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Needleman: School Cooperation Strategies

(March 22, 2019) — In my time as Essex First Selectman, I’ve learned just how important it is for municipalities to lead their school districts. No two towns or schools are the same, and they all require different approaches. I’m happy to say I’ve been supporting plans all year that allow schools to work on their own terms, a strategy that’s finding success.

School Cooperation Strategies

On Tuesday, I stood with a number of leaders in my district, advocating together for education strategies that would allow school districts to collaborate together to share services. We know from experience how we can cut through regulations to allow for more ready collaboration without forcing anything from the state.

Legislation I’ve introduced and support would lead to the Department of Education studying towns working together as Local Education Agencies. This would allow voluntary cooperation between towns and schools, helping them maximize efficiencies and cost savings on their own merits. The Education Committee placed language from this legislation into its bill revising state education statutes and it is slated to study the impacts of letting towns operate on their own terms. In Essex, Chester and Deep River, we have five boards of education and 33 board members between our individual school networks and our regional networks. Allowing them to become a LEA would make it easier to collaborate and work together on shared services.

Adopted Language

We’ve received plenty of support for our proposal, including from the governor’s administration. This week, Governor Lamont’s office announced it changed its language for a bill that formerly aimed to mandate school regionalization. The new legislation instead encourages collaboration and shared services, incentivizing this work, instead of forcing regionalization. Any recommendations by a bipartisan commission would not be binding and the language does not call for redistricting or regionalization.

I’m thankful that our idea is gaining traction, as I know towns know what’s best for students. I also applaud the governor for considering different approaches to this difficult question.

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