Somewhere on the route to education reform Governor Dannel Malloy bumped into Connecticut’s fourth branch of government, teachers unions and their affiliates in the General Assembly, among them the powerful Speaker of the state House of Representatives, Chris Donovan.
Mr. Donovan, the most progressive Speaker since Irv Stolberg departed the General Assembly and left this veil of tears, leapt into politics from a stint as a union representative, and the marks of the union negotiator are etched into the fabric of his being.
Some poor ink stained wretches suspect that the evisceration of Mr. Malloy’s education reforms -- the central pillars of which are frequent teacher evaluations tied to continued employment and teacher salaries tied to student performance – are, at least in part, related to Mr. Donovan’s union affections.
On March 27, two intrepid reporters, Christine Stewart of CTNewsJunkie and Brian Lockhart of the Hearst chain of newspapers, set out probe Mr. Donovan, who this year is running for the U.S. House of Representatives in the 5th District, on the question of a legislative committee’s gutting (Mr. Lockharts term) of the Malloy educational reforms.
“I joined CT News Junkie‘s Christine Stuart in approaching state House Speaker Chris Donovan, D-Meriden this morning at the capitol for his reaction to a legislative committee’s decision to gut Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy’s controversial education reform bill.
“The proposal – particularly changes to tenure (job security) – has been opposed by the very teachers’ unions that have endorsed Donovan’s bid for Congress. So as a key player in Hartford he’s in a sticky spot.
“Here’s what Donovan had to say. To use a school analogy, he was dancing around faster than an elementary student who downed too many juice boxes at snack and desperately wants permission to go to the bathroom.
“Q: What do you think of the education committee’s vote and the changes to the governor’s reform package?
A: Everybody wants the best education for our kids. It’s a process. The committee studied it, they had hearings, they put forward a proposal. I know there’s still going to be more discussion going on. So I think we’re moving forward on education reform.
“Q: Are you generally supportive of the language of the bill? Is there anything you’d like to see changed?
“A: Right now the committee put out its report, put out its bill. We’re going to take a look at that. It’s going to work its way and other caucus members will have a say in what needs to be done. I know there’s going to be further discussions with the governor’s office. So let’s keep the process going and keep pushing for education.
“Q: Are changes to collective bargaining a deal breaker for you?
“A: Right now we have a bill, we’re still talking about it.
“Q: Do you think it’s wise to hold off on the tenure changes and to study them?
“A: What I want – I want an agreement with the governor, the General Assembly, teachers, kids, school systems. That’s what we want.
“Q: But you’re not going to get that.
“A: Hey, that’s what I work for. That’s what I work for every day – to try to get that to happen. And that’s the best solution. Education is so important and so personal to many people that’s the best way to do it – if everybody comes to the table and there’s agreement.
“Q: But just on that tenure issue and the committee’s decision regarding delaying the tenure changes…
“A: All the various groups are talking about possible changes in tenure. Those discussions will take place. They’re taking place now.
“Q: But do you think they should be put off until the next session?
“A: I think there’s going to be – right now that bill, there is currently discussions going on about tenure. I can’t comment yet what’s going to happen at the end but those discussions are happening now.
“Q: Have you heard Governor Malloy express his disappointment in the bill that came out of committee yesterday?
“A: I have not.