Rally against school regionalization Saturday; Hartford public hearing next Friday

A rally against school regionalization will be held in front of Ridgefield’s Town Hall from 10 to 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 23.

Ridgefield resident Liz Floegel is organizing the event, which has been dubbed the “hands off our schools” initiative. It’s expected to draw protesters from neighboring towns, including Wilton, Darien and Redding.

“The ‘hands off our schools’ initiative is an informal group formed to oppose forced regionalization and other bills that reduce local education “control across Connecticut,” Floegel told The Ridgefield Press Thursday, Feb. 14.

SB 457, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, a Democrat who represents Norwalk and Darien, proposes to amend state statutes to require any school district with a student population of fewer than 2,000 students to join a new or an existing regional school district.

SB 738, An Act Concerning the Creation of Regional School Districts, was introduced by Senate President pro Tempore Martin Looney, a Democrat, who represents Hamden, New Haven and North Haven.

Regionalization has been met with opposition in Darien. State Rep. Terrie Wood, First Selectman Jayme Stevenson, Board of Education Chairman Tara Ochman and Schools Superintendent Elliot Landon have each been vocal against Looney’s bill.

Darien’s Board of Education submitted a statement to the legislature’s Education Committee that is currently discussing the bills.

“Of significant concern, we believe schools exist for children and neither bill begins to address educational issues and direct impact to students that might arise with such consolidations,” the statement read.

The Darien Board of Ed statement also addressed Senate bill 458, which would allow the mayor or first selectman of a town to appoint the chairman of the Board of Ed versus the board electing its own chairman if the school budget in that town represents more that 50% of the entire town budget.

“Board members represent the taxpayers and they are by their elections held accountable. However, they are empowered by the state to act as state agents in implementing the educational interests of the state so that public schools are not inherently subject to changing community tides, or other political motives, when it comes to funding an adequate education for our children,” they wrote.

The new bill

A new bill was raised this week by Gov. Ned Lamont is SB 874: An Act Concerning Education Initiatives and Services in Connecticut. Read the bill here. The bill was introduced by Duff, Looney, State Rep. Joe Aresimowicz, a Democrat who represents Berlin and Southington and State Rep. Matt Ritter, a Democrat representing Hartford.

State Rep. Gail Lavielle, a Republican member of the Education Committee, said the new bill creates a Commission on Shared School Services “for the purpose of developing a plan for the redistricting or consolidation of school services and school districts”. Members of the Commission would be appointed by the governor and legislative leaders.

“The governor’s budget director today confirmed in her presentation before the Appropriations Committee that the bill leaves the possibility of forced regionalization open.” Lavielle wrote on the Hands off our Schools Facebook page.

For more information on the Feb. 23 rally, visit the Hands off our Schools Facebook page.

Ridgefield Town Hall is located at 400 Main St.

Public hearing

A public hearing regarding the now three state regionalization bills will be held next Friday, March 1 in Hartford.

Lavielle offered information on the hearing as well as how to submit written testimony on the Hands off our Schools Facebook page.

The hearing is Friday, March 1 starting at 1 p.m. in the Legislative Office Building, Room 2E at 300 Capitol Avenue
Hartford. Parking is free.

Testifying in Person

You may sign up to speak at the hearing starting at 10 a.m. in the lobby of the Legislative Office Building. The order is first-come, first-serve. The first hour of testimony is reserved for public officials, and after that, students will be given preference so that they can finish early. Everyone who signs up gets to speak, and the hearing will remain open until there are no more speakers.

Speakers will have three minutes to speak before the Education Committee. If a Committee member asks you a question afterwards, you may take the time you need to answer.

If you are speaking at the hearing, you should also submit written testimony so that it will appear in the public record, in the file of each bill. Legislators often refer to written testimony when they are voting on the House or Senate floor – especially when they have not come across a bill earlier in the session.

Written testimony

• Email it to the Education Committee by 3:30 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 28
• Put your testimony in either a Word document or a pdf
• Include the bill number(s), your name, and your town
• Attach the document to an email
• Put the bill number(s) in the Subject Line of the email
• Send it to edtestimony@cga.ct.gov

Op/ed and Darien Town Hall invite

This week, Duff, along with State Rep. Matt Blumenthal and Senator Carlo Leone, who represent Darien and Stamford, submitted an op/ed asking critics to let the bills go through the legislative process.

Duff, Leone and Blumenthal: Allow school bills to go through public discourse and process

“The goal is to create better educational opportunities for students and efficiencies for taxpayers without closing any schools. We have seen this work right here in Fairfield County, where the Easton-Redding school district has achieved not only real cost savings, but most importantly, excellent outcomes for its students,” they wrote.

“Unfortunately, however, some leaders have rushed to judgment without any details (because this is just a proposal, no real details exist yet) or letting the process work as designed. These hasty condemnations have served only to cause unfounded fear that the bill is on the verge of becoming law. In fact, it is very far from that point,” they wrote.

“As leaders, we owe it to our constituents to take a deep breath and allow public discourse to take place. Of course, constituent feedback is essential to that process,” they wrote.

“As three of the four Legislators who represent Darien, we understand the concerns Darien residents have about these bills. We will be closely watching them (as well as many others) and will continue to work with the Darien community to ensure that our labors serve to improve the education of Darien’s children and all children in the State of Connecticut,” they wrote.

First Selectman Jayme Stevenson invited the three Democratic state reps to a Town Hall along with State Rep. Terrie Wood to discuss regionalization bills, but Duff, Leone and Blumenthal declined.

The email sent from the first selectman’s office by her assistant, Linda O’Leary, read that as Darien’s state representatives, “First Selectman Jayme Stevenson respectfully requests your participation in a community meeting on proposed legislation.”

The email included six dates in late February or early March to choose from. When the first email didn’t get a response other than from Wood, another email was sent on Feb. 12 saying the Darien Town Hall auditorium was reserved on all six dates until a date could be decided upon.

On Feb. 13, Duff responded on behalf of himself and fellow Democrats Leone and Blumenthal:

“Thank you for your email. Matt, Carlo and I plan on having various office hours and community conversations in our district during the legislative session. When we schedule them, the meetings will be publicly announced and we will certainly urge all interested parties to attend. We appreciate the First Selectwoman reaching out to organize a meeting, but we will take on this important responsibility — as we have in the past.

Sincerely,

Bob, Carlo and Matt”

Stevenson told The Darien Times she had hoped to hold a Town Hall-type meeting with all four of Darien’s state representatives.

The purpose, she said, was “to ask questions and express concerns on legislation being proposed this legislative session, including but not limited to the bills proposed by Senators Duff and Looney that would force school consolidations.”

Duff held a similar style meeting in Norwalk a few weeks ago along with Sen. Will Haskell and State Rep. Lucy Dathan during which attendees could make comments and ask questions about proposed legislation.

“I will press Senators Duff, Leone and Rep. Blumenthal for dates for their future meetings here in Darien, although “in district” doesn’t guarantee Darien will be their venue,” Stevenson said.

“As Darien’s first selectman, I will continue to press for their time and attention to the people of Darien,” Stevenson said.

Stevenson said she had not yet decided if she was going to go forward with the meeting with only Wood as a participant.

Leone told The Darien Times the three intend to hold informational meetings for Darien constituents in Darien themselves and will send out information when they are scheduled.