Governor amends school consolidation bill to "encourage" shared services; Duff, Looney bills dead

Regionalization bills and discussion and debate over them have been an incessant topic in Connecticut over the last few months. However, on Wednesday, Gov. Ned Lamont said he had taken concerns into consideration and was amending his own school service consolidation bill to reflect them.

The discussion and debate began with the introduction of the first bill, 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 in January.

That was followed by SB 457, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, a Democrat who represents Norwalk and Darien, proposing 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.

Duff told attendees on Monday during a talk with Darien residents that both his and Looney's bills were dead, having not been acted upon by the required deadline. This was confirmed with Senate Democrats Communications Director Kevin Coughlin Wednesday.

A third bill was raised by Gov. Ned Lamont, 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.

Despite the bill, Lamont told a group of Fairfield County town leaders last month he did not support forced regionalization and preferred to use a “carrot vs. stick” method of incentivizing it.

Lamont revision

Lamont announced  Wednesday that he is submitting  revised language  to the General Assembly on his proposal encouraging shared services in Connecticut schools. The announcement was made via the website for the office for the governor .  The new proposal, which he said was "developed in collaboration with stakeholders, addresses concerns raised by members of the community 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," the announcement said.

Unlike other proposals, Governor Lamont’s legislation does not force school consolidation. Rather, his bill uses school construction bonds and other funds to incentivize communities to explore cost savings, but does not force regionalization, the announcement said.

“The truth is that our students and teachers are not getting the adequate resources they need in the classroom,” Governor Lamont 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. 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.”

As an example, North Carolina uses one contract for school software throughout the entire state, however in Connecticut there are 170 different contracts and the state is paying a premium. The governor’s 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 the recommendations that make sense in their local contexts.

The revised language in governor’s proposal:

  • Ensures regional diversity by requiring each of the governor’s six appointees come from a different RESC service area

  • Underscores the non-binding nature of the commission’s recommendations

  • Eliminates requirements that the commission consider redistricting and regionalization in its reports

The legislation,  SB 874 – An Act Concerning Education Initiatives and Services in Connecticut , is currently pending in the education committee. The same language is included in  HB 7192 – An Act Concerning Municipal and Regional Opportunities and Efficiencies , which is pending in the planning and development committee.

Read a full wrap up of many of the pending bills here.