The Untried Solution: Regionalizing Connecticut Schools and more

“You see things; and you say, ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say, ‘Why not?’” — George Bernard Shaw, famously quoted by Robert F. Kennedy

George Harris, the pastor of South Church, and I were talking today as we walked in Hartford’s Walk Against Hunger and we got to talking about how much it costs to raise a child when they are doing well in some parts of their lives. His daughter seems to really excel at hockey (of all things for a little girl born in Hawaii) and my daughter is going to the world competition of Odyssey of the Mind in Ames, Iowa this year — something we had accepted as a possibility when we signed her up, but — now a reality — costs so much that the group has to fund-raise in order to go.  Neither of us remembered a lot of fund-raising in school when we were kids, but we both acknowledged it as a reality for today’s kids. In order for our children to become their best selves, we are going to have to spend a lot of money. It’s just a given. We’ll just have to figure out how and do the best we can to make that happen.

This reminded me of a good friend of mine in Massachusetts whose school district no longer prints report cards, but e-mails them. Parents have to print them, sign then, and send them back which caused me to think about other costs of schooling. (I should say here that it may be “and e-mail them back”. I’m not totally sure. You still have to print them, though, if you want to have a copy in front of you to review with your kid — and that assumes you have the computer, printer and ink to make that happen).  “Schools”, I said, “wouldn’t have to save money on little things like printing report cards if we funded them well enough”.

George then reminded me of a discussion I recently managed as part of South Church’s “Poverty Forum”, put together by our intern  Emily Goodnow in which local leaders said that there was a simple solution, but no one dare utter it’s name: “regionalization”.  Apparently, in other states, school budgets are created regionally — rather than town by town — to help save on administrative and other costs. The side effect of this kind of thing is fairer budgets among schools. Apparently Connecticut doesn’t do this because people like their little hamlets and burbs. The point of life here (as it is elsewhere) is to make enough money to move to the suburbs — so your kids can have good schools, among other things.

The problem is that city schools can’t afford updated books, let alone the latest technology. Teachers buy pencils for their kids and are told to avoid making copies because the school can’t afford to buy a new one. This means that kids with outdated books and few handouts are supposed to compete in the global marketplace without the tools they need to do so.  This is more pronounced and stark in Connecticut because of odd things like Bridgeport (a city that was once bankrupt) is in the middle of Fairfield County (the wealthiest county in America).  In this case, the geographic difference between a a poorly supported education and the “school of the future” can be 500 yards or so.  Hartford County, where I live, is second in the state to Fairfield County and it has New Britain which looks like Bridgeport does in the financial sense.  Next to New Britain are Farmington, Berlin, West Hartford and Kensington — all excellent schools. New Britain has the books and lack of computers I mentioned earlier and the have the Hospital for Special Care — which brings families with special education challenges to New Britain. New Britain, then, tries to do more with far less and — not surprisingly–  fails to impress when the state shows off its school numbers.

Now, I have no moral high ground here — my children get a good education in one of the neighboring towns. I didn’t even understand about schools in New Britain until I attended this forum — at least not consciously, though I used to work in Bridgeport. I’m not being pedantic here. What astounds me, though, is that there’s a huge problem and the state’s governor is trying to address it in a massive political fight with the teacher’s unions, etc, but the best option, according to people who know, isn’t even on the table.  Why? Apparently, it’s political suicide to mention it. Not only isn’t there the political will to do it, people here seem to actively hate the idea. But, since I have no political career to worry about, I want to be the first on my block to say we should regionalize Connecticut schools. As a therapist I see people all the time who have solutions to their problems that they don’t want to try — and their families fall apart because they do.  I just shake my head and point out the solution as at least an option. “Got a problem? Here’s a solution that works for a lot of people”, I say. It seems so logical to me, especially when people know intuitively what the solution is.

While I’m at it, I should mention another untried solution: Single Payer Health Insurance.  My friend Cathi posted a graph on Facebook the other day that showed the number of people who administrate health insurance has gone up exponentially while the number of actual doctors has barely risen at all. This is why we spend so much for health care — we’re paying people to tell doctors how to do their job! Now, I don’t know that the government is going to do a better job at it than companies do now, but it sure seems a lot better to have one plan to do it instead of fifty competing plans. And while people fight over “Obamacare”, it seems to me that the best idea isn’t even on the table.  This is no way to live. Our families — both literally and figuratively — fall apart if we don’t at least consider the option that has the best chance of succeeding. It’s like people fighting over the clothes at a discount store and tearing them to shreds while the one that works best is at the expensive store — but you only have to buy it once.

Anyway, I hate untried solutions and I encourage you, wherever you see one, to try it out or at least consider it. Maybe things would get better if you gave it a try.






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