GOOD Morning Wilton will be in Hartford today covering the Education Committee public hearing and other events happening at and around the capitol.
1:10 p.m.–The committee hearing is starting late, there are too many people and overflow rooms are filling too. The capitol police are asking people who are standing to leave…
There are three overflow rooms…
200 people are signed up to speak; the chair, Sen McCrory has said people are limited speaking to two minutes. The first hour will be given to public officials; the second hour is for students to speak; the third hour will feature members of the public alternating with public officials.
1:30 p.m.–The current Commissioner of Education (Dr. Dianna Wentzell), the CFO of the Dept. of Education and the Secretary of the OPM/Budget Director (Melissa McCaw) are testifying and answering questions from the committee.
Wilton’s state representative Gail Lavielle asked why the word ‘redistricting’ appears multiple times in the governor’s bill, SB 874. McCaw answered [paraphrasing] that the intent of the governor’s legislation is to focus more on gathering data, there have been a number of bills proposed but that this administration wants to evaluate opportunities. “I wouldn’t get hung up on the words,…but the spirit of the governor’s bill” is about getting the data, and the governor’s team looks forward to the opportunity to shape that through session to reflect language the committee is comfortable with.
Lavielle thanked McCaw for her answer, adding that with regard to the word redistricting, it’s important to recognize that the governor’s bill was a full first draft, unlike the two other bills (Looney’s SB 738 and Duff’s SB 457). “The words are understood the way they are on the page. we need to be precise for the way they’ll interpreted later on. I hope you’ll be attentive to that.”
McCaw said she looks forward to further dialog and looks forward to working with the legislators.
McCaw addressed the question of the Pension cost share. She said that the proposal that Gov. Malloy put forward to address the state’s problem with the teacher pension system “was much more aggressive.” McCaw said that Gov. Lamont’s proposal does not factor in the unfunded liability so that districts will not have to share that portion, that the only portion municipalities would be asked to contribute toward would be the normal costs–not to exceed 25% of normal costs.
According to Commissioner of Education Wentzell, (who was asked what the smallest district was and how many students were in it) some only have a few hundred kids, 39 CT districts have only one school, an additional 35 districts have only two schools. two regional districts have only two schools. “One of the challenges we’re seeing in parts of the state where finances are stretched, the local municipality is unable to offer an elementary school that can get students ready for high school.”
She added, “The problem we’re seeing in some of these very small, fiscally unviable districts, the students are getting shortchanged, and when they get to endowed schools, they are unable to keep up and may need special educational programming.”
One legislator asked, “Towns that have made a decision to pay higher salaries are being penalized and asked to pay more. Is anything proposed that would help. Any sort of reform with binding arbitration, for example to help towns?”
McCaw answered that the governor’s staff had considered implementing a “neutral arbitrator…” in planning and development, it’s been considered as part of the governor’s proposal to allow for a neutral arbitrator that would be selected randomly. “That’s one thing that’s been proposed.”
In answer to a question about different flexibility of “minimum budget requirements” (the state statute that does not allow school districts to offer budgets below what was budgeted in a prior year), McCaw answered that any consolidation as proposed in the governor’s package will not be forced, but where there is a voluntary decision to consolidate resources, programming and facilities, minimum budget requirement flexibility should be given as an incentive, not a disincentive.
The Commissioner of Education added that that’s the thought behind creating a Commission on Shared Services, in the governor’s proposal. That such a commission would be involved in order to support communities that voluntarily seek out shared services and “a plan that is child centered.”
“When we have tried to support districts to share services, it takes a tremendous amount of time in the fiscal and legal areas for the Dept. of Education, and for the communities that seek to consolidate also. The incentives have not been sufficient enough to get the communities to vote for it. We’re hoping that through these flexibilities and incentives it becomes a win-win for these communities–maybe one brings the flexibility and another brings the reimbursement rate and everyone wins,” Wentzell said.
The question was asked by a legislator, what happens when services are already shared between towns, and sharing between school and town. What happens when redistricting happens, to cost-saving programs shared between the town and the school?
Wentzell answered that there are a lot of districts and municipalities which do so and she called it a “best practice model we’re trying to highlight.”
“We’re seeing great effort in communities. We’re supportive of Gov. Lamont’s incentive-based approach, and it needs to work for the communities. Each of these plans will be a little different. Your community might or might not develop one plan that may look different from a plan in another nearby community.”
She added, “We also know that by shining a light on what’s going right on a lot of schools, that’s the thing people emulate. They move toward best practices. That’s what we want to highlight and not jeopardize in any way.”
Wentzell was asked that for communities who would be encouraged to regionalize, or share a superintendent, which community would hire, supervise and determine the pay scale of a shared superintendent?
Wentzell answered, “These arrangements are unique and crafted by the communities. There are 154 superintendents in CT–we have a number of situations where people employ a part-time superintendent or people choose to share one. They make the decisions,” meaning the individual communities.
2:05 p.m.–the committee began taking testimony from students. We live Facebook’d several and will add them here when possible.
3:00 p.m.–Testimony has progressed onto public officials. Wilton’s Superintendent of Schools Dr. Kevin Smith testified as a guest of State Rep. Tom O’Dea, alongside the superintendent from New Canaan Superintendent Brian Luizzi.