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    Sunday, April 21, 2024

    Take a deep breath and consider regional school alternatives

    Local officials need to calm down and at least take a look at an educational proposal floated by Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney and a similar measure co-sponsored by a local state senator.

    Both bills are aimed at cutting administrative costs by consolidating small school districts. The Looney bill would force schools districts in towns with less than 40,000 residents, about 85 percent of the municipalities in the state, to join or form regional districts. A second bill, co-sponsored by state Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, would require a school system with less than 2,000 students to join a regional district.

    The bills have caused widespread alarm with visions of school boards losing local control, neighborhood schools closing and children subjected to long bus rides to other towns.

    What the authors of these bills say they are trying to do is trim back-office costs. A regional district of three towns can function with a single superintendent, one finance office, benefit from bulk purchasing and achieve other administrative efficiencies.

    This can be achieved without school closings or added busing (though in some cases, of course, it makes sense to close a school).

    Looney deserves some of the blame for the defensive reaction to his bill. He could have worked to build some broader support before launching. Its one page provides the briefest of outlines as to how this might work, allowing critics to fill in the blanks with all sorts of alarmist possibilities. And as a powerful progressive representing an urban district, New Haven, there are of course suspicions that what this is all about is marrying struggling urban schools with their academically successful neighbors.

    But through the legislative process, the General Assembly can create a bill that achieves the desired result of trimming administrative redundancy while protecting local autonomy.

    Looney proposed creating a commission to develop a consolidation plan. That sounds like an outside force imposing its will. Instead give local councils of government the job of finding sensible regional partnerships.

    The point is that Connecticut cannot afford to reject every idea for doing things differently because of adverse possibilities. The better path is to develop the good ideas and jettison the adversities.

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