Legislative Coffee Hour: Residents oppose regional school bill

The message was made loud and clear to state Reps. Gail Lavielle (R-143) and Tom O’Dea (R-125) at a coffee hour held at Orem’s Diner this morning: “Stop bill SB 454.”
While a single table for 10 was initially set up for the public gathering, more than 100 people crowded into the side dining room at Orem’s to voice their opinions on a number of issues, including taxes and loss of businesses in Connecticut.
But the main reason so many people turned up at 8 a.m. on a weekday, was to voice their opposition to proposed Bill SB 454, An Act Concerning The Creation of Regional School Districts.
Proposed by State Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney (D-New Haven), the sparsely worded bill would force towns with fewer than 40,000 residents to form regional school districts with similar towns.
Two petitions opposed to the bill are making the rounds in Wilton, and both Lavielle and O’Dea said they are in strong opposition as well.
“It’s wrong to force this on districts,” said Lavielle, who is a member of the legislature’s education committee. “There are no details [in the bill] about how it would work, but it’s a mandate. Towns can’t decide or choose the districts,” she said.
While Looney’s stated purpose for the bill is “to create a more efficient education system,” one resident at the coffee disagreed. “The bill is veiled as cost savings, but it isn’t,” he said.
When the education committee met yesterday, the regionalization issue was made very visible, according to Lavielle. “It is now general knowledge that opposition is broad and statewide,” she said.
The education committee will vote on whether to give the bill a public hearing, but Looney can also call for a public hearing on his own initiative.
O’Dea encouraged residents to voice their opposition directly to Looney and attend public hearings on the issue in Hartford. “I would like to see people come to the Capitol in busloads. Sometimes these hearings last until the wee hours of the morning. People need to spend the night and testify,” he said.
To that end, First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice has posted on her Facebook page suggestions for talking points residents may make:

  • The bill should be withdrawn.

  • The bill, which is unlikely to pass, is creating uncertainty about education in Connecticut.

  • Uncertainty in education will deter investment in real estate and business and create long-term damage to both Wilton and the state.

Voting, taxes
Other issues discussed included the concept of early voting and how to stop the flow of residents from leaving the state.
Lavielle said she supports “No excuse” absentee ballot voting which would allow electors to vote outside a polling place, for whatever reason they like. Both Lavielle and O’Dea said taxes are a major issue for residents leaving the state, and they would like to eliminate estate and gift taxes.
With the Coffee Hour over after a quick 60 minutes, Lavielle and O’Dea encouraged residents who want to discuss the school regionalization bill further to attend an informational meeting being held by the Wilton Republican Town Committee Thursday, Jan. 31, at 7 p.m. at the Trackside Teen Center, 15 Station Road.