Education mandate concerns expressed at forum

State Rep. Gail Lavielle (R-143) hosted a public meeting last month to discuss relief from state mandates that could be considered detrimental to teaching and learning. Dr. Colleen Palmer, superintendent of schools in Weston, co-hosted the event, held at Bedford Middle School in Westport on Nov. 21.

The meeting was an open forum, with the public invited to speak, and approximately 200 people filled the room. Wilton Public Schools superintendent Dr. Gary Richards was in attendance; he was one of several school heads at the meeting, including those from Region 9, Darien, Ridgefield, and Westport. State Sen. Toni Boucher (R-26) also attended the meeting, as did other elected officials from the area.

Ms. Lavielle has previously expressed concern over public school mandates that might have a negative impact on students and the teachers’ ability to educate.

“As this evening’s turnout clearly demonstrates, the issue of mandate relief is too important to too many people in too many districts to wait,” she said. The testimony from school superintendents, principals, teachers, parents, school board members, union representatives, elected officials, and members of the general public will be useful in crafting legislation for the upcoming legislative session.

“This will go a long way toward the ultimate goal of ensuring that our schools can provide the best possible learning environment and education to our students.”

Ms. Lavielle authored a section of a bill introduced during the 2013 legislative session to identify opportunities for mandate relief. Her section of the bill required the creation of a task force that includes Dr. Palmer. Two seats are still open on the task force, of which Ms. Lavielle is also a member.

The audience raised concerns over Common Core State Standards that are considered to be unnecessary for higher-performing schools such as Wilton.

“The need for mandate relief has grown over the years as the education cost-sharing formula has shifted from more affluent towns to schools with high percentages of families living in poverty,” Ms. Boucher said. “Many towns now receive only one to two cents from the state for every tax dollar sent to Hartford. Many of these are also high-performing districts and feel they should be relieved of most state mandates as a result.”

Those in attendance also expressed other opportunities for mandate relief, including administration processes and procedures related to teacher evaluations and student success plans, regional school calendars, and procedures related to special education programs.

“Superintendents in our region have been concerned about the proliferation of state mandates for years, and I believe this concern is shared by the teachers, community members, and board of education members who spoke,” Dr. Richards said. “I applaud Rep. Lavielle for organizing this hearing and sincerely hope that the education committee will put forth legislation that will address some of the concerns that we expressed.”

Ms. Lavielle continued to express her concern over all schools, not just the high-performing ones. The creation of the task force is intended to bring mandate relief to those high-performing schools, but she also hopes the task force may also discover other mandates that will be considered “unnecessary, ineffective, or detrimental to learning in all of our public schools.”

“Teachers are overburdened with administrative tasks, and towns are under constant pressure from escalating costs in their schools,” she said. “Mandate relief can help school districts save money by operating more efficiently and free up resources to devote more time to educating students.”

The common core approach was a big issue for the audience, Ms. Lavielle said, many of whom felt the concept has been rushed into service, with a few in attendance looking to end it completely after it has just begun to be implemented. Others took a more guarded approach, hoping to see changes.

She said teachers especially took aim at the development time — time they feel takes them away from their students, where they most want to dedicate their efforts. The Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium (SBAC) also took a hit, she said, for its collection of data that will be used to assess teachers and students.

Mostly, it was the “one size fits all” facet that Ms. Lavielle has advocated against that was a concern to those in attendance. She said she will take what she learned from the public session to the task force when it is formally convened. Additionally, she hoped the words of the audience would be heard by the education committee.

“The ultimate goal is to ensure that our schools can provide the best possible learning environment and education to our students,” she said.