Stamford to Hire For-Profit Hubbard Day for Special Ed in Break with Teachers Union


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STAMFORD – The president of the teachers union said Monday evening that school administrators have reneged on a deal for resolving a special-education teacher shortage, privatizing the positions instead.

Stamford Education Association President John Corcoran said Superintendent Tamu Lucero’s administration tonight will seek Board of Education approval for a contract that will bring private teachers into two public elementary schools.

Union leaders have been “going back and forth” with administrators since April, reaching “a handshake deal” on July 26 to fill special education teacher openings by allowing the superintendent to hire teachers at salaries higher than those stipulated in the contract, capping the number of special education students per class, and paying teachers to share the caseloads of vacant positions.

On Friday, he learned that school administrators have struck another deal, Corcoran said.

“I found out they are hiring a private, for-profit school, Hubbard Day, to come into our buildings,” Corcoran. “They are bringing one teacher and some paraprofessionals into each of two elementary classrooms, one at Northeast and one at Springdale.”

Hubbard Day runs special education programs in a school on Southfield Avenue in Stamford. 

The Board of Education is scheduled to vote on the contract with Hubbard Day tonight. 

Teachers are expected to attend the 7 p.m. meeting to protest the outsourcing of union work, Corcoran said, and the Stamford Education Association is considering filing an unfair labor practices charge against the administration. The union has already filed a request for information and two demands for bargaining, Corcoran said.

“We are not sure what happened here. We believed we had a deal,” he said. “I suspect – I don’t for sure – but it looks like the administration was talking with us and shaking our hands, and talking with Hubbard Day School at the same time.”

Corcoran said the school district will pay Hubbard Day $425,000 per classroom for the year. He believes the administration negotiated a contract with Hubbard Day during July, even as the union was informally negotiating with the administration, and a deal with Hubbard Day was struck by the Aug. 15 meeting of the Board of Education’s Fiscal Committee.

During that meeting board Vice President Andy George asked Ryan Fealey, finance director for Stamford Public Schools, to explain two contracts the administration is seeking with Hubbard Day. 

One contract is for just over $2 million in out-of-district tuition costs for Hubbard Day to provide special education instruction for 13 Stamford students at its facility at 68 Southfield Ave.

A second contract with Happy Hour 4 Kids Inc., doing business as Hubbard Day School, is for $850,000, which jibes with Corcoran’s description of $425,000 per classroom at Northeast and Springdale elementary schools.

“In this case, we are contracting with them for two specialized classrooms within our buildings,” Fealey told the Fiscal Committee.

Asked to explain, Associate Superintendent Michael Fernandes said the Hubbard Day contract will serve students with autism as the school system struggles to fill vacant special education teacher positions.

“We have worked very hard to address the staffing shortage in special education … we have been aggressive in hiring,” Fernandes said. “We started with 26 vacancies and we’re down to eight. We still have four classrooms of students with autism that we are not able to fill. This is a creative, urgent solution to address the staffing needs for those students with autism that have severe disabilities.”

Fernandes said his team approached Hubbard Day to ask whether they could help run the classrooms with teacher vacancies.

“They were able to get the staff to do it, and now we have 16 students with autism that will have certified teachers and paraeducators in classrooms to educate them,” Fernandes said.

The contract is for eight students per teacher, plus paraeducators, he said. Eight is the standard class size for the students with autism who will be served, Fernandes said.

Board member Josh Esses, chair of the Fiscal Committee, said he’s heard that Hubbard Day also has staff shortages.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, 45 percent of the nation’s schools reported special education teacher vacancies at the end of the last school year, and 78 percent reported difficulty hiring special education staff. The shortages are longstanding, and have worsened since the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the department.

“Was that part of your discussion with (Hubbard Day?”) Esses asked. “Are you comfortable that they will be able to have the staffing necessary to fulfill their obligations?”

“They have confirmed with us that they have the staff to run these two classrooms. Whether they already hired … they are waiting for the board’s vote .. but they have assured us they have the staff to run these two classrooms,” Fernandes replied.

Esses said he would check the terms of the Hubbard Day contract before tonight’s meeting to see whether any address an inability to provide staffing. On Aug. 15 the committee voted to recommend that the full Board of Education approve the contract tonight.

The $850,000 cost of private Hubbard Day teachers providing special education instruction for 16 students in the two public schools amounts to $53,125 per student.

The out-of-district tuition cost of the $2 million Hubbard Day contract for 13 students in Hubbard Day classrooms amounts to $153,850 per student.

Corcoran said he doesn’t have enough information to compare the costs proposed by the union with the costs of bringing Hubbard Day students into the public schools, since he doesn’t know how many paraeducators will be included and whether the contract includes writing student evaluations and other services.

“Do we still handle the psychology and social work functions? We don’t know,” Corcoran said.

The union’s talks with the administration were not formal – those talks will happen when a new teachers’ contract is negotiated next year, Corcoran said. 

But the union offered to allow Superintendent Tamu Lucero to bring in new teachers three steps higher on the contractual salary scale, he said.

“Someone who qualifies at step three could be hired at step six,” Corcoran said. “That would make Stamford as competitive as any district in the state.”

The union and the administration agreed to cap special education classroom sizes at 15 students in elementary and middle-school grades, and 18 students in high school grades, he said.

Teachers whose classes are larger would get a pay hike equal to 20 percent of their salary.

Corcoran said a teacher with a master’s degree earns $55,000 a year, and 20 percent of that is $11,000. The maximum for a teacher with a sixth-year degree is $118,000, Corcoran said, and 20 percent of that is $23,600.

Nancy Mould, a Davenport Ridge Elementary School teacher and member of the SEA executive board, said the union offered the administration a good package.

“Teachers want manageable caseloads, which this would do, and it would have been great in recruiting because of salaries,” Mould said. “Teachers who are burdened would have gotten paid for the extra work they are doing.”

As it is, “teachers are just leaving mid-year; that’s not a career killer as it once was because there is such a big need for teachers,” Mould said. 

More than a third of the teachers who resigned this year and last year were from the special education department, Corcoran said, and more than 40 percent of the vacancies are in that department.

“Most say they are leaving because they are overworked and feel like they have no support,” Corcoran said. “We had a plan to recruit and retain. The administration agreed. I’m disgusted by this whole thing. It’s insulting.”

Stamford Public Schools spokeswoman Kathleen Steinberg said Tuesday that the Hubbard Day School contract to staff classrooms at the two elementary schools is “an interim measure,” and the administration will continue its effort to fill vacant positions.

The school district”has more than 40 in-district specialized programs for students with special needs. Hubbard Day staff will be filling vacancies in two in-district specialized classrooms designed for students with autism spectrum disorder. While we would have preferred to hire certified staff for these vacancies, this temporary agreement with Hubbard Day will assure that our (autism spectrum disorder) students have full-time certified teachers and paraprofessionals dedicated to their academic and developmental needs.”

District officials were unable to fill 11 of 217 total certified special education positions, including those at Northeast and Springdale elementary schools, Steinberg said.

Asked whether district officials were negotiating with the teachers union and Hubbard Day School at the same time, Steinberg said administrators had informal discussions with the Stamford Education Association “while our HR team was hiring 148 SEA-eligible certified educators to work at Stamford Public Schools. Unfortunately, we have been unable to fill 11 special education teacher positions, so we explored other options to assure our students with special needs receive the services the district is legally required to provide.”

According to Steinberg, the administration and the union did not reach an agreement during their discussions.

This story has been updated to include comments by Kathleen Steinberg

Angela Carella

For 36 years prior to joining the Connecticut Examiner, Angela Carella was a beat reporter, investigative reporter, editor and columnist for the Stamford Advocate. Carella reports on Stamford and Fairfield County. T: 203 722 6811.