A group formed locally to combat school regionalization has garnered attention from neighboring towns.
Hands Off Our Schools” was formed after State Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney (D-11) introduced a bill (SB 738) that could regionalize schools. If passed, the bill would consolidate school districts in towns with populations of fewer than 40,000.
Following the news, Republican Town Committee Chairman Bill Lalor organized a public gathering to inform the community and plan next steps. Lalor said the Facebook group has now grown to more than 2,600 members.
“There’s a whole team of people writing letters and getting in touch with Hartford,” Lalor said of the group’s efforts.
In addition to SB 738, Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-25) has sponsored a bill (SB 457) that would require any school district with a student population of fewer than 2,000 students to join a new or an existing regional school district. Since then, both bills have been granted a public hearing.
Lalor said “Hands off our Schools” is also working to get the word out that these bills not only affect Wilton or Fairfield County, but many towns around the state. These efforts are already bearing fruitful results with members of the Facebook group now including residents and town officials from Ridgefield, Weston, and Darien.
“Certainly, the nucleous was our area, but there are many towns that want to hear about this because they know it can affect them as well,” Lalor said. “It’s really starting to fan out.”
He added the primary focus of the grassroots effort is to provide resources and information to those in need. Things like calendar updates could help to keep people up to date with the bills’ current standings, he said. The group is also a bipartisan effort.
“When we participate in this group we are there as residents of our town and our state,” Lalor said. “We’re not there as Republicans or Democrats.”
He added that while everyone’s reasoning may be different, the goal to stop the bill unites them.
“That’s part of the point,” Lalor said. “Everybody has their own perspective on it. So we’re letting people take that and run with it.”
For now, the group’s efforts are solely focused on forced regionalization of schools, he said. In addition to a rally at Ridgefield’s Town Hall on Saturday, the group is preparing for the upcoming public hearing.
“The interim benchmark or goal we’re looking at is the public hearing,” Lalor said. “I think that’s a goal line of sorts.”
After the public hearing the group will reassess and figure out their next step, he added.
Lalor credits the initiative’s rapid growth because of sentiments shared by residents. He said he realized immediately the bills would strike a nerve when they were introduced.
“We saw it was important and we saw that it was a town community school issue,” Lalor said. “It’s not a partisan issue.”
(This story reflects a correction in the number of members of the Facebook group.)
dj.simmons@hearstmediact.com