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OP-ED | Atoning For Past Sins, Malloy Does Somersaults For Teachers

by Terry D. Cowgill | Feb 7, 2014 6:30am
(9) Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Education, Election 2014, Opinion

Three weeks ago, I guessed that Gov. Dannel Malloy and the state’s 44,000 public school teachers would kiss and make up in advance of the governor’s presumptive candidacy for re-election. I noted that Malloy had taken some “baby steps” in his attempt to heal the wounds caused by his impulsive remarks about teacher tenure two years ago.

Last week in his quest for redemption, Malloy went from baby steps to leaping tall buildings in a single bound. He announced in a joint letter with Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman and the top two Democratic leaders in the General Assembly that he supports delaying the implementation of the new teacher evaluation system — a labor-intensive model much loathed by educators — that was part of a controversial education reform bill he signed in 2012. The letter asks that a panel of classroom teachers be formed to share their experiences and make recommendations to lawmakers and the governor’s office by Jan. 1, 2015, which, conveniently, would be several weeks after his re-election.

In the same breath, Malloy also announced that he will nix a plan to spend $1 million on a public relations and advertising campaign to promote the Common Core State Standards, a previously popular program that has fallen into increasing disfavor with teachers across the country.

With straight faces, both Malloy and House Speaker Brendan Sharkey denied the two moves had anything to do with politics. And in a peculiar display of bipartisanship, Republicans, some of whom had been critical of the governor for moving too fast on education, applauded Malloy for belatedly coming around to their way of thinking.

But Malloy wasn’t finished spreading good cheer to teachers. A couple of days later, the governor put the icing on the cake. He proposed exempting half of the pension income of Connecticut’s teachers from the state income tax. If approved by the General Assembly, Malloy’s proposal would cost the state treasury almost $50 million over the next two years.

Malloy promptly cast his teachers’ tax proposal as a matter of simple fairness. Connecticut’s income tax currently exempts between 75 and 100 percent of federally taxable Social Security income, depending on the taxpayer’s gross income. Connecticut teachers haven’t been covered by Social Security since at least 1959, when the General Assembly permanently exempted public school teachers at the request of the union that represents most of them — the Connecticut Education Association.

It’s difficult to see how the current system is unfair to teachers. True, their pension income is effectively taxed at a higher rate than the income of Social Security recipients. But teachers never had upwards of 6 percent of their pay deducted for Social Security either. Over the course of a 30-year career, that’s a considerable savings.

At any rate, Malloy’s recent attempts to appease teachers have been breathtaking. Then again, he’s got a lot of ground to make up after he said, “Basically the only thing you have to do is show up for four years . . . and tenure is yours.”

Cynics aren’t buying it. Malloy-critic-in-chief Jonathan Pelto, a former Democratic state legislator who has aligned himself squarely with the teachers unions, branded the Common Core/evaluation move as a “bizarre political ploy” that happened only because Malloy “removed his blinders and took out his ear plugs long enough to announce that the unfair teacher evaluation system should be delayed until after the election.”

I’m not in the habit of agreeing with Pelto on matters educational, but I think he’s on to something. While I would not characterize Malloy’s teacher sops as “bizarre,” — indeed, they’re entirely rational under the circumstances — they are blatantly political. Malloy says he’s been thinking about taking these actions for months after talking with educators. In the case of cutting pension taxes, he says he’s been contemplating it since 2006. But it would take a gigantic leap of faith to think it’s mere coincidence he made all three of these moves in an election year.

Surprisingly, there is no unanimity in union ranks. Unlike Pelto, CEA Executive Director Mark Waxenberg insisted that delaying the new teacher evaluations was not political because discussions on this matter involving the governor’s office “have been going on for a long, long time.’’

If so, why did Malloy wait until 2014 to take action? I suppose the answer is simple: because that’s what politicians do. Wait until the most beneficial moment politically to announce any news good or bad. For bad news, use the Friday afternoon news dump. For good news, put on a Superman outfit and place yourself on the starting blocks of your re-election campaign. And if the teachers respond by giving Malloy a headwind, he’ll be tough to stop.

Contributing op-ed columnist Terry Cowgill blogs at ctdevilsadvocate.com, is a former high-school English teacher who was an editor and senior writer for The Lakeville Journal Company. Follow him on Twitter @terrycowgill.

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(9) Comments

posted by: Noteworthy | February 7, 2014  8:35am

I’d have a lot more respect for this type of politics, if Malloy and Dem political leaders were honest about what they were doing, instead of justifying vote buying heroics as good public policy. Either this is good policy, or the other is good policy but what is clear is that what Malloy wants, is to have his political cake and eat it too. That is ever good for the public.

posted by: Chien DeBerger | February 7, 2014  9:29am

I just hope that our most educated and brightest will open their eyes and see through this sham come November. Again wishful thinking….

posted by: bgenerous | February 7, 2014  9:51am

While the 50% teacher pension exemption may yield more votes from teachers, how many will it take away from non-teachers?

posted by: Bluecoat | February 7, 2014  10:39am

So when do the Parents and Students get protection from the data mining of personal & private information that will be asked of our kids when they participate in “survey’s and/or “research” testing?
Have parents given their permission to allow personality tests or psych. tests to be given to their kids? No they haven’t. But the revised FERPA Law and SBA Agreement gives the testing company the right to do this.

Who will be the first teacher to walk out with their students during testing week?

Do teachers, administrators, or any adult in the SDE really need to know a child’s sexual preference, how many times they had sex, cell phone numbers, parental voting status?
These types of questions are being asked all around the country. Also, the agreement with Smarter Balanced, gives them authorization to collect “biometric” information, by means of Retina Scans’ Palm scans, pressure sensitive computer mouses, facial recognition camers, heartbeat sensors etc…

Who thinks of these things?

Tiem for every elected officail to submit their personal private information to be included in a data base for taxpayers to see. Every state employee must also be subject to personality tests, psych tests, and wear electronic gps bracelets.

posted by: 27Reasons | February 7, 2014  11:27am

Legislators have a chance to save their behinds with teachers, but Malloy is TOAST! There is NOTHING he can do to gain the trust and faith of teachers again! He and his cronies like Stefan should start packing their bags.

posted by: 27Reasons | February 7, 2014  11:30am

Bluecoat is speaking the truth. Most parents really have NO IDEA what their children are being dragged through right now. This whole system being jammed down our throats is very dangerous.

posted by: Linda12 | February 7, 2014  5:30pm

To Chien,

Please don’t underestimate teachers. We read. We are smart. We care about our kids. There isn’t much of a difference between a dem and a republican when it comes to Ed “reform”. One word: vouchers. I will never ever vote for Malloy and the unions do NOT represent the boots on the ground workers: classroom teachers.  Let it implode faster.  We will continue to protect our kids while subverting the nonsense.  Don’t you worry.  Ok?

posted by: R.L. | February 7, 2014  6:42pm

This teacher will NEVER vote for Malloy again.  I believe he has underestimated how badly he has damaged relations with teachers.  This was not only done with his words, but with his actions.  His commissioner of education, “the unintelligible Stefan Pryor”, is a co-founder of Achievement First.  That alone should tell you what he stands for as far as education goes.  What Steven Adamowski has been able to get away with during this governor’s reign is disgusting.  The Paul Vallas fiasco, the back door deals, the no bid contracts…...., these guys are racketeers not public servants.  The union line may be that “the alternative would be so much worse” and they may dare to endorse him, but he has lost the vote of the rank and file teacher.  This in itself brings up another interesting question.  What happens when people are forced to belong to a union that misrepresents them, a union where the rank and file member can’t even vote the state level president out of office? 

The governor’s education plans should not be delayed, they should be scrapped.  Spend the money on the classrooms not on tests and evaluation systems.  Connecticut has historically been one of the top states in the country with regard to education.  Go reform Alabama.  The problems with education in this state stem from the discrepancies between the have and the have not schools.  Privatizing schools in our poorest communities is not the solution.  Malloy is one and done!

posted by: StanMuzyk | February 9, 2014  3:32pm

@TerryCowgill:  Good appraisal.  However, seriously, Malloy isn’t doing any somersaults for the teachers. All he wants is their votes—and this is an example of his daily reelection campaigning at taxpayer’s expense—although be has not officially announced his bid.  He is not working so hard for reelection to have Nancy Wyman to run for governor in his place.