[UPDATE] The Next Big Thing In Education: Regionalization?

NOTE: The story below has been edited to reflect that Senator Looney’s bill refers to municipalities with fewer than 40,000 residents — not “40,000 students.”

Westport’s education leaders are experienced at multi-tasking.

That’s good. They’ll need those skills in the coming months.

Besides figuring out next steps for Coleytown Middle School, and grappling with next year’s budget, there’s a new issue coming down the pike: a bill in the Connecticut State Senate to regionalize school systems.

The proposal — SB 454, introduced by Senate President pro tempore Martin Looney, a Democrat representing New Haven, North Haven and Hamden — would combine state school districts with fewer than 40,000 students residents into regional ones.

Looney says the bill would “create a more efficient educational system.” In addition to schools, regionalization would include boards of education and central office staffs.

A different bill — filed by Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, a Democrat from Norwalk — would require only those districts with fewer than 2,000 students to regionalize. Governor Ned Lamont supports that proposal.

Westport has approximately 5,692 students. Weston has around 2,399. Neither would be affected by Duff’s legislation.

“I have a ton of respect for Senator Looney,” says State Senator Will Haskell. “I understand where he’s coming from. There’s unbelievable inequality in Connecticut education.”

The 1st-term legislator adds, “I was so lucky to go to Staples High School. I had the highest quality teachers, smartboards in every classroom, the amazing Staples Players program after school.

“Fifteen minutes away, they don’t have all that. Students fall behind. Equal opportunity is important.”

Staples High School — well funded by Westport taxpayers, and supported by a strong school district — offers opportunities that many other schools and districts do not.

But, he says, Looney’s bill is “the wrong approach to that problem.” If that legislation passes, Haskell foresees “mammoth districts, increased bureaucracy, and students traveling far from home for school.”

The state senator prefers to focus on ideas like reforming the cost-sharing formula for state aid, “to make sure students with the highest needs are getting state dollars.

“We need to find greater efficiencies to save tax dollars and improve the quality of education. But we have to do it with the participation and consent of the towns.”

Looney’s proposal has sparked quite a debate. Haskell has heard from hundreds of constituents. He will bring the concerns — of parents, teachers and students — to the Democratic caucus.

“We’re a big tent party,” Haskell says. “I work well with Senator Looney. But we disagree on this. There are other ways to reform education that don’t involve creating massive school districts.”

41 responses to “[UPDATE] The Next Big Thing In Education: Regionalization?

  1. Looney is such an appropriate name for the jerk who is pushing for regionalization of districts with fewer than FORTY THOUSAND students. Might as well name the bill “The Wreck The Good School Districts” bill.

  2. My mistake. That was the original bill. It’s been amended to read districts with fewer than 40,000 residents.

  3. This reminds me of the Westport/Bridgeport “busing fiasco” and the attempted recall of Joan Schine.

    • Elizabeth Thibault

      Can you share details, for those of us who might not be familiar with the busing fiasco? Thanks!

      • I was in HS ‘68-‘70. In an attempt to assist both cultures in finding common ground a trial program brought inner city kids into Westport schools. As I recall, there were no problems it was all good. There was a backlash among Westporters who attempted to recall Joan Schine the PTA board chair. It failed but the atmosphere in Westport was highly charged. It was and is unfortunate. As a “have not” kid who grew up in a “have” town I think regionalization would be a good thing especially for those who “have” everything. As a kid at the time I didn’t see it that way.

  4. This is interesting to me because I live in Howard County, Maryland, 30 miles from Washington D.C., and Palm Beach County, Florida, and both counties have school systems that encompass the whole county. Supposedly Howard County has one of the best school systems in the country! Many here claim it’s the best. When I first retired in 2007, from being a public school teacher in Connecticut, I substituted for seven years in the Palm Beach County School System, the eleventh largest in the country, with 12,000 teachers and a diversity of students that speak 150 different languages! After seeing this first hand, I wouldn’t write off this idea. Centennial High School is one the high schools in Ellicott City, Maryland and is part of the Howard County School System. Do some research on the Howard County School System in Maryland.

  5. What, Mr.Fogel, is “the L tune”, please?

  6. Melissa Ceriale

    Let’s consider a couple of statistics here:

    In 2013 Connecticut had 550,954 students enrolled in a total of 1,148 schools in 200 school districts. There were 43,931 teachers in the public schools, or roughly one teacher for every 13 students, compared to the national average of 1:16.

    The New York City public school system is the largest in the world. More than 1.1 million students are taught in more than 1,700 public schools with a budget of nearly $25 billion. The public school system is managed by the New York City Department of Education.

    The State of CT needs TWO HUNDRED school districts for half the amount of students??? It’s absurd. Just think about how the money that is spent in this state could go toward those students vs the administration costs of TWO HUNDRED school districts.

    Absurdity abounds.

    • 200 school systems means 200 Superintendents. Also, a lot of fine education starts at home where education is nurtured. However, I totally understand that when education is regioalized, you do lose a little of that hometown pride- a Staples graduate from 1965 or 2017 is a hometown Staples graduate. My father graduated from Staples in 1936 and I have his yearbook! But I believe the trend is moving towards county school systems like Palm Beach County has.

    • Elizabeth Thibault

      Westport Now has an article on this, and in it they state:
      There are currently 43 school districts in Connecticut that enroll fewer than 1,000 students, but almost all of them already have regionalized their middle or high schools or both, and 22 districts have only a part-time superintendent.

      And further regionalization may not save much in many cases. A 2013 study by the state Department of Education found that higher per-student spending by small districts was “not necessarily the result of being small, but one of ability and choice.”

      https://westportnow.com/index.php?/v3/comments/proposals_to_force_regionalized_school_districts_spark_debate_distress/

      So many of these smaller districts have already consolidated, just maybe not to the liking of Looney, and that the costs and potential savings aren’t going to be what many are thinking. You’re going to have smaller towns, like Westport, who value a quality education and extensive offerings and activities beyond the bare minimum that is offered elsewhere. (Mandarin in middle school is a premium offering, for sure!) It’s why many of us moved here.

      Our property values wouldn’t be what they are, if we had an average or mediocre school system. Without the values, the mil rate would need to increase, to keep our level of overall town services. It would be penny-wise and pound foolish, to consolidate our district, for the sake of saving the cost of an administrator.

  7. Diana Pils Marino

    So some towns would be like Woodbridge, Amity, Orange or Redding & Easton combining kids? I see with declining population why that makes sense but .. people (who went to schools like Staples) work hard to live in a wealthy town with great schools. If you take that away why would people buy houses in wealthy towns anymore? Louisville KY tried bussing 50% of kids from urban Louisville to Louisville suburbs. We moved to CT in 1974 because of that. It didn’t work then. Education inequality will always exist just like wealthy towns will always exist. It’s human nature. 1 -5% have always been at the top of the pyramid but don’t penalize them for achieving success. It’s mindset given at their home .. not thought at school.

  8. Ms. Ceriale:

    NYC spends a lot per student and the schools are crap. If you read the Real Estate section of the NYTimes you can see that the % of students who read and have absorbed math at their appropriate levels are below awful. Unqualified teachers can’t get fired and the whole system — union encumbered — plays with numbers and tests to the detriment of all.

    Westport schools produce kids who are prepped to succeed in college and well launched to succeed in the work force.

    Will is right; we pull up other districts, we don’t water down one of our biggest draws and accomplishments: a great school system.

  9. Mr. Looney’s idea fits his name.Regional hs works fine for truly tiny towns like Easton Redding but little else Vote no on Mr Looney’s proposal

  10. These ideas deserve more than cursory scrutiny and rejection. There is a current dearth of top administrators with many small districts having to pull acting heads from the pool of retirees. Central offices, transportation, and technology networks could all benefit from economies of scale…

  11. Chip Stephens SHS '73

    SOOOO the State of Connecticut continues to DE-fund schools in towns like Westport and continues to threaten to lay more taxes and school related assessments on towns like Westport (funding teacher pensions)
    Hmmmmmm
    SOOOO the State of Connecticut continues to chase corporations out of Fairfield county and elsewhere in the state (GE will never leave its a bluff) and threaten others like Hedge Funds and Insurance Companies through higher tax and regulations
    Hmmmmmmm
    SOOOOO the State of Connecticut continues to usurp the Land Use regulations of Towns like Westport with warped regulations like 830g and Transportation Districts that promote unregulated density and ruination of local character and worth
    Hmmmmmmm
    Remember the motto of the State of Connecticut
    “He who is transplanted, sustains”
    Get used to the new motto just introduced in Hartford
    ” Will the last resident leaving Connecticut please turn out the lights.”

  12. There’s merit to consolidating school districts. Happens in many states as towns lose population and the overhead involved with administrators, etc. is a fixed cost regardless of student population. The battle and sensitivity is always where to draw the student pop size, but it’s inevitable and smart to get ahead of the curve with planning, etc. This is one of many hard implications of a state that is consistently losing population, companies that generate jobs and related $ benefits such as housing demand, and has a huge fiscal anchor around it’s neck with its fiscal mismanagement and state employee pension obligations. Elections do indeed have consequences.

  13. First and foremost every community should demand the right to control their own educational destiny.
    Why is it that politicians on the state and federal level believe they know what is better for all of us when they can not even produce budgets that do not have deficits. Witness this mornings news that Lamont and crew are considering a tax on food and their rationalization that taxing food occurs in other states so it is OK!
    Interesting that Will Haskell can only say he does not support the Idea. Why doesn’t he have the guts to say he is going to fight and defeat it.

  14. Stupidly at the highest level. Another example of big gov take over. All signals point to more gov in our day to day lives

    The only ones who may be excited about this will be the private schools where enrollment will flourish

    Socialism is knocking on our doors be careful what you wish for

  15. …because walking into a new club and telling all those present that they suck is not a good idea. Can we give Will Haskell a chance before we start picking apart every statement he makes.

    After meeting Will several times I got a little hopeful that we might be getting 1st class thinkers and doers in our political garbage dump. As a 70 year old, I’m embarrassed at the behavior of all those old guys twittering and talking crap on the news.

  16. our public schools have turning out fantastic professionals with incredible achievements.

  17. People moved to CT to get away from taxes. We lost that one. Now people are moving away from CT to get away from taxes.

    People moved to Wewtoort to provide their child/children with a first class education. Now people will not move to Westport as schools decline with regionalization.

    Amazing how this state can destroy all the reasons to mice to CT (and Westport).

  18. And we wonder why so many people are rude? Some of these comments are downright nasty! There must be a way to get your point across (no matter what it is) in a more positive way.

    On another note, please don’t forget that parent/family support also impacts education do the individual.

    • Oh Jacque O, You are so correct! Here’s my take on all this. If the idea was so bad, then why are some of richest towns, like Palm Beach, participating, or are a part of a county wide educational system. Palm Beach has 98 percent millionaires and 17 billionaires! Only 2 percent of the population aren’t millionaires or billionaires. This statistic makes Westport look very mediocre as far as wealth! They don’t have their own school system; they are a part of the broader Palm Beach School System.

      • Jack. Are you saying CT should follow what Florida is doing with their schools?

        • Following Florida and following Palm Beach are two very different things. I don’t think, in Palm Beach, you can find a house for under 10 million! (I’m not talking condos, I’m talking homes. I don’t think there’s on under 10 million dollars.) Obviously, a town like this could certainly afford to have a town school system like Westport has. However, they have chosen to be a part of the Palm Beach Couny School System, and be a part of the eleventh largest school system in the United States.

          • Jack,

            An honest (non-snarky) question: What’s the percentage of school-age kids in Palm Beach? The impression I’ve gotten is that – unlike Westport — it’s a place with many older residents, and others who have winter homes there but don’t reside there full-time. I haven’t thought of it as a place with families with young kids. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

            And one more question: Among the school-age population, what percentage attends private schools? In Westport, that percentage is quite low.

            • Palm Beach Public Elementary is located on the island and has kindergarten through fifth grade. It has a school grade of A and 477 students attend the school. I substituted a few times at the school in 2009. There’s also a private school in Palm Beach. The 2000 census has 10,000 full-time residents and 30,000 part-time residents. There’s no middle school or high school in Palm Beach. I used Palm Beach as an example, but I also mentioned the Howard County School System in Maryland. I do think the movement is towards school systems that encompass the entire county. If places like Howard, in Maryland, and Palm Beach in Florida, have moved in this direction, there has to be some tangible value and reason why they did this.

          • Jack- I do find it funny to read you want to compare what Westport should do with florida. I thought that was the big arguments by many who said do not move to florida as Westport has such better schools. I am truly laughing.

            • I don’t think you understand what I’m saying. I thought I made it clear I was talking about Palm Beach and only the Palm Beach County School System. They happen to be in Florida. Just as speaking about Westport doesn’t reflect the entire state, Palm Beach does reflect the entire state of Florida. I mentioned another county, Howard County in Maryland. This doesn’t mean I’m comparing Maryland to Connecticut. I’m taking another county and using it as an example of all the towns in another county, called Howard, where all the towns are a part of one school system!

              • Anyone of means in Palm Beach which school age children is not sending their child to public schools… it’s not Connecticut, Florida is a different beast entirely.

                • How do you know that anyone of means in Palm Beach doesn’t send their children to public school? First of all, everyone in Palm Beach is “ of means.” 98 percent are millionaires and there are 17 billionaires! So how do you explain the 477 elementary school students who attend the one public school in Palm Beach. Since I was a substitute teacher for 7 years in the Palm Beach School System and lived on the island for 15 years, I think I know what I’m talking about.

                • Beginning the 2017-2018 school year, the School District of Palm Beach County will offer parents and legal guardians the opportunity for their child to apply for and attend a school outside their regular attendance zone through the Controlled Open Enrollment process. Pursuant to F.S. 1002.31, the SDPBC will allow a parent from any school district in the state of Florida whose child is not subject to a current expulsion or suspension, apply for an assignment to an available school for the following school year.

                • Controlled Open Enrollment—General Information

                  All students entering grades K–12 are eligible to apply
                  Non–Palm Beach County residents are eligible to apply
                  Transportation will not be provided
                  The list of schools will be available prior to the application deadline
                  Schools not on this list will not be considered
                  Applications will be accepted from (TBA)
                  Apply online at http://www.mypbchoiceapp.com
                  Late applications will not be accepted
                  Assignment through Controlled Open Enrollment will not remove a student from a Choice program wait pool

  19. its going to be fine.

  20. I’m curious … CT has increased (created) 6,000 new jobs since 1999. More Corps are leaving … so what is all of the “affordable” housing going up all over for? I know NO ONE who is moving TO CT. I was laid off 3 times because my Corps moved to cheaper states. I found other Corp jobs but it seems the Democrats in charge for years in CT have (excuse me) pissed away a LOT of tax money .. and we have nothing to show for it. Regional school systems could be fine, especially with declining birth rates, but … will kids have to get on a school bus (if kids even do that anymore) at 6am to get to school 14 miles away? My Dad fought in KY and lost so we moved to CT. In 1974 we were the richest State per capita. Now, are we #49 or #50? Let a few promising students in (like Westport has) and see what happens. Westport tax money goes what? .. 69% towards education? My husband fought in Wilton when his daughter was going to be bussed to Norwalk. He said NO, that’s why I bought a house in Wilton … to get a great school.

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