Duff defends school regionalization bill at Norwalk talk
The recent school regionalization bill was a hot issue at Thursday night’s Community Conversation in Norwalk. At the event, held at Norwalk Community College, Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-25), state Sen. Will Haskell (D-26), and state Rep. Lucy Dathan (D-142) spoke to more than 50 people, answering their questions and concerns.
Duff is is state senator of Norwalk and part of Darien. Dathan represents part of Norwalk, Cranbury and part of New Canaan. Haskell represents Wilton, Westport, Weston, Redding, Ridgefield, Bethel and New Canaan.
Many people watching the event got riled up regarding the bill, and wanted to know Duff’s reasoning behind it. The bill proposes to amend state statutes to require any school district with a student population of fewer than 2,000 students to join a new or an existing regional school district.
Duff said the reasoning behind his bill is that “50% of our school districts have fewer than 2,000 students. The state sends a lot of money to those districts to help them manage, to keep them going, but myself and others believe that a lot of that money goes toward administration,” Duff said. “We can increase student outcomes, we can help with student success, we can reduce costs and we can save money if we had some of these school districts consolidated.”
He further said his bill doesn’t mean there would be busing of students from one district to another,or school closings.
He added that the “only way” to make structural changes to the state of Connecticut is to “do some hard things.”
“Senate Bill 454 is a conversation starter,” Duff said.
Some people at the event brought up a bill that was proposed on the same day as Duff’s bill. This bill, called An Act Concerning the Creation of Regional School Districts, was introduced by Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney, a Democrat, who represents Hamden, New Haven and North Haven.
Looney’s bill would seek to combine state school districts in towns with fewer than 40,000 people into regional ones. It would also seek to create a commission responsible for developing a plan to implement regional consolidation of school districts.
Duff said that Looney’s bill, like his own, is also “a conversation starter” at this point in time.
“If one school district and another school district have a small population, do you still need two superintendents or can you have one superintendent?” Duff asked. “You are not going to reduce teachers, but the ultimate goal is to put more money into the classroom.”
A man in the audience said it’s “disingenuous” to talk about regionalization in terms of cost savings because “the research that has been done does not show cost savings when consolidation is performed among schools,” he said. “I don’t think this is about cost savings.”
Haskell, who arrived late to the event after attending a similar conversation that was being held in Wilton, said while he is not in favor of Looney’s bill, he doesn’t think regionalization is “a dirty word.”
“In some cases, it does result in cost savings,” Haskell said.
Some audience members expressed suspicion that Looney and Duff timed their bill to come out together. Duff denied that to be the case.
When Duff was asked directly by an audience member how much money his bill would save or what his goal in savings is, he didn’t provide a figure.
“It’s hard for me to say right this second how much you would save,” Duff said, adding he wants to see “how much we can save on this if we can achieve better student outcomes.”
On the subject of tolls, an audience member said he is “adamantly opposed” to tolls. “We’re all about being small business friendly in Connecticut and I think the whole toll situation is the most unfriendly business proposal that the state of Connecticut can put forward. I don’t see a benefit to any consumer in Connecticut for taxing big trucks,” he said. “How can anyone vote ‘Yes’ to a toll?”
In response, Duff said that in order to have good roads that people can go back and forth on reliably and consistently, “we have to be able to pay for it.”
Dathan said the estimates are that about 70% of the tolls will be paid by Connecticut residents, which is 30% being paid outside. “That’s a pretty conservative estimate,” she said. “You can get through Connecticut on a tank of gas. You don’t necessarily have to fill your tank up.”
Dathan said she would like to see a decrease in gas taxes, in the price per gallon. “We are the fifth or the sixth most gas-taxed in the country,” she said. “My feeling is why should we subsidize people from New York to get to the Cape? I see it as a usage fee.”
Haskell was put on the spot when a man asked him what he hopes to accomplish with his ammunition tax bill — and then proceeded to attack the bill.
Hakell is proposing a 50% tax on ammunition. The ammunition tax is intended as a gun violence prevention bill, Haskell said.
“Connecticut has the highest cigarette tax in the country. Gun violence in the country does impose massive costs to our public health system. It’s $212 billion a year in the United States,” Haskell said. “I respect the Second Amendment, but that hobby that you have creates an industry — a gun industry where large manufacturers sell weapons that sometimes get into the wrong hands.”
The audience got riled up with Haskell’s response, giving him a loud round of applause.
The same audience member, in response to Haskell’s description of the proposed tax, said that to equate “a constitutional right” with a “hobby” is a “disservice.”
He then offered to take Haskell and the other state representatives to the gun range with him.
“To equate it to smoking lets me know that you perhaps need a little bit of help in understanding what exactly it is, and [I can] show you that it’s really not a violent thing,” the audience member said.
Haskell then said, “We are not passing common-sense gun violence prevention measures and instead we have to build our schools into fortresses.”