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School regionalization proposals causing big blowback

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It’s sending red flags up and burning up the wires on social media all over the state. 

Proposals for forcing smaller school districts around the state to regionalize in an effort to save money and resources. 

“Shared services” and “regionalization” were big buzzwords during last fall’s campaign as potential ways to save money. This idea is already receiving a lot of blowback.

“It’s touched off a nerve with parents, with teachers, with kids because the kids all know about it,” said Rep. Gail Lavielle (R-Wilton). What she’s talking about is two proposals at the State Capitol to regionalize school districts.  

One would call for the regionalization of school districts in towns with less than 40,000 residents, which is a lot of towns. Another calls for regionalization for any town with less than 2,000 students, which is  still a lot of towns. 

The State Senate President Pro tem Sen. Martin Looney (D-New Haven) is the author of one of those proposals.

Related Content: Proposals for Wallingford school consolidation drawing heated reactions

He said, “There are far too many small, independent, single town school districts in the state. It’s really inefficient, especially since many of them are actually losing school population.”

Betsy Gara of the Connecticut Conference of Small Towns reacted, “That sent shivers throughout our small towns. I think there was a lot of concern about what that would mean and why they would force consolidation based on arbitrary thresholds based on population.”

Sen. Looney’s proposal would create a special commission to consolidate school districts in the same way the Probate Courts were consolidated a few years ago. Governor Ned Lamont talked about this kind of consolidation during the campaign and his office says he remains open to the proposals.

Lavielle added, “There is absolutely nothing in this bill that indicates that it has anything to do with improving the quality of education or even maintaining it.”

But the co-sponsor of one of the plans said that’s really one of the reasons for doing it. 

Sen. Cathy Osten (D-Baltic) is also First Selectman of a smaller town and said, “Regionalize superintendents, curriculum directors, and other such areas so that we can cut down on the administrative costs and spend more money on programs for children.”

The Connecticut Council of Small Towns and the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities both say that regionalization does not necessarily always result in savings so this effort needs to move slowly.

Senator Looney said it’s a place to start the conversation.

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