MERIDEN, CT — Gov. Ned Lamont is not willing to ask local communities to share resources and thus, save money, when it comes to education.
That’s one of the things educators, advocates, and lawmakers learned Tuesday during a conversation the governor had with newly nominated Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona.
Within his first few months in office, Lamont proposed a bill that would have established a School Services and Redistricting Commission to get local school districts, cities and towns to talk about how they could save money through greater economies of scale.
“Small local school districts that choose to have inefficient governance structures, and too many expensive superintendents, can no longer expect the state to bear the costs of these decisions,” Lamont’s budget narrative stated. “Under this budget, a small local district’s decision to retain rather than share a superintendent may result in a reduction in a district’s ECS (Education Cost Sharing) grant, after July 1, 2020.”
But the stick approach to school regionalization didn’t attract many supporters.
Lamont eventually backed off the proposal and went with one that would allow multiple boards of education in a regional school district to act together and have that collaboration be recognized by the state as a Local Education Agency (LEA). The revised proposal ended up dying in the Appropriations Committee in April.
Lamont seemed uninterested Tuesday in resurrecting the original version of the legislation.
“I think at learned a little bit on that one and the politicians really had fun,“ Lamont quipped as the audience laughed.
On a more serious note, Lamont said Connecticut is among the states that spend more money outside the classroom than inside.
“I think there are incredible savings there that would improve education, but we’ve got to do it carefully, working with parents and working with superintendents,” Lamont said Tuesday. “I’m not sure why the governor’s got to be involved in that at all. You’d think that a local mayor or first selectman who wants to hold down property taxes and say we’re doing better by our students would do this on their own.”
This past summer 79 municipalities across the state saw property tax increases at a time when the state gave most cities and towns the same amount of money they have given them in the past.
Asked if he was going to introduce school regionalization legislation again this year, Lamont said “I’m not quite sure why they need me to say it’s in your self-interest to share some of these back-office services.”
Lamont said he wants to get state government out of the way to make it easier for local communities to share “back-office services,” on their own. It was a mantra he had come to embrace at the end of March.
Lamont said things such as healthcare, IT, and school buses are things that can and should be purchased regionally.
However, Lamont understands Connecticut still faces a problem when it comes to how its resources are balanced and allocated.
Cities like Waterbury have schools that are at capacity, while some of the “ring districts” are underpopulated, “so I think there are some opportunities for sharing there,” Lamont said.