Bob Bombast, veteran member of the Nutmeg Board of Education, often receives complaints from parents about teachers. He does his best to help parents understand that there is a chain of command and that Board members should not get directly involved in addressing problems with teachers. However, it seems to Bob that the number of complaints has grown each year, and he decided that the Nutmeg Board should take action.
Before bringing his concerns to a public Board meeting, Bob called Ms. Superintendent to ask how she makes sure that teachers are held accountable. Ms. Superintendent described the training that administrators receive on teacher evaluation and progressive discipline. But, she explained, the complicated procedures set forth in the district’s Teacher Evaluation and Support Plan makes it very difficult for administrators to move on marginal teachers.
Bob was intrigued. “Who approved that plan and what can we do about it?” Bob asked. He was surprised, therefore, to learn that he and the Board had approved the plan some years before. “Well, if we approved the plan, we can certainly ‘unapprove’ it and come up with something with more teeth.”
Bob then called a couple of Board members with his concerns and his plan to recommend that the Board replace the current plan with a plan that gives administrators greater ability to move weak teachers out. Fellow Board member Penny Pincher predicted a major fight with the Nutmeg Union of Teachers (NUTS) over any changes that would provide for greater accountability for teachers. But Board member Mal Content told Bob that he was all in for changing in the teacher evaluation and support plan.
At Bob’s request, Mr. Chairman included “Revision of the Nutmeg Teacher Evaluation and Support Plan” on the agenda for the Board meeting last night. Before the Board even got to that item, however, NUTS Representative Bruno and two teachers excoriated Bob and the Board during Public Comment for even thinking about touching the Nutmeg Plan. Bruno described it as a “masterpiece of collaboration” between the Union and the Board, and he vowed to take the Board to binding arbitration if it proposes any significant changes in the plan. The teachers who spoke warned the Board that changing the plan to “target teachers” would exacerbate the teacher shortage.
When the Board finally got to the agenda item, Bob proceeded as planned, unmoved by the comments from Bruno and the teachers. “We have a big problem in Nutmeg,” Bob started, “and that problem is an overly-complicated teacher evaluation plan. We want teachers to succeed, of course, but when we get these parent and student complaints about poor teachers, the Superintendent should be able to step up and terminate their employment.”
Bob then passed out a marked up copy of the Nutmeg Teacher Evaluation and Support Plan with major edits that would leave the Superintendent in complete control of the process. Given the comments of the Union and the teachers, some of the Board members were unsure at first whether to go along with Bob’s revisions, and Ms. Superintendent urged the Board to be cautious and move slowly on such an important matter. But cajoling from Bob and Mal carried the day, and the Board approved Bob’s revisions to the Nutmeg Teacher Evaluation and Support Plan.
Did the Nutmeg Board of Education have the legal right to take the action it did?
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As described below, boards of education are authorized to approve and periodically revise teacher evaluation and support plans. But boards of education must exercise that authority in accordance with statute, which was not the case here.
The problem in Nutmeg was that Bob and the Board revised the teacher evaluation and support plan unilaterally. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-220a(b) provides that boards of education must create a professional development and evaluation committee (PDEC). This committee is charged with various responsibilities, including the development, evaluation and annual updating of a comprehensive local professional development plan for certified employees and for paraeducators, as well as “participation in the development or adoption of a teacher evaluation and support program pursuant to section 10-151b.”
Section 10-151b, in turn, provides that boards of education must adopt the teacher evaluation and support plan “by mutual agreement” with their local PDEC. If there is no such agreement with the PDEC on a proposed plan, boards of education are permitted to adopt the model plan established by the State Board of Education, but again only by mutual agreement with the PDEC. If there is no such mutual agreement, boards of education may then adopt a plan unilaterally, provided the plan is consistent with the guidelines for teacher evaluation established by the State Board of Education.
Board of education members should know that the teacher evaluation process is likely to undergo fundamental changes in the coming year. Under consideration is the recommendation by the Educator Evaluation and Support Council 2022 (the successor to the Performance Evaluation Advisory Council) that the State Board of Education make significant revisions in the guidelines for teacher and administrator evaluation. Board members and superintendents will have important new responsibilities in this process.
As board members and superintendents prepare to take action in response to the new guidelines for teacher evaluation, it may be helpful to consider the following points.
First, board members may want to review and revise the current membership structure of the PDEC for their districts. In recent years, the responsibilities of the PDEC have changed, including the requirement now that the PDEC develop professional development plans for paraeducators and that it consider “priorities and needs related to student social-emotional learning and restorative practices . . . .” While boards of education are required to include on PDEC committees at least one member appointed by the teachers’ union and one member appointed by the administrators’ union, the statute otherwise authorizes boards to include on PDECs “such other school personnel as the board deems appropriate.” As they see fit, boards of education may provide for the inclusion on the PDEC of paraeducators and/or teachers or other professional staff with special expertise in social-emotional learning.
Second, there is no duty to negotiate over the terms of the teacher evaluation and support plan. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-153d(b). To be sure, the bargaining representatives of teachers and administrators each have the right to appoint at least one member to the PDEC, and boards may welcome their input. However, Bruno or NUTS would have no right to demand negotiations over the plan, let alone bring a dispute to binding arbitration.
Finally, the coming school year will be a year of transition. On March 1, 2023, the State Board of Education extended the Flexibilities in implementing the teacher evaluation and support plans for the 2023-2024 school year. These Flexibilities may be adopted in local and regional districts by mutual agreement between the district PDEC and the board of education. Given the significant changes proposed for the guidelines for teacher evaluation for 2024-2025, the coming year will be a time for learning and developing plans based on the new guidelines for teacher evaluation so that they may be implemented faithfully starting July 1, 2024.