LATEST DEVELOPMENTS FROM THE CONNECTICUT GENERAL ASSEMBLY: MARCH 1ST PUBLIC HEARING (REGIONALIZATION AND CONSOLIDATION)

On Friday, March 1, 2019, the General Assembly’s Education Committee will conduct a public hearing, which will take place at 11:00 A.M. in Room 2E of the Legislative Office Building.   A particular focus of this hearing will be bills that may require the regionalization and consolidation of school districts and programs.   

There are two skeletal/concept bills regarding this issue that will be discussed at this hearing. Proposed S.B. No. 457 (“An Act Concerning The Size Of School Districts”) 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 so that the total student population of such new or expanded regional school district is greater than two thousand students, and to require any such school district that is not joining a regional school district to submit in writing to the State Department of Education the reasons why such school district is not joining a regional school district. Proposed S.B. No. 738 (“An Act Concerning The Creation Of Regional School Districts”) would create a commission responsible for developing a plan to implement regional consolidation of school districts. Such plan must (1) realign those towns with a total population of fewer than 40,000 (except those regional school districts that provide instruction for grades kindergarten to twelve, inclusive) in manner similar to Connecticut’s probate districts, and require such towns to join a regional school district; (2) when a newly created regional school district affects two or more collective bargaining units, allow the employees of the newly consolidated regional school district to be represented by a coalition of the existing collective bargaining units or create a new collective bargaining unit for such regional school district, and require (upon expiration of existing collective bargaining agreements) any subsequent collective bargaining agreement to be negotiated on a regional basis; and (3) become effective state-wide for the 2021-2022 school year, if such plan has not been approved by the General Assembly and signed into law on or before July 1, 2020.

In addition, the Governor now has a proposed bill setting forth his initial position in the school regionalization, collaboration and consolidation debate. S.B. No. 874 (“An Act Concerning Education Initiatives And Services In Connecticut”) would create a “Commission on Shared School Services” for the purpose of developing a plan for the redistricting or consolidation of school services and school districts; the bill specifies the composition of the Commission’s membership, and the State Department of Education shall provide administrative support. Over the next year, the Commission will develop numerous reports concerning existing school districts (including local and regional boards of education, charter schools, incorporated or endowed high schools or academies, the Technical Education and Career System and regional agricultural science and technology education centers). These reports will include the following subjects:

  • the sizes of existing school districts (including enrollment and employees)
  • the types and administrative structures of such districts
  • the number of schools, including building size/capacity, enrollment and grade ranges
  • existing shared services between school districts and employment of superintendents
  • academic and support services provided by school districts

At various points during 2020, the Commission will develop reports reviewing and offering preliminary recommendations concerning the following subjects:

  • school district sizes, types, and governance structures
  • enhanced shared services among school districts and with municipalities
  • the current services provided by regional educational service centers (“RESCs”) and the role of RESCs in regionalization and shared service efforts
  • existing labor contracts and how future labor contracts should be negotiated as additional education services are shared (and following redistricting)
  • the establishment of shared school transportation contracts, including time spent by students on school, hours of such transportation services, tiers of schools and any other related issues
  • the development of interscholastic athletic schedules and related issues, including transportation services to interscholastic athletic events and school hours
  • the potential impact and changes to after-school programs and arrangements following redistricting or the sharing of services, on such issues as transportation and school hours
  • the current school choice program structures and unified enrollment systems concerning a regional or state-basis, and the integration of school choice programs in a system of shared services and school consolidations
  • the impact that redistricting and consolidation may have on the provision of special education services and early childhood care and education programs,
  • school building usage
  • the use of incentives, grants or tax changes to accomplish the recommendations

By December 1, 2020, the Commission shall develop a comprehensive report concerning its preliminary recommendations, including financial projections on savings and costs resulting from school district redistricting or consolidation. By December 15, 2020, the Commission shall hold a public hearing on this comprehensive report. The Commission may continue to develop additional recommendations following the submission of any report. All Commission reports and plans shall be submitted to the Governor, State Board of Education and the General Assembly. The Commissioner of Education shall make all such reports and plans available to the public on the Department of Education’s web site.

By March 1, 2020, the Commissioner of Education shall solicit proposals for cooperative arrangements and regionalization of education services and incentives for the establishment of such cooperative arrangements or regionalization of education services. The Commissioner shall submit a report on the results of such requests to the Commission on Shared School Services.

In the meantime, by September 15, 2019, each municipality and the local or regional board of education for such municipality will be required to submit a report (with a detailed cost-benefit analysis) to the Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management and the Commissioners of Education and Administrative Services on which services have been shared or consolidated (1) between the municipality and its board of education; and (2) with other municipalities or boards of education. By January 1, 2020, each such municipality and board of education shall (in consultation with the Commission on Shared School Services and the Connecticut Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations) submit a report to the same state entities on which services will be shared or consolidated (1) between the municipality and its board of education; and (2) with other municipalities or boards of education. Such reports shall include a detailed cost-benefit analysis of such consolidations, a schedule for implementation to be completed by July 1, 2022, and an explanation of when services and consolidations are not being implemented.

The proposed bill addresses the sharing of superintendents. Beginning in 2020-2021, each local board of education for a municipality with (1) a population of fewer than 10,000; (2) one or two elementary public schools; or (3) fewer than 2,000 resident students, shall provide for the supervision of its schools by a (1) “chief executive officer of the board”; or (2) receive direction concerning the supervision of its schools by a superintendent employed by another local or regional board of education (provided this other board of education authorizes such use of its superintendent). The Commissioner of Education may withhold from the ECS monies for any such “small” municipality that continues to employ its own superintendent an amount not to exceed the costs associated with employing a superintendent. Any such board of education that jointly employs a superintendent of schools may (1) hold regular joint meetings, at least quarterly, with any of the other boards of education that are jointly employing such superintendent for the purpose of reducing the expenses of such boards of education and aligning the provision of education by such boards of education; and (2) reduce the total number of regular meetings of the individual board of education, provided such board holds at least two such regular meetings during the school year.

There are also non-consolidation-related provisions in the proposed bill. It would require each regional board of education (commencing with 2019-2020) to establish a regional board of finance to review and make any recommendations on the budget and expenses of the regional board of education. The proposed bill also has several provisions addressing “incorporated or endowed high schools and academies.” The bill would (1) make all provisions of the statutes concerning education applicable to such schools; (2) require such schools to be operated by governing boards, which must include representation from each board of education that sends more than 50 students to such a school; (3) require the governing board of such schools to post on their websites the schedule, agenda and minutes of each meeting (including any subcommittee meetings); (4) require such governing boards to submit annually to the Commissioner of Education a certified audit statement of all revenues from public and private sources and expenditures and a complete copy of such governing board’s most recently completed IRS Form 990, with such materials then to be posted on the State Department of Education’s website. In addition, prior to the adoption of an annual budget by such a school’s governing board, the sections of such budget that receive public funds shall be (1) reviewed by the boards of education that send students to such school and (2) subject to a public hearing.

This bill would amend the expulsion statutes by providing that an expulsion for on school grounds activity due to a violation of school policy may only take place if there also is a serious disruption of the educational process. The bill would require parents of home school students to personally appear each year at the school district office to sign a registration form indicating that the child will be receiving home instruction. Among other things, the bill would also require in-service training for professional staff on social emotional learning, trauma informed instruction and behavior management strategies. Finally, the bill makes several changes to the school construction statutes, including provisions requiring documentation from grant applicants with respect to efforts to collaborate with other school districts to reduce under-enrollment, and requiring that school building committees include at least one member who has experience in the construction industry.

H.B. No. 7150 AN ACT IMPLEMENTING THE GOVERNOR’S BUDGET RECOMMENDATIONS CONCERNING EDUCATION. The title speaks for itself, but among other things, this proposed bill would revise the so-called “minimum budget requirement” (“MBR”) regarding local education budgets to permit reductions related to school consolidations and shared services arrangements.

To repeat my standard warningThe fact that a public hearing has been scheduled on these bills is not necessarily an indication that the Committee will pass them, but it is at least an indication that they are under serious consideration.  When these bills have been fully drafted and/or revised, and if they advance toward a vote by the Committee and the full General Assembly, we will provide more detail as to their contents.