Students at Essex Elementary School received a visit from Governor Ned Lamont in their classroom on Friday, as he continues to push for districts to consider consolidating services. Lamont was touring the collaborative preschool program between the towns of Chester, Deep River, and Essex that has been running for 20 years, and -- according to his office -- has proved to be a significant saving for taxpayers.
Lon Seidman, who is the Chairman of the Essex Board of Education, explained to reporters why this program still needs improvement.
“Right now we can have children from these three towns in the same program," he said. "The second they turn age five, they’re under a different set of regulations essentially that prevent us from having the kinds of integrated programs that we have in this building,”
Lamont believes that giving the districts the power to make decisions like this for themselves is a potential solution.
“They have worked together in a very collaborative way, holding down costs, providing a better special education program for kids from a variety of communities, and then when I find out that they break up some of those communities they have to go back to their separate schools, I say ‘Why?’ Leave that up to the towns right here,” Lamont said.
Lamont's administration proposed a bill that was approved by the Education Committee on Friday which will develop recommendations for the sharing of school services and has the ultimate goal of giving school districts around the state more freedom to make necessary adjustments to their enrollment and other aspects, Lamont said.
“There's some towns that are overcrowded, and I have some districts that are under crowded,” Lamont said. “We try and make it easier for them to share students so they can both keep their schools going.”
State Senator Norm Needleman also attended the school visit, and expressed his support for new legislation.
“I put in very few bills this year as a senator, but one of those bills was to allow us to collaborate more,” Needleman said.
Needleman believes this is a better approach than top-down mandated regionalization of school districts.
“As people say, states are the incubator of good ideas for the federal government, the towns can be the incubator of good ideas for the state,” Needleman added.