- Associated Press - Saturday, February 8, 2014

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Republican candidates say they’re getting an earful from a group of voters that could play a key role in this year’s gubernatorial election: public school teachers.

With the rollout of Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s education overall underway, despite the delay of some key provisions, the GOP contenders said they’ve fielded numerous complaints about the implementation of Common Core education standards, teacher evaluations and other proposals. Teachers contend the initiatives have hampered their efforts to teach and were pursued with little input from those who work every day in the classrooms.

With a gubernatorial election looming in November, the GOP sees a political opportunity to garner some votes from what would typically be considered one of Malloy’s core constituencies. Malloy has yet to announce his re-election plans but is widely expected to seek a second term.

“I think the leadership, the union leadership, are certainly Democrats and lean Democrat and almost always endorse Democrat candidates,” said Greenwich businessman Tom Foley, the Republican who narrowly lost to Malloy in 2010 and is pursuing another run this year. “But the rank-and-file teachers, they think for themselves, and they make their own decisions. A lot of them vote for the person. A lot of them are unaffiliated.”

Foley said he’s been “inundated” with calls from teachers and family members of teachers who said they voted for Malloy in 2010 and now want to back him instead. Meanwhile, other declared Republican gubernatorial candidates say they’ve also heard from frustrated teachers. Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, a former high school social studies teacher, said he’s been meeting with small groups of teachers around the state for the past couple of months and understands their concerns that the state is “trying to build widgets and kids are not widgets.”

“There’s no question that rank-and-file educators are pretty upset with the governor and the commissioner,” he said. “People actually teaching weren’t really heard as part of the process.”

And last week, another GOP candidate, Senate Minority Leader John McKinney of Fairfield, publicly called for the resignation of Malloy’s education commissioner, Stefan Pryor. He said he was prompted to make the demand after hearing complaints about the reforms from hundreds of teachers at a recent Fairfield County forum, organized by the Connecticut Education Association.

Malloy has also heard the complaints of teachers and administrators.

At his urging, the advisory council that created the state’s new teacher evaluation system recently agreed to delay the initiative. For the 2014-15 school year, standardized test scores based on a student’s knowledge of Common Core will not count toward a portion of a teacher’s evaluation. Other portions of the new education initiative were also streamlined, such as required data collection and classroom observations.

“It is apparent we are trying to do a lot of things at once,” Malloy told the Performance Evaluation Advisory committee. “Teachers are stressed. We have to recognize that.”

The committee also agreed to create a subcommittee of classroom teachers and administrators to discuss issues regarding implementation of the teacher evaluation system and make recommendations for improvements by Jan. 1.

“For the last several months, the governor and lieutenant governor have heard concerns from teachers, administrators and parents about all the changes that were happening in public schools,” said Andrew Doba, Malloy’s communication’s director. “The governor believes in the policies that were passed in the education reform bill. He wants to make sure as they’re implemented, they’re done in the right way.”

Union leadership appears to agree with the delays, crediting the administration with listening to teachers’ concerns.

“The governor and legislative leaders have shown they are hearing the voices of educators and parents who have been speaking out for their students and children in our state’s schools,” said Melodie Peters, the Connecticut president of the American Federation of Teachers. She said the teachers need “appropriate training, professional development and be engaged in developing classroom curriculum during this time.”

Besides the delay in the evaluation program, Malloy also unveiled a tax relief package that exempts 50 percent of teachers’ pensions from the personal income tax.

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