Residents travel far to show their opposition to regionalization bills

Early Friday morning "Hands Off Our Schools," a group begun in Wilton, gathered at the capital for a brief meeting before a scheduled public hearing at 1 p.m. before the legislature's Education Committee. The committee is hearing comments on three school regionalization bills and a bill that would shift some of the burden of teacher pension payments onto municipalities.

Republican Town Committee Chairman Bill Lalor said the group's efforts have been noteworthy. “You guys' voices are being heard,” Lalor said. “You’re certainly getting people’s attention.”

He added that people across the state have joined in the efforts to oppose regionalization. He also spoke to the gathered crowd about the importance of continuing these efforts.

"We don't want this to be the end," Lalor said. "Today is only the start."

State Rep. Tom O'Dea (R-125) told the group this is the first step and efforts should not let up.

"Believe me, your voice has been heard," he said.

A short press conference followed the gathering at noon, led by state Rep. Gail Lavielle (R-143).

"These three bills hit a nerve with people all over the state," she said. "The opposition to them is absolutely visceral."

Lavielle said the reason why the bills have been met negatively is because the bills are striking at something people everywhere could unite behind — their children.

"People see their local schools as the heart and souls of their towns," she said. "They don't believe that people outside of their community should be dictating to them."

Lavielle said what all the regionalization bills have in common is they either mandate or open the door for regionalization in the future.

"There's nothing wrong at all with regionalization or sharing services with towns that wish to do it," she said, adding towns should have a choice.

Lavielle said as they are now, none of the bills discuss improving the quality of education.

"None of them will help our communities. None will inspire confidence in our towns," she added. "It's not our job to force districts to do something they don’t want to do."

First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice spoke briefly during the conference saying Wilton is a leader in Fairfield County in showing how to share services in town. She added that she was proud of the town's efforts. In addition to those who traveled to Hartford, Wiltonians wrote more than 240 letters in opposition to the bills, far more than any other town in the state.

“I’m a New Englander at heart," she said. "I grew up in Massachusetts and I’ve always lived in a small town. This was how it was done. The residents got to speak. Local parents should get to decide. That's all we’re asking for."