Regionalized recycling or 911 calls or waste management — maybe. Schools? No.
Regionalizing schools has never been popular in Ridgefield, where so much — real estate values, the taxes people are willing to pay, the sense of who we are as a town — are tied in with Ridgefield’s schools and the young people whose fine educations give them a chance to shine in life. With regionalization under discussion, townspeople should keep a wary eye on the various plans — without descending into bumper-sticker politics.
School regionalization bills have been put forward in Hartford. Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney, a Democrat from New Haven, would create a commission to work on regionalizing school districts of towns with populations of fewer than 40,000 — Ridgefield, with about 26,000 people, would be included. A bill by Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff would push districts with fewer than 2,000 students to regionalize — Ridgefield, with about 5,000 students, wouldn’t be affected.
Not surprisingly, regionalization proposals are opposed by virtually all Ridgefield representatives, Republicans and Democrats — Republican state Rep. John Frey of the 111th District and Democratic state Sen. Will Haskell of the seven-town 26th District that includes Ridgefield.
Sen. Looney says he wants to consolidate administration, not schools. Why should Ridgefield, Wilton, Redding and Newtown — one regional grouping that has been discussed — pay salaries in the $200,000 range to four different superintendents when they might consolidate and pay just one?
One answer is because savings from fewer superintendents would then be eaten up by additional assistant superintendents or other regional administrators needed to connect local schools to the district administration. Efficiency may be the goal, but public schools need administrative oversight. Consolidating and regionalizing will just end up creating another layer of government. Small and relatively densely populated, Connecticut benefits by not having to support the county government layer needed in many larger, more rural states. No need to start down that path.
Connecticut has a valuable home rule tradition to preserve. Local control of schools keeps parents closer to decisions on curriculum, discipline practices, staffing, playground rules, all the nuts and bolts of running a school system. And that’s a closeness worth preserving.