Connecticut has more than 200 school districts, but some don’t have enough children to fill classrooms, while other districts must decide whether to close deteriorating schools that could cost millions to fix.
For many towns, those are funds that may not be available.
While many of the state’s school districts continue to go it alone, some have begun to merge or share resources with other schools and districts.
“Regionalization is a critical first step in saving our taxpayers, actually rescuing them,” Ansonia Mayor David Cassetti said.
Both school districts in Ansonia and Derby have agreed to a regionalization study as they consider moving in that direction.
Angela Etheredge has three children in Ansonia public schools. The family likes their small district but understand that it’s facing budget problems. She says she would like to see her district merge with the neighboring school system in Derby.
“I think that’s a great idea. Definitely, it will save on cost,” Etheredge said.
Mayor Cassetti says his city can no longer afford its own district and a merger is the solution.
“Regionalization is the way to go, it’s a thing of the future, and it has to be done,” Cassetti said.
Nearly half of Ansonia's $63,075,581 budget goes to the school district. The remaining funds must be used for everything else like public safety, maintenance, and health services.
Mayor Cassetti hopes that once a study on merging with neighboring school district Derby is complete, the two districts can join forces and improve their financial situation.
The mayor says declining enrollment, state funding cuts and soaring costs are making it difficult for the district to survive on its own.
“Change needs to happen in order to look out for the best interest of the taxpayers,” said Cassetti.
He says if they form a bigger district with their neighbor, they’ll see immediate benefits.
“We’ll get more funding from the state, which means we’ll have better AP programs, music,” Cassetti said.
While Ansonia is studying a potential merger with other districts in order to survive, some districts are struggling because of fewer students, which means fewer dollars.
BELOW: The Connecticut General Assembly's Legislative Program Review and Investigators Committee looked into Regional Cooperation Between Local Boards of Education in 2015 and made recommendations encouraging the state to make school districts aware of available options.
The Young family is losing their neighborhood school in Torrington because of financial difficulties.
“It’s been a really great time at East School, but I’m really sad it’s closing,” 6-year-old Samantha Young said.
“She loves that school, she loves her teachers, it’s like a big family and it’s going to be sad to see it go,” said Samantha's mother, Christine Young.
Some former lawmakers, including retired state senator Gary Lebeau, say the only solution is to have more school districts join forces.
“We need some dramatic movement here, you’re not going to have any savings with two or three towns, “ Lebeau said. “You’re going to need to have a broader seven to ten towns getting together. Maybe 20.”
LeBeau served Connecticut’s Third Senate District before retiring. He has been a longtime advocate of school regionalization. He says schools districts and taxpayers will benefit financially by sharing resources.
“I’m not necessarily advocating for county government at this point. I think we can go to regionalized services without going to county government. But eventually the obvious solution to our problems is to back county government,” he said.