Connecticut Technical Schools Scrambling To Make Adjustments After Layoffs
GRACE E. MERRITT
July 13, 2009
Connecticut's technical high schools lost roughly 10 percent of their teachers in the state retirement incentive program, leaving gaping holes in many trade shops and classrooms statewide.
Some education leaders fear that only a fraction of the teachers will be replaced under the new state budget being negotiated, possibly leading to overcrowded classrooms or limited student enrollment.
Collectively, the state's 17 technical high schools lost 160 employees, including 108 teachers. The retirements also hammered the school system's leadership, with six principals, six assistant principals and even the superintendent departing.
The technical education system, the seventh-largest school system in Connecticut, is scrambling to make adjustments before its 10,000 students resume classes Aug. 27.
"It's very important that we fill these positions ASAP," said Beverly R. Bobroske, chairwoman of the state board of education's technical high school subcommittee. "This isn't politics coming out of my mouth; it's best for students."
The state Department of Education, which runs the system, cannot do much until Gov. M. Jodi Rell and legislative leaders come up with a state budget for the new fiscal year. Both sides failed to reach a budget agreement by the end of the legislative session and have been meeting periodically to try to negotiate an agreement.
Complicating the picture is Rell's budget proposal, which calls for closing two technical facilities: J.M. Wright Tech in Stamford and Bristol T.E.C., a regional center that provides technical classes for students from 22 towns.
"If you cut too deep to the bone of the vo-tech system, it's going to have a disastrous effect," said state Sen. Tom Gaffey, co-chairman of the education committee.
Some relief may be on the way. The school system has developed an interim management plan, which the state Office of Policy and Management is reviewing, OPM spokesman Jeffrey Beckham said.
"Some refills will be approved," Beckham said. "Even if the budget fight were to drag on into the summer," the state will still maintain essential services, he said. "The challenge is to continue to provide the core functions of voc techs, but also to reduce the workforce and achieve some savings."
The state Department of Education has already held job fairs and begun to interview applicants but cannot make any job offers yet. Meanwhile, other school systems are courting the same teachers — and offering contracts.
"We understand that they are in high-level talks on all this and the budget has to be crafted before other decisions can be made. However, one of the issues is that everybody is vying for teachers. It puts you at a disadvantage," department spokesman Tom Murphy said.
Education leaders are worried they will get to refill only a small percentage of the teacher vacancies. Gaffey said he has heard that the rehire rate may be one for every four or one for every eight teachers who retired.
"With that many teachers leaving, we will see significant increases in class size. I believe this will impair academic performance because of the sheer number of students teachers will have to deal with," he said.
Murphy, however, said statutory limits on classroom size would prevent overcrowding. Instead, the department might explore other options, such as scaling back student enrollment to accommodate the smaller staff.
"We don't think that would be something that would be supported," Murphy added, noting that most of the technical schools already have waiting lists.
Gaffey worries that the budget reductions could undermine progress made in recent years to improve students' academic performance and pay for construction at technical schools, which he said have long been "treated as the ugly stepchild at the table."
"What would be a shame is if the great strides that this system has made in the last three to four years in academic performance now suffers because of a drastic change in student-teacher ratio," Gaffey said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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