Teacher union backs Malloy despite hard feelings

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HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Facing a tough re-election battle, Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy appears to be making some strides toward mending fences with Connecticut teachers who've been angered by remarks he made about tenure and the roll-out of his public education initiative.

The state's largest teachers union, the 43,000-member Connecticut Education Association, announced Monday it is endorsing Malloy for a second term. Malloy has already received the backing of the Connecticut Federation of Teachers.

Given his tight rematch with Republican businessman Tom Foley, the support of unionized teachers could prove crucial for a Malloy victory in November. Foley's campaign, however, contends it is receiving strong support from rank-and-file teachers.

Mark Waxenberg, CEA's executive director, said the decision to endorse Malloy, made Friday by the union's board of directors by a wide margin, came after much examination of Malloy's policies as well as personal sentiment among teachers about the governor. A 15-member advisory committee originally recommended, on a vote of 8-7, about two weeks ago that no endorsement be made.

Malloy angered many teachers in a 2012 address to the General Assembly when he spoke about the need to change the state's teacher tenure rules. "Basically the only thing you have to do is show up for four years. Do that, and tenure is yours," Malloy said at the time.

"I get a sense, as we have all along, there is emotion associated with Dan Malloy's governorship," Waxenberg said. "Teachers feel emotional about some of the statements he has said. They feel insulted and hurt by it."

Malloy recently apologized to teachers for his remarks during a gubernatorial debate with Foley in Norwich. He has also tried to smooth over feathers he ruffled with the roll-out of his education initiative, including the implementation of the so-called Common Core education standards. He has committed additional state funding to the initiative and created an advisory task force that came up with recommendations for improving support for teachers.

CEA officials also credit Malloy and his running mate, Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, with being open to hearing the concerns of the teachers and their union.

"We went into this process with our eyes wide open. Initially, not everything we saw was our vision of what was best for teachers, children and public education. But when we saw how he's made this door open to us, and taken strong stands on important issues, we felt Malloy/Wyman was a better direction," said CEA President Sheila Cohen.

Cohen credited Malloy with increasing education funding by $500 million, annually funding the teachers' pension fund and protecting collective bargaining rights.

Despite the CEA backing of the incumbent, Foley and his campaign contend he still has strong support from many teachers, including those who are unaffiliated.

"Both teachers and state workers are reaching out to Tom Foley in unprecedented numbers," said Foley spokesman Chris Cooper. "We have no sense that any fence-mending efforts by the governor are working with the rank-and-file. The governor may be promising things to union leaders to get endorsements, but rank-and-file members seem to have longer memories."

Foley has been critical of Malloy's education record, saying Connecticut's achievement gap between wealthy and poor students has not improved.

He also has proposed various education initiatives, including a plan to allow education funding to "follow" a student within his or her district if the student switches to a different school. The CEA criticized the proposal, claiming it would drain more than $35 million from local public schools, pointing out that many students might choose to attend privately run charter schools.

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