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Hear State Education Commissioner on Race to the Top

Involvement encouraged in Race to the Top

As the state scrambles to meet a January deadline to get local school districts to sign on to the State Department of Education’s (SDE) proposed education reform plan for funding under the federal Race to the Top (RTTT) grant, CEA held a special meeting for local Association leaders to meet with State Education Commissioner Mark McQuillan.

At the December 17 meeting, McQuillan explained the state’s RTTT application process, what it means in terms of funding to districts, and what the grant could mean for teachers. The state must submit its application by January 19 to be eligible for $175 million in federal grants.

The commissioner said the grant would allow Connecticut to move forward on some significant education reform proposals, such as the high school reform plan proposed last year but never approved because of state budget problems. According to the commissioner, a  “reconstituted” high school reform plan is part of the state’s RTTT grant.

In addition to McQuillan’s presentation, the meeting was led by CEA President Phil Apruzzese, CEA Executive Director John Yrchik, and key CEA managers. They and the commissioner encouraged local Association leaders to get involved in a dialogue with districts that decide to participate in the RTTT grant.

At the same time, CEA leaders urged local Association officers to make sure that if they participate that any rights protecting the Association or its members are not waived or overridden.

Apruzzese and CEA Director of Policy and Professional Practice Mary Loftus Levine are among representatives of key public education stakeholders who have been involved in the state’s RTTT application process. They serve on the SDE’s External Partners Advisory Committee that has met since late summer.

The December meeting in Cromwell was the first opportunity for local Association leaders to hear directly from the commissioner about the implications and goals of RTTT. After covering the components of the RTTT application, McQuillan answered questions by some of the 80 local teacher leaders attending the meeting.

Districts that agree to work with the state and participate in the RTTT grant must implement all or significant portions of the state’s reform plan that will be submitted as part of the grant application. Participating districts will be required to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that will hold them accountable for meeting the goals, timelines, budgets, and targets specified by the state.

Districts that decide to participate in the state’s RTTT plan must submit a signed MOU to the state by Monday, January 11.The MOU is binding on the district and at a minimum must be signed by the superintendent and the board of education chair. The Association is more likely to be involved with — and shape — the program if it also signs the MOU.

One thing to consider is that RTTT is a competitive grant program. The federal government has established a point system to decide which states may get money based on certain things.

Connecticut gets more credit in this competitive grant if the agreement also includes the signature of the local Association president. However, in each school district that decides to participate, the local union president is not required to sign the agreement.

The bottom line is that deciding whether to sign on to the grant is a decision that each local has to make for itself. Locals have to evaluate how children’s education might improve and what their members might gain.

McQuillan said that, while there is a lot of apprehension about the state’s reform plan being proposed under the RTTT grant, Association leaders should be at the table to “shape the dialogue in a positive way.”

CEA Legal Counsel Ronald Cordilico spoke to local leaders about how they can effectively participate and collaborate with their  administrators on RTTT but still maintain and uphold teacher collective bargaining rights and rights protected by state statute.

Cordilico said local presidents and teacher members can serve on district committees, subcommittees, and ad hoc groups with administrators or board members, “but they cannot make any agreements that bind their Association.”

He urged local Association presidents – as representatives of their members — to be “precise” about their roles and those of any members who participate on committees, such as RTTT. “The role of the Association representatives on any committees should be clearly defined and explained to both the Association committee representative and the administration.”

Cordilico added that any committee agreement must be submitted to the Association as the bargaining agent, separate from the committee. The Association’s officers should then meet separately, pursuant to its local constitution, to decide what action to take.

“Get any agreement in writing. Don’t rely on informal conversations,” he stressed.

Apruzzese encouraged local leaders to take an “active role” in any and all committees or arenas where RTTT programs are developed and implemented. He said local Association officers can also help by  educating and engaging members in discussions about the state reform plan in the RTTT grant.

Yrchik said RTTT is an opportunity for teachers and the Association to assume an advocacy role in making decisions that will shape education policies and programs.

“Teachers have long wanted a say in education policy. We once hoped that collective bargaining would give us a say in the education policies that affect classroom teachers, but it hasn’t. RTTT is not an ideal situation, but it does look for our approval. There is a sea change coming in education,” he said. “RTTT is one place where we can make ourselves visible to our members and to the public about education policy.”

CEA will continue to provide information on RTTT as the process develops. Members and local leaders who have questions about RTTT should contact Mary Loftus Levine: maryl@cea.org

4 Comments
  1. @Union: CEA has taken every opportunity to engage association leaders about the opportunities that RTTT provides, including this one-on-one meeting with the commissioner. In the final analysis, local associations need to decide for themselves how to proceed.

    January 13, 2010
  2. Nice summary of the presentation given by the commissioner. However, I was hoping that CEA would take a stronger stance and provide more guidance to locals regarding Dr. McQuillan’s comments.

    January 12, 2010
  3. Pete Silva #

    I taught in Montana for eight years; in South Dakota for two years; in Minneapolis for 15 years and in Maine for one year. I have been teaching in Connecticut for eleven years. I have to say that I was impressed with the quality of schools in Connecticut from the first year I lived here. We do many things better than districts around the United States. Do we have room for improvement? Yes, of course. But let’s not assume that everything in our state educational system is outdated and wrong and needs to be thrown out and reformed. Lets look that the systems that are outstanding and see if we can learn from them. There are many of them in this state.

    January 12, 2010
  4. Dina Gorlick #

    Having moved from the nation’s 2nd best educational system (CT) to the 2nd worst (Clark Co.School District, NV) 18 months ago, I can attest to the superb teachers and teacher training that Connecticut offers its citizens. And CEA is one of the reasons CT enjoys its reputation: a strong association providing leadership and protections for its members is essential for success. You never fully appreciate something until you’ve ‘lost’ it! Keep up the good work, CEA.

    December 25, 2009

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