 2011 record tax increase, the state’s on-going budget deficits and the sense that he spends an inordinate amount of time cutting ribbons, attending ground breaking ceremonies and generally acting more like a candidate than a governor are probably some of the biggest factors reducing his level of voter support.

In addition, many voters probably question his frequent out of state trips and non-essential expenditure of state funds.  An ironic example was that the headline beside the news about today’s poll read “Malloy To China: ‘To Put Connecticut On The Map’”.

While people who monitor and run political campaigns would suggest that the overall numbers are very troubling, the real news is Malloy’s the lack of support among Democrats and women.

In a state like Connecticut, where unaffiliated voters make up an increasingly larger proportion of voters, a Democratic candidate must start with the vast majority of Democratic voters and a significant majority of women voters, and then a sufficient number of unaffiliated voters to win.

By comparison, this latest public opinion survey reports that only 52% of Democrats approve of the Governor’s job performance and only 34% of women voters approve of Malloy’s performance.

Unfortunately, the poll does not provide enough information to identify why Malloy’s job performance rating is so low.

However, having studied Connecticut voting patterns over the past four decades, the most likely reason is that Governor Dannel Malloy’s policies and priorities have proven to be very different then the policies and priorities that he had promised when he was candidate Dan Malloy.

The Governor’s systematic attack to undermine and vilify Connecticut’s state employees and teachers are just two examples of where Malloy said one thing during the campaign and then did something completely different when he became governor.

For example, during the campaign Malloy often spoke about the importance of public employees but then last year, he spent much of his time decrying excessive state salaries, pensions and the “work ethic” of state employees.  During the 2011 Legislative Session, Malloy would regularly claim that many state employees received pensions of over $100,000, when the fact, the average state employee pension is less than a third of that amount.

Then this year, Malloy shifted his assault to one that repeatedly attacked Connecticut’s public school teachers.  At one point Malloy claimed that all school teachers had to do was show up at school for 4 years and they’d get tenure, when, teachers and parents know that most teachers work extremely hard, earning every dollar of their salary.

Later during the “education reform” debate, Malloy said that he didn’t mind if Connecticut’s education system focused on “teaching to the test,” as long as the standardized test scores went up.  It was a position that teachers and parents found extremely ignorant and insulting.

Beyond the damage this type of rhetoric has had on his support from state employees, teachers and their families, is the reality that most Democrats believe in the role of public servants and the need for a more active, effective government.

Finally, in addition, Malloy’s decision to oppose any tax increase on those making over $1 million dollars while proposing major tax increases on middle income working families, has left many Democrats disillusioned.

Despite all of the above, it is important to reiterate that considering the next gubernatorial election is more than two years away, the Governor and his team still have time to repair some of their relationships with key Democratic voting segments.

Background Note:  For those who regularly monitor political polling, it is important to recognize that Public Policy Polling uses a somewhat controversial automated telephone interview process.  Voters are called and asked to complete an automated survey.  For example, the recording will read a question and then ask, if you agree with that statement push 1, if you disagree with that statement push 2.  Over the years that have been widespread concern that automated calling is not as accurate as surveys conducted by actually phone operators.  That said, the accuracy of this type of polling has been fairly accurate and many campaigns, organizations and media outlets use an automated polling process on a regular basis.