God, Mark Twain wrote, made idiots for practice, and only then proceeded to make school boards. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy seems to concur, proposing, among his education reforms, to deprive school boards of the authority to hire and fire teachers and instead vest that authority exclusively with school superintendents.
As a practical matter this probably wouldn't make much difference, since most Connecticut school board members long have been mere ciphers, taking direction from the superintendent they hire rather than giving him direction. And why not? These days a Connecticut school board can't do much more than sign off on contract arbitration awards for their unionized employees. Most of a school budget is formally considered off limits to democracy, constituted by the "fixed costs" of employee compensation, transportation, and utilities, and most matters of ordinary school administration are tightly constrained by either state or federal law. So these days Connecticut's school systems pretty much run themselves - often into the ground.
But there's a problem with the governor's proposal in principle, and that principle is quaint old democracy. If a school board's authority is to be even more limited than it is already and if the public's ability to influence the direction of its schools is to be reduced to nothing, there's little reason to have school boards in the first place. In that case the superintendents themselves should be elected, though of course they would never accept the accountability that would come with that.
The governor's proposal underscores a big problem with public education in Connecticut - that so little of it is public. Removing hiring authority from school boards will only give board members another excuse to shrug helplessly in the face of complaints, and public education already is full enough of excuses.
The governor has proposed another dereliction of duty: that the General Assembly should delegate to an unelected commission the authority to set the salaries of judges.
The problem as seen by the governor and the Judicial Department is that judges haven't had a raise in five years because the legislature hasn't had the gumption to vote on the issue in eight years. It is said that the judicial salary of $153,000 is low compared to Connecticut's cost of living and what judges could earn practicing law.
Maybe so, but the salaries of our rulers constitute a basic issue of government. If legislators can't answer for those salaries, nobody can - or at least no one on whom the public can vote. The salary-setting mechanism proposed by the governor's legislation intends mainly to help legislators escape accountability. That is, the salaries recommended by the unelected commission would take effect by default unless the legislature voted to reject them. This way the legislature might never have to address the issue again.
That's no good, but the proposal also should be defeated because Connecticut's courts long have been deliberately misconstruing the state constitutional principle of separation of powers of the three branches of government so as to separate the legislature from its own powers, particularly the power to make rules for the courts.
The power to set judicial salaries may be the last judicial rule-making power left to the legislature. If it ends up being used as political leverage, the judiciary should pay some price for its usurpation.