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Proposed bill calls for ‘special commission’ to consolidate smaller Connecticut school districts

HARTFORD – Small towns across the state are pushing back against a school district consolidation proposal introduced by top senate democrats.

The bill calls for the creation of a special commission that would consolidate smaller school districts.

State Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney said teachers would not be laid off and schools would not close. He said, with the state under financial constraints, this proposal would ease that by bringing money directly to students.

“The focus is on administrative savings,” said Looney. “This has to do with reducing the number of bureaucrats and central offices by having one superintendent, one central office and one school board.”

Many in opposition cite political divide. Betsy Gara, executive director of the Connecticut Council of Small Towns, said she hopes the issue is not a partisan one.

“It certainly seems to be a small town versus city issue,” said Gara. “The small towns are largely represented by republicans.”

Gara said it is difficult to force consolidation without the support of the community. But Looney has a plan brewing for that.

“An alternate way to approach it would be to say that towns that refuse to join a regional construct would lose their state aid,” said Looney.

Gara said she thinks the focus is all wrong.

“Even if you’re looking at consolidating superintendents, what does that mean? The superintendent is the leader of the school district. They’re the ones setting education policy,” said Gara. “I think we need to move the conversation and start looking at how can we help towns and school districts become more efficient.”

“In our small towns, the schools are the heart and soul of the community,” she added.

Nicole Palazzo, a 2008 graduate of Rocky Hill High School, agrees.

“I think that we should have individual superintendents for each district so they can be a little bit more hands on,” said Palazzo.

“I like the idea that things are more local,” said Frank Servidone, a Rocky Hill father of two. “I just think that works out a lot better.”

But some say they think the proposal could be a good idea.

“It’s interesting,” said Sharon Hartstein, a mother of two public school graduates. “I would listen to more about it.”

The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities released a statement, explaining it does not support the bill in its current form but supports the ongoing dialogue about the need for structural educational reform.

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