Gov. Ned Lamont has submitted revisions to the General Assembly of his controversial proposal to mandate regional schools around the state.
The revised language calls for a plan to encourage “shared services in Connecticut schools” instead of Lamont’s original proposal, which would have required developing “a plan for the redistricting or consolidation of school services and school districts.”
Lamont’s bill, SB 874 – An Act Concerning Education Initiatives and Services in Connecticut, along with SB 457, introduced by Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, who represents Norwalk and parts of Darien, and fellow Democratic Sen. Cathy Osten, and SB 454, introduced by state Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney, all seek to consolidate smaller school districts in order to realize cost savings.
However, many residents and not a few municipal leaders have objected to how the bills’ language essentially would force them to regionalize. “The legislature has put out these bills that are not well thought out,” Joe DeLong, executive director of the Connecticut Council of Municipalities, told the Business Journal last week. “They’ve hijacked the conversation and turned it into one where everybody’s saying, ‘We love our schools – leave our schools alone.’”
Lamont apparently heard such criticism, saying that his new proposal was developed in collaboration with various stakeholders and that it addresses the aforementioned concerns while continuing to encourage collaboration and shared services among schools.
The governor said that he agrees with many constituents who do not want their school districts to be forced to consolidate operations and is hopeful that the modifications to his proposal address those concerns.
Instead of forcing school consolidation like the Duff/Osten and Looney bills, Lamont said his revised bill uses school construction bonds and other funds to incentivize communities to explore cost savings.
“The truth is that our students and teachers are not getting the adequate resources they need in the classroom,” he said. “Sharing certain back-office administrative services and purchasing costs is more efficient for certain schools, and my bill is intended to highlight and incentivize those efficiencies.
“I’ve also heard the concern that school districts need independence to make the decisions they feel are best,” he continued. “My revised proposal seeks to strike that balance through a collaborative process that preserves the feisty independence of our towns while providing them the tools they need to accomplish our shared vision of focusing resources on the classroom.”
Lamont cited as an example North Carolina, which uses one contract for school software throughout the entire state. In Connecticut, he said, there are 170 different contracts.
Lamont said his proposal creates a bipartisan commission on shared school services, made up of education stakeholders from across the state including parents, teachers, superintendents and school board members. That commission has no power to force the adoption of its recommendations, but will look around and outside the state to issue advisory reports on how districts can best share services and prioritize money for students and teachers.
The towns and the people’s elected representatives will be able to draw on those recommendations that make sense in their local contexts.
SB 874 is now pending in the state education committee. Another bill, HB 7192 – An Act Concerning Municipal and Regional Opportunities and Efficiencies, is pending in the Planning and Development Committee.