“The great questions of the day will not be settled by means of speeches and majority decisions but by iron and blood” — Otto von Bismarck
Governor Dannel Malloy’s original education reform bill limited “the influence of unions and collective bargaining in a network of low-performing schools, to allow for more flexibility in turning them around,” according to one news report. The version of the amended bill extruded by the General Assembly’s education committee leaves intact union decision making power in those schools targeted for improvement.
Executive director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents Joseph Cirasuolo characterized the legislative revision of the Malloy bill as removing from Mr. Malloy’s education commissioner the authority needed “if we are going to make a difference in these schools.” The revised bill, Mr. Cirasuolo said, mandates such extensive negotiation with teacher unions in schools needing reform that the bill “could, block a turnaround strategy.”
Reform advocates such as chief executive officer of ConnCAN Patrick Riccards characterized the legislative revision as reactionary and destructive of reform. The revised bill, Mr. Riccards said, is “a major step back” that deprives the commissioner of education of the power and authority necessary to turn around low performing schools. Speculating on the intent of the revised committee bill, a member of a New Haven group advocating reform said, “It’s almost written as if one is trying to coax out a veto from the governor. For those who thought the second version is a major step back, this is yet another major step back.”
It was German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck who compared the manufacture of laws in a parliamentary system with the production of sausage, never a pretty sight. “Laws are like sausages,” Bismarck said, “it is better not to see them being made.” And the same Iron Chancellor cautioned, “Never believe anything in politics until it has been officially denied.”
The denial that Mr. Malloy’s original bill had been effectively eviscerated and rendered bloodless by union cronies in the General Assembly fell to Malloy factotum Roy Occhiogrosso, who wrote in an e-mail to Connecticut’s media that the bill was “a work in progress,” sausage in the making. It would be more truthful to say that Democratic committee members within the union bought General Assembly now have refashioned Mr. Malloy’s original bill into to the legislative equivalent of a zombie.
As was the case with Mr. Malloy’s first budget, the sausage making process is proceeding merrily along behind closed doors, and the final product will have no Republican fingerprints on it. Within Connecticut’s one party government, the new opposition party is made up of General Assembly Democrats yoked to union interests. All the important bill shaping negotiations are occurring behind closed doors, and very little information concerning the secret negotiations between Malloy administration officials and General Assembly members negotiating on behalf of powerful teacher unions has seeped through the locked and bolted chamber.
“Yes, for now,” Mr. Occhiogrosso told reporters, “the people in the room have agreed to keep the details of those conversations in the room — because that’s really the only way you can negotiate. But we continue to take into account the views and concerns of all key stakeholders,” provided the stakeholders are not taxpaying constituents of Republican Party members in the legislature.
Mr. Malloy’s spine is not exactly a limp noodle; there is an abundance of blood and iron there. Mr. Malloy appears for the moment to be fiercely committed to those features of his plan without which the reform of failing public schools in the network of schools targeted for improvement would be impossible. The union connected stakeholders in Mr. Occhiogrosso’s backroom intend to decouple tenure and performance evaluations from employment, and the extra money – Where will it come from? – the governor proposes to spend on failing public schools sets their legs a’ tingling.
If Mr. Malloy is adamant that the essential reform features of his initial plan should be preserved in a final bill, he will at some point during the sausage making ordeal need legislative reinforcement from precisely those Republicans he has consistently spurned in budget negotiations. The doors of democracy will then spring open. Whether or not Republicans will rush through to assist Mr. Malloy in his struggle against special interests to advance the public good is, at this point, an open question.