Editorial: Another suburb fails the equity test

Amity High School in Woodbridge.

Amity High School in Woodbridge.

Hearst Connecticut Media file photo / Hearst Connecticut Media file photo

What’s most disappointing about the recent news out of Woodbridge, where yet another well-off suburb has voted to deny a mild effort to share services with a struggling city, is how routine it has become. All over the state, we’ve seen examples of wealthy towns engaging in what’s known as resource hoarding, where municipalities with many amenities cut off access to those unlucky enough to live on the wrong side of a municipal border.

It has to stop. If state government doesn’t step in, courts might have to. Either way, it’s untenable.

The Woodbridge example once again concerns what’s called Open Choice, where suburbs have the option to allow city students to attend their schools. It’s a result of the landmark Sheff vs. O’Neill school desegregation lawsuit filed in the 1980s and is one of the remedies, along with magnet schools and some funding tweaks, that has been put in place to help even some of the state’s ever-widening gaps between haves and have-nots.

Open Choice, as the name implies, is voluntary. No town is forced to take part. And Woodbridge followed the too-familiar example earlier this year when its school board voted not to fill two Open Choice kindergarten seats at the town’s Beecher Road School. That effect is that no new students from New Haven can enroll in Woodbridge public schools for at least a year.

Woodbridge has its reasons, of course. They always do. “We are missing out on some reimbursement that we are entitled to,” a town official said.

Pity the rich towns of Connecticut, always so hard-pressed. They want to do the right thing, but times are tough all around. It’s true the town has a median household income north of $150,000, but all that money from property taxes apparently only goes so far.

Let’s be clear on what’s happening here. The state is involved in desegregation efforts between cities and towns that are by any measure extremely mild. The current opening for New Haven students into Woodbridge is for exactly two kindergartners. The town can afford it. And still, it says no.

Woodbridge officials, sounding just like those in Darien, in the Danbury area and elsewhere, insist that this is purely about economics. “Woodbridge is a very diverse community, and I am proud of that,” one town official said. It’s in fact 83 percent white people , but maybe that’s what counts as diversity in some corners.

The state could change all this at any time. Open Choice has had some successes, but is far too small on its own, and dependent on the whims of suburbs, to make real change. Funding levels between city and suburb are extreme and growing, and no tweaks to the Education Cost Sharing formula is going to change that. Add to that the fact that city schools are growing in enrollment as the rest of the state’s schools shrink and you have a situation that cannot stand for long.

Asking nicely isn’t working. The state needs to make suburbs do more. Failing that, there are likely to be more court decisions in the future, and the suburbs may long for the days when Open Choice was still a choice.