State Rep. Lucy Dathan (D-142) represents part of Norwalk and New Canaan. On Jan. 25 Dathan expressed opposition to a bill proposed by Sen. Martin Looney (D-11) which would require municipalities with fewer than 40,000 residents to join new or existing regional school districts. The letter also expressed opposition to a bill establishing a statewide property tax. On Friday she issued this statement.
Our children in New Canaan and Norwalk currently receive a high-quality education that we all agree is important to maintain. One of my top priorities as a legislator is to ensure that Connecticut continues to have some of the best schools in the country.
In this legislative session, over 5,000 bills (proposals for laws) have come out on a wide range of topics. The vast majority of these bills will never become law. In fact, in some cases, these ideas will not even be formally drafted into legislative language nor receive a public hearing. I thought it would be useful to have a picture here of the legislative process to illustrate its time-intensive and tedious nature – remember School House Rock: ‘I’m just a Bill’?
Two proposals that have received a lot of attention were put forward by Senator Looney, who is the President of the State Senate. One would force regional consolidation of school districts. Another would reform our property tax system. Both of these proposals are complex issues and I thought it would be good to follow up on my statement on these two proposals from last week.
As a representative of these two communities and as a part of the majority party, I am proud to have a voice in these matters in Hartford. I think I owe it to the residents of New Canaan and Norwalk to hear out every proposed bill and to encourage the creative thinking that is integral to our democratic process. But that does not mean that I support or agree with every bill that is out there.
There are aspects of regionalizing certain services that do make sense, which should be looked at more closely. For example, if school districts are so small that the ratio of costs that go to administration cuts into the costs that go toward in-classroom learning, that’s an issue that should be addressed. How we address it is the question that needs to be worked through – and will require the input of experts, legislators, and citizens alike in a careful, long public process.
According to our State Department of Education (SDE) there are currently over 201 districts in Connecticut, and 115 of these districts have less than 2,000 students. Is there a better way we can serve these smaller districts to ensure that the kids in those districts have equal access to a top education? While far from perfect, Looney’s bill seeks to evaluate this exact need. There is a separate bill from Senate Majority Leader, Bob Duff, which looks specifically at the regionalization of districts comprised of less than 2,000 students. Perhaps this is a better path for Connecticut to consider.
It is my belief that it does not serve our children to disregard our towns’ and cities’ investment in the schools, to close schools, or to bus kids great distances in an effort to save money. In the spirit of fairness and accuracy, this is not what regionalization is. The real focus of regionalization is to is to create efficient schooling policies so that our local systems can focus on their the most important goal: ensuring equitable, quality education for every child.
The bottom line is that we need elected officials that are open minded and fair minded. It is no surprise to Connecticut residents that our state’s viability hinges on the structural changes that we need to make as a state. These improvements can only materialize with constructive dialogue. We need to come together with our differing perspectives to find the best practices for our state. I look forward to engaging in these policy discussions, and having your input – that is why felt called to and am honored to represent you. I have been reading the comments made on Facebook as well as engaging in discussions in person, and I hope to have a dialogue with you at our Town Halls. Thank you for working with me to help Connecticut work better.