Why Local Control Matters
Over the past few weeks, the possibility of so-called “block” scheduling at Middlebrook Middle School has been scrutinized and debated by countless parents, teachers, administrators, and others in Wilton. Some advocate for the proposed change, others oppose it, and others are undecided or perhaps are learning more about the issue. Numerous individuals contacted the Wilton Board of Education and administration and offered their perspective, culminating in the Board of Education meeting on February 2nd.
The eventual outcome of the block scheduling debate will be important, but it is worth stepping back from the debate to remind ourselves what the very existence of this debate itself tells us: that Wilton’s local governance of its schools – through an accountable, responsive town government and administration as exhibited with respect to block scheduling – should be vigilantly protected.
What would the block scheduling debate, or others, look like had Wilton relinquished, through mandate or coercion, local control of its schools, to one degree or another, to the Hartford bureaucrats, or a multi-jurisdictional authority?
The first question is, would the debate ever have taken place? That’s hard to say. As constituents and parents, we invest ourselves in school issues because we know our voices can be heard. When accountability is lacking, most often so is public interest.
Let’s consider the example of a traffic light, or the need for one, on a state highway running through Wilton. Town Hall will tell you they cannot help that much; “it’s a state route.” So, what then? The process is about what you’d expect: it involves a CT.gov website, some forms, phone prompts through an 860 number that’s “experiencing unusually high call volume,” some administrative processes, maybe a trip to Hartford during a workday, and above all: unresponsiveness since for the most part unelected Hartford bureaucrats do not care what you think, because their jobs do not require them to care what you think.
The traffic light example highlights the critical problem of lack of accountability – i.e., when decisionmakers are distant, unaccountable, and largely indifferent to what someone in Wilton thinks. If the hypothetical traffic light were on a town road, the situation goes in a different direction. The processes for “fighting town hall” are not perfect, but in Wilton, political accountability and authentic local knowledge go a very long way in ensuring effective management.
So back to the schools. Let’s say Wilton cedes this aspect of decision making or that, to the state, or to the (hypothetical) Norwalk-Wilton-Weston Unified Public School District P452, which just proposed block scheduling (or, you name the change -- curriculum, class size, etc.) in the form of a 23-page change to Uniform District Regulation 34d Section V(I)(A)(i through ix) . Suddenly, we’re not writing letters to the Board of Education or F.S. Lynne Vanderslice. We’re trying to do something akin to fixing the traffic light problem. There might be a Wilton-ish Board of Education and meetings conveniently held at Bob Duff Regional High School, or Hartford, and Vaya Con Dios to you for trying but your voice won’t matter like it did on February 2nd.
Haters, note: No one is suggesting that, overnight, Wilton schools will become part of a multi-town school megaplex (although let’s face it, that’s kind of what some of the legislative proposals and statements from Democrat leaders point to). But vigilance matters. Our kids benefit from the direct input and community that in many ways is unique to our great little town. That is our good fortune here in Wilton. And it is rarely more evident than in the context of our schools. We move here for the schools, we pay for the schools, we pay attention to what’s happening in them, and we speak up when this needs to happen. The foundation for all this is local control. And paying attention to abrogation of local control is not partisanship.
Bill Lalor is an attorney based in Wilton and former Chairman of the Wilton Republican Town Committee. Bill and his wife Jennifer have lived in Wilton since 2013 and have two children in Wilton schools.