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Weekend Sees Rallies Against Tolls, Forced School Regionalization

A pair of rallies over the weekend in Stamford and Ridgefield
drew attention to the two most contentious issues emerging from the 2019
legislative session – electronic tolls on Connecticut’s highways and plans to
force school districts to regionalize with larger districts.

No Tolls CT rally in Stamford

No Tolls CT held a rally in front of the Stamford Government Center on
Saturday just days after the city’s Board of Representatives’ Transportation
Committee voted 6-0 urging the
City Board to pass a resolution opposing tolls.

The Town of Enfield also passed a resolution opposing tolls,
following a No Tolls CT rally in the town.

Patrick Sasser, head of No Tolls CT, estimates there were
between 150 and 200 protesters in attendance, along with former Republican
gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski.

“We started this movement last year to fight tolls and we
stopped it last year,” Sasser told the rally. “We’re going to do it again this
year.”

The tolls debate kicked into high gear just two weeks ago when
Gov. Ned Lamont reversed his campaign position to toll only large trucks,
saying he now supports tolling all vehicles.

The governor’s budget withholds sales tax revenue to
the state Special Transportation Fund, depleting it of over $1 billion over the
next five years, but calls for installing 53 tolling gantries on Connecticut
highways to bring in a projected $800 million per year in toll revenue.

On Sunday, Hands
Off Our Schools
 held a rally in
Ridgefield to protest several bills which would force smaller school districts
to merge with larger, neighboring districts.

proposed bill from
Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney, D-New Haven, would force towns with
populations less than 40,000 to merge their schools with neighboring districts;
a bill from Senators Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, and Cathy Osten, D-Sprage, would
force schools with less than 2,000 students to merge with larger districts; and
the governor’s bill would
form a commission to make regionalization recommendations in 2020, while withholding
state education funds from towns that don’t regionalize.

The Hands Off Our Schools Rally heard from speakers including
Drew Michael McWeeney, a special education

Hands Off Our Schools Rally in Ridgefield. Photo by Noelle Villafuerte Kenny

teacher in Waterbury, Rep. Gail Lavielle, R-Wilton, who serves
on the state Education Committee and Sen. Will Haskell, D-Wilton, who said he
would oppose any bill that forces schools to regionalize.

McWeeney told the crowd that he currently has the maximum number
of children in a class to remain accredited by the National Association for the
Education of Young Children. “What happens to my students when we consolidate
schools? I get more kids.”

As a special education teacher McWeeney said it was hard for him
to service ten children with long lists of needs and goals.

McWeeney also said the measure wouldn’t save money but actually
increase costs due to transportation, benefits and salary changes and teacher
pension costs. “It’s basically forced consolidation, and I don’t really think
its democracy to think they can force things on us,” McWeeney said.

Lavielle told rally-goers that bills — like the governor’s —
create commissions and studies, which then create pilot programs and eventually
result in “edicts.”

Lavielle argued such long-term propositions not only leave
Connecticut residents wondering what will happen to their schools, but
potentially deter other families from moving into the state.

“Meanwhile, people are looking at Connecticut and saying ‘what
is going to happen to the schools in this place? I’m not going to buy a house
there,” Lavielle said, and warned that lawmakers will say they don’t support
forced regionalization but may vote for a study which will lead to the same end
result.

“This bill [the governor’s bill] creates a commission of people
who have been elected by nobody, who do not represent you,” Lavielle said,
noting the governor’s commission would turn in its recommendations after the
2020 legislative elections.

Hands Off Our Schools is planning a rally on Friday, March 1 at
the Capitol when the regionalization bills will receive a public hearing before
the Education Committee.

No Tolls CT has held a series of rallies across the state and is
planning rallies in Danbury and Norwich on Saturday, March 2.

But the vociferous anti-toll movement has drawn push-back from
some legislators.

Sen. Alexandra Bergstein, D-Greenwich, who introduced the first
bill authorizing the Connecticut Department of Transportation to install tolls
and serves as co-chair of the Transportation Committee told the Hartford
Courant her constituents are “sophisticated and intelligent enough to
understand the cost of not having tolls.”

Rep. Jason Rojas, D-East Hartford, and co-chair of the Finance,
Revenue and Bonding Committee, tweeted “Here’s an idea. Every town that passes
an anti-toll resolution gets their Town Aid Road, LOCIP and any other state aid
for infrastructure eliminated. Cool?”

It was apparently not cool for Stamford representatives.
Stamford Board of Representatives member Steven Kolenberg told the Stamford Advocate “It
just proves to me that we can’t trust Hartford with the revenue that’s going to
be collected for tolls.”

Rojas walked back his tweet in the Stamford Advocate article,
saying he was posing a question rather than making a threat.

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Marc E. Fitch

  1. Lamont School Regionalization Commission Will Study Costs, But Not School Performance | Yankee Institute for Public Policy

    February 28, 2019 10:25 pm

    […] public hearing on March 1 to consider all the forced regionalization bills, while the group Hands Off Our Schools is planning a rally outside the Capitol at noon to protest the proposed […]

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