Forced regionalization? Proposed school bill creates ‘significant challenges’

A newly proposed bill in Connecticut’s legislature could change the makeup of Ridgefield’s school district.
The bill (SB 454) was introduced by State Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney (D-11), who represents New Haven. If passed, the new bill would create a commission charged with developing a plan to consolidate school districts in towns with fewer than 40,000 residents. In the statement of purpose at the end of the bill, Looney wrote, “To create a more efficient educational system.”
State Rep. John Frey (R-111) said an effort to regionalize districts for efficiency could prove problematic, especially when forced by law.
“Consolidation is fine — we’ve done it before, but on a voluntary basis,” he said.
The proposal has even had local homebuyers change their mind on purchases, according to Frey.
“I actually had a potential homebuyer change courses over the weekend because of the possibility,” said Frey, who also works as a real estate agent for Coldwell Banker.
School board chair Margaret Stamatis said the bill is “something that we are watching, but not anticipating.”
She said the topic of regionalization came up at a legislative breakfast in Ridgefield on Jan. 15
Attendees were neighboring town superintendents and other school board members, Stamatis said. State legislators in attendance included state Sen. Will Haskell (D-26), state Rep. Kenneth Gucker (R-138) and Frey.
“Although the topic itself came up, this specific proposed bill was not discussed,” Stamatis said. “Comments generally focused on the understanding of the positive intent of regionalization, but that it also creates some significant challenges — some of which may also be statutory challenges.”
Stamatis that the Ridgefield school board would keep its eye on the bill, which is expected to have a public hearing in the coming months.
“As we've done in the past, when we oppose a proposed bill, we'll submit testimony and discuss with our local legislators,” she said. “Our CABE (Connecticut Association of Boards of Education) Day on the Hill is March 20 this year.
“There are a significant number of proposed bills and most will be consolidated or fall by the wayside due to lack of support,” she added. “We'll continue to keep our eyes on them and make testimony prior to or at the hearing as warranted.”