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Schools Undone?

Hartford Schools Superintendent Steven J. Adamowski asks for a seniority change to save themed schools

Dan D'Ambrosio

March 24, 2010

At a packed school board meeting last week, Superintendent Steven J. Adamowski got the go-ahead to ask the state board of education to change the seniority rules for Hartford teachers, limiting their “bumping” privileges to just their own schools rather than the entire district.

Under the current union contract, teachers facing layoffs have the right to bump a less senior teacher anywhere in the system to keep their jobs. But Adamowski worries the reforms in Hartford built on “themed” schools with specially trained teachers ­— like the Sports and Medical Sciences Academy on Huyshope Avenue where the board meeting was held — may go down the tubes if those specialized teachers are bumped out by unqualified teachers from other schools. That’s because there have been so many cuts already, according to school spokesman David Medina.

“We kind of got away with the first 250 cuts, but now we’re facing another 180,” said Medina. “This year it’s going to be such that it will affect the schools and might turn them back into regular schools with no focus at all. [The reform effort] could be undone by this, it really could be undone. That’s what we’re facing.”

Medina says the state BOE can override any collective bargaining agreement, and that Adamowski decided to take this step only after Hartford teachers twice refused to negotiate the change in their contract.

But Andrea Johnson, president of the Hartford Federation of Teachers, dismissed Medina’s arguments as alarmist, saying the differences among the themed schools weren’t as significant as he made them out to be.

She said the preparation for teaching in a themed school amounts to a couple of weeks of training in the summer, “but walk into a school anywhere in Connecticut, a city or town school, and the curriculum is mandated by the state of Connecticut; you must teach that curriculum.”

Johnson was blunt in her assessment of what she believes Adamowski is really up to with his request of the state BOE.

“This is all about money, all about [the fact that Adamowski] can lay off somebody with 30 years [of teaching experience] versus somebody with one or two years,” she said. “The last thing the union wants to see is any member laid off, but the folks who have been here the longest have added a lot to the system. Why would you want those people gone when they could continue to give help to the younger teachers?”

Medina said Adamowski would not be commenting on the controversy.

A large and vocal group of teachers and students protested the push to change the seniority rules before the meeting at the Sports Academy, carrying signs with messages like, “Adamowski’s New Power Ploy: Age Discrimination & Wage Discrimination.”

“You saw the signs. You saw how upset they were,” said Johnson. “They feel disrespected, number one. Number two, let’s face it, the people who do the hardest work for students to succeed are the teachers. It’s not the superintendent. Yes, the administrators are working, but the folks who spend the eight hours with the children make the difference. You don’t disrespect those people.”

But Medina insisted the current system of allowing teachers to bump district-wide has real and damaging consequences to the overall integrity of schools.

“You’ll have a young high-school guidance counselor who because of cuts loses his job and gets replaced by an older elementary-school counselor,” he says. “That person who goes into the high school doesn’t know anything about getting kids prepared for college. So who loses out? The kids. That has happened, by the way.”

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Advocate.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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