Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie photo
Sen. Doug McCrory and Rep. Robert Sanchez (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie photo)

HARTFORD, CT — A routine meeting of the Education Committee drew a standing-room-only crowd because the agenda included an item on school regionalization.

The Education Committee voted unanimously to draft 30 “concepts” as bills. One of those “concepts” was the regionalization of services.

Education Committee Co-Chairs Rep. Robert Sanchez and Sen. Douglas McCrory repeatedly stressed that they had pushed for a discussion on the voluntary regionalization of services, which is different than Senate President Martin Looney’s proposed a bill that would force school districts in towns with less than 40,000 residents to consolidate with a neighboring district.

“I haven’t even read 454,” McCrory said, referring to Looney’s bill.

CLICK TO VOTE ON 2019 SB 454: An Act Concerning The Creation Of Regional School Districts

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Senate Bill 454 would force the regionalization of a large number of towns in the state, merging their school districts with larger municipalities or cities. Only 24 municipalities in Connecticut have a population over 40,000.

The law, if enacted, would become effective starting in July 2021.

Looney’s simple rational for his bill is: “to create a more efficient educational system.”

CLICK TO VOTE ON 2019 SB 457: An Act Concerning The Size Of School Districts

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A second similar bill has been submitted by Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff and Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague. Senate Bill 457 would “require any school district with a student population of fewer than 2,000 students to join a new or an existing regional school district so that the total student population of such new or expanded regional school district is greater 2,000 students.”

The proposals have sparked a huge debate at the capitol and around the state. Education Committee members have gotten an earful.

“The distress has been so great,” said Rep. Gail Lavielle, R- Wilton. “I’ve never quite seen anything like it.”

The town of Wilton has been vocal in its opposition to Looney’s bill, which would force them to consolidate with Norwalk.

Rep. Michelle Cook, D-Torrington, said if the committee ends the conversation before it even starts “then we’re never going to make change.”

“If regionalism is what we need to do to make education work in the state of Connecticut then we need to figure out how to make that work,” Cook said.

Rep. Roland Lemar, D-New Haven, said over the last four days they’ve seen people express “great distress” over regionalizing school districts.

“I think that’s a shame because a lot of communities have benefited greatly by the structural inequities that are inherent in our system today,” Lemar said.

To move beyond that “we have to have conversations that are hard and challenging,” Lemar added.

Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, said he doesn’t think anyone has suggested not raising a bill for discussion, “but I think we want to go into this with our eyes wide open.”

Candelora said the concept raised Tuesday by the committee looks at raising the concept of voluntary regionalization of services. He said the concept of forced regionalization based on population is not part of what the committee approved Tuesday.