Trumbull teachers will keep school board representation, with some changes

TRUMBULL — The teachers union will keep its representative on the school board after all, albeit with some changes in the board’s bylaws regarding the position.

The Trumbull Board of Education voted unanimously at its meeting earlier this week to revise the policy in the bylaws that allows for a teacher’s representative to sit on the board in an advisory role and to deliver a monthly report to the board.

The school board considered revoking the policy at its March meeting after members expressed concern about the possibility of a teacher representative bypassing protocols and taking grievances directly to the school board and the public.

During some of his reports last year, teacher representative Matt Bracksieck commented that curriculum demands on teachers have continually increased and requested that business teachers have their classes reduced from six sections to five.

Bracksieck also expressed anger at what he called an unsafe environment in classrooms following a Google meet in which an anonymous person made offensive comments, and frustration about the recent operational audit’s inability to pinpoint those responsible for financial mismanagement that left the schools facing a significant budget shortfall last year.

“Those things caused the board concern, and to wonder about this policy and whether it was the proper forum to express those types of concerns,” Assistant Superintendent Susan Iwanicki said.

Instead of eliminating the position, a committee of board members, teacher representatives and legal counsel hammered out a series of revisions to the policy, and ultimately recommended the board maintain the position.

“I was part of the subcommittee, and as a group, we really worked hard and listened to each other and were willing to compromise and make concessions,” board member Jackie Norcel said. “I was proud to be part of that group.”

Board member Tim Gallo said he was happy the group had reached an amicable solution.

“We met with our union representatives and our lawyer to come up with a solution that works for everyone,” he said. “I’m especially pleased because I am a teacher, and to have a teacher representative on the board is a special thing. I’m very excited that with some revisions, we will be able to keep this policy.”

Emails to the Trumbull Education Association’s elected officers and Bracksieck seeking comment on the policy change were not immediately returned.

Among the changes outlined by Iwanicki were several that were intended to “reinforce the positive and advisory aspects of the position.”

The revision committee removed language that described the teacher representative’s role as being able to “express their attitudes, opinions and ideas concerning the operation of schools and to provide the Board of Education with the opportunity to listen to teacher opinion on matters which affect teachers.”

Instead, the board clarified that the teacher representative was to “provide teacher perspective when requested by the board during meetings.”

The selection of the teacher representative also was modified, going from “elected by teachers for a one-year term” to “determined by the Trumbull Education Association, as approved by the superintendent.”

Other changes to the policy included requiring the teacher representative to provide a written draft of any information and comments before the official posting of board meetings. The representative’s reports also must be submitted to the superintendent in advance of meetings and should “proceed through the chain of command and grievance process before being shared publicly.”

The representative also cannot use the platform as a forum for personal or political opinions; the revised policy makes clear that the representative should obtain input from all teachers, not necessarily only from the union or its executive board.

The board had minimal discussion before voting to adopt the revisions. Board member Scot Kerr commented that even at meetings where the teacher representative was not scheduled to give a report, he hoped they would attend.

“To me, we have the opportunity to include, and the board can ask to have the representative participate in a discussion, which I think is important,” he said.

Kerr also wondered whether it would be worthwhile to have a separate representative from the town’s elementary schools.

“The representatives have tended to be secondary teachers and probably mostly from the high school,” he said. “I wonder if we should do something to ensure elementary staff” is represented.

Gallo clarified that the teacher representative was there to represent all the schools in the district, though it was up to the teachers themselves who represented them.

“That did come up in discussions, because they have tended to be from the secondary schools,” he said. “It’s important to represent the elementary schools, too, no matter who the representative is.”

deng@trumbulltimes.com