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Regionalization of schools should be open to discussion

February 8, 2019

In our Jan. 28 Education Committee meeting, a concept for regional education was on the agenda. There were no specifics provided for discussion. Why? Because the Merriam-Webster Dictionary describes the definition of “concept” as “something conceived in the mind” and “an abstract or generic idea generalized from particular interests.”

When the Regionalization of Education Services item came up, Republicans on the committee immediately spoke against it. They gave no indication they are willing to consider, discuss or compromise on the matter — and simply said they would not support “forced regionalism.”

In my comments that followed I talked about their refusal to engage in an open conversation about education reform and how absurd of them to limit any discussion before one could begin. I went on to explain that we need to do better with education because we know we are not doing it right. I explained that where I come from, education is regional and it does work. I added that we should not force people into regionalism but get them to understand the benefits. We already have regional school districts in Connecticut — Regions 1 to 15 — and they do work.

What occurred during the Education Committee meeting was a small part of a larger conversation. My words are being used to make a bigger political issue out of a comment that was simply about open dialogue. I would remind Republicans that Connecticut’s school system has been cited by the courts for not doing education right. Reforms must be enacted so towns no longer have to struggle with costs and so graduating students are prepared for the next chapter in their educational careers or in their lives.

When schools have fewer than 10 children in a class and we are still paying the same for a teacher who educates 18 to 20, how can we justify the disparity in costs? And when I said we need to help people get there (on regional education) — it was about understanding the entire system and not simply taking one district and forcing them to merge with another.

As a legislator my job is to hear from all parts of the state and all concerns — not one town or one group of the people blowing something way out of proportion. I took an oath to listen to the public, uphold the constitution and respect the process of people by the people.

I’ve raised four children in the public schools. I have lived the struggles of a child with dyslexia who was not educated appropriately because a district didn’t have the resources. He’s not the only student to experience the shortfall in the educational system, and my district isn’t the only district in that category — that’s why we must do better.

What does “better” look like? I’m not sure, but I am sure we must have an open and honest conversation that may be challenging to achieve the results every child deserves.

I believe it’s necessary to point out the negative rhetoric coming from the other side of the aisle on regionalization. There have been numerous postings on political websites and Facebook disparaging a worthwhile concept that we as legislators are obligated to consider.

First and foremost, the Education Committee is committed to providing school districts — as they currently exist or in some other form — that offer students the best chance to achieve academic excellence. By shutting down discussion and debate on viable concepts for improvement there cannot be advancement within Connecticut’s educational system. I urge my colleagues to put partisan bickering aside and uphold the primary task at hand — an excellent education for our children.

State Rep. Michelle L. Cook, a Democrat, represents the 65th Assembly District in Torrington.

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