April 4, 2007
By RACHEL GOTTLIEB, Courant Staff Writer
The president of the teachers' union threatened Tuesday to file an unfair labor practice lawsuit against the Hartford school district for hiring nonunion teachers to instruct expelled students.
Cathy Carpino angrily chastised the school board for recently approving a $152,000 contract with Alternative Opportunities LLC to provide an educational program until the end of the year for 20 special education high school students who have been expelled.
The union president said that not all of the company's instructors are certified as teachers in Connecticut, that it has very little experience in the state and that it is not on a state Department of Education list of approved educational providers.
The cost is prohibitive, Carpino added, amounting to $17,000 per student. The district is providing lunch, transportation and space in the Hartford Transitional Learning Academy building on Washington Street for the program, she said.
The work should go to certified teachers who are members of the union, she said.
School board member Andrea Comer expressed outrage over the possibility that some of the program's teachers are not certified.
Superintendent Steven J. Adamowski said that the district would not otherwise serve the students who were expelled for 180 days and that they would probably drop out without a program. But he said he could not guarantee the board that it would prevail in a lawsuit. "I'm not sure that I can tell you that everything will be OK."
Mayor Eddie A. Perez, chairman of the school board, said that "if we make a mistake, we'll correct that mistake."
"No member on this board intends to oppose the union," he said. "There's nothing underhanded here. The superintendent will respond to concerns."
In a separate matter, administrators unveiled a plan Tuesday to reduce student suspensions and make both in-school and out-of-school suspensions educational. But some board members complained that the pilot program for elementary schools does not go far enough.
Last year, there were about 13,000 suspensions throughout the district, and 6.9 percent of all elementary school absences were days lost to suspensions, said Leah Fichtner, senior director of student support services.
The pilot program calls for schools to assign certified teachers to staff an in-school suspension program in which children would do work provided by their classroom teachers. It also requires a brief daily meeting of the school social worker, the family resource aide and the staff of each school's comprehensive intervention center - a room where students are sent for short periods to calm down and develop a strategy for returning to class on their best behavior.
At the daily school-based meetings, participants would discuss students who are assigned to the suspension room and decide who among them should visit a child's home to meet with the children's parents or invite the parents to school for a meeting.
The trouble with the plan, said Comer, chairwoman of the board's safety and order task force, is that the eight schools that volunteered for the pilot program have some of the lowest suspension numbers. Also, Comer said, the program does not address the middle schools and high schools, where suspensions are doled out in the greatest numbers and for such dubious offenses as tardiness.
The eight elementary schools that volunteered for the program - Burr, Clark, Kennelly, King, McDonough, Simpson-Waverly, Webster and Wish - all had fewer than 50 suspensions, except for Clark, which had 72.
Comer said that without including elementary schools such as Milner, with 176 suspensions last year, and Moylan, with 82 suspensions, district administrators won't truly test their model and discover whether it is adequate.
Adamowski eventually agreed to add some of the more troubled schools to the pilot program for elementary schools.
But the upper schools will be handled differently, he said, explaining that the middle and high schools have in-school suspension programs and that the district will seek bids from community-based organizations to run educational programs for students who receive out-of-school suspensions. He said that he is considering requiring students to make up for their offenses through detentions on Saturdays and community or school service rather than serving suspensions in or out of school.
Finally, in another matter concerning the ability of students to stay in school, students and social workers asked the board to pick up the funding for student and family assistance centers at Quirk and Fox middle schools and at Bulkeley and Weaver high schools. Grant funding for the centers expires in June.
The Safe Schools Healthy Students grant provided $3 million for each of the past three years to run the centers. Students told the board that they rely on them for conflict resolution and for coping with loss, violence, serious illnesses in their families, parents going to prison and other problems that distract them from their studies.
Marie Nieves, a senior at Bulkeley, said that her brother was killed last summer and that the grief has been debilitating. "Without the help from the student family assistance center I would have dropped out. Instead, I'm graduating with the Class of 2007."
The matter was not on the board's agenda, so the board did not discuss it.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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