Connecticut School Districts Try to Stay Ahead of Declining Enrollment

Jun 22, 2015

"It has saved our towns a significant amount of money over the years."
Lon Seidman

Thirty-three members of four different school boards from three towns get together twice a month to talk education.

It’s a bureaucracy that’s been a double-edged sword for the towns of Essex, Deep River and Chester, according to Lon Seidman, chairman of the Essex Board of Education.

"The more we started looking at what our options are to try to bring some governance sanity to our district, we found that this thing -- even though it's not very well-liked sometimes in the community -- actually is very innovative and it has saved our towns a significant amount of money over the years," Seidman said. 

Here’s how it works. Each town has a board of education and its own elementary school, which feed a single high school in Deep River. The high school is governed by the Region Four Board of Education, and the administrative functions are overseen by what’s called a Supervision District Committee. This is made up of three members from each town board and Region Four. Seidman is also chairman of the supervision committee.

The agreement helps the districts save money by sharing administrative services and it keeps the number of middle managers low.

But Seidman said that making decisions can sometimes be cumbersome. "We spend a lot of time working together to get these things through, and that's fine, but it's slower than it should be," he said. "Especially given how fast education is changing, we need to be much more agile in how we approach things."

The goal would be to have one school board that oversees all schools in each town. Recent legislation might give Region Four more flexibility to do that, Seidman said.

As enrollment in public schools is falling in nearly three-quarters of all Connecticut districts,  regionalization is becoming a popular topic among school leaders.

Hover over the map below to see the changes in school enrollment for Connecticut towns.

Interactive map by Charlie Smart/WNPR.