This past spring Sen. Andrea Stillman found herself in one of the most important positions in the General Assembly - co-chair of the Education Committee - at a pivotal moment in the history of public education in the state. Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy had gone where Democrats had long feared to tread by proposing to link teacher performance evaluations to achieving and maintaining tenure. In other words, he wanted to make it easier to remove teachers who were failing students.
In her leadership position Sen. Stillman had a chance to back the governor of her own party or cave to the powerful teachers unions. She sided with the unions. It was not her shining hour.
Sen. Stillman, 64, who is seeking election to a fifth term in the 20th Senate District, continues to defend her decision and we continue to disagree. Final legislation did lead to a teacher evaluation pilot program that Sen. Stillman contends is a necessary first step to implementing a statewide performance review program in 2013-14 that will require teachers to demonstrate effectiveness. We shall see.
But despite disappointment that the senator did not stand firmer on that issue, we also acknowledge that on balance the education reform package was a good one. And we agree with the state senator that teacher performance got disproportionate attention given that it is part of the problem facing many school systems, but hardly the core of the problem.
In trying to close the achievement gap between schools in poor urban centers and their more affluent neighbors, the reform bill expanded early childhood education. It provides for more direct involvement and greater financial help for low-performing districts, including in New London. It created a system for distinguished teachers to serve as mentors, and obtain increased compensation and professional recognition, without having to move out of the classroom and into administration.
Voters must also measure any angst over Sen. Stillman's retreat on teacher evaluation against her overall record of achievement. That has included playing a lead role in passing tougher drunk-driving laws. Sen. Stillman was instrumental in creation of the state Office of Military Affairs, a vital link to the state's important defense industry and an added safeguard against any future Pentagon attempts to close the Naval Submarine Base in Groton.
And in assessing whether to rehire Sen. Stillman, voters have to look at the alternatives in the district that includes New London, Waterford, Montville, Bozrah, Salem, East Lyme, Old Lyme and eastern Old Saybrook. Opposing the incumbent are Republican Mike Doyle and Libertarian Marc Guttman, a physician.
Mr. Doyle has failed to make the case why he would be a better senator for the district while Mr. Guttman's call for dramatically reducing the role of government is far outside the mainstream.
Mr. Doyle, 51, a New London resident long active in the civic and political life of the city, was formerly a director of the Governor's Eastern Office under Gov. John G. Rowland and served as executive assistance to the commissioner of the Department of Correction.
His performance at a candidates' forum sponsored by The Day offered more bluster than enlightenment. Mr. Doyle criticized mandates imposed by the state on municipalities, but failed to offer specifics, he called for making better use of the New London port but did not say exactly how, and he criticized state investment in development projects in other parts of the state while saying he would demand state help for development here.
Mr. Doyle seemed to keep talking but not saying much of anything. His biggest knock on the senator, it appeared, was that her family purchased a vacation home in Florida, only to later concede that, yes; he too has a place in Florida.
The Day endorses Sen. Andrea Stillman in the 19th District.