Legal Question of the Week – 2/21/14

By Attorney Thomas B. Mooney, Neag School of Education, University of Connecticut

The “Legal Question of the Week” is a regular feature of the CAS Weekly NewsBlast. We invite readers to submit short, law-related questions of practical concern to school administrators. Each week, we will select a question and publish an answer. While these answers cannot be considered formal legal advice, they may be of help to you and your colleagues. We may edit your questions, and we will not identify the authors. Please submit your questions to: legalmailbagatcasciacdotorg. _________________________________________________________________________________________


Dear Legal Mailbag:

All districts in Connecticut are attempting to sort out the educational reform law, and mine is no different. My question relates to the interpretation of the law as it relates to control over a district’s professional development program. In 2012, the legislature passed P.A. 12-116, which was amended by P.A. 13-245 the following year. Connecticut General Statutes, Section 10-220a(b) as amended by P.A. 13-245 now states:

Not later than a date prescribed by the commissioner, each local and regional board of education shall establish a professional development and evaluation committee consisting of certified employees, and such other school personnel as the board deems appropriate, including representatives selected by the exclusive bargaining representative for such employees chosen pursuant to subsection (b) of section 10-153. The duties of such committees shall include, but not be limited to, participation in the development or adoption of a teacher evaluation and support program for the district, pursuant to section 10-151b, and the development, evaluation and annual updating of a comprehensive local professional development plan for certified employees of the district.

That seems pretty clear, given that the statute uses the word “shall” as opposed to “may” in the prescription of duties. However, section 5 (b) of the same Public Act 13-245 sets forth Connecticut General Statutes, Section 10-148(b), which provides:

Such professional development activities shall . . . be determined by each board of education with the advice and assistance of the teachers employed by such board, including representatives of the exclusive bargaining unit for such teachers pursuant to section 10-153b, and on and after July 1, 2012, in full consideration of priorities and needs related to student outcomes as determined by the State Board of Education . . . .

Given that this provision also uses “shall” instead of “may,” the two clauses seem a bit at odds.

Should we read Section 10-220a(b) to mean that the professional development and evaluation committee is the central agent in determining, organizing, and revising professional development for a district? Or should we read Section 10-148(b) to say that the board of education (acting through the superintendent or otherwise) holds central authority over professional development, with the Committee serving in merely an advisory role. In sum, who is the central agent over the planning, execution, and revision of a district’s professional development plan: the professional development and evaluation committee, or the superintendent and the board of education?

Intellectually Curious


Dear Curious:

What a good question you have asked! Before we tackle that question, however, I have a rhetorical question for you. How did you come to believe that the General Assembly must be logical or consistent in passing the laws that govern public education in Connecticut?

That said, these statutes can be read to be consistent, and the bottom line is that the superintendent and the board of education have the ultimate say in how professional development is delivered in a school district. The language concerning the creation of the professional development and evaluation committee was actually added to Section 10-220a(b) in 2009, and the broad description of its duties does give pause. However, the broad description of its duties (as you quote in your question) includes a word that is crucially important: “plan.”

The committee has important responsibilities to develop, evaluation and annually update the district’s professional development plan for certified employees of the district. But planning and implementing are two different things. The board of education and the superintendent, its chief executive officer, have control over the staff and financial resources to provide professional development activities. Moreover, the board of education, not the committee, has the statutory responsibility to provide such professional development activities. Indeed, Section 10-148a even includes provision for penalizing boards of education if they do not provide professional development activities in accordance with the statutory requirements set forth in that statute.

Reading these provisions in their totality, the respective authority of the committee and the board is clear. The committee develops a professional development plan, but the board of education has the authority (and responsibility) actually to provide professional development activities for certified staff members.