Small towns urge lawmakers to oppose forced consolidation of school districts

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The Connecticut Council of Small Towns (COST) is urging lawmakers to oppose bills that would force the consolidation of smaller school districts, including SB-457, which requires school districts serving less than 2,000 students to consolidate with larger school districts, and SB-454, which requires schools to be consolidated into mega districts serving 40,000 students.

“Consolidation does not always produce cost savings. Several smaller school districts have explored consolidation options and concluded that consolidation would not result in significant cost savings. Instead, consolidation raised concerns regarding whether the quality of education would suffer,” said Betsy Gara, executive director of COST.

“There are many reasons why consolidating small school districts may not be in the best interest of students, taxpayers and the community,” added Gara. “For example, many small school districts are located in rural areas where homes are spread out across a wide geographic area. For these students, forced consolidation may result in less time in the classroom and more time on the bus.”

“In addition, additional transportation costs, including costs associated with fuel, maintenance, bus driver wages, benefits and overtime, bus leasing and/or purchasing, insurance, garage and parking facilities, may wipe out any savings generated from consolidation,” Gara explained. 

“In Connecticut’s small towns, schools are often the heart of the community. Residents of all ages attend plays, concerts, and athletic events to come together as a community to support the students and each other. Decisions about whether to consolidate schools should be left up to the town and the taxpayers,” Gara said.

“If you do the math and review the studies that have been done, it is clear that top-down, forced consolidation simply does not work. Instead, we should work with towns and school districts to encourage them to pursue regional, shared services approaches that make sense for their community and for their students,” Gara said.

“In addition, the best way of assisting towns in reducing education costs is to eliminate state mandates that drive up costs. For example, under the Minimum Budget Requirement (MBR) mandate, school districts must budget at least the same amount for education as they did in the prior fiscal year, with certain limited exceptions,” Gara explained.

“The MBR mandate is holding town budgets hostage, imposing a tremendous burden on property taxpayers to fund unnecessary levels of education spending. Towns need more flexibility to ensure that education budgets can be adjusted to reflect declining enrollment and other areas where savings can be achieved,” Gara said.

“Providing towns with meaningful relief from the MBR mandate will go a long way toward helping towns control the growth of local budgets to ease the burden on property taxpayers,” Gara said.

COST is an advocacy organization committed to giving small towns a strong voice in the legislative process. Granby is a member.