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Former Bethel Public Schools Superintendent Kevin Smith on Regionalization of CT School Districts: ‘We cannot let that happen’

Report by Paula Antolini, February 27, 2019, 4:05PM EDT

Wilton Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Kevin Smith (former Bethel Public Schools Superintendent) wrote a letter to parents and staff on February 22, 2019 urging the community to contact their local legislators regarding the regionalization of Connecticut school districts, saying “The time is now.” (View letter below.) He opposes these bills and said, “While there are many important reasons to oppose the concept of forced regionalization, including potential degradation of education quality, and concerns about property values, there is no empirical evidence to validate that such a move actually leads to cost savings.”

On February 20th Governor Ned Lamont released his budget which included the following bill, and a 32-page long detailed account of how municipalities and local boards of education could combine services and suggests this same plan state wide:

SB 874:  An Act Concerning Education Initiatives and Services in Connecticut. To implement the Governor’s budget recommendations. Introduced by: Sen. Martin M. Looney, 11th Dist., Sen. Bob Duff, 25th Dist., Rep. Joe Aresimowicz, 30th Dist., Rep. Matthew Ritter, 1st Dist.

Other similar bills are:

SB 738:AN ACT CONCERNING THE CREATION OF REGIONAL SCHOOL DISTRICTS.To create a more efficient educational system. Introduced by: Sen. Martin M. Looney, 11th Dist.

SB 457: AN ACT CONCERNING THE SIZE OF SCHOOL DISTRICTS. To require certain small school districts to create new or join existing regional school districts. Introduced by: Sen. Bob Duff, 25th Dist., Sen. Catherine A. Osten, 19th Dist.

There will be an Education Committee public hearing about the school regionalization issue on March 1, 2019, at 1:00 p.m. in Room 2E of the Legislative Office Building, at 300 Capitol Ave #5100, in Hartford, CT. All three bills – SB 874, SB 738, SB 457 – will be on the agenda. Click here for directions to the Legislative Office Building (and parking garage).

CLICK HERE for “A Guide for Reaching State Legislators and Testifying at Hearings.”

You can also submit written testimony. If your testimony concerns the topic of forced regionalization generally, it’s a good idea to cite all three bill numbers.

Here is some information from State Rep. Gail Lavielle:

Testifying in Person

You may sign up to speak at the hearing starting at 10:00 am 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.

You 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.

Written Testimony

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.

Submitting your written testimony:

  • Email it to the Committee by 3:30 pm on Thursday, February 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

You may of course submit written testimony regardless of whether you are speaking at the hearing.

Testimony from members of the public plays an important role in the development of legislation, and my colleagues and I very much appreciate your participation. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you would like further details on the bills, the hearing, or the legislative process. I am always happy to hear from you.

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CLICK HERE to view BPS Superintendent Dr. Christine Carver’s viewpoint on school regionalization in our February 8, 2019 article.

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Read Superintendent Dr. Smith’s letter here:

Dear Parents, Guardians and Caregivers and Staff,

The time is now. If you haven’t yet taken the opportunity to let our representatives in Hartford know your thoughts on forced school regionalization and Governor Lamont’s proposal to shift even more of the state’s financial obligations to Wilton and other municipalities, I strongly urge you to consider doing so next week. On Friday, March 1 the state legislature’s Committee on Education will hear testimony on three proposed regionalization bills, including Senator Martin Looney’s Senate Bill 454/738, and the Governor’s budget bill which also speaks to regionalization (SB 874).

As I have written previously, while there are many important reasons to oppose the concept of forced regionalization, including potential degradation of education quality, and concerns about property values, there is no empirical evidence to validate that such a move actually leads to cost savings. In fact, research by the National Education Policy Center concluded that benefits from school district consolidation are “vastly overestimated.” Further, an article in Education Finance and Policy suggested that district consolidation may actually create negative impacts such as higher transportation costs, a “leveling up” of salaries, and more negative attitudes among staff members and parents. The same study suggests that financial benefits may be found only when consolidation of very small districts (fewer than 300 to 1000 students) occurs.

Of significant concern as well is the Governor’s proposal to require municipalities to fund a portion of teacher pension costs. I am vehemently opposed to this concept because, at its heart, it is a dereliction of state responsibility. For decades our state leaders failed to adequately fund the plan they created. Local municipalities had no influence over the design or the decision to fund (or not fund) the plan. Despite the fact that this crisis has been growing for years, our leaders in Hartford have turned a blind eye. Now, standing at a fiscal cliff, the solution appears to be to shift the burden to local municipalities including Wilton, that have responsibly managed their finances.

And to add insult to injury, the Governor’s plan also calls for a surcharge for towns like Wilton that pay teacher salaries that exceed the state median. The plan does not account for higher costs of living in areas such as Fairfield County, or the impact of binding arbitration, two factors beyond local control that strongly influence salary agreements.

To make matters even more dire, the legislature is also contemplating a bill (SB 431) that proposes to divert motor vehicle tax revenue from municipalities to the state government.

The cumulative effect of these proposals, if enacted, would be millions of dollars in additional obligations for Wilton residents. This would likely result in increased property taxes for a diminished, regionalized school system. We simply cannot let that happen.

There are several ways you can add your voice to the conversation:

1) Reach out to local legislators. A brief email or phone call can have a tremendous impact in letting legislators know that residents are opposed to these proposals. Key legislators to contact include:

Senator Martin Looney (SB 454/738 Sponsor)
looney@senatedems.ct.gov
860.240.0375

Senator Bob Duff (Senate President and SB 431 Co-Sponsor)
Bob.Duff@cga.ct.gov
860.240.0414

Senator Will Haskell (Wilton)
Haskell@senatedems.ct.gov
860.240.0068

Representative Gail Lavielle (Wilton)
Gail.Lavielle@housegop.ct.gov
800.842.1423

Representative Tom O’Dea (Wilton)
Tom.ODea@housegop.ct.gov

Representative Robert Sanchez (Education committee chair)
Bobby.Sanchez@cga.ct.gov
860.240.8585

Senator Douglas McCrory (Education committee chair)
860.240.8600

Representative Kathleen McCarty (Education committee ranking member)
Kathleen.McCarty@housegop.ct.gov

Senator Eric Berthel (Education committee ranking member)
Eric.Berthel@cga.ct.gov

2)  Submit written testimony to the education and appropriations committees in advance of their respective public hearings. As noted above, the Education Committee is holding a public hearing next Friday beginning at 1 p.m.. Written testimony needs to be received no later than 3:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 28. Testimony can be in Word or PDF format attached to an email, and should include the bill number/s (SB 738 SB 457 and SB 874), your name, and your town. Include the bill number in the subject line and email testimony to EDtestimony@cga.ct.gov.

3) Submit testimony in person by signing up to speak next Friday beginning at 10 a.m. in the lobby of the Legislative Office Building. The hearing is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m.. The first hour is reserved for public officials and then speakers are invited to speak, based on the order of the sign up.

Since I have been a superintendent charged with developing annual school budgets, I have heard the refrain annually, “you think this year is bad, wait till next year.” “Next year” is here. We have worked collaboratively in Wilton to deliver a world class education at an affordable price. The current proposals to correct our state’s fiscal issues do nothing more than shift the financial burden to local municipalities.

Please consider making your voice heard by engaging with our legislative leaders. If you want to learn more, consider attending the “Hands Off Our Schools” rally scheduled to take place tomorrow at 10 a.m. in front of Ridgefield Town Hall.

Sincerely,

Kevin J. Smith, Ph.D.
Superintendent of Schools

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