UPDATE, Thursday, March 21, 8:30 a.m.State Representative Gail Lavielle says the issue “is far from over.” She sent the following statement this morning:

“Governor Lamont’s proposed amendments to four sections of SB 874 are clearly a response to the heartfelt concerns expressed by thousands of people across the state, many of whom were inspired by the efforts of Wilton residents. I am so proud of all the Wiltonians who have worked together to communicate a consistent message and rally other concerned citizens from everywhere in Connecticut. But there is still much work left to do, and not only on the rest of SB 874. While the governor can propose language and concepts, it is up to legislators to accept or reject them–including these recent proposed amendments. From now until the end of the session on June 5, it is legislators who will determine what stays and what goes in every bill, and what happens to the various concepts we’ve seen–even those that don’t survive in committee. Anything can happen before the end of the session. Until then, it is important to watch the legislature closely and stay the course.”

UPDATE: 8 p.m.:  Wilton’s superintendent, Dr. Kevin Smith said the following:  “I am very encouraged by the change and grateful to our Wilton families and students that served as such strong advocates. While this is a step in the right direction, I think we have far to go and hope our residents will remain vigilant and vocal. As the Governor’s revisions suggest, their voices make a difference.”

UPDATE 3:15 p.m.:  Board of Education chair Christine Finkelstein sent this statement:  “While this is certainly a positive development, I think we’re a long way from being out of the woods.  Although the Governor has made his preferences clear, we’ve seen before that anything can happen during the legislative process.  That said though, I think the Governor’s revised language is directly attributable to the tremendous outpouring of opposition that flowed from Connecticut towns, led by Wilton residents, and our eloquent students who testified against the regionalization bills.”

UPDATE 2:15 p.m.:  State Senator Will Haskell told GMW, “I liked to say during the campaign that no isn’t a platform. It’s no way to govern. Instead, I brought the voices of my constituents to the negotiating table. Today’s changes show that we can work collaboratively and productively to protect our wonderful schools.”

He also posted a video message to constituents on Facebook:

UPDATE 12:45 p.m.:  Wilton responds:

Bill Lalor, who spear-headed the creation of the Wilton-based, now state-wide group Hands Off Our Schools to oppose school regionalization, told GOOD Morning Wilton that he’s cautiously positive:

“It obviously seems to be a step in the right direction for the Governor’s bill to strike out ‘redistricting’ or ‘consolidation.’ But other bills are pending, the budget process is still pending, and it strikes me we don’t have a final answer from Hartford on plans for forced or coerced regionalization. This is just an initial take but my view has been and continues to be that until forced or coerced regionalization are off the table, they are on the table and should be treated accordingly. I look forward to further, positive steps responding to the massive outcry opposed to these bills, but I suspect we still have work to do.”

He added, “The bottom line is that our communities should be able to decide what happens in our communities and in our schools without interference from Hartford. Preserving local control, accountability, and self-governance is the result I want.”

First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice was on her way to an appointment but posted the announcement on Facebook, calling it “Good News.” She said she would update more later today.

BREAKING NEWS–March 20, 2019, 11:45 a.m.Gov. Ned Lamont just sent a press release announcing new language in his implementer bill, SB-874, which included plans to explore regionalizing school districts. The bill was one that many Wilton residents objected to and testified against during a recent public hearing of the legislative Education Committee in Hartford.

The press release says that the new language “encourages school collaboration and reallocation of resources to the classroom.”

The changes eliminate the word “redistricting,” which was something many people in Wilton (as well as across the state) objected to; the new language also emphasizes “collaboration” rather than “regionalization” and “consolidation.”

According to the release, Lamont is submitting revised language to the General Assembly that was, “developed in collaboration with stakeholders, addresses concerns raised by members of the community while continuing to encourage collaboration and shared services among schools.”

Back in February, Lamont met with top officials from Fairfield County, including Wilton’s First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice to learn more about why those towns objected to his original proposal. Since then, Lamont and his staffers have consulted with Vanderslice to help amend the language.

Today’s press release also states that the governor, “…agrees with many constituents who do not want their school districts to be forced to consolidate operations and is hopeful that the modifications to his proposal address those concerns.”

Wilton has been referred to as “the epicenter” for opposition to legislative efforts to regionalize schools in CT. From the first introduction of bills from Sen. Martin Looney and Sen. Bob Duff, Wilton residents have taken the offensive to try to defeat such measures. The group, Hands Off Our Schools, was started in Wilton, and has since grown to include almost 10,000 members from all 169 towns in Connecticut.

According to the release, SB-874 is different than other legislative proposals currently being considered in Hartford that seek to regionalize school districts.

“Unlike other proposals, Governor Lamont’s legislation does not force school consolidation. Rather, his bill uses school construction bonds and other funds to incentivize communities to explore cost savings, but does not force regionalization.”

“The truth is that our students and teachers are not getting the adequate resources they need in the classroom,” Governor Lamont said. “Sharing certain back-office administrative services and purchasing costs is more efficient for certain schools, and my bill is intended to highlight and incentivize those efficiencies. I’ve also heard the concern that school districts need independence to make the decisions they feel are best. My revised proposal seeks to strike that balance through a collaborative process that preserves the feisty independence of our towns while providing them the tools they need to accomplish our shared vision of focusing resources on the classroom.”

The press release cites North Carolina as a state that, “…uses one contract for school software throughout the entire state, however in Connecticut there are 170 different contracts and the state is paying a premium.”

Lamont’s proposal outlines the creation of a bipartisan commission, which the release says “has no power to force the adoption of its recommendations, but will look around and outside the state to issue advisory reports on how districts can best share services and prioritize money for students and teachers.”

Instead each town’s officials will be able to “draw on the recommendations that make sense in their local contexts,” according to the release.

The release highlights language revisions that were made in Lamont’s proposal, so that it now:

  • “Ensures regional diversity by requiring each of the governor’s six appointees come from a different RESC service area
  • “Underscores the non-binding nature of the commission’s recommendations
  • “Eliminates requirements that the commission consider redistricting and regionalization in its reports”

The legislation, SB 874 – An Act Concerning Education Initiatives and Services in Connecticut, is currently pending in the education committee. The same language is included in HB 7192 – An Act Concerning Municipal and Regional Opportunities and Efficiencies, which is pending in the planning and development committee.

The complete red-line changes can be found online, in addition to examples we have included here: