School merger hostility far more than 'feisty independence'
Perhaps figuring that his highway tolls and sales tax increases will aggravate enough people, Governor Lamont has dissociated himself from legislation to consolidate suburban and rural school systems with city systems. Now the governor proposes only to create a big advisory committee to suggest ways school systems can share services − if they want to.
For two reasons the governor's proposal will save even less money than would be saved by forced consolidation of school systems.
First, the objective of the consolidation proposed by state Senate President Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, isn't really to save money at all but rather to give the cities, with their incompetent and corrupt administrations, control of suburban and rural property tax revenues so the money can be redirected to the cities, which long have proved that spending does not correlate at all with educational performance. Education is mainly a matter of parenting. No parents, little learning.
And second, school costs are always rising, even amid declining enrollment, not because of any failure to share services across town lines but because of state labor law, which essentially gives teacher unions control of school budgets. This control has nearly bankrupted the cities despite huge increases in state government's annual grants, so now comes the grab for the suburban and rural property tax bases.
Backing away from forced consolidations last week, the governor said he respected "the feisty independence of our towns." But that's a myth about local education and has little to do with the opposition to forced mergers. For state mandates on school systems in both labor policies and curriculum are now so comprehensive that most school boards usually do little more than sign off on union contract arbitration awards and approve whatever else their superintendents tell them the law requires.
Of course there are exceptions, as when, because of declining enrollment or racial imbalances, a board must consolidate its own school districts and move students to different schools, as Manchester's school board is rather heroically arranging. But even there the change is partly compelled by state law. If “feisty independence” controlled municipal practice, most towns would refuse to facilitate school integration at all − less out of racism than ordinary aversion to change.
That “feisty independence” that opposes the forced consolidation of school systems isn't primarily racist either. It results mainly from the awful and worsening demographics of the cities and the resulting failure of their schools, excruciatingly documented in 2016 by Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher's decision in the most recent school financing lawsuit. On the whole fatherless children from impoverished households make terrible students and bring all sort of problems to school, and thus cause extra expense, dragging education down for everyone else.
State government will never look into where all the messed-up kids are coming from. Indeed, state government's primary objective under Lamont is the same as under the recently departed administration: only to raise a lot more money so that the status quo might never have to be questioned.
What the governor perceives as “feisty independence” is just how what remains of the middle class in Connecticut is saying: It's enough that you've turned the cities into poverty factories, so spare us from the mess you've made.
Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Connecticut.