Opinion: Shared services puts money back into CT classrooms
Gov. Ned Lamont recently met with local town officials at the Region 4 Collaborative Preschool located at the Essex Elementary School where a preschool program among the towns of Chester, Deep River, and Essex has been operating for more than 20 years and has resulted in a significant cost reduction for taxpayers while directing more of those resources toward the classroom, leading to better outcomes for students. Town officials explained to the governor that while their communities were able to collaborate on the preschool program, state rules are preventing them from replicating the model with programs for grades K-12.
This legislative session, Gov. Lamont introduced a proposal that would encourage a greater collaboration of services in schools, giving districts the opportunity to save money on sharing back-office services. His proposal, which is currently pending in the Education Committee, does not force school consolidation — rather, it incentivizes communities to explore cost savings at the discretion of each school district. It also creates a commission to study and share the best practices many of our towns have developed for reducing costs, so other towns can consider whether or not to adopt them.
Examples of those practices include the services shared between districts in Region 4, as well as those shared between school districts and their towns elsewhere in the state. For instance, the town of Wilton and its public schools collaborated to have the town’s facilities director also responsible for its school buildings.
“Our students and teachers are not getting the adequate resources they need in the classroom, and there are more opportunities out there for us to find cost-savings so that we can redirect those resources to where they will have the greatest impact for our students,” Lamont said. “Through a collaborative process that gives districts the options to make the decisions they feel are best for their communities, we can incentivize efficiencies to accomplish our shared vision of focusing efforts on the classroom.”
Chester, Deep River, and Essex operate a single central office with one set of administrators, including one superintendent, who serves the towns’ three elementary schools and high school. A number of other staff members, such as the art, music, and foreign language teachers, are employed by the towns’ cooperative agreement board, permitting staff to work across each of the towns’ schools without having to replicate the positions in each school.
First Selectman and state Sen. Norm Needleman, state Rep. Christine Palm, and Lon Seidman, chair of the Essex Board of Education and Region 4 Supervision District, were some of the local officials who joined the governor on the visit.
“At Governor Lamont’s budget address in February, he told us he would work with us on important issues, and I’m grateful we had the opportunity to do just that with him Friday,” Sen. Needleman said. “Shared services and collaboration between school districts are important tools that can represent significant benefits for municipalities across the state. I’m happy to have met with him on a personal basis to discuss how we can work to make these practices easier to achieve.”
“While there is something in the Connecticut DNA that wants complete autonomy for towns, that’s not always the most efficient way to operate,” Rep. Palm said. “The beauty of this plan is that it retains local control and encourages cooperation and creativity removing state-imposed obstacles to efficiency. It’s important folks understand this is not about constraining pedagogy, crimping teachers’ styles or silencing parents’ voices. In a very real way, it’s the opposite: it opens a path for technical, administrative sharing that allows greater learning and progress for our kids.”
“Governor Lamont understands that for many towns the state’s current ‘one size fits all’ solution for regionalism is just not compatible with our local systems of government,” Seidman said. “By eliminating these restrictions and allowing towns to design their school districts we will begin to see some very creative and innovative solutions to the many challenges our schools face.”
The governor’s legislation is Senate Bill 874, An Act Concerning Education Initiatives and Services in Connecticut.