Changes in bill could allay residents’ concerns

A correction in Gov. Ned Lamont’s school regionalization bill (SB 874) may alleviate some residents’ concerns.

First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice said last week she spoke with Lamont’s staff about a line in the bill she believed could affect Wilton.

In Section 5 (b) of the bill it lists three criteria — population size, number of students and number of elementary schools. The original bill states “each local board of education for a municipality with (1) a population of fewer than ten thousand, (2) one or two elementary public schools located in the municipality or (3) fewer than two thousand resident students,” would be required to share a superintendent or lose funding from the state equal to the cost of the superintendent.

“When I read SB 874 Section 5, (b), I immediately realized the section applied to Wilton since we only have two elementary schools,” Vanderslice said. “I emailed Town Counsel, who confirmed that it did appear to apply.”

On Feb. 26 she was invited to Weston to meet with Lamont. During the meeting, she said, she brought to the governor’s attention that a section of his bill applied to Wilton and Weston. Vanderslice said she didn’t think it was his intention and he would confirm that it was not.

“Rather, his intention was that the section apply to small districts,” she said. “He then asked me to meet with his staff to review.”

Vanderslice spoke with Lamont’s Policy Director/Deputy Chief of Staff Jonathan Dach and Director of External and Constituent Affairs Marc Bradley about the wording. She said the the language of the bill that could have impacted Wilton as well as Weston would be corrected.

The correction should also allay some residents’ concerns, Vanderslice said. Currently the governor’s bill divides districts into two brackets.

One bracket is being targeted for changes and one isn’t, she said. With the language change Wilton will be taken out of the target bracket, Vanderslice said.

So far Lamont’s approach has been very different compared to what Wilton is used to, she added.

“He has only been in office for two months and already I have had three meetings with him and a conference call with his staff,” Vanderslice said. “I’m thrilled for Wilton to have this kind of access. The conversations have always been a relaxed back and forth.”

For example, she said during their first meeting she advocated for a change from the state-mandated last best offer binding arbitration to an approach which does not restrict the arbitrator’s decision-making ability. In response, the governor asked about binding arbitration approaches in other states, she said.

“I subsequently learned that our neighboring states of New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and even California do not restrict the arbitrator’s ability to use discretion,” Vanderslice said. “I provided him with the information at our next meeting.”

She said these meetings have allowed her and other municipal CEOs to hear directly from the governor about his priorities and his rationale for several elements in his budget. At the same time, municipal leaders have been able to share how state policy decisions impact those on the ground.

“We’ve also had the opportunity to share our ideas and suggestions,” Vanderslice said. “Direct communication always results in a better understanding.”

dj.simmons@hearstmediact.com

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