New Milford teacher evaluation data sparks public information debate
NEW MILFORD — A Board of Education member’s request for teacher-evaluation data, which the school administration denied, has ignited a debate about what is considered public information.
John Spatola has filed a Freedom of Information appeal to obtain data on the New Milford school district’s data on teacher performance.
The state Freedom of Information Commission will hold a public hearing on the issue at 11 a.m. Nov. 30 at its Hartford office.
Spatola said Superintendent of Schools JeanAnn Paddyfote has refused to release “raw teacher performance data” listing teachers’ rankings in the state’s tiered-rating system.
Spatola said he is seeking the data to determine the performance of district teachers to help him make informed decisions regarding education spending.
“This data is necessary to determine whether we require additional teacher training and whether resources can be diverted to student programs,” Spatola said. “This is about saving taxpayers money and making sure precious tax dollars are not spent on wasteful programs.”
State education officials established the rating system three years ago by placing all public school teachers into one of four categories: exemplary, proficient, developing or below standard.
Paddyfote said state law prevents her from releasing the information.
Mark Sommaruga, an attorney who is representing the New Milford school administration and Board of Education, said the state statute regarding teacher evaluations is “very broadly drafted.” Considering the broadness of its interpretation, he said Paddyfote was acting with caution when she denied Spatola’s request.
“There was a similar request made to several Connecticut school districts by the Yankee Institute of Public Policy in 2014,” Sommaruga said. “Our position is that we will comply with whatever the FOI Commission’s ruling is. If it rules the information should be released, we’ll release it. We have no horse in this race. We are acting so as not to violate privacy rights of teachers.”
Sommaruga advised school districts last year not to comply with the Yankee Institute’s request. A state Department of Education memorandum at the time stated it would “apply appropriate data-supression rules to minimize the likelihood of re-identification of an individual educator‘s evaluation from the the aggregate summary results.” The memorandum was included in Sommaruga’s analysis.
Spatola made his first FOI request to Paddyfote in May. Paddyfote said while the data was not deemed to be public record, she suggested releasing the information in executive session if the board directed her to provide the data.
The executive session never happened and Spatola filed a second formal request in June for all aggregated records filed with the state Board of Education.
“This data is not personal, not a performance evaluation, nor does it allow for the identity of a teacher to be associated with a rating,” said Peter C. Bowman, Spatola’s attorney. “The release of this information does not fall under the protection of individual teacher evaluation.”
The New Milford Teachers’ Association and Connecticut Education Association have intervened and are seeking to block release of the data.
They assert Spatola’s request “is contrary to the clear language and intent” of the law blocking access to teacher-performance records. The statute passed in 1984 states “any records maintained or kept on file by any local or regional board of education which are records of teacher performance and evaluation shall not be deemed to be public records.”
“The CEA and the New Milford Teachers’ Union are objecting to the release of this information that can help towns, taxpayers and students,” Bowman said. “I was surprised that they have intervened.”
Mark Waxenberg, CEA executive director, said the group is “involved to assure adherence to state statute.”
“CEA’s position is consistent with state law that teachers’ evaluations are not subject to the public without the teacher’s permission,” he said.