Loading...

Follow Pullman & Comley LLC | Federal and Connecticut.. on Feedspot

Continue with Google
Continue with Facebook
or

Valid

An interesting question is now pending before the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”): Are labor disputes at charter schools “sufficiently substantial” to effect interstate commerce?  If the answer is yes then the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”) – the federal law that guarantees most private-sector workers’ collective bargaining rights – will continue to apply to charter schools.  If not, then charter schools will not be subject to the NLRA and charter school employees will be subject to whatever protections they may have under their respective state’s collective bargaining laws, if any.

The NLRB’s ultimate decision on this question may impact Connecticut’s charter schools more than you might think. While state law (Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-66dd) explicitly grants certified school employees (i.e. teachers and administrators) collective bargaining rights, the law is less clear for non-certified charter school employees.  Whether such non-certified employees are covered by the Municipal Employees Relations Act (“MERA”) is an open legal question.  This is important because if such employees are not covered by MERA then whatever the NLRB decides on the “sufficiently substantial” effect on interstate commerce question above could be a big deal for Connecticut’s charter schools.

KIPP Academy NLRB Case

Back in February the NLRB issued an order granting review of an August 2018 decision by the regional director from the NLRB’s Region 2 in New York. The case decided by the regional director – KIPP Academy Charter School, Case No. 02-RD-191760 (2018) – involved a petition by two teachers at a KIPP charter school in the Bronx that sought to decertify their existing union as the exclusive bargaining representative.

The union – the United Federation of Teachers, Local 2 – filed a motion seeking to dismiss the decertification petition on several grounds, one of which was that the NLRB should decline to exercise jurisdiction over the case pursuant to a provision in the NLRA (Section 14(c)(1)) that allows the NLRB to decline jurisdiction when it determines that labor disputes among a category or class of employers does not have a sufficiently substantial effect on interstate commerce to warrant NLRA jurisdiction.

The regional director denied the union’s motion to dismiss, but the union then filed a request for review by the NLRB which, somewhat surprisingly given the NLRB’s prior charter school rulings, agreed to review the case. As a result, the NLRB is now poised to determine whether it should decline jurisdiction over charter schools on a general/class-wide basis.

Prior NLRB Charter School Rulings

Prior to the NLRB’s order granting review of the regional director’s decision in KIPP Academy the question of whether the NLRA applied to charter schools seemed to have been decided.  Back in 2016, the NLRB ruled in two cases – Hyde Leadership Charter School-Brooklyn, 364 NLRB No. 88 (Aug. 24, 2016) and Pennsylvania Virtual Charter School, 364 NLRB No. 87 (Aug. 24, 2016) – that charter schools are in fact employers subject to the NLRA so long as they do not constitute a “political subdivisions” of a state.

In Hyde Leadership and Pennsylvania Virtual cases the then Obama-era NLRB looked to prior NLRB precedent to hold that if a charter school is not “either (1) created directly by the state so as to constitute a department or administrative arm of the government, or (2) administrated by individuals who are responsible to public officials or the general electorate,” Hyde Leadership Charter School-Brooklyn at 3, then the school is not a political subdivision of the state and may be subject to the NLRB.

According to the NLRB, charter approval of Hyde Leadership and Pennsylvania Virtual by the governments of New York and Pennsylvania did not detract from the fact that the schools were in fact created by the private individuals who established their governing documents and submitted their charter applications.  Moreover, according to the NLRB, the fact that New York and Pennsylvania have oversight over charter schools did not mean that the schools’ administrators were responsible to public officials.  To this end, the NLRB analogized charter schools to government contractors who are routinely found to be subject to the NLRA.

Notably in addition to finding that these charter schools were not exempt from the NLRA as political subdivisions, the NLRB also expressly rejected a claim that it should decline jurisdiction on the grounds that charter schools as a class do not have a sufficiently substantial effect on interstate commerce — the exact question the NLRB in KIPP Academy is now revisiting.

What Does it Mean for Connecticut Charter Schools?

As noted above, Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-66dd explicitly provides that certified staff at charter schools have collective bargaining rights pursuant to Connecticut’s Teacher Negotiation Act and further provides that state charter schools act as boards of education for purposes of collective bargaining.  That law also states that certified staff at local charter schools are members of the teachers or administrators bargaining unit for the local or regional school district in which the charter school is situated.

However the collective bargaining status for non-certified employees (i.e. paraeducators, secretaries, custodians, cafeteria workers, nurses, etc.) is much less clear. The Connecticut State Board of Labor Relations has yet to issue a decision addressing whether such employees are covered under MERA, and there is good reason to believe that if and when the Labor Board has the opportunity to address the question it will find that such employees are not covered.  MERA only applies to “municipal employers” a term that refers to political subdivisions of the state.  If the NLRB found that charter schools are not political subdivisions will the Labor Board?

If non-certified employees are not covered by MERA then the NLRB’s decision in KIPP Academy could have pretty big stakes, since the NLRB’s denial of charter school jurisdiction would effectively leave Connecticut’s non-certified charter school employees without collective bargaining rights.  Stay tuned.

Read Full Article
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

We are approaching a time of year where a board of education may have to deal with its long time and (hopefully) beloved superintendent deciding to retire or otherwise move on to another chapter in his or her life. Any feelings of sadness (or any other emotions) must be replaced by the fact that the board now has to hire a new superintendent of schools.  While getting the “right” person is paramount, the board still has to ensure that it complies with everyone’s favorite law, Connecticut’s Freedom of Information Act [“FOIA”].  Here are some practical pointers regarding this process.

  1. Hiring a Search Firm: The board may wish to utilize the services of a search firm to assist it with filling the position.  The board could meet in executive session to a) listen to interested search firm candidates (if there had been a competitive bidding process, with written proposals received from the firms) and then deliberate regarding their proposals, and b) regardless of the process used, discuss draft terms for a contract with a search firm.  Of course, the board’s vote to hire (and enter into a contract with) a search firm must be in public.
  2. “Personnel Search Committees” and the Screening Process: As for its actual search, the board could vote to create a personnel search committee. Such a committee, when formed with respect to an “executive level” position (such as a superintendent), is exempt in its entirety from the FOIA and its open meetings and notice/posting requirements.  The appointment of such a personnel search committee is useful in that it protects the privacy rights of those being interviewed and avoids the need of the board to take official action in narrowing the field of candidates (even to the final recommended candidate) as part of the interview process. The FOIA also protects from disclosure any records of a personnel search committee which would reveal the identity of a candidate (without that candidate’s consent).

The board could a) appoint itself as a personnel search committee, 2) designate one of its standing committees to serve as a search committee, or 3) create a new committee (which could even include non-board members). In addition, even if the board were to appoint itself as a search committee, it could also still designate a subcommittee to conduct a portion of the screening.

PLEASE REMEMBER: Not all gatherings of a board committee ostensibly acting as a search committee will be considered exempt from the FOIA’s meetings and posting requirements.  A personnel search committee is exempt from the FOIA’s requirements for only as long as it is engaging in activities protected by the search committee exception.  Based upon the FOIA, the Freedom of Information Commission [“FOIC”] views the role of a personnel search committee for purposes of this FOIA’s exemption as limited to 1) reviewing resumes, 2) interviewing and screening candidates and 3) considering and recommending the selection and appointment of an individual for the position.

  1. The actual hiring: When the board then considers a recommendation from a personnel search committee to hire a specific candidate, including consideration of the terms of employment, such as salary, for that candidate, it could discuss the possible appointment at a duly noticed meeting in executive session.  Such a discussion would clearly implicate the FOIA’s executive session exception for discussions concerning the appointment or employment of a public employee.  Of course, after deliberating over the specific recommended candidate and contract terms, the board will then have to vote in public to hire the superintendent (with a specific motion that identifies the person being hired) and to enter into a contract.

The benefit of the FOIA’s search committee exemption — especially if the board designates itself as such a committee — is that the actual winnowing down of the applicants, even to the final candidate, can be done in private. However, once you have done that, the “regular” FOIA reemerges, with the need to have specific enough agenda items and public motions and votes, including a) appropriate motions to enter executive session, b) votes to appoint or “elect” a superintendent, and c) votes with respect to the superintendent’s contract.  At this point, private consensus without an actual public vote is improper.

ONE FINAL WARNING: Given the importance of the position that is being filled, it is imperative that the board get this process right.  Without serving as a plug for business for lawyers, this might be a good circumstance to contact your board’s legal counsel to seek advice regarding the proper motions and actions.  It would not be a good start to the superintendent/board relationship for the FOIC to exercise its discretion to declare the board’s votes to hire and enter into a contract with the “new” superintendent to be null and void.

These and other issues are discussed  in more detail in Understanding Connecticut’s Freedom of Information Act, by Mark J. Sommaruga, Esq.  For a copy of this book, please click here.

Please note: this post is adapted from an article written by the author for the March 2019 edition of the CABE Journal.  

Read Full Article
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

As you are aware from our prior posts, the General Assembly’s Education Committee has been quite busy during the 2019 legislative session.  Racing ahead of its deadline, the Committee has approved a final set of bills at its March 29, 2019 meeting (along with follow up meetings on April 8 and 15, 2019).  As you may guess, the topic of “regionalization” (or “shared services”) was the biggest attention grabber.  The following is a brief summary of the bills that the Committee voted favorably on and advanced out of committee at this meeting (and which now await action by the full General Assembly).

ALTERNATIVE EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES: As amended, Senate Bill No. 1023 (“An Act Concerning The Provision Of Alternative Educational Opportunities For Expelled Students By Boards Of Education”) would eliminate the remaining exceptions to the mandate to provide alternative educational opportunities to expelled students (and would even eliminate the ability to make such opportunities contingent upon students meeting certain conditions). As such, any pupil who is expelled shall be offered an alternative educational opportunity, which may be 1) “alternative education”, with an individualized learning plan, if the school district provides such alternative education, or 2) in accordance with standards previously developed by the State Board of Education. In addition, such an opportunity may include placement in an adult education program if the student is at least 18 years of age; any student participating in such an adult education program during a period of expulsion will not be required to “withdraw” from school. In addition, parents and guardians will still have the ability to decline the provision of an alternative educational opportunity for their child.   PLEASE NOTE: a prior provision that would have replaced the State standards with local school district policies was removed from the version of the bill that the Committee approved.

“SHARED SERVICES” AND “REGIONALIZATION”: As amended, Senate Bill No. 874 (“An Act Concerning Education Initiatives And Services In Connecticut”) would create a “Commission on Shared School Services” for the purpose of developing recommendations for the sharing of school services and additional collaborations within and among school districts. The bill specifies the composition of the Commission’s membership, and the State Department of Education would provide administrative support. The Commission may establish subcommittees and working groups of the members, and hold public hearings. Over the next year, the Commission would develop numerous reports concerning existing school districts (including local and regional boards of education, charter schools, incorporated or endowed high schools or academies, the Technical Education and Career System and regional agricultural science and technology education centers). These reports would address the following subjects:

  • the sizes of existing school districts (including enrollment and employees)
  • the types and administrative structures of such districts
  • the number of schools, including building size/capacity, enrollment and grade ranges
  • existing shared services between school districts and employment of superintendents
  • academic and support services provided by school districts

At various points during 2020, the Commission would develop reports reviewing and offering preliminary recommendations concerning the following subjects:

  • additional collaboration school districts and with municipalities
  • the current services provided by regional educational service centers [“RESCs”] and the role of RESCs in shared service efforts
  • existing labor contracts and how future labor contracts should be negotiated as additional education services are shared (and additional collaboration occurs)
  • the establishment of shared school transportation contracts, including time spent by students on school, hours of such transportation services, tiers of schools and any other related issues
  • the development of interscholastic athletic schedules and related issues, including transportation services to interscholastic athletic events and school hours
  • the potential impact and changes to after-school programs and arrangements following the sharing of services, on such issues as transportation and school hours
  • the current school choice program structures and unified enrollment systems concerning a regional or state-basis, and the integration of school choice programs in a system of shared services and additional school collaborations
  • the impact that additional collaborations may have on the provision of special education services and early childhood care and education programs,
  • school building usage
  • the use of incentives, grants or tax changes to accomplish the recommendations.

By December 1, 2020, the Commission would develop a comprehensive report concerning its preliminary recommendations, including financial projections on savings and costs resulting from additional school collaborations. By December 15, 2020, the Commission would hold a public hearing on this comprehensive report. The Commission may continue to develop additional recommendations following the submission of any report. All Commission reports and plans would have to be submitted to the Governor, State Board of Education and the General Assembly. The Commissioner of Education would then make all such reports and plans available to the public on the Department of Education’s web site.

By March 1, 2020, the Commissioner of Education would solicit proposals for cooperative and collaborative arrangements and incentives for the establishment of such arrangements. The Commissioner shall submit a report on the results of such requests to the Commission on Shared School Services.

In the meantime, by September 15, 2019, each municipality and the local or regional board of education for such municipality would be required to submit a report (with a detailed cost-benefit analysis) to the Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management and the Commissioners of Education and Administrative Services on which services have been shared or consolidated 1) between the municipality and its board of education, and 2) with other municipalities or boards of education. By January 1, 2020, each such municipality and board of education would (in consultation with the Commission on Shared School Services and the Connecticut Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations) submit a report to the same state entities on which services would be shared or consolidated 1) between the municipality and its board of education, and 2) with other municipalities or boards of education. Such reports would include a detailed cost-benefit analysis of such consolidations, a schedule for implementation to be completed by July 1, 2022, and an explanation of when services and consolidations are not being implemented.

The bill also contains some-what related special education provisions. The bill would require the State Department of Education to conduct a study and make recommendations concerning the 1) development of training and reporting requirements for pediatricians and child care providers to better identify a child’s need for special education services, 2) incorporation of training on trauma, behavior and social-emotional learning into teacher preparation programs and professional development for certified teachers, and 3) improvement of efforts to meet the needs of students with special needs and receiving special education services. As part of this study, the Department of Education will collaborate with local and regional boards of education and RESCs to improve efforts to meet the needs of students receiving special education and related services. The Department will evaluate existing models and services and cooperative models and funding mechanisms for the provision of special education services, including special education services provided by a board of education individually or cooperatively or by a RESC. Following such evaluation, the Department of Education will make any recommendations for 1) improving the provision of special education services, 2) enhancing cooperation among boards of education and RESCs, 3) creating cost efficiencies for such services, 4) establishing “Centers for Excellence”, which may include arrangements between and among boards of education and RESCs, 5) expanding the regional model for the provision of special education services related to transportation, training and therapeutic services developed, and 6) establishing a process by which the Department reviews and approves programs for the provision of special education services and the Department of Administrative Services reviews and approves the construction of schools and spaces for the provision of cooperative and regional special education services to meet the needs of any programs approved by the Department of Education. In addition to reporting back to the legislature by December 15, 2019, the Department of Education would also make its study and any recommendations available on its Internet web site.

There are also non-consolidation-related provisions in the proposed bill. This bill would amend the expulsion statutes by providing that an expulsion for on school grounds activity due to a violation of school policy may only take place if there also is a serious disruption of the educational process. The bill would add the Commissioner of Education or “designee” to the board of directors for RESCs. The proposed bill has several provisions addressing “incorporated or endowed high schools and academies.” The bill would: 1) make all provisions of the statutes concerning education applicable to such schools, 2) require such schools to be operated by governing boards, which must include representation from each board of education that sends more than 50 students to such a school, 3) require the governing board of such schools to post on their websites the schedule, agenda and minutes of each meeting (including any subcommittee meetings), and 4) require such governing boards to submit annually to the Commissioner of Education a certified audit statement of all revenues from public and private sources and expenditures and a complete copy of such governing board’s most recently completed IRS Form 990, with such materials then to be posted on the State Department of Education’s website. In addition, prior to the adoption of an annual budget by such a school’s governing board, the sections of such budget that receive public funds shall be 1) reviewed by the boards of education that send students to such school, and 2) subject to a public hearing.

Among other things, the bill would also require in-service training for professional staff on social emotional learning, trauma informed instruction and behavior management strategies; the bill would also require school boards to use evidence-based practices to promote social-emotional learning, trauma-informed instruction, behavior management and de-escalation techniques for its certified staff members. The bill would require 1) the State Department of Education to make its model curriculum and frameworks available on its website, and 2) each local and regional board of education make its grade level curriculum available on its website.

Finally, the bill makes several changes to the school construction statutes, including provisions requiring documentation from grant applicants with respect to efforts to collaborate with other school districts to reduce under-enrollment, and requiring that school building committees include at least one member who has experience in the construction industry.

BUDGET: The title of House Bill No. 7150 (“An Act Implementing The Governor’s Budget Recommendations Concerning Education”) would, among other things, renew numerous education grants provided by statute (e.g., Sheff magnet schools, no nexus and excess cost special education grants, vo-ag grants), although it would accelerate the ECS rate adjustment for certain towns. This bill would delay by two years the “independence” of the Technical Education and Career System from the State Department of Education. The bill also would require the Office of Early Childhood to conduct a study on enrollment and availability of slots in preschool programs in our state. PLEASE NOTE: a provision that would have served to shift some of the costs of the teacher retirement system onto local and regional school districts was removed from the final bill that was approved by the Committee, but it is possible that this provision may re-emerge from another committee or as a part of the overall state budget discussions.

House Bill No. 7350 (“An Act Concerning Regional Cooperation And The Sharing Of Services Among Regional Educational Service Centers And Member Boards Of Education”) would require RESCs to annually conduct a survey of education services and programs being provided by school districts in the region serviced by the RESC for the purpose of identifying the need for regional cooperation in the provision or sharing of education services and programs among member boards of education, and enhancing or adding new education services and programs provided by the RESC. This bill would also require the State Department of Education to develop a report for the General Assembly on best practices being implemented by RESCs for regional cooperation and the sharing of education services. The Department shall develop such report based on the inventories and reports submitted by the RESCs. The bill would then require RESCs to distribute to member boards of education an inventory of goods and services that the RESC provides, including the regional model for the provision of special education services. In developing the inventory, each RESC is to take into consideration the results of the afore-mentioned survey of its members, and any best practices of other RESCs described in the aforementioned State report. A RESC will also annually submit its inventory and a report on any best practices for regional cooperation or the sharing of education services being implemented by the RESC to the Department of Education.

House Bill No. 7149 (“An Act Bolstering Minority Teacher Recruitment”) would essentially mirror another bill that was passed by the Committee (Senate Bill No. 1022 (“An Act Concerning Minority Teacher Recruitment And Retention”). http://schoollaw.pullcomblog.com

House Bill No. 7168 (“An Act Concerning Transitional Services For Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder”) would amend the state special education laws so as to explicitly provide that commencing not later than the date on which the first individual education program [“IEP”] takes effect for a child who is at least 14 years of age and diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, such IEP shall include 1) “appropriate measurable postsecondary goals based upon age-appropriate transition assessments related to training, education, employment and, where appropriate, independent living skills”, and 2) “the transition services, including courses of study, needed to assist a child in reaching those goals”. The bill states that nothing in it shall be construed as requiring the Department of Rehabilitation Services to lower the age of transitional services for a child with disabilities from 16 to 14 years of age.

House Bill No. 6997 (“An Act Requiring The Provision Of Information Concerning Domestic Violence Services And Resources To Students, Parents And Guardians”) would require the State Department of Education to publish information concerning services and resources available to victims of domestic violence on its website and disseminate it to local and regional school districts. In turn, these school districts would be required to provide such information to 1) any students, parent or guardian who expresses safety concerns at home due to domestic violence and 2) any parent or guardian of a student who authorizes the transfer of such student’s education records to another school.

House Bill No. 7149 (“An Act Establishing A Pilot Program For The Expansion Of Advanced Manufacturing Certificate Programs”) would establish a pilot program for the expansion of the advanced manufacturing certificate programs offered by the regional community-technical colleges to public high schools, which shall function as satellite locations of the advanced manufacturing centers located at such colleges. Up to eight public high schools could participate in the pilot program, with the criteria to be developed by the Board of Regents for Higher Education for selecting the schools to include, among other things, a focus on economically distressed communities and areas where there is a need for a workforce trained in advanced manufacturing. Any local or regional board of education, separately or jointly may apply to participate in the pilot program; each board of education selected to participate in the program shall then enter into a memorandum of understanding for the operation of the advanced manufacturing center satellite location with the regional community technical college that serves the area. Beginning in the fall of 2020, each advanced manufacturing center satellite location shall enroll 1) public high school students in grade eleven or twelve from the school districts that have entered into the memorandum of understanding to simultaneously earn high school credits from the public high school and college credits and an advanced manufacturing certificate from the regional community-technical college that operates the location, and 2) adults for classes during the evening and weekend hours to earn an advanced manufacturing certificate from the regional community-technical college. The Board of Regents for Higher Education shall report annually to the General Assembly on operation and effectiveness of the pilot program and its recommendations to expand the pilot program.***

Bills affecting the schools may also emerge from other committees (such as the Labor and Public Employees Committee, the Planning and Development Committee, and the Committee on Children).  The 2019 session of the General Assembly is scheduled to adjourn on June 5, 2019, so stay tuned to see if any of these bills are enacted into law before the end of the session.

Read Full Article
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

We have previously discussed the tension between a school district’s discipline for social media posts and the protections of the First Amendment. Click here. Indeed, as the United States Supreme Court said in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent County School District, 393 U.S. 503 (1969). public school students do not forfeit their “constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”

Social media posts can be viewed by a seemingly unlimited number of “Friends” almost instantly and, therefore, can be seen to create an immediate disruption, depending upon its content. However, does a student’s personal journal lack all of these characteristics? If the contents of the journal describe a seemingly violent intent towards the school, can that student be expelled? Last month the Ninth Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals said yes.

In McNeil v. Sherwood School District 88J et al., Case No. 3:15-cv-01098, the Student created in May 2015 a “hit list” in his personal journal. The journal named 22 specific students and one former employee. The Student’s entry stated that he “was god” and that “all these people must die.” The journal also contained unstated depictions of violence.

The Student’s mother discovered the entries four months later and brought them to a therapist for advice. From there, a series of events beyond the Student’s control unraveled. Believing that she was a mandated reporter, the therapist notified the police who then told the school district. The police discovered that there were guns in the Student’s house. But, the Student explained that he used the journal to “vent” and that he never intended to carry out any violent plans. The police decided no criminal charges were warranted.

The school, however, pursuant to its own policies, notified the parents of the students on the “hit list.” This caused parents to seek meetings with the Principal and some students missed or left school. Eventually, the press caught wind of the story and one student was caught with a knife at school, stating that he brought it to protect himself. The school suspended the Student and thereafter notified him he would be expelled for “a threat of violence” that “caused a distinct and substantial disruption to the school environment.” The Student was expelled for a year, then challenged the expulsion based on an alleged infringement of his First Amendment rights.

In reaching its decision, the Court fashioned a three-part test that was dependent on (1) the degree of likelihood of harm to the school; (2) whether it was reasonably foreseeable that the speech would reach and impact the school; and (3) the relationship between the content and context of the speech and the school. Here, the Court found that the school district reasonably concluded that all three of these factors had been met in order to justify the school’s actions. Perhaps most notably, the Court relied on the fact that the journal entries identified specific students at the school and that the entries contained further depictions of violence. Thus, said the Court, the Student’s purported lack of intent to inflict any harm was, under these circumstances, not dispositive.

The Court also seemed to recognize the extended reach of the school’s discipline into the Student’s personal journal. As to that issue, the Court stated:

Ordinarily, schools may not discipline students for the contents of their private, off-campus journal entries, any more than they can punish students for their private thoughts, but schools have a right, indeed an obligation, to address a credible threat of violence involving the school community.

The Court’s decision extends the reach of a school district into a student’s private journal entries that he never intended to make public. Nevertheless, school administrators such as those in Mercier are thrust into the unfair position of having to either justify their decisions to expel; or face the possible consequences of not expelling despite having some credible threat of violence. In the end, administrators must decide which conversation they would rather have-the one where they acted or the one where they did not. While the Court’s decision undoubtedly turns on the specific circumstances at issue, it is at least to some extent a victory for administrators who must walk that very fine line.

Read Full Article
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

At its March 25, 2019 meeting, the General Assembly’s Education Committee continued its hyperkinetic work by approving another flurry of bills.  The following is a brief summary of the bills that the Committee voted favorably on and advanced out of committee at that meeting.

CLASSROOM SAFETY AND SCHOOL CLIMATE: House Bill No. 7110 (“An Act Concerning Enhanced Classroom Safety And School Climate) would require school districts to revise their safe school climate plans to include provisions addressing “classroom safety,” with protocols for enhancing classroom safety and addressing incidents that 1) require the temporary removal of a majority of the students and staff to reduce the likelihood of injury, 2) result in an injury that requires medical attention beyond basic first aid and that may include emergency room or doctor visits, or 3) result in an injury that a) has been caused by the same person on more than one occasion, such as by means of kicking, biting or punching, b) has been verified by the school nurse or other medical personnel, and c) may not result in an emergency room or doctor visit. The bill would also require the State Department of Education to 1) develop and implement a state-wide school climate survey, and 2) disseminate strategies to assist school districts with their safe school climate plans. This year’s version of a “classroom safety” bill may not raise as many student privacy and special education issues (not to mention student discipline/due process concerns) as last year’s version that was vetoed by Governor Malloy.

CURRICULUM: The Committee has passed several curriculum related bills. The title of Senate Bill No. 957 (“An Act Concerning The Inclusion Of Computer Science Instruction In The Public School Curriculum, Programs Of Teacher Preparation And In-Service Training Programs For Teachers), House Bill No. 7082 (“An Act Concerning The Inclusion Of African-American Studies In The Public School Curriculum”) and House Bill No. 7083 (“An Act Concerning The Inclusion Of Puerto Rican And Latino Studies In The Public School Curriculum”) largely speak for themselves.

“ACCOUNTABILITY”: Senate Bill No. 1018 (“An Act Concerning The Opportunity Gap) would withhold or impose restrictions on the use of numerous education grants on certain school districts that are not experiencing academic improvement, generally based upon the accountability index scores. In particular, grants to alliance, reform and priority school districts, along with the “commissioner’s network of schools”, would be affected this provision. This bill would also require the collection of student outcome data relating to college and career readiness in the state-wide public school information system.

SCHOOL LITERACY: Senate Bill No. 1019 (“An Act Concerning School Literacy”) would expand the intensive reading instruction program to include grades four and five. This bill would also establish the Center for Literacy Research and Reading Success which will be responsible for 1) collaborating with the Department of Education in the implementation of the coordinated state-wide reading plan for students in kindergarten to grade five, 2) researching and developing a birth to grade twelve reading success strategy to be included in the alignment of reading instruction with the two-generational initiative, 3) providing direct support to schools and boards of education to improve reading outcomes for students in kindergarten to grade five, through coaching, leadership training, professional development, parental engagement and technical assistance that is consistent with the intensive reading instruction program and aligned with evidence-based practices, 4) developing and maintaining an Internet web site for the purpose of disseminating tools and information associated with the intensive reading instruction program and other reading initiatives, and 5) serving as a collaborative center for institutions of higher education and making available to the faculty of teacher preparation programs the science of teaching reading, the intensive reading instruction program, and samples of available curriculum. This bill would also establish a “working group” to study issues relating to the teaching of scientifically-based reading research and instruction as part of teacher preparation programs. This study would include an examination of 1) whether teacher preparation programs are providing instruction on the “knowledge and pedagogy of the science of reading and the skills that are tested as part of the reading instruction examination” and whether professors in such teacher preparation programs have received training on or are competent to provide such instruction, and 2) the number of credit hours of such instruction being provided in teacher preparation programs.

MINORITY TEACHER RECRUITMENT: Senate Bill No. 1022 (“An Act Concerning Minority Teacher Recruitment And Retention”) would require the Minority Teacher Recruitment Policy Oversight Council, in consultation with the Minority Teacher Recruitment Task Force, to develop and implement strategies (and utilize existing resources) to ensure that at least 250 new minority teachers and administrators, of which at least 30% are men, are hired and employed by local and regional boards of education each year in the state.

The bill would require the Commissioner of Education 1) to enter into agreements with other states concerning professional certification reciprocity, and 2) establish or join interstate agreements to facilitate the certification of qualified educators from other states.  The bill would require the issuance of an initial educator certificate in the endorsement area of intermediate administration and supervision to an administrator from another state who 1) has been certified as an administrator in such a state for three or more years, and 2) holds a master’s degree in an appropriate subject matter area. Such a person would be exempt from completing the beginning educator program based upon such administrator experience, upon a showing of effectiveness as an administrator.

The bill would revise the minority educator loan reimbursement grant program administered by the Office of Higher Education so as to increase the amount such person could receive under the program. The bill would also extend access to the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority’s teacher mortgage assistance program to those 1) who graduated from a public high school in an educational reform district, and 2) who graduated from a historically black college or university or a Hispanic-serving institution. The bill would also expand the exception to the provision allowing re-employment for one year (without the usual limitation on earnings) of retired teachers to such individuals.

The bill would require a person seeking an initial educators’ certificate to complete a course providing instruction in “culturally responsive pedagogy and practice”; in addition, any program of school and district leadership preparation leading to professional certification would have to include instruction in “culturally responsive pedagogy and practice”.

MINIMUM BUDGET REQUIREMENT: Senate Bill No. 1068 (“An Act Concerning The Minimum Budget Requirement) would extend the minimum budget requirement (“MBR”) through the 2020-2021 fiscal year. The bill would modify the MBR by allowing towns to use a five-year look-back period for reductions in student enrollment for purposes of permitted reductions to the MBR. The bill would also permit a school district that has 1) elected to act as a self-insurer, 2) experienced a loss incurred as a result of one or more catastrophic events during the prior fiscal year, and 3) increased its budgeted appropriation for education during said prior fiscal year as a result of such loss to NOT include the amount of such increase in the calculation of its budgeted appropriation for education for the subsequent fiscal year. 

BACKGROUND CHECKS/“MISCELLANEOUS”: Senate Bill No. 1069 (“An Act Concerning Various Revisions And Additions To The Education Statutes) would revise the laws concerning employee fingerprinting and background checks so as to cover any school or school district authorized to receive national criminal history record information from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and would explicitly include local and regional boards of education, the Technical Education and Career System, charter schools, cooperative arrangements and inter-district magnet school operators (other than those operators who are a third-party not-for-profit corporation approved by the Commissioner of Education). This bill would require applicants seeking a position with these schools to identify specifically any criminal charges that are pending against them. This bill would provide that even where a regional educational service center arranges for such finger printing, it is the State Police Bureau of Investigation that will directly provide the results of the background check to the school. The law clarifies that nothing in the background check statutes should be construed as causing a school to disseminate the results of any national criminal history records check (as opposed to information regarding the applicant’s eligibility for employment or prior involvement in abuse or neglect). The bill would require the State Department of Education to conduct a study concerning the authorization of towns and cooperative arrangements to be considered a “local education agency” for purposes of regional cooperation and in order to maximize efficiencies and cost-savings without establishing a regional school district. This bill would require the State Department of Education to update the health education component of the Healthy and Balanced Living Curriculum Framework to include “sexual harassment and assault, adolescent relationship abuse and intimate partner violence, and human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation”.

TECHNICAL EDUCATION SYSTEM: House Bill No. 7351 (“An Act Concerning Graduation Data For The Technical Education And Career System) would require that various reports submitted by the Technical Education and Career System include course and program completion and graduation rates for each program of study offered by the System.

MORE “MISCELLANEOUS”: House Bill No. 7352 (An Act Concerning Minor Revisions And Additions To The Education Statutes) would require the State Department of Education to assist and encourage local and regional boards of education to include social-emotional learning as part of the curriculum. The bill would appear to provide that the mandate to provide instruction in science must include teaching on climate change “beginning in elementary school and through the secondary level and, where applicable”. The bill would eliminate the provision in the teacher tenure law that permitted a teacher (or certified administrator) employed by a priority school district to attain tenure after only ten months of employment in such a school district where the teacher or administrator previously attained tenure with another local or regional board of education in this state or another state. The bill would also require institutions of higher education that offer a teacher preparation program to develop and administer a pre-service performance assessment for students enrolled in such programs. The Commissioner of Education will have the authority to approve the pre-service performance assessments and establish a passing score required for successful completion of the teacher preparation program for purposes of professional certification

The bill would require the School Paraeducator Advisory Council to conduct a study concerning: 1) Safety issues relating to paraeducators who work with students who have behavioral issues, 2) issues relating to the assignment of substitute teaching duties to paraeducators, including emergency situations when they are asked to serve as a substitute teacher, and 3) issues relating to the duties of paraeducators who work with special education students. The bill also requires the State Department of Education to establish and administer a principal induction pilot program that will 1) provide opportunities for peer mentoring for new principals, 2) include executive leadership and workforce development as key principles in the professional development for new principals, and 3) standardize existing principal induction programs being administered by boards of education. The Department would permit any board of education to participate in the pilot program, and may select up to five additional boards of education to participate. Participating boards of education may partner with businesses in the state to implement the pilot program.

SPECIAL EDUCATION: House Bill No. 7353 (An Act Concerning Various Issues Relating To Special Education) would provide a definition of a “local or regional board of education” that (unlike current regulations) would now also expressly include interdistrict magnet schools, state or local charter schools, regional agricultural science and technology education center, regional educational service centers, cooperative arrangement committees, and approved “incorporated or endowed” high schools or academies. This change may have significant impact with respect to legal proceedings challenging special education decisions regarding such alternative schools. In addition, the bill would add to the notice rights (and procedural safeguards) that parents receive the right of a parent or guardian “to maintain such child’s enrollment at his or her current school and to require that such local or regional board of education provide special education to such child at such school”. Depending on implementation, this provision would (among other things) arguably prevent a school district from centralizing any specialized programing at one specific school within the district (or relying upon out-placement options for particularly involved students) and would require a school district to provide programming for every student at every school within the district. The bill would eliminate the statutory provision that permits a vocational technical school to send students back to the sending school district where its planning and placement team determines that a student requires special education services which preclude such student’s participation in the vocational education program offered by a technical school. The bill would also prohibit a board of education from disciplining or otherwise punishing any teacher, administrator or school paraprofessional who 1) discusses or makes recommendations concerning the provision of special education and related services for a child during a planning and placement team meeting, or 2) discusses or makes such recommendations to the parent or guardian (or the child) outside of a planning and placement team meeting. The bill would establish a working group to study issues relating to the gap of services for children three to five years of age, during the period in which such children are no longer eligible for services provided by the birth-to-three program, and not yet eligible to receive special education and related services until such children are enrolled in kindergarten. The working group would review and evaluate the eligibility criteria for special education that creates a gap and prevents children from experiencing a continuity of services. Finally, the bill would revise the provisions regarding the language and communications plans for hearing impaired students to ensure procedures for alerting the child of an emergency situation and ensuring that the specific needs of the child are met during the emergency. The bill would 1) require school security and safety plans for each school to include provisions relating to emergency communication plans for students identified as deaf, hard of hearing or both blind or visually impaired and deaf, 2) revise the school safety infrastructure criteria for school building projects to include provisions relating to such emergency communication plans for such students, 3) require the Departments of Education and Public Health and the Office of Early Childhood to develop a process for collecting and sharing data to ensure that such students identified to acquire knowledge to assist them to be successful in school and after graduation, and 4) require the Department of Education to establish a working group on language assessments (and programs an interventions for such students).

SCHOOL SECURITY: House Bill No. 7356 (“An Act Concerning School Security”) would establish a task force to study issues concerning the employment of school security officers (who are NOT school resource officers) who possess firearms while on duty in the public schools. The study would include, but not be limited to, an analysis of 1) whether such school security officers should be authorized to carry firearms while on duty, 2) who should be responsible for conducting criminal history records checks of school security officers, and (3) who should be responsible for supervising school security officers. This bill would also require the School Safety Infrastructure Council to conduct a study to determine whether classroom doors that can be locked from the inside and outside of the classroom should be included in school safety infrastructure criteria for school building projects. 

SCHOOL BUILDING PROJECTS: House Bill No. 7354 (“An Act Concerning Authorization Of State Grant Commitments For School Building Projects And Revisions To The School Building Projects Statutes”) would authorize state grant commitments for school building projects. Among other things, the bill would provide that a town or a regional board of education may join with federal agencies, other state governments, political subdivisions, or nonprofit organizations in cooperative purchasing plans for purposes of school building projects. A town or regional board of education could purchase equipment, supplies, materials and services from a person who has a contract to sell such goods or services to other state governments, political subdivisions, nonprofit organizations or public purchasing consortia, in accordance with the terms and conditions of such contract. Any such school building project for which the town or regional school district is using such a cooperative purchasing plan will be exempt from the usual bidding requirements for school building construction contracts.

YES-EVEN MORE TASK FORCES AND STUDIES: The Committee approved bills that continue to display legislative affinity for task forces and further study of issues. Senate Bill No. 1067 (“An Act Establishing A Task Force To Analyze The Implementation Of Laws Governing Dyslexia Instruction And Training”) would establish a task force to analyze and make recommendations on issues relating to the implementation of the laws governing dyslexia instruction and training in the state. House Bill No. 7355 (“An Act Concerning A Study Of The Education Cost Sharing Formula”) would establish a task force to study issues relating to the education cost sharing formula. The task force shall review the ECS formula and consider: 1) The effect of such formula on the distribution of state education funds to a) towns of different sizes, and b) urban, suburban and rural towns, and 2) the effect of the phase-in of funding levels on the predictability and sustainability of education funding for towns. House Bill No. 7357 (“An Act Concerning A Study Of Education Mandate Relief”) would require the State Department of Education to conduct a study of issues relating to education mandates on local and regional boards of education. House Bill No. 7113 (“An Act Concerning Education Issues”) would require the State Department of Education to conduct a study relating to “education issues in the state”. This broad bill may just be a placeholder for some other bill. Senate Bill No. 850 (“An Act Concerning Public Schools”) would require the State Department of Education to conduct a study relating to “issues concerning public schools in the state”. Again, this broad bill may just be a placeholder for some other bill.

***

The deadline for the Education Committee to approve additional bills is April 1, 2019. Bills affecting the schools may also emerge from other committees (such as the Labor and Public Employees Committee and the Committee on Children).  The 2019 session of the General Assembly is scheduled to adjourn on June 5, 2019, so stay tuned to see if any of the above bills are enacted.

Read Full Article
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

At its March 6, 2019 and March 15, 2019 meetings, the General Assembly’s Education Committee began the process of approving bills.  The following is a brief discussion and summary of the bills that the Committee voted favorably on and advanced out of committee.

UNEXPENDED SCHOOL BUDGET FUNDS: House Bill No. 7112 (“An Act Increasing The Amount A Town May Deposit Into A Nonlapsing Account For Unexpended Education Funds”) would increase the amount of unexpended education funds that a town could deposit into a nonlapsing account at the end of each fiscal year to 2% of the total budgeted appropriation for education (from the current 1%). This bill would also require that any expenditure of funds from this account be authorized by the local board of education of the town and be for educational purposes only.

GRADUATION DATES AND SCHOOL CALENDARS: House Bill No. 7258 (“An Act Concerning The Establishment Of A Firm Graduation Date And The Date For The First Day Of School Sessions”) would allow boards of education to establish a firm graduation date for students in Grade Twelve for that school year which at the time of such establishment provides for at least 180 days of school. This bill would also expressly permit school districts to begin school after Labor Day.

TESTING OF LEAD: Senate Bill No. 814 (“An Act Requiring Boards Of Education To Conduct Testing Of Water Supplies In Public Schools For The Presence Of Lead”) would require school districts to conduct a test of the water supply for any school building or facility constructed before July 1, 1986 for the presence of lead and report the results to the State Departments of Education and Public Health.

PHYSICAL EXERCISE AND “PLAY”: House Bill No. 7250 (“An Act Concerning The Improvement Of Child Development Through Play”) would revise the current physical exercise requirement for elementary schools students by instead mandating that students in Grades Kindergarten to Five receive daily time devoted either to physical exercise or “undirected play” of not less than 50 minutes in total, divided among two blocks of time dedicated for such purpose.

SCHOOL COUNSELORS: Senate Bill No. 956 (“An Act Concerning A Comprehensive School Counselor Program) would require the State Board of Education, in collaboration with the Connecticut School Counselor Association, to adopt guidelines for a comprehensive school counseling program. The guidelines would “ensure that all students have access to a comprehensive school counseling program that provides academic, social-emotional and post-secondary and career readiness programming by a certified school counselor with adequate training.”

CHOICE PROGRAMS AND EQUITY: House Bill No. 7109 (“An Act Concerning Interdistrict Magnet School Program Funding”) would increase the per pupil funding for interdistrict magnet school programs by 5%. Senate Bill No. 1017 (“An Act Concerning The Open Choice Program”) would require that each school district that accepts more than 40 students under the “Open Choice” program provide an education advocate responsible for 1) assisting students participating in the program to make the transition to a new school, 2) acting as a liaison between the parents of such students and the new school district, and 3) providing such students with academic and other social support. Senate Bill No. 1020 (“An Act Concerning School Equity”) would mandate the inclusion of instruction in “culturally responsive pedagogy and practice” in the certification, professional development and in-service training provided to teachers.

HOMELESS STUDENTS: House Bill No. 7313 (“An Act Concerning Homeless Students’ Access To Education”) would codify the protections that homeless students receive under the federal McKinney Vento and state student residency statutes. The bill would provide that with respect to a school district denying school accommodations due to a claim that the student is homeless, the party claiming ineligibility based on residency shall have the burden of proving that the party denied schooling is not a homeless child by a preponderance of the evidence. The bill would expressly provide that whenever a homeless child’s residency appeal is denied by a local or regional board of education, the child shall continue in attendance or be immediately enrolled in the school selected by the child in the school district. In those circumstances, the board of education shall 1) provide the homeless child (or his/her parent or guardian) with a) a written explanation of the reasons for the denial of accommodations that is in a manner and form understandable to the child or parent or guardian, and b) information regarding the right to appeal the decision of the denial, and 2) refer the child (or his/her parent or guardian) to the school district’s McKinney Vento/homeless student liaison.

PILOT PROGRAMS: House Bill No. 7312 (“An Act Concerning The Creation Of A Community-Based Transition School Pilot Program”) would establish a community-based transition school pilot program to be administered by the State Department of Education. The Department would provide a grant-in-aid to “a community-based education transition school that provides intensive special education supports to low-income at-risk students who have a history of behavioral issues and learning problems by using a community-based approach with an emphasis on teaching employment and independent living skills while building and strengthening each student’s interpersonal social skills”. This transition school would use such grant-in aid to 1) serve students who are currently enrolled at the school, 2) expand enrollment by accepting new students referred to the school from other schools located in or around Hartford, and 3) assist students who have graduated from the school and transitioned to employment and independent living in the community, with the school following up with such students in order to evaluate the extent to which they have made successful transitions into adulthood and the viability of the community-based transition school model. Senate Bill No. 1021 (“An Act Establishing a Comprehensive Schools Pilot Program”) would establish a comprehensive community schools pilot program. A “community school” is defined as a public school “that participates in a coordinated, community-based effort with community partners to provide comprehensive educational, developmental, family, health and wrap-around services to students, families and community members”. Senate Bill No. 852 (“An Act Concerning The Establishment Of A Personal Financial Management Pilot Program”) would establish a pilot program, to be administered by the Capitol Region Education Council, for the teaching of personal financial management for its member school districts.

CURRICULUM: The Committee has passed several curriculum related bills. House Bill No. 7111 (“An Act Concerning Revisions To The Comprehensive School Health Education Curriculum And The Inclusion Of The Dangers Of Vaping In The Public School Curriculum”) would require the State Department of Education to 1) include the role of consent in sexual relationships in the comprehensive school health education component of its Healthy and Balanced Living Curriculum Framework, and 2) include instruction on the dangers of vaping in the health component of the mandated school curriculum. Senate Bill No. 853 (“An Act Concerning The Availability Of The Real Estate Licensing Curriculum For Use In Public Schools”) would require the State Board of Education to make available curriculum materials to school districts relating to “Real Estate Principles and Practices.”

EARLY CHILDHOOD: The Committee approved a bevy of early childhood related bills.   Senate Bill No. 930 (“An Act Concerning The Creation Of A Pilot Program For An Early Childhood Business Incubator Model”) would establish a pilot program that would authorize the Commissioner of Early Childhood to issue a license to a person or group of persons to maintain a family child care home or group child care home in partnership with and in a space provided by an association, organization, corporation, institution or agency in the towns of New Britain, New Haven, Bridgeport or Stamford. Senate Bill No. 931 (“An Act Concerning Payments To Child Care Providers”) would 1) require Care4Kids program payments to be at least equal to the 75th percentile of the market cost of child care, 2) require that any increase in funding to child care centers and school readiness program providers be used for increasing educator salaries, and 3) increase school readiness grant rates.   Senate Bill No. 933 (“An Act Expanding Eligibility For Certain Families In The Care4kids Program”) would expand the eligibility for the Care4Kids program to include families with a gross income of up to 75% (from the current 50%) of the state-wide median income and require notice be provided of this expanded eligibility. Senate Bill No. 934 (“An Act Expanding Eligibility In The Care4kids Program To Parents Enrolled In Other Types Of School) would expand the eligibility for the Care4Kids program to include parents enrolled in institutions of higher education, adult education programs, English as a second language programs and private occupational schools (as opposed to just parent in high school) and require notice be provided of this expanded eligibility. Senate Bill No. 932 (“An Act Concerning The Staff Qualifications Requirement For Early Childhood Educators”) would again delay and revise the imposition of certain qualifications for early childhood educators. Senate Bill No. 935 (“An Act Requiring The Office Of Early Childhood To Develop An Early Childhood Educator Compensation Schedule”) would require the Office of Early Childhood to develop an early childhood educator compensation schedule and for early childhood program providers to implement this schedule. Senate Bill No. 937 (“An Act Concerning A Student Loan Forgiveness Program For Early Childhood Educators”) would establish a student loan forgiveness (or reimbursement) program for early childhood educators. Finally, as the title would suggest, Senate Bill No. 936 (“An Act Implementing The Recommendations Of The Office Of Early Childhood”) is an omnibus bill that would implement various recommendations of the Office of Early Childhood; we will provide greater detail as events unfold.

TASK FORCES AND STUDIES: The Committee approved bills that continue to display legislative affinity for task forces and further study of issues. House Bill No. 7312 (“An Act Establishing A Task Force To Study Issues Relating To Parental Involvement With Students”) would establish a task force to study issues relating to parental involvement with students. The task force will study and make recommendations concerning 1) methods for improving parental involvement with students, including best practices used in other states, 2) the feasibility of establishing parent academies throughout the state to assist parents and students in middle school and high school with college planning and career training, and 3) methods for fostering communication and interaction between parents, school personnel and the surrounding communities. Senate Bill No. 813 (“An Act Concerning A Study Of Issues Relating To Early College And Dual Enrollment Programs”) would require the State Department of Education to conduct a study of issues relating to student enrollment in, and graduation from, middle college programs, early college high school and Connecticut Early College Opportunity programs, and dual enrollment programs.

MISCELLANEOUS: As its title would suggest, Senate Bill No. 812 (“An Act Concerning The Legislative Commissioner’s Recommendations For Technical Revisions to the Education and Early Childhood Statutes”) would make technical changes to various education and early childhood related statutes. Senate Bill No. 856 (“An Act An Act Requiring The State Board Of Education To Consider Manufacturers’ Workforce Needs When Evaluating Public School Educational Programs”) would require the State Board of Education to 1) consider manufacturers’ workforce needs when evaluating public school educational programs, 2) educate elementary school students about careers in manufacturing, 3) increase representation of manufacturers on certain of the Board’s committees and 4) evaluate the effectiveness of the board’s program to introduce students to careers in manufacturing.

***

The deadline for the Education Committee to approve additional bills is April 1, 2019. Bills affecting the schools may also emerge from other committees (such as the Labor and Public Employees Committee and the Committee on Children).  Such a bill of interest could be House Bill No. 7224 (“An Act Concerning Paraeducator Pay Equity”). The 2019 session of the General Assembly is scheduled to adjourn on June 5, 2019, so stay tuned to see if any of the above bills are enacted.

Read Full Article
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

On Friday, March 1, 2019, the General Assembly’s Education Committee will conduct a public hearing, which will take place at 11:00 A.M. in Room 2E of the Legislative Office Building.   A particular focus of this hearing will be bills that may require the regionalization and consolidation of school districts and programs.   

There are two skeletal/concept bills regarding this issue that will be discussed at this hearing. Proposed S.B. No. 457 (“An Act Concerning The Size Of School Districts”) would require any school district with a student population of fewer than 2,000 students to join a new or an existing regional school district so that the total student population of such new or expanded regional school district is greater than two thousand students, and to require any such school district that is not joining a regional school district to submit in writing to the State Department of Education the reasons why such school district is not joining a regional school district. Proposed S.B. No. 738 (“An Act Concerning The Creation Of Regional School Districts”) would create a commission responsible for developing a plan to implement regional consolidation of school districts. Such plan must (1) realign those towns with a total population of fewer than 40,000 (except those regional school districts that provide instruction for grades kindergarten to twelve, inclusive) in manner similar to Connecticut’s probate districts, and require such towns to join a regional school district; (2) when a newly created regional school district affects two or more collective bargaining units, allow the employees of the newly consolidated regional school district to be represented by a coalition of the existing collective bargaining units or create a new collective bargaining unit for such regional school district, and require (upon expiration of existing collective bargaining agreements) any subsequent collective bargaining agreement to be negotiated on a regional basis; and (3) become effective state-wide for the 2021-2022 school year, if such plan has not been approved by the General Assembly and signed into law on or before July 1, 2020.

In addition, the Governor now has a proposed bill setting forth his initial position in the school regionalization, collaboration and consolidation debate. S.B. No. 874 (“An Act Concerning Education Initiatives And Services In Connecticut”) would create a “Commission on Shared School Services” for the purpose of developing a plan for the redistricting or consolidation of school services and school districts; the bill specifies the composition of the Commission’s membership, and the State Department of Education shall provide administrative support. Over the next year, the Commission will develop numerous reports concerning existing school districts (including local and regional boards of education, charter schools, incorporated or endowed high schools or academies, the Technical Education and Career System and regional agricultural science and technology education centers). These reports will include the following subjects:

  • the sizes of existing school districts (including enrollment and employees)
  • the types and administrative structures of such districts
  • the number of schools, including building size/capacity, enrollment and grade ranges
  • existing shared services between school districts and employment of superintendents
  • academic and support services provided by school districts

At various points during 2020, the Commission will develop reports reviewing and offering preliminary recommendations concerning the following subjects:

  • school district sizes, types, and governance structures
  • enhanced shared services among school districts and with municipalities
  • the current services provided by regional educational service centers (“RESCs”) and the role of RESCs in regionalization and shared service efforts
  • existing labor contracts and how future labor contracts should be negotiated as additional education services are shared (and following redistricting)
  • the establishment of shared school transportation contracts, including time spent by students on school, hours of such transportation services, tiers of schools and any other related issues
  • the development of interscholastic athletic schedules and related issues, including transportation services to interscholastic athletic events and school hours
  • the potential impact and changes to after-school programs and arrangements following redistricting or the sharing of services, on such issues as transportation and school hours
  • the current school choice program structures and unified enrollment systems concerning a regional or state-basis, and the integration of school choice programs in a system of shared services and school consolidations
  • the impact that redistricting and consolidation may have on the provision of special education services and early childhood care and education programs,
  • school building usage
  • the use of incentives, grants or tax changes to accomplish the recommendations

By December 1, 2020, the Commission shall develop a comprehensive report concerning its preliminary recommendations, including financial projections on savings and costs resulting from school district redistricting or consolidation. By December 15, 2020, the Commission shall hold a public hearing on this comprehensive report. The Commission may continue to develop additional recommendations following the submission of any report. All Commission reports and plans shall be submitted to the Governor, State Board of Education and the General Assembly. The Commissioner of Education shall make all such reports and plans available to the public on the Department of Education’s web site.

By March 1, 2020, the Commissioner of Education shall solicit proposals for cooperative arrangements and regionalization of education services and incentives for the establishment of such cooperative arrangements or regionalization of education services. The Commissioner shall submit a report on the results of such requests to the Commission on Shared School Services.

In the meantime, by September 15, 2019, each municipality and the local or regional board of education for such municipality will be required to submit a report (with a detailed cost-benefit analysis) to the Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management and the Commissioners of Education and Administrative Services on which services have been shared or consolidated (1) between the municipality and its board of education; and (2) with other municipalities or boards of education. By January 1, 2020, each such municipality and board of education shall (in consultation with the Commission on Shared School Services and the Connecticut Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations) submit a report to the same state entities on which services will be shared or consolidated (1) between the municipality and its board of education; and (2) with other municipalities or boards of education. Such reports shall include a detailed cost-benefit analysis of such consolidations, a schedule for implementation to be completed by July 1, 2022, and an explanation of when services and consolidations are not being implemented.

The proposed bill addresses the sharing of superintendents. Beginning in 2020-2021, each local board of education for a municipality with (1) a population of fewer than 10,000; (2) one or two elementary public schools; or (3) fewer than 2,000 resident students, shall provide for the supervision of its schools by a (1) “chief executive officer of the board”; or (2) receive direction concerning the supervision of its schools by a superintendent employed by another local or regional board of education (provided this other board of education authorizes such use of its superintendent). The Commissioner of Education may withhold from the ECS monies for any such “small” municipality that continues to employ its own superintendent an amount not to exceed the costs associated with employing a superintendent. Any such board of education that jointly employs a superintendent of schools may (1) hold regular joint meetings, at least quarterly, with any of the other boards of education that are jointly employing such superintendent for the purpose of reducing the expenses of such boards of education and aligning the provision of education by such boards of education; and (2) reduce the total number of regular meetings of the individual board of education, provided such board holds at least two such regular meetings during the school year.

There are also non-consolidation-related provisions in the proposed bill. It would require each regional board of education (commencing with 2019-2020) to establish a regional board of finance to review and make any recommendations on the budget and expenses of the regional board of education. The proposed bill also has several provisions addressing “incorporated or endowed high schools and academies.” The bill would (1) make all provisions of the statutes concerning education applicable to such schools; (2) require such schools to be operated by governing boards, which must include representation from each board of education that sends more than 50 students to such a school; (3) require the governing board of such schools to post on their websites the schedule, agenda and minutes of each meeting (including any subcommittee meetings); (4) require such governing boards to submit annually to the Commissioner of Education a certified audit statement of all revenues from public and private sources and expenditures and a complete copy of such governing board’s most recently completed IRS Form 990, with such materials then to be posted on the State Department of Education’s website. In addition, prior to the adoption of an annual budget by such a school’s governing board, the sections of such budget that receive public funds shall be (1) reviewed by the boards of education that send students to such school and (2) subject to a public hearing.

This bill would amend the expulsion statutes by providing that an expulsion for on school grounds activity due to a violation of school policy may only take place if there also is a serious disruption of the educational process. The bill would require parents of home school students to personally appear each year at the school district office to sign a registration form indicating that the child will be receiving home instruction. Among other things, the bill would also require in-service training for professional staff on social emotional learning, trauma informed instruction and behavior management strategies. Finally, the bill makes several changes to the school construction statutes, including provisions requiring documentation from grant applicants with respect to efforts to collaborate with other school districts to reduce under-enrollment, and requiring that school building committees include at least one member who has experience in the construction industry.

H.B. No. 7150 AN ACT IMPLEMENTING THE GOVERNOR’S BUDGET RECOMMENDATIONS CONCERNING EDUCATION. The title speaks for itself, but among other things, this proposed bill would revise the so-called “minimum budget requirement” (“MBR”) regarding local education budgets to permit reductions related to school consolidations and shared services arrangements.

To repeat my standard warningThe fact that a public hearing has been scheduled on these bills is not necessarily an indication that the Committee will pass them, but it is at least an indication that they are under serious consideration.  When these bills have been fully drafted and/or revised, and if they advance toward a vote by the Committee and the full General Assembly, we will provide more detail as to their contents.

Read Full Article
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

On Friday, February 22, 2019, the General Assembly’s Education Committee will conduct a public hearing on numerous proposed bills.  The hearing will take place at 11:00 A.M. in Room 2E of the Legislative Office Building.   Of note is another bill attempting to address “classroom safety” issues; without commenting on the bill’s merits, this year’s version may not raise as many student privacy and special education issues (not to mention student discipline/due process concerns) as last year’s bill that was vetoed by then-Governor Malloy.

The following is a brief summary of the bills that will be the subject of the hearing.

H.B. No. 7110 AN ACT CONCERNING ENHANCED CLASSROOM SAFETY AND SCHOOL CLIMATE. This proposed bill would require school districts to revise their safe school climate plans to include provisions addressing “classroom safety,” with protocols for addressing disruptive or injurious incidents occurring in classrooms. The bill would also require the State Department of Education to 1) develop and implement a state-wide school climate survey, and 2) disseminate strategies to assist school districts with their safe school climate plans.

H.B. No. 7111 AN ACT CONCERNING REVISIONS TO THE COMPREHENSIVE SCHOOL HEALTH EDUCATION CURRICULUM AND THE INCLUSION OF THE DANGERS OF VAPING IN THE PUBLIC SCHOOL CURRICULUM. This proposed bill would require the State Department of Education to 1) include the role of consent in sexual relationships in the comprehensive school health education component of its Healthy and Balanced Living Curriculum Framework, and 2) include instruction on the dangers of vaping in the health component of the mandated school curriculum.

S.B. No. 851 AN ACT PROHIBITING THE DISAGGREGATION OF STUDENT DATA BY ETHNIC SUBGROUPS IN THE PUBLIC SCHOOL INFORMATION SYSTEM. This proposed bill would prohibit the collection of disaggregated student data on specific ethnic subgroups unless such student data is required by federal law or collected uniformly across the entire population of students.

S.B. No. 853 AN ACT CONCERNING THE AVAILABILITY OF THE REAL ESTATE LICENSING CURRICULUM FOR USE IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS. This proposed bill would require the State Board of Education to make available curriculum materials to school districts relating to “Real Estate Principles and Practice.”

S.B. No. 813 AN ACT CONCERNING A STUDY OF ISSUES RELATING TO EARLY COLLEGE AND DUAL ENROLLMENT PROGRAMS. This proposed bill would require the State Department of Education to conduct a study of issues relating to early college and dual enrollment programs, and report back to the General Assembly regarding the same.

S.B. No. 814 AN ACT REQUIRING BOARDS OF EDUCATION TO CONDUCT TESTING OF WATER SUPPLIES IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS FOR THE PRESENCE OF LEAD. This proposed bill would require school districts to conduct a test of the water supply for any school building or facility constructed before July 1, 1986 for the presence of lead and report the results to the State Departments of Education and Public Health.

H.B. No. 7113 AN ACT CONCERNING EDUCATION ISSUES. This proposed bill would require the State Department of Education to conduct a study relating to “education issues in the state” and report back to the General Assembly regarding the same. This broad proposed bill may just be a placeholder for some other bill.

S.B. No. 850 AN ACT CONCERNING PUBLIC SCHOOLS. This proposed bill would require the State Department of Education to conduct a study relating to “issues concerning public schools in the state” and report back to the General Assembly regarding the same. Again, this broad proposed bill may just be a placeholder for some other bill.

S.B. No. 852 AN ACT CONCERNING THE INCLUSION OF PERSONAL FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT IN THE PUBLIC SCHOOL CURRICULUM AND THE ESTABLISHMENT OF A PERSONAL FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT PILOT PROGRAM. This proposed bill would require the State Department of Education to include personal financial management in the mandated school curriculum; this proposed bill would also establish a pilot program, to be administered by the Capitol Region Education Council, for the teaching of personal financial management for its member school districts.

H.B. No. 7112 AN ACT INCREASING THE AMOUNT A TOWN MAY DEPOSIT INTO A NONLAPSING ACCOUNT FOR UNEXPENDED EDUCATION FUNDS. This proposed bill would increase the amount of unexpended education funds that a town may deposit into a nonlapsing account at the end of each fiscal year to 2% of the total budgeted appropriation for education (from the current 1%). This bill would also require that any expenditure of funds from this account be authorized by the local board of education of the town and be for educational purposes only.

H.B. No. 7109 AN ACT CONCERNING INTERDISTRICT MAGNET SCHOOL PROGRAM FUNDING. This proposed bill would increase the per pupil funding for interdistrict magnet school programs by 5%.

To repeat my standard warning: The fact that a public hearing has been scheduled on these bills is not necessarily an indication that the Committee will pass them, but it is at least an indication that they are under serious consideration.  When these bills have been fully drafted and/or revised, and if they advance toward a vote by the Committee and the full General Assembly, we will provide more detail as to their contents.

Read Full Article
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

The 2018-19 season for certified Connecticut teacher and administrator contract negotiations is just about officially in the books. While a handful of contracts have yet to be reported, this year’s certified negotiation season could end with exactly one true interest arbitration award for certified teacher and administrator bargaining units.

The Waterbury teachers’ interest arbitration award (copy available here) was issued on January 17, 2019 by a three-person arbitration panel.  Pursuant to the Teacher Negotiation Act, the award is now pending before the City’s Board of Aldermen, the City’s legislative body, which has the authority to reject the award by a two-thirds majority vote and send it to a second arbitration panel.  If not, the January 17, 2019 award will probably stand as the only disputed certified interest arbitration award to come out of the 2018-19 negotiation season.

The Waterbury award is interesting for a number of reasons, but is perhaps most noteworthy because the arbitration panel (by a two-to-one vote and with a rare written dissent by the dissenting arbitrator) awarded the Waterbury Board of Education a “hard zero” for the 2019-20 school year. As a result, next year Waterbury teachers will stay exactly where they are in terms of wages and will not receive either a general wage increase (“GWI”) or salary schedule step-increase.

Is the Waterbury award the start of a new trend? Are we back to the era where boards of education can expect to get at least one hard zero per three year contract?  Is Connecticut’s economic picture so gloomy and future ECS funding so precarious that we can expect zeros as the norm going forward?

Probably not.

The Waterbury award needs to be understood in the context of Connecticut public-sector binding interest arbitration, which requires arbitration panels to choose between the last best offers (“LBO”) submitted by the parties.  Arbitrators are statutorily bound by the Teacher Negotiation Act (and Municipal Employees Relations Act) to choose between the two offers submitted by the parties.  They cannot “split the baby” — it’s one or the other.  Often this constraint looms large over an award.

This seems to be especially true in Waterbury. For the 2019-20 school year, the Board of Education proposed “no general wage increase over the salary schedule for the 2018-19 school year.”  (The Board’s LBO did not affirmatively state that there would be no step-movement for 2019-20, which became a significant point of contention in the award.)  The Waterbury Teachers Association’s LBO proposed a 2.25% GWI without step-movement.

In awarding the LBO of the Board of Education, the panel chair emphasized that the arbitrators lacked the authority to simply award a GWI figure they deemed appropriate and were instead bound to pick between the offers submitted:

The Chair believes strongly that the evidence on the financial capability of Waterbury would support, and the teachers deserve, a modest salary increase for 2019-2020. In the Chair’s opinion the zero last best offer of the Board is too low but the 2.25% last best offer from the Association is too high. . . . The statute commands that the Panel select one of the two last best offers. And, on balance, given our appropriate statutory constraints, the financial capability of Waterbury favors the last best offer of the Board.

Waterbury Award, p. 28.

The panel’s award of a zero-percent GWI for 2019-20 thus seemed to be less about whether a hard zero was appropriate and more about the fact that the Union’s LBO of 2.25% appeared to be too high. As the comment above suggests, the arbitration panel likely would have awarded a total salary increase somewhere between 0% and 2.25% if such an offer was on the table, either in the form of a lower GWI or some combination of GWI and step-movement had GWI and step-movement been split into separate issues.  Notably, the arbitration panel awarded the Board’s LBO of a salary and insurance premium cost-share reopener in the second and third years of the contract.

Every interest arbitration case turns on its own merits. While there are certainly some common considerations that impact virtually every community in Connecticut (the overall health of the state and national economy, the state budget, etc.) other features are unique.  Waterbury and Greenwich, for instance, obviously differ in their ability to pay board of education employees.

By the same token, as the Waterbury case illustrates, an arbitration award cannot be understood just by looking at the final GWI or final contract language awarded by the arbitration panel. Interest arbitration is a choice between last best offers and this feature of the process needs to be taken into consideration in evaluating whether past arbitration awards provide meaningful guidance in future negotiations or arbitrations.

Read Full Article
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

Attorney Mark J. Sommaruga, who is a member of Pullman & Comley’s Labor, Employment Law and Employee Benefits Department and is chair of its School Law section, recently authored Understanding Connecticut’s Freedom of Information Act (5th Edition 2018).  This 146 page book is written primarily to provide guidance to public agencies and their members (and also members of the public at large) by providing real life stories and case studies, along with practical advice for those trying to comply with the FOIA’s public records and open meetings requirements.  This book has been published by Pullman & Comley and is being jointly distributed with the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CABE). This book is a must have for any public agency or entity covered by the FOIA, and provides practical advice for those trying to comply with the FOIA’s public records and open meetings requirements. 

Attorney Sommaruga has extensive experience advising clients with regard to FOIA issues, and regularly practices before the Freedom of Information Commission.  Sommaruga frequently writes about FOIA issues on his firm’s education law (Education Law Notes) and labor and employment law (Working Together) blogs.  Sommaruga also regularly presents on FOIA issues at a variety of conferences, workshops and seminars on FOIA issues.   Sommaruga hopes that his book’s combination of analysis of the law and  FOIA “war stories” can help educate everyone on how to  navigate the sometimes daunting  maze of edicts and exceptions contained in the FOIA.  

In this latest edition of this book, there is updated and additional information regarding 1) the latest statutory changes and important decisions concerning the FOIA, 2) law enforcement records, 3) school district videos, and 4) personnel records, along with additional details regarding FOIA compliance

For a copy of this book, please click here.

 

Read Full Article

Read for later

Articles marked as Favorite are saved for later viewing.
close
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

Separate tags by commas
To access this feature, please upgrade your account.
Start your free month
Free Preview