Update on Regionalization, Hughes Urges Testimony

Rep. Anne Hughes. Photo: M.S. Wirtenberg

State Representative Anne Hughes is encouraging Weston residents to weigh in on proposed legislation that could mandate school regionalization.

The legislature’s Education Committee will hold a public hearing on March 1. You can state your views in person or submit them via email.

To let committee members know in writing what you think, attach them as a PDF document to an email sent here: edtestimony@cga.ct.gov.

If you would like to testify in person, the March 1 hearing will be at 1:00 in Room 2E of the Legislative Office Building in Hartford. If you go, be sure to sign in, and take note of the guidelines here.

Representative Hughes said she spoke to Governor Lamont last weekend and “shared with him our district’s united opposition to the forced school regionalization bills.”

She asked the public to join her by “submitting public testimony to the Education Committee opposing these proposals, specifically how they would undermine our excellent quality of education and negatively impact our district’s school systems.”

Three Proposed Bills

The hearing will cover three proposed bills, one of which is brand new and may obviate the need for the others.

SB-457 proposes to have districts with fewer than 2,000 students join a new or existing regional school district or explain in writing why they will not.

The bill doesn’t specify penalties for districts that refuse to regionalize, but the general assumption is that, once fully drafted, if adopted it would carry a threat that non-complying districts would lose State funds.

Currently, about 2,400 students attend Weston schools, so the bill would not apply.

SB-738 would apply to Weston and all Connecticut school districts. It proposes to form a commission to create a plan to mandate regionalization. Even if the legislature disapproved of the plan, it would go into effect one year later.

The bill has drawn sharp criticism and strong opposition, including from Weston’s Board of Selectmen and all three state legislators who represent the town.

Senator Will Haskell told a group of constituents at the Weston Library on February 11 that he doubted the bill would get beyond the hearing stage. Later, it barely passed a committee vote to send it to a hearing at all.

A New Proposal for a Commission, No MandateS

SB-738's author, Senator Martin Looney, has since offered, just days ago, SB-874. It too proposes establishment of a commission, but this time without any mention of a mandate.

SB-874 is the legislative form of part of Governor Ned Lamont’s new budget proposal, and we suspect it, in effect, replaces SB-738 and possibly SB-457 as well.

Unlike most bills proposed this early in a legislative session, when they are often simple declarations of intent, SB-874 is very detailed and comprehensive. At this writing, we are still working on a full report, so the following is a preliminary summary.

It is clear that the bill’s aim — and the governor’s — is to reduce education administrative costs by promoting, at the very least, shared services. Over the past several years, Connecticut school enrollments have declined, but administrative positions and costs have grown.

The bill calls for a thorough examination of where services could be consolidated among districts or between districts and their local municipalities. The services to be examined run the gamut: human resources, accounting, payroll, procurement, finance, IT, risk management, health care, retirement benefits, insurance, claims administration, buildings, grounds, and more. All would be subjected to a detailed analysis of whether expensive redundancies exist, could be eliminated, and what the potential costs and benefits would be.

After an initial period of study, the commission’s task would be to identify where shared services or regionalization would make financial sense and make recommendations for implementation. To encourage adoption of the recommendations, the bill contains few sticks but several carrots, which of course can look just like sticks when you’re small.

The major incentive detailed in the bill has to do with school construction grants. The efforts by local Boards of Education to collaborate with other districts to reduce costs and address under-enrollment would become a significant factor in how construction grant applications are prioritized. But the bill also specifies that the commission should offer ideas about other incentives, including tax changes.

Also in Weston Today...