Norwalk BoE members pan idea to merge with Wilton

State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-25).

Updated, 2:07 p.m.: Additional information; 8:33 a.m.: Copy edits

NORWALK, Conn. – A misprint on proposed state legislation has led to misunderstandings, as Norwalk Board of Education members and others panned  a proposal to merge the Norwalk school district with Wilton’s.

State Senate President Martin Looney (D-New Haven)  submitted a bill to create a Commission to develop a plan for regional consolidation of school districts, realigning districts that have less than 40,000 students along probate district lines. State Senate Democrats spokesman Kevin Coughlin said Tuesday that there was a mistake in the Congressional Office, the bill is supposed to apply to municipalities with fewer than 40,000 residents.

State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff’s proposal to merge districts that have fewer than 2,000 students may have merit, Norwalk BoE Chairman Mike Barbis said, but more details are needed.

“{Looney’s} bill seems a bit out of left field … where did the 40,000 student cut of come from … there are no school districts even near that size …,” Barbis said in a Monday email.  He provided these statistics on school district enrollment from the state Department of Education website:

  • New Haven 21,518
  • Bridgeport 20,896
  • Hartford 20,142
  • Waterbury 19,007
  • Stamford 15,931
  • Norwalk 11,573
  • Danbury 11,483
  • Fairfield 9,976
  • Wilton 4,050


“This reminds me of the Uniform School Calendar – legislation passed in 2013/14 which forced public schools to have the same regional calendar – in the name of ‘saving money’ …. This regional calendar was a complete failure and has since been disbanded ….  Merging Wilton and Norwalk would accomplish little on the money saving front and would be a logistical mess (and that’s putting it mildly!)” Barbis wrote.

“The bill proposes that a commission be created to develop a plan to consolidate districts under 40,000 students, similar to the probate regions,” Board member Julie Corbett wrote. “While there’s some information about a phased in approach for collective bargaining. There is no information on the effectiveness or quality of education to students, the governance or leadership for the newly created district, and no information about the possible costs and bus time increases that might be required to consolidate. While small districts often consolidate for economies of scale, usually district consolidation includes incentives to do so. But, the bill was just proposed and it’s too early to overreact. If the bill makes it to a hearing, that’s the time that we need to ask lots of questions. And, if the bill is approved, the commission will have a huge task to develop a plan for such consolidations that works for different contexts across the state.”

The CT Mirror posted a story on this topic Monday. NancyOnNorwalk has reprinted it here.

“The way schools are funded leads to inherent disparities between school districts,” Board member Sarah LeMieux wrote. “It’s great that legislators are looking at creative ways to resolve those disparities and level the playing field, but I think it’s important to foster community buy-in first. This seems unlikely to garner support, and I hope it doesn’t make it more difficult to work towards more regional equitability.”

Duff’s bill “may have more merit,  be more realistic, and would provide students in super small districts with more opportunities,” Corbett wrote.

Half of Connecticut’s school districts have fewer than 2,000 students, Duff said to NancyOnNorwalk Monday.

“I believe that a lot of that money goes toward administration and the money does not go into classrooms,” Duff said. “With dollars being tight and resources stretched, we should put as many dollars as we can into school systems that are larger. To have 50 percent of our school districts in our state that have fewer than 2,000 students doesn’t really make a lot of sense from a resource standpoint and there’s data that does suggest that school districts that are so small don’t produce the desired results for student outcomes.”

“We’ll have to see” how this works its way through the legislature, Duff said.  “Everything right now is an idea and a concept,” he added.

The General Assembly modified the Educational Cost Sharing (ECS) formula two years ago.  Duff said he has been talking about consolidation since then, because resources are still stretched.

Barbis wrote:

“I know Governor Lamont believes that one place to save money in public education is with the tiny school districts that exist upstate – some of these districts are so small that the same person serves as Superintendent, Principal and Teacher … this is where consolidation would be logical.  This would be a much more logical place to start than in Fairfield County with our large school districts.

“There are 172 school districts in CT – many are tiny.  Places like Andover with 225 students, Union with 68, Sprague with 336, and Norfolk with 102.  Norfolk has one elementary school with a 7 member Board of Education, a Superintendent and a Principal.  They are spending $23,000/student even though they are in a rural lower cost part of CT.  Logic would suggest this is where the focus should be!”


13 responses to “Norwalk BoE members pan idea to merge with Wilton”

  1. Piberman

    Norwalk may have advantages with Wilton but its hard to see Wilton being enthusiastic about joiining Norwalk where most students are not native English speakers, few take advanced math/science placements and less than half graduate from college and many are are school lunch programs.

    Wilton’s high property values reflect access to one of the nations’ premier public school systems. Norwalk offers “diversity” and increasing numbers of renters.

    Norwalk and Wilton do share one similarity – parity in public school/administrator salaries.
    Which goes a long way towards explaining Norwalk’s falling property values under punitive property taxes financing a decade long stagnant Grand List.

  2. Mike Barbis

    I believe Senator Looney has since edited his bill … the 40,000 number is not the number of students in the district but the population of the municipality … so, Norwalk would no longer be subject as we have 89,000 residents … I’m not sure what that means for Wilton as they only have 18,600

  3. Pros & Cons

    An idea that has merit not only for financial reasons but because of the issues described in this recent NoN opinion piece https://nancyonnorwalk.com/2019/01/opinion-schools-are-economically-segregated-and-mlk-would-disapprove/
    Grammar/usage tip of the day LESS vs. FEWER : According to OED Use less when you’re referring to something that can’t be counted or doesn’t have a plural (e.g. money, air, time, music, rain).

  4. Susan Wallerstein

    Lots of good research out there about the the many benefits/effectiveness of quality, integrated education for ALL students. Barriers to interdistrict approaches typically have more to do with political cultures and longstanding New England tradition of local control https://tcf.org/content/facts/the-benefits-of-socioeconomically-and-racially-integrated-schools-and-classrooms/?agreed=1

  5. alan

    Looney is exerting too much influence, too early, in this session.
    It is time for Ned to put him in his place before the Looney Train goes completely off the rails.

  6. Eleanor Lx

    Looney is sure shining a light on his socialist/marxist ideology. The one party rule in Hartford will be a proven unmitigated disaster. The state continues promoting welfare dependency and is running out of taxpayers to foot the bill. If the state is serious about fiscal discipline, it should start cutting out large chunks of social service entitlements which perennially devours 1/3rd of the state budget.

  7. Piberman

    None of Norwalk’s surrounding Gold Coast towns would ever accept co-ordination with Norwalk’s low performing school district given the very large disparities in performance, family characteristics, etc. Quite unusual for a Gold Coast family to move to Norwalk to secure the purported gains of “diversity” for their children. But not the reverse. Not at all.

    The real issue is securing major budget gains in consolidating school districts throughout CT. But everyone realizes our 169 towns and cities for a relatively small 3.6 million State population imposes all sorts of costs upon our State. And is one of the reasons for CT’s decades long failing economy and perennial budget deficits.

  8. Susan Wallerstein

    Long history of Fairfield County suburban towns partnering with cities on programs like Regional Center fo the Arts, Center for Global Studies, Aquaculture School, etc. – QUALITY and SOLID design (plus enlightened self-interest) matter.

  9. Mike Barbis


    Have you looked at Wilton’s real estate values??? Its a disaster. Prices are just now finding a floor. If you don’t have the numbers, as a Realtor, let me share them with you. You might look at Weston as well — it is even worse.

  10. M murray

    There is no way Wilton, Darien, New Canaan etc would accept a merger with Norwalk or Stamford. If compelled to merge to regional schools, they would only merge with each other

  11. M Murray

    Let local communities run their local districts. That’s the main reason people choose where to buy their homes.


    I welcome policy makers who are leading the way to a more equitable future for our kids. Integrating schools IS the future and wouldn’t it be amazing if CT was leading the way?

    It is disheartening that some people seem to be mostly concerned about a few things: #1.Their property value MAY decrease #2.Their kids will be forced to go to school with a diverse group of kids.#3.They may lose their job or volunteer position. We have to look at the BIGGER PICTURE.

    There is a growing body of research that supports that school integration gives tremendous educational benefits not just to the lower class but also to the middle and upper class. One reason for supporting this bill is that integrated schools do a better job at preparing kids for employment in a global economy. There are studies that show that socioeconomically diverse schools are superior to socioeconomically homogenous schools. Susan Wallerstein has left us the links to a couple of great articles that provide many other ways that school integration can benefit a community (see above). Please take a minute to read them. Let’s at least give this bill our time and full consideration. If we all work on this collaboratively, this could ultimately lead to an incredible outcome for everyone.

  13. Dawn

    Diversity is great but comes at a cost. Not only property values. It costs a lot to teach to children starting out with zero English. That is the trend.

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