School Regionalization hearing draws a resounding “no”

March 1, 2019

HARTFORD — Small town residents by the hundreds let their opposition to any forced school regionalization effort be known at the state capitol on Friday, jamming both email in-boxes and conference rooms.

Long before a 1 p.m. Education Committee of the Connecticut General Assembly began at the State Legislative Office Building, there were well over 600 pieces of written testimonies in opposition to three bills linked to Gov. Ned Lamont’s call for a task force to study consolidation efforts.

A line also snaked through the LOB rotunda to sign up to speak at the afternoon hearing.

Lamont wants small districts to explore ways to share administrative and back office costs that he said would be better spent in classrooms.

An appearance by Lamont earlier in the week in Weston — during which he assured area first selectman his push would with “carrots, not sticks” — did not quell the concern.

“It will kill this Connecticut town,” Andrea Bates of Wilton wrote.

The written testimony came from all over the state although the lion’s share was generated by residents of Wilton, followed by New Canaan, Ridgefield and other Fairfield County communities.

Senate Bill 738 alone — which proposes to force municipalities with populations smaller than 40,000 to consolidate if they are not already regionalized — drew written opposition from 243 Wilton residents, 75 New Canaanites, along with 39 from Ridgefield, 18 from Darien, 15 from Weston, six from Trumbull and 4 from Weston.

“These bills will erode the quality and the character of our local schools, which erodes the quality of our town,” wrote Kim Aleksiejczyk, a single parent who said she moved to Wilton specifically for the schools.

Steve Brooks of Darien called it a heavy-handed bureaucratic measure that would weaken public education.

Lonnie de Marco of New Canaan said good small schools is really what is keeping her in the state.

“If they become regionalized via a mandate from the state, I fear that new families will stop moving to Connecticut and those of us who are currently taking advantage of the localized schools will move away,” de Marco said.

All three bills heard by the committee emphasize voluntary efforts though Lamont’s budget proposal seeks to subtract state funding from small school districts that don’t take steps to at least share school superintendents.

When he met with about a dozen Fairfield County first selectmen on Tuesday, Lamont said he would be willing to take out provisions of the bill if necessary.

But some say any state-led rationalization effort is bound to be arbitrary and ultimately unworkable.

Quality would suffer, cautioned Lynne Edwards of Sandy Hook.

Olga Konykhov of Darien described herself as absolutely appalled by the proposal.

“Dismantling our school system in the desperate attempt to balance the (state) budget is painfully irresponsible, outrageous and morally wrong,” Konykhov wrote.

Others see the cost of rationalization as too high.

“(It) may save a few dollars but what will the true cost really be,” wrote Victoria Maurer of Monroe.

Morale, she said, would suffer.

lclambeck@ctpost.com; twitter/lclambeck