CEA Raises Concerns about School Regionalization, Teacher Pensions, ECS Changes, and More

CEA Raises Concerns about School Regionalization, Teacher Pensions, ECS Changes, and More

CEA's Jeff Leake, Kate Field, Orlando Rodriguez, and Ray Rossomando prepare to testify on a number of proposals with major implications for teachers, students, and school communities.

March 2, 2019

Teachers' livelihoods and retirement security as well as educational outcomes for students are top priorities for the state's largest teachers union. That's why CEA staff and leaders came out to testify before the legislature's Education Committee about various cost-cutting proposals that threaten those very priorities.

'We are fully aware of the need to right Connecticut's financial ship,' CEA President Jeff Leake told the committee, 'but that cannot be done by expecting local governments to fund the necessary payments into the Teachers' Retirement System.' Cities and towns, he reminded lawmakers, are still struggling financially, and shifting the state's responsibility for funding teacher retirement onto municipalities 'is not the answer.' He proposed instead that the Connecticut Lottery be placed into the pension fund as a way of smoothing out payments into the TRS and reducing the state's unfunded liability.

Leake, who served on the governor's transition subcommittee on regionalization, also cautioned lawmakers to look carefully at how regionalization of school districts will impact the quality of education in any given community and to make sure that students and their communities remain at the forefront of any decision.

'We welcome thorough research and discussion of what an ‘optimal' school and district size might be, but we would not welcome a discussion that leads only with the goal of saving dollars,' he said. 'We know that students and parents want neighborhood schools at the center of their earliest education experiences, and we must recognize how valuable and comforting that is to students and their families. We urge decision-makers to ensure that any proposal on this issue enhances the quality of education, avoids increasing class sizes, and ensures that educators, parents, and local leaders have a say in decisions that impact students and their school districts.'

Also testifying on regionalization was CEA Research and Policy Development Specialist Orlando Rodriguez, the organization's chief economist, who reminded legislators that while CEA supports cost-saving measures that enhance educational outcomes, several proposals currently before the Education Committee—specifically Senate Bills 457, 738, and 874—threaten to do just the opposite.

'We are concerned that redistricting or consolidating in way that could result in closing schools and increasing class sizes could negatively impact children, classrooms, teachers, and learning outcomes. When you consider costs, you must also consider educational outcomes. There can be grave long-term social consequences to a cost-only perspective.'

He added, 'For those districts that are smaller, legislators must consider their unique benefits and appeal: local control; elementary children located close to home, in a school familiar to the community; and the greater likelihood of parental involvement.'

ECS funding under threat

On other funding issues, CEA Director of Government Relations Ray Rossomando voiced opposition to an expedited plan for reducing ECS funding to certain towns—a move that he could negatively impact those districts' ability to fund educational programs. He also opposed a measure that would change the criteria for poverty under the ECS formula in such a way that many children from impoverished households would inadvertently not be counted. This shift in criteria, he noted, would result in more children going hungry and the state's poorest school districts receiving less federal and state aid through ECS.

Social Emotional Learning: Taking the Right Approach

In other testimony, CEA Teacher Development Specialist Kate Field, a former teacher and school administrator, raised concerns about mandatory professional development on social emotional learning (SEL).

'Childhood anxiety, stress, aggressive behavior, and trauma are approaching epidemic proportions, and teachers desperately want to learn how to address these problems, because they love their students and want to help them,' she said. 'While CEA strongly supports social emotional learning in schools, however, a professional development mandate without additional supports may be premature. As a former administrator, I understand there are simply not enough hours or enough money to implement all unfunded statutory professional development and in-service requirements with fidelity.'

Field continued, 'For social emotional learning to have a meaningful impact on students and families, it must be implemented strategically. There should first be a plan in place, and everyone from the school custodian to the superintendent should have a role to play. Administrators should be trained first and then teachers and other school personnel, thus ensuring teachers have strong support and guidance not only from their peers and mentors, as called for in the bill, but from school and district leaders as well. Teachers cannot transform school culture singlehandedly; the whole district, indeed the whole community, is essential to ensuring long-term success.'

Field also pointed out that evaluating teachers' performance in implementing SEL strategies is highly problematic.

'The educator performance evaluation system in Connecticut is already overly complicated and burdensome. Any change to this system should first be discussed and mutually agreed upon by the Performance and Evaluation Advisory Committee (PEAC) to ensure all stakeholders have a voice in the process and an opportunity to shape the outcome. Quantifying SEL and incorporating it into an existing performance evaluation matrix is fraught with reliability concerns and risks sabotaging the effort by placing sole responsibility for its success on teachers, rather than making it one metric by which the whole district, including administrators, are held accountable.'

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