Town officials, state representatives and residents all joined together Thursday night to discuss the newly proposed school regionalization bill.
At Trackside Teen Center more than 200 people joined together to discuss a bill (SB 738) that could consolidate Wilton’s school district with neighboring towns. The bill was introduced by State Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney (D-11), who represents New Haven. If passed, towns with populations of fewer than 40,000 people could see their school districts consolidated, the new bill reads.
“I believe our schools are the crown jewel of our great town and they ought to be safeguarded,” Republican Town Committee Chairman Bill Lalor said.
To form a more concentrated approach, a Facebook group called “Protect Wilton Schools” has also been formed, Lalor added.
“This is a marathon, not a sprint,” he said. “There’s a lot to do.”
In addition to the new group, several online petitions have been put together. Wilton resident Steve Massaua has started an online petition on change.org called “No to CT School District Consolidation.” A statewide petition has also been started by the CGA House Republicans.
“This is truly Hartford forcing consolidation on Wilton,” Lalor said. “This is Hartford telling Wilton how to run its schools.”
To combat this, the newly formed Protect Wilton Schools group has formed four primary groups. One will focus on letters and phone calls, another on messaging and media, a third on coordinating with other towns, and the last group will focus on Facebook administration and keeping the page up to date.
Lalor said the volunteer groups plan to meet at Comstock Community Center Monday, Feb. 4, as well as Thursday, Feb. 7, with details on the Facebook page.
“I think the very spectre of consolidation is something to be concerned with whether it makes its way down the road in this form or another,” Lalor emphasized.
State Rep. Gail Lavielle (R-143) said she feared the new proposal for regionalization could transform into a proposal for a study. From there, a potential pilot regionalized program could start and then another bill could be introduced, she added.
“The uncertainty could hang over us for several years, which is why we have an interest in killing it now,” Lavielle said.
She emphasized the importance to residents of their voices being heard in Hartford. Whether for hearings on the bill, meetings of the education committee or to speak in front of media, Lavielle added.
Former First Selectman Bill Brennan said he had seen similar organized public groundswell work to prevent bills from getting out of committees in Hartford.
“My biggest concern is that this bill can change and morph into different things,” he said. “We have to go to Hartford and testify. We have to make a lot of noise. They like to hear the noise…that it’s bi-partisan and that everyone is totally against it.”