Friday, March 30, 2012

Malloy Reforms Whipped

“After Governor Dannel Malloy is put through the political grinder by status quo opposition forces that tend to resist his educational reform, he just might begin to feel, perhaps for the first time in his political life, what some Republican governors before him may have felt when faced with an intractable opposition” – Connecticut Commentary, March 8

It was a bit like watching a baby seal being clubbed to death by hunters.

When the leaders of the Education Committee had finished stripping from Governor Dannel Malloy’s education proposals the principle elements of reform, the remaining limp carcass looked very much like a clubbed and skinned Harp Seal.

All the important legislative decisions that shaped the final product concerning the governor’s reforms were made, according to one news report, behind closed doors in a “marathon meeting [that] included the Education Committee co-chairs — Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, D-West Hartford, and Sen. Andrea Stillman, D-Waterford — along with Ojakian and representatives from the two teachers unions.” Mark Ojakian is the governor’s Chief of Staff and, along with Office of Policy and Management (OPM) Secretary Ben Barnes, a chief  representative of the Malloy administration in its frequent negotiations with state unions.  

The Education Committee refused to sign off on the governor’s measures to couple teacher salaries and tenure with student performance, choosing instead to study the measures further, thus packaging the Malloy reforms in dry ice. And later the budget writing committee paired back spending Mr. Malloy had proposed to turn around the state’s 12 poorest performing schools, gutting in half the $22.9 million he had assigned to do the job.

Following the evisceration of Mr. Malloy’s education reforms by the Education Committee, the governor sent a message to his Democratic comrades in the General Assembly expressing his displeasure.

President of the Connecticut American Federation of Teachers Sharon Palmer said the closed door meeting was held at an undisclosed Hartford office building to assure privacy from the prying eyes of Connecticut’s media, among others.

Among the “others” were Republican leaders not invited to the discussions, a sequestration that is becoming a hallmark of the Malloy administration. Republican leaders were also excluded, it will be recalled, from budget shaping negotiations involving leading progressive Democrats in the General Assembly -- which pre-approved an unfinished state budget before deliberations were concluded – gubernatorial factotums and union leaders representing SEBAC, a coalition of unions appointed to negotiate contracts with the Malloy administration.

Since the secret meeting was closed to objective scrutiny, the details later released by interested parties are subject to future verification and perhaps should be taken, as Mark Twain used to say, “with a ton of salt.”

According to information tendered by interested parties, the secret meeting on Saturday began at noon and continued until Sunday at 1:30. Those attending the private session disbursed when it became impossible to achieve agreement on “several particular concerns of teachers, including collective bargaining and labor management,” according to a news report, after which matters were referred to the Education Committee, which “re-worked” the bill, apparently to the satisfaction of teacher union representatives present at the undisclosed meeting.

Communications director for AFT Connecticut Eric Bailey said "Obviously, we think the bill was a lot better than it was when it started. The committee’s work of destruction yet incomplete, Mr. Bailey added, “but there is still room for improvement."

Other groups backing Mr. Malloy’s reforms -- ConnCAN, a pro-education reform group, the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, the Connecticut Association of Schools and the Connecticut Business and Industry Association – were understandably dashed.

"It's really hard to say this is reform and this is what's best when most of the voices were excluded," said, chief executive officer of ConnCAN Patrick Riccards. “The vast majority of stakeholders weren't part of the discussion."

As Mayor of Stamford, Mr. Malloy perhaps had grown use to issuing directives that were in short order applied by his administrative troops, some of whom he took into his administration when he became governor. But he ain’t in Kansas anymore. The General Assembly has for a long while been crowded with union dependent legislative leaders of committees who can easily frustrate gubernatorial designs that disappoint powerful unions.

Managing Editor of the Journal Inquirer Chris Powell points to a lapse in political acumen as the cause of the collapse of Mr. Malloy’s educational reforms. If the governor had linked his education reforms to “the biggest tax increase in state history, making the new money for the government class and government's many dependents conditional on serious reform -- no reform, no money,” his reforms might have survived committee clubbing.

But in budget deliberations with SEBAC, Mr. Malloy gave away the store. His factotums arranged a deal with state unions that was, according to union committed legislators such as Edith Prague, an offer unions would have been insane to refuse.  When you have given up your principle bargaining chips to the house, further negotiations on other matters will leave you destitute.

One lives and learns.  
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