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Hartford teacher contract controls millions in spending, but does it help students?

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One out of every five dollars spent by the city of Hartford goes to teacher salaries, as negotiated under the city’s 70-page union contract.

The agreement outlines in detail what teachers will get from the city but reflects far less concern for what students will get from teachers.

Last year the city of Hartford spent nearly $1 billion; more than half was dedicated to education. At $220 million, salaries are the largest portion of the education budget, with additional tens of millions of dollars spent on health insurance.

The city spends $17,202 per student. Almost $7,000 of spending per student can be attributed to teacher salaries and $3,000 for employee benefits. Much of Hartford’s funding comes from taxpayers who don’t live in the city through state and federal grants.

In 2015, the rising cost of unionized workers coupled with the American Federation of Teachers’ refusal to negotiate more sustainable terms for taxpayers forced the board of education to lay off 235 employees. As spending on classroom supplies decreased by 21 percent, contractual salaries increased by $6.7 million or a 3 percent increase.

Even after the layoffs, the board of education is spending more on teacher salaries than before.

Hartford Superintendent Beth
Hartford Superintendent Beth Schiavino-Narvaez

The contract gives the teachers’ union a significant amount of control over city schools. Currently, Hartford teachers work under a union contract approved in July 2014, predating Superintendent Beth Schiavino-Narvaez. Next year, Schiavino-Narvaez will have an opportunity to negotiate a new contract.

Under the contract, the union has the opportunity to meet with principals for almost quadruple the amount of time that principals can meet with teachers.

The contract restricts the number of faculty meetings to no more than two 60-minute meetings each month, except in special circumstances. On the other hand, principals are required to meet with the union school committee at least monthly but with a limit of five times each month; and these meetings can be as long as 90 minutes.

The average teacher in Connecticut gets 15 sick days, according to ConnCan, but in Hartford, as mandated by the union contract, teachers receive one third more sick days. Teachers, expected to work 187 days, get 20 sick days each year. They can accumulate up to 175 days and, upon retirement, can cash in 30 percent of the value of their sick days.

Hartford is one of only a small number of Connecticut school districts that offer performance bonuses, according to ConnCan. That pay, however, is awarded to all teachers when the school as a whole achieves certain goals. Individual teachers are unlikely to have enough impact to determine whether their whole school achieves its goal. That means many good teachers will not be rewarded, while some underperforming teachers will receive the bonus.

Hartford also offers a bonus for holding a valid certification from the National Board of Teachers. About a quarter of Connecticut school districts offer similar bonuses. The bonus of $3,500 is awarded yearly to any teacher who holds the certification, which is more than double the average bonus of $1,506.

In addition to financial directives, the contract restricts class size, work hours, and preparation periods for teachers. Class sizes are determined by age group and type of class.

When class size exceeds the outlined limitations, the contract describes a set of steps the board of education must take. If they cannot open a new class or a hire a co-teacher for the class, the board must pay the teacher “on an excess per child per full day basis.”

For example, a first grade class is limited to 23 students. If a teacher has 24 students in class, he or she gets a 4.3 percent bonus for as many days the extra student is assigned to the class. Teachers of grades 3 to 6 get a 3.7 percent bonus for each extra student above 27, while middle and high school teachers get a 3.6 percent bonus for each student above 28.

Teachers’ union contracts throughout the state give advantages to tenured teachers. The Hartford contract requires that in the event of a loss of position at a school, the district must dismiss the least senior employee in the department. By basing this action on years employed rather than ability, weaker teachers may remain employed while more effective teachers lose their job.

The Hartford Board of Education must submit the school calendar to the union president prior to adoption each year, and it is the contract, not the superintendent or principal, that determines the qualifications considered when filling a vacancy.

The board must also reimburse teachers for any damage to their cars while at school, in a unique provision dating back 30 years.

Hartford spends nearly $600 million to educate more than 21,000 students. It is important to hold Hartford city and union leaders accountable so that, when the contract is signed, it pays as much attention to students as teachers.

Isabel Blank, a senior at the University of Connecticut, is a summer intern at the Yankee Institute.

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Yankee Staff

Yankee Institute is a 501(c)(3) research and citizen education organization that does not accept government funding. Yankee Institute develops and advances free-market, limited-government solutions in Connecticut. As one of America’s oldest state-based think tanks, Yankee is a leading advocate for smart, limited government; fairness for taxpayers; and an open road to opportunity.

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