Some local officials and area lawmakers are voicing opposition to legislation proposing the consolidation of small school districts as a way to cut costs.
Two bills under consideration in the state Senate would consolidate districts. One would apply to districts with fewer than 2,000 students while another applies to towns with fewer than 40,000 residents.
The second, proposed by Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney, D-New Haven, would consolidate schools based on a state-wide plan to be developed. Looney said the bill’s intention is to reduce the number of administrators by combining school districts.
“It’s to try to focus more resources on the children and the needs of the children rather than expensive bureaucracies,” he said. “We have too many small-town central bureaucracies.”
The intent is to reduce administrators, not teachers or schools, according to Looney. Central office staff, such as superintendents and assistant superintendents, are usually the highest-paid school employees.
Looney also said larger school districts could save money through economies of scale and getting better rates from vendors.
Looney said a 2010 measure to consolidate 117 probate courts into 54 districts has reduced costs but also allowed more full-time employees that he said are providing better service to residents.
“It really has made a difference in the efficiency and the financial viability of the probate system,” Looney said.
Kathryn Fabiani, chairwoman of the Cheshire Board of Education, said she didn’t think it would be a “workable idea” but that she’d try to keep an open mind.
Cheshire had just under 30,000 residents in the 2010 census. The next census will occur in 2020.
Fabiani was concerned about the lack of local control over school systems that varied greatly.
“That would be a tough, tough change throughout the state. The benefits of it would have to be really compelling to have people on board with that,” she said. “I don’t feel that that’s going to be how we’re going to solve our problems.”
The General Assembly’s conservative caucus, a group of Republican legislators, opposed the consolidation plans in a press release Wednesday.
“Unilaterally intrusive proposals like this that force control and remove the authority from local elected officials is the wrong direction for the state and one I stand firmly against,” Rep. John Fusco, R-Southington, said in the release.
“If local districts want to combine then that decision should be made at the local level by the Board of Education, town administration and the voters who reside there.”
Anita Anderson, chairwoman of the North Haven education board, opposed the move but wanted to get more details on how it might be implemented.
Each school district has a different dynamic, she said, and administrators dedicated to a town are able to help the education system run properly.
“The administrators are very valuable in helping us run those schools,” Anderson said. “I don’t feel that administrators are inefficient.”
North Haven has just over 2,000 students but its population was fewer than 25,000 as of the 2010 census.