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Former Florida Governor Praises CT’s Education Reform Efforts

by Hugh McQuaid | Sep 20, 2012 5:30am
(6) Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Education, Town News, Labor

Hugh McQuaid photo

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush

FAIRFIELD — Following a speech on education, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush praised Connecticut’s recent education reform package as a success. But comments during his half-hour talk revealed stark ideological differences between him and Gov. Dannel Malloy on the place of labor unions in our schools.

“I don’t think there should be public unions, period. There’s a conflict of interest here,” Bush said Wednesday.

The comment drew applause from the audience in a small auditorium at the General Electric complex, which hosted the event sponsored by the Connecticut Policy Institute. The institute was founded by former Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley, who spoke briefly before Bush.

Bush, son of former President George H.W. Bush and brother of former President George W. Bush, was invited to speak about the education reform his state passed while he was governor. Those changes have seen drastic improvements in Florida’s nationwide standing on education. Bush now serves as the chairman of the Foundation for Excellence in Education’s board of directors.

The remark on public unions came as Bush was recounting a previous speaking engagement where he made the same statement about public unions.

“Anyway, I said this, whether you agree or not is not the point. The fact was, my next meeting right after the speech was the head of the [National Education Association],” he said getting a laugh out of the crowd.

“I realized I had this meeting and I went ‘Oh, brilliant. Brilliant Jeb, brilliant.’ So the first thing I said was ‘How’d you like my speech?’” Bush recalled saying.

It was a lighthearted story about an awkward situation but it underscores some cultural differences between two states and two governors.

In Florida, Bush helped to push through sweeping changes to the state’s education system, including scrapping tenure for all new teachers, who now work on one-year contracts. He did this over the objections of teachers unions.

“We didn’t have a warm and cordial relationship with Florida’s teachers union,” Bush recalled during a Q&A session. “I view this in one level as a failure on my part. But I think if you stand on principle — I was impatient and passionate. I really wanted to do this fast and quick. I wanted to get every possible thing I could get and go after the next.”

Bush said if he had paused he may have been able to find some consensus, though he kind of doubted it.

But the desire to quickly enact change — and a frustration with resistance — may be a sentiment with which Malloy can empathize. The Democrat had the support of the state’s public sector unions during his close election against Foley, but he’s frequently butted heads with them since taking office.

Soon after taking over, Malloy called for significant concessions from state employees. When state workers initially rejected the negotiated package, he moved forward with layoffs that led to some accusing him of bullying.

Malloy also got off to a rough start with the state’s teachers unions when he suggested during this year’s State of the State address that to get tenure “in today’s system basically the only thing you have to do is show up for four years. Do that, and tenure is yours.”

The comment put off teachers early in a reform debate that saw the unions running ads against Malloy’s plan and teachers protesting on the steps of the state Capitol. But the Malloy administration continued to negotiate with legislators, and legislators continued talking with the unions.

In the end, Malloy didn’t get everything he wanted in the final bill, but he got more than legislative leaders initially wanted to give him, including a transition toward a system that ties tenure to teacher evaluations.

When the governor eventually signed the bill union representatives attended the ceremony. Phil Apruzzese, president of the Connecticut Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, said that “all of the nonsense about tenure and its effectiveness will go away” if the state can implement a good evaluation process.

While many in Connecticut called the final product a compromise, Bush sees it as watered down.

“It may not have been exactly what everybody wanted, it looked like it got watered down a little bit because the status quo forces are pretty strong and powerful, at least there’s the perception that they are. But I think that is a success that you’ve started on the journey,” he said.

Bush said starting the process was the most important part, and suggested that lawmakers who were afraid of union “threatening” may be emboldened to enact more change if they’re re-elected.

“‘Hey it turns out I didn’t get my behind chewed into by unions when they threatened me and said that if you vote for this thing, you’re going to get beat,” Bush said. 

It’s important that the state view education reform as a process, to be addressed and refined over time, not just an item on a checklist, he said. It did not seem as though Bush viewed unions as a partner in that process.

While he said he’s sure the unions care about the education of students, he said it wasn’t their main objective.

“Their core mission is to protect the economic interests of their members, plain and simple. We have to separate that function, which is the unions’ responsibility, and learning. When there’s a conflict . . . you fight,” he said.

Bush said he couldn’t understand how someone could not be angry about the teachers’ strike that just ended in Chicago.

“Outrageous. I mean, I cannot imagine. That’s not allowed in Florida, thank God, but I cannot imagine teachers striking at the start of a school year,” he said, adding that principals should have the ability to hire good teachers and get rid of the ones who are completely ineffective.

“This is America? This is how it works? We’re casting aside a whole generation rather than saying let’s make teaching a profession. Let’s reward it when we have excellence. When we have mediocrity, let’s develop strategies to improve the capabilities. And when we have abject failure that’s consistent, find another job for the teacher that is damning the life of 20 to 30 children,” Bush said.

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(6) Comments

posted by: GoatBoyPHD | September 20, 2012  8:34am

GoatBoyPHD

No public sector unions?

After successfully blocking $300 million in Race to the Top education funding for CT, former AFT chief Sharon Palmer was awarded a Malloy administration post as his liason to labor (Labor Commissioner).

posted by: THREEFIFTHS | September 20, 2012  6:17pm

What a joke.JEB and his pro-corporation Republican pals were only too happy to Attack unions.Just take a look at the current GOP.They are the ones that incurred the DEBT, excessive government interference and use thuggery.Hey Jeb Talk about Mitt’s Forty-Seven-Per-Cent Problem.

posted by: perturbed | September 20, 2012  11:20pm

perturbed

I’m sorry, this can’t go unchallenged:

But the desire to quickly enact change — and a frustration with resistance — may be a sentiment with which Malloy can empathize. The Democrat had the support of the state’s public sector unions during his close election against Foley, but he’s frequently butted heads with them since taking office.

Soon after taking over, Malloy called for significant concessions from state employees. When state workers initially rejected the negotiated package, he moved forward with layoffs that led to some accusing him of bullying.

As a rank-and-file public sector union member, I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about here.

I have never witnessed Malloy butting heads with the public sector unions since taking office—not once. Malloy and the unions were a veritable tag team, both fighting as hard as they could to beat us rank-and-file into submission. The unions bullied us union members every bit as much as Malloy did. They were on the same side, for chrissakes. They both needed their deal to go through.

The unions never accuse Malloy of bullying. Hell, if Malloy didn’t threaten layoffs, the unions would have been blatantly disappointed! After the deal went through (lowered ratification bar and all), one union boss was actually heard gloating about how effective the layoff threats were.

Were you here when that was going on?

Or are you confusing the union bosses with the rank-and-file union members?

The dynamics between Malloy and the public sector union bosses in CT are unlike anything I’ve read about anywhere else.

(And this isn’t FL, Dannel. You won’t get re-elected here.)

—perturbed

posted by: Matt OConnor | September 21, 2012  3:21pm

What really needs to be challenged is why former and likely future gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley let Jeb Bush’s remarks about public unions stand.

Does Tom Foley agree with Jeb when he said “I don’t think there should be public unions, period” at this forum? His silence speaks volumes.

So does the latest “study” put out by his “think tank” that proposes replacing public service workers’ pension plans with risky 401(k) savings accounts. If Mr. Foley doesn’t agree with Jeb Bush that public workers shouldn’t have a voice, he clearly believes that they shouldn’t have any retirement security.

What is also clear is that Tom Foley’s vision for CT looks a lot like Scott Walker’s vision for WI. And that should concern anyone in our state who works for a living, whether in the public or private sectors.

posted by: perturbed | September 21, 2012  9:35pm

perturbed

@Matt OConnor

Right on cue, look who shows up! This is priceless! (Can you even bang that drivel out on your keyboard with a straight face?)

Would you have volunteered—volunteered!—to weaken all our collective bargaining rights by lowering the contract ratification bar from 80% to a simple majority if anyone like Foley were in office? (Here’s a primer on what you agreed to give up: Coalition Grabbed Power From State Unions When It Changed Bylaws.)

Could you have cut a deal with a Foley to pass remnants of your health care reform bill in exchange for unprecedented—retroactive!— pension cuts? (Or was the agreement for executive orders guaranteeing SEIU new home health care workers’ dues also part of it?)

Here’s an earnest question for you, Matt OConnor: Did any other state in the nation slash the accrued pension benefits of existing state employees retroactively, or did that only happen in CT?

Oh, I know other states enacted cuts to the benefits of state employees. But did they take effect retroactively, on benefits already earned over all prior years of service by existing employees, anywhere else but in CT? So far, the worst I’ve seen is in RI, and yes, existing employees were affected, but the benefits they had already earned to date were preserved. Not so in CT. Here you SOBs applied the cuts retroactively.

(I can’t wait to get out of the union that betrayed us—or become a fee payer, if that will have to do for now.)

—perturbed

posted by: Bronx | September 23, 2012  3:13pm

Jeb Bush needs to explore what a conflict of interest actually means…Teachers having basic bargaining rights,and desire to make a decent living does not hinder their altruistic intentions. Meanwhile we have a former Governor from a state that had a woeful standard of education under his watch going on a national tour espousing his views on what can fix it. This while he received millions of dollars in lobbying and campaign contributions from education reform groups for years. This while his virtual schools have been a dismal failure and are currently being investigated in various states, this while his charter schools have underperformed compared to their traditional public school counterparts, and this while Jeb Bush has a monetary investment in charter schools, software and textbook companies, and virtual schools…I guess teachers making a middle class living “conflicts” with Jeb’s desire to become even more wealthy off the backs of children and teachers…