Tom Teacher has worked for the Nutmeg Public Schools for twelve years, and over those years he has often been in conflict over his questionable pedagogical practices with Mr. Principal, who has been his evaluator. Five years ago, and again two years ago, Mr. Principal put Tom on an intensive assistance plan. Both times, Tom addressed the identified deficiencies and was taken off the support plan. But Mr. Principal is frustrated because Tom has again fallen into his old bad habits, and this fall he put Tom Teacher on an intensive assistance plan for a third time.
Tom has now filed a grievance against Mr. Principal over his being placed on intensive assistance once again. In his grievance, Tom claims that Mr. Principal violated the procedural requirements of the Nutmeg Teacher Evaluation and Support Plan. Specifically, Tom alleges that Mr. Principal failed to give him written feedback after a classroom observation within the five-day period following the observation, as specified in the plan. Mr. Principal denied the grievance on the basis that he was sick for three of the days in question and that he provided Tom written feedback within eight days of the observation – in short, no harm, no foul.
Tom appealed to Level Two of the Nutmeg grievance procedure, and Ms. Superintendent promptly denied Tom’s grievance as well. However, Tom was undeterred, and he has appealed the Level Two decision to Level Three, the Nutmeg Board of Education.
The Board convened the hearing last night, and Tom and his representative from the Nutmeg Union of Teachers presented Tom’s case. “Rules are rules,” Tom announced. “Mr. Principal violated the provisions of the Nutmeg Evaluation and Support Program when he provided me written feedback three days late. He should be held accountable by vacating his classroom observation report. Moreover, without Mr. Principal’s classroom observation report, there is no basis for putting me on this silly intensive assistance plan. Vacate the observation report, and terminate this ill-advised plan. I rest my case.”
Veteran Board member Bob Bombast wasn’t having it. “Our contract with NUTS defines a ‘grievance’ as a violation of the collective bargaining agreement, and I haven’t heard word one about the contract. I move that we deny this ridiculous grievance.”
“Wait just a minute!” Board member Mal Content interrupted. “Let Tom finish his presentation, and then we will deny the grievance!”
Board member Red Cent then got in the act. “The problem as I see it is that our evaluation plan is inflexible. Why don’t we revise the plan to give administrators more flexibility in meeting deadlines?”
Bob Bombast pushed back on both Mal and Red, and at Bob’s urging, the Board denied Tom’s grievance on the basis that Tom was not claiming a violation of the collective bargaining agreement.
Is the Nutmeg Board of Education on solid ground?
* * *
It is not. Teachers have a statutory right to file a grievance when they claim a procedural violation of the teacher evaluation and support plan, whether or not the contract so provides. However, the situation in Nutmeg is a good reminder of the important role boards of education play in the teacher evaluation process, a role that is especially important this year.
First, we note that Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-151b, the statute dealing with teacher evaluation, was amended almost twenty years ago to provide that “Claims of failure to follow the established procedures of such teacher evaluation and support program shall be subject to the grievance procedure in collective bargaining agreements negotiated subsequent to July 1, 2004.” Accordingly, though the remedy he seeks through the grievance procedure seems unwarranted, Tom has every right to file and pursue his grievance.
Second, we note that boards of education in Connecticut must adopt a new teacher evaluation and support plan by July1, 2024. Board members should be aware of their responsibilities and their authority in this process because the new law gives school boards and superintendents an opportunity to adopt an effective teacher evaluation and support plan that avoids the technical problems that Nutmeg confronted with Tom’s grievance.
Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-220a(b) has long required that local and regional boards of education establish a professional development and evaluation committee (called the “PDEC” in many districts). The law now specifies that the committee must include at least one representative from the teachers’ bargaining unit, at least one representative from the administrators’ bargaining unit, and, effective July 1, 2023, at least one representative of the paraeducators’ bargaining unit, along with “such other school personnel as the board deems appropriate.” The duties of the professional development and evaluation committee (PDEC) include “participation in the development or adoption of a teacher evaluation and support program for the district.”
Section 23 of Public Act 23-159 requires that local and regional boards of education in Connecticut adopt and implement a new teacher evaluation and support program before July 1, 2024, in accordance with the Connecticut Guidelines for Educator and Leader Evaluation and Support 2023, dated August 31, 2023, and the PDEC remains a central player in that process. As amended by Public Act 23-159, Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-151b provides that the PDEC and the board of education may develop the teacher evaluation and support plan by mutual agreement. If the board of education and the PDEC do not agree on a new plan, the statute provides that the board of education and the PDEC must consider and may by mutual agreement adopt the model teacher evaluation and support program that the State Board of Education is now also required to adopt. However, if the board of education and the PDEC do not agree on that model program, then the “board of education shall adopt and implement a teacher evaluation and support program developed by such board of education, provided such teacher evaluation and support program is consistent with the guidelines adopted by the State Board of Education.” (Emphasis added). In short, boards of education have the final say on the terms of the teacher evaluation and support program that must be in place by July 1 (as long as it is consistent with the Guidelines referenced above).
Boards of education must exercise their authority in adoption of a new teacher evaluation and support plan carefully so that the new plan is effective and does not include unnecessarily complicated procedures. As the grievance by Tom Teacher reminds us, some flexibility in the plan is important. Moreover, overly complicated procedures can interfere with holding ineffective teachers accountable. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-151(d) provides that a teacher’s contract may be terminated for “inefficiency, incompetence or ineffectiveness.” Incompetency or effectiveness, however, can be established only by showing that “the performance evaluation ratings of the teacher were determined in good faith in accordance with the program adopted by the local or regional board of education.” (Emphasis added). Overly complicated or inflexible provisions in teacher evaluation plans should be avoided because failure to comply with all procedures in the plan can undermine such a determination.