January 16, 2022

‘Old Lyme (Formerly Christiansen) Hardware’ Starts New Year With New Name, New Owners, New Hours!

Old Lyme’s newest female business owner, Jessie Talerico, stands with her father, Richard, in the former Christiansen Hardware, now known as Old Lyme Hardware. The store will be open seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. starting tomorrow,  Saturday, Jan. 1, 2022. All photos by Suzanne Thompson.

OLD LYME — Transitions are underway this week at Christiansen – make that Old Lyme – Hardware, as previous 26-year owners Bill and Nancy Christiansen hand off the keys to the Talerico family.

“Keeping it COVID!” A celebratory elbow-bump marks the official hand-over of the business from current store owner Nancy Christiansen (left) to new principal owner Jessie Talerico. The Christiansens have owned and operated the store for the past 26 years, but it was held in Nancy’s name following Bill’s official ‘retirement.’

Starting tomorrow, Saturday, Jan. 1, 2022, Old Lyme Hardware will be open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., seven days a week, to see what are the optimal hours to be open for customers and while initial renovations are underway. A soft re-opening is planned for March.

With a background in hospitality and restaurants, Jessie, and her father Richard, who continues working in construction in Connecticut, are looking for Old Lyme Hardware to help customers find solutions – whether it’s tracking down an exotic drawer pull, fixing a screen or window or ordering a special part.

Jessica (Jessie) Talerica will be the new face of the business, getting to know her customers and helping them find what they are looking for in the store.

The new owners have already come up with ideas for original offerings and activities involving other local businesses – from a Saturday morning Coffee with a Handyman, to reconfiguring the back of the store to accommodate a garden center section. They welcome carrying plants grown by local wholesalers, too.

Stop by and say hi to the new owners and let them know what you’re looking for in a local hardware store. They are keen to meet the community’s needs.

It’s a family affair! A photo on the wall of Old Lyme Hardware pictures its new owners, the Talerico’s, from left to right, Jonathan, who is Jessie’s brother and a policeman in Michigan, father Richard, who works in construction in Connecticut, and Jessie who will be running the store.

In coming weeks, keep an eye out for a 1952 Ford F1 Old Lyme Hardware pick-up truck in the parking lot, watch for decorative indoor changes that harken back to hardware stores of the past, and watch carefully to see what else transpires in Old Lyme’s newest ‘old’ business.

Editor’s Note: Many readers will remember Bill Christiansen not only from Christiansen Hardware but also as a talented guitar played (he took up the instrument at age 12) and long-time member of the popular ‘String of Pearls’ band. 

 

 

 

 

Arron to Serve as Artistic Director for Final Musical Masterworks Season Before Lark Assumes Role; Next Concerts Dec. 11-12

Musical Masterworks Artistic Director Edward Arron waves during the Zoom interview recently conducted by Suzanne Thompson for this article.

OLD LYME — Musical Masterworks is back with live concerts and audiences next weekend — and this 31st season of chamber music concerts is special on multiple fronts.

This season’s five concerts will be a farewell tour for cellist Edward Arron, who has served as Artistic Director for 13 years. A soloist with major orchestras and chamber musician throughout North America, Europe and Asia, Arron has garnered recognition worldwide for his elegant musicianship, impassioned performances, and creative programming. 

The Juilliard graduate was for 10 years the artistic director of the Metropolitan Museum Artists in Concert, a chamber music series created in 2003 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Museum’s prestigious Concerts and Lectures series.

He has been a University of Massachusetts Amherst Music Department faculty member since 2016, after serving on the faculty of New York University from 2009 to 2016. He tours and records regularly as a member of the renowned Ehnes Quarter.

Tessa Lark, who is Musical Masterworks Artistic Director-designate and will take over the role for the 2022-23 season, waves during the Zoom interview recently conducted by Suzanne Thompson for this article.

This season also is a settling-in for the series’ Artistic Director Designate, violinist Tessa Lark. This budding superstar in the classical realm, who first performed on Musical Masterworks stage almost a decade ago, will become Artistic Director with the 2022-23 season.

The 2020 GRAMMY nominee in the Best Classical Instrumental Solo category, recipient of a 2018 Borletti-Buitoni Trust Fellowship and a 2016 Avery Fisher Career Grant and winner of the 2012 Naumburg International Violin Competition also is a highly acclaimed fiddler in the tradition of her native Kentucky.

Lark delights audiences with programming that includes Appalachian and bluegrass music that inspired composers have written for her. She also has started composing.

Edward Arron plays the cello while his wife Jeewon Park accompanies him on the piano during a previous Musical Masterworks concert. Photo credit: Musical Masterworks.

The 2021-22 season marks a return to live performances before audiences in the Meeting Room of the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme. While Musical Masterworks artists and fans improvised last year with a series of professionally-recorded performances by the artists in the church hall and remote viewing for patrons, there is nothing comparable to the magic of experiencing world-class performances in this consummate sanctuary for classical chamber music. 

Add to that, for the first time in 16 years of the series, a harpsichord will be on stage. No wonder the Sunday, Oct. 24 performance sold out two weeks ahead of the concert. Tickets for the Saturday, Oct. 23 performance are still available but must be ordered in advance.

Sitting down recently – via Zoom – with Arron and Lark, they expanded on what is in store for this season and beyond.

The founder and first Artistic Director of Musical Masterworks was legendary pianist Charles Wadsworth. Photo credit: Musical Masterworks.

“I was honored to be invited to be a part of this concert series,” said Arron, recalling his first Musical Masterworks appearance in 2005. Legendary classical pianist Charles Wadsworth, director of chamber music at the Spoleto Festivals in both Italy and Charleston, S.C., and founder of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, was the series’ first artistic director. 

“I learned a lot from Charles, we laughed a lot and made some great music together. It was a dream in the back of my head to run such a concert series some day.” 

Musical Masterworks brings together talented, world-class classical musicians to play an inspiring collection of works, some perhaps never presented together before, others completely new and some older. 

Wadsworth must have recognized a kindred spirit in Arron as someone with an extensive knowledge of the chamber music repertoire, who both knew and performed with many other talented musicians and also had a passion for putting together musical programs. Arron served as assistant artistic director for two years before Wadsworth retired, and took over the helm in his early thirties.

“There are several stages to the great pleasures of this job,” Arron said. “First, dreaming up the music that you would like to play and the combination of dear friends that you would like to put together to play these pieces.”

He continued, “People had to trust me, that we could give them something entertaining. I also felt I had to earn the trust of this audience to put it into proportion and to create a context of an afternoon well-spent. Charles before me did that and I enjoyed searching for that balance. It was such a nourishing part of my life, being able to dream of programs and render them.”

Arron saw similar talents and interests in Lark, who he admires for her creative programming as well as her masterful delivery. Driving from Detroit to Massachusetts in a COVID-impacted travel schedule, he had time to ponder which performer connected best with Musical Masterworks audiences. 

Publicity shot of Musical Masterworks Artistic Director-designate, violinist Tessa Lark.

“Tessa lights up the stage wherever she goes, and people fall in love with her, in addition to that, I observed that Tessa was falling in love with this place, too,” he said. Speaking directly to her (since both were on-screen simultaneously), Arron said, “Tessa, every time you returned to Musical Masterworks, you genuinely connected back with these people who you had met there and to the stage. That seemed a harmonious thing.”

Lark, who lives in New York and travels much of the time to perform — in locations as far away as The Netherlands and Australia, and including Seattle, Santa Fe and Tulsa in the US — welcomes the Old Lyme venue for its acoustics, charm and the ability for musicians and audiences to connect.

“It’s equal part intimate and grand, it is just so hard to find that combination especially for chamber music, and to get into the music nitty-gritty. Every subtlety that the group has, that has been worked out, can be appreciated by every audience member. That is such a rarity,” Lark said enthusiastically.

She added, “I love that it is bright and sunny, all of the visual aesthetics match the spirit of the place, and the sounds of the music-making, it is such a beautiful harmony of the senses.”

“It acoustically and aesthetically one of the most magical places to play,” said Arron, continuing, “Returning year after year, it’s beautiful you can see the seasons changing as you go through the concert season. In the fall, you see beautiful foliage outside, in the winter concerts you see the winterscape, then you see and hear the spring unfolding, [and then] they often open the windows for that final concert.

Arron noted, “The acoustic is really clear and warm, the audience sits in a way where you can see each other’s faces. There is a particularly special connection. The people in the audience become friends, all of these elements come together – you’re among friends, you’re playing to friends, with friends, there are a lot of elements to look forward to.”

Edward Arron describes the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme as “One of the most magical places to play.” Photo credit: Musical Masterworks.

“I just adore that a musician can be free to play what they love in that beautiful space, and because Ed has instilled so much trust, the audience will come,” explained Lark.

Arron describes his selections for the 31st season as “a bit daring and unconventional,” but still promising to be familiar and entertaining. 

The opening concert features the debut of harpsichordist Paolo Bordignon, alongside violinists Jesse Mills and Lark in a program of Baroque delights that served as the inspiration for Stravinsky’s ballet, Pulcinella.

In December, pianist Orion Weiss, violinist Amy Schwartz Moretti and violist Nicholas Cords perform a program of glorious piano quintets, from Dvorak, Shostakovich and Brahams to Rag-Gidon-Time for String Trio, composed 25 years ago by Giya Kancheli from Republic of Georgia.

In February, celebrated guitarist Colin Davin performs Bach, Schubert, plus a piece by contemporary composer Vivian Fung, a past fellow classmate of Arron’s.

In March, two Musical Masterworks veterans flutist Tara Helen O’Connor and pianist Adam Neiman play works by Haydn, Prokofiev, Zwilich and Weber, with Arron.

The final farewell program, in April, by Arron and his wife, pianist Jeewon Park with Lark and her fiancé, double bassist Michael Thurber, features Handel/Halvorsen, Beethoven, Rachmaninoff and Appalachia Waltz by Mark O’Connor.

Editor’s Note: For further information on the 31st season of ‘Musical Masterworks’, details of all the performances, and ticket purchase options — including for Saturday, Oct. 23 — visit this link

Letter to the Editor: Carney Cares About Environment, Our Communities; Accomplishes Things in a Bipartisan Manner

To the Editor: 
I care deeply about our environment and that’s why I am proud to support our State Representative, Devin Carney, for re-election. Devin has always been a strong supporter of preserving and protecting our local open spaces, forests, and waterways.

He has supported legislation to improve our coastline resiliency and to create a Long Island Blue Plan in order to better prepare for our future. He understands that our local economy and communities rely upon the health of the Connecticut River and the Long Island Sound.

Devin co-founded the bipartisan Clean Energy Caucus to help work on innovative, fiscally responsible solutions to increase our renewable energy portfolio in the future and to assist in creating jobs in emerging green technologies. I appreciate his forward-looking work in this area and the fact that he wants to accomplish things in a bipartisan manner. This is something we certainly could use more of these days.

His environmental record has been recognized by the League of Conservation Voters who named him an Environmental Champion and gave him their endorsement this year. He’s also a member of the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators, a national bipartisan organization that seeks solutions to issues affecting our environment.

I hope you will join me in supporting Devin for re-election this year as our State Representative. He is committed, independent, and will always work to do what’s right for our communities and our environment.

Sincerely,

Suzanne Thompson,
Old Lyme.

Updates Shared at Community Connections on Lyme Academy, Old Lyme Economic Development

More than 40 community members attended the Community Connections Networking Luncheon held Wednesday at the Old Lyme Country Club. All photos by Suzanne Thompson.

OLD LYME — Members of Lyme-Old Lyme non-profit, philanthropic and volunteer organizations heard first-hand updates Wednesday on two significant efforts that could shape the character and commerce of Old Lyme in coming years.

The Community Connections networking luncheon at the Old Lyme Country Club, attended by roughly 40 people, featured speakers from Lyme Academy of Fine Arts (LAFA) and the Old Lyme Economic Development Commission.

Lyme Academy Looks to the Future

Lyme Academy Executive Director Frank Burns and LAFA Board Member Sue Grey outlined the strategic planning process currently underway at the Academy. The 13-member volunteer Strategic Planning Committee made up of artists, educators and business leaders, has been meeting monthly to explore multiple short- and long-term collaborations with a broad range of arts, cultural and related organizations, businesses and enterprises.

“We’re trying to get back to where we were,” said Burns, who was appointed last summer to create a new business model for the institution, subsequent to the University of New Haven’s (UNH) decision to no longer include the academy as part of its institution. This includes seeking accreditation status again, something the academy had previously achieved when it became a college in 1996. When UNH took over Lyme Academy College in 2014, the College remained accredited under the UNH banner but with the announced withdrawl of UNH in 2018 (classes ended in 2019), that accreditation has been lost.

Burns said that while none of the 12 organizations, which were initially contacted to explore continuing the accreditation, expressed interest in 2018, there has been some new willingness at this time. Burns told LymeLine in a phone call Friday morning that the Strategic Planning Committee is in discussion with a number of institutions, which are reviewing the Academy’s courses and may enter into some form of joint programming arrangement with the Academy. He said if that were to happen, the Academy, “may be able to offer college credit under their [the partnering institution’s] name,” but stressed that discussions were ongoing and nothing was yet agreed.

Lyme Academy Executive Director Frank Burns stands behind Board Member Sue Grey as she addresses the audience. Community Connections Planning Committee member Jean Wilczynski is to the left.

“We are looking at all sorts of short-term and long-term collaborations with the arts world,” said Grey, who has an extensive background in strategic planning for non-profits and businesses, large and small, citing artists collaborations in other shoreline communities. She explained that the goal is to develop plans that respect and support the history, brand, mission and vision of the art academy so the emphasis is on longer-term sustainability and momentum. She noted the board is not immediately expecting to fill the academy’s 42,000 square feet of usable interior space.

Grey said she hopes to present workable recommendations to the board around May 1, although she welcomed any late-breaking ideas or proposals in the coming weeks.

Lyme Academy Board Member Sue Grey (seated in black) listens to Old Lyme EDC Co-Chair Howard Margules’s presentation.

“We’re trying to find partners that would be compatible with the academy and would fit with the town,” Burns said, noting that the academy does not own residential housing, and the board is not interested in getting into the housing market. While this poses challenges for artists-in-residence programs, he said the board recognizes the opportunities for continuing education programs that fit with the region’s aging demographics.

Burns reported that the Academy has been signed an agreement with The France Foundation, an Old Lyme-based continuing education provider for health care professionals, for the Foundation to lease just under 6,000 square feet of space in the Chandler Academic Center, which served as the former College’s administrative center. Burns mentioned in Friday’s phone conversaion that the Foundation is moving into the space this coming weekend.

“We want to be actively involved in the community,” he emphasized, citing the academy’s pumpkin painting venture with Lyme-Old Lyme Schools’ students in October last year and how the Academy became a destination for families on Halloween. He also noted that the Academy was the site of Old Lyme’s annual tree-lighting ceremony in this past December and said more community arts activities, including ones based around Valentine’s Day and Easter themes, are in the works.

Next Steps for Old Lyme’s Economic Development

Musical Masterworks Administrative Director Rick Wyman checks the agenda while Old Lyme EDC Co-Chair Howard Margules speaks from the podium.

Economic development in Old Lyme is much more than pure economics, Howard Margules, co-chair of the Old Lyme Economic Development Commission (EDC), told the group. It embraces the values of the community and the town’s legacy. This includes arts and culture, maintaining a vibrant community that can continue to support these, and both an increased walkability and connectivity of discrete parts of town.

Margules outlined the effort undertaken by the EDC in past months. This includes a survey of residents and businesses and two SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis workshops conducted by the Connecticut Economic Resource Center (CERC) with community stakeholders, including business owners, non-profit organization leaders, clergy and interested residents.

Public participation in the online survey was record-breaking with 680 residents and 110 businesses responding, said Margules. Significantly, CERC staff said this was by far the highest response rate in town surveys since 150 responses would have been a more typical number, based on the postcard mailing and local outreach. He noted that 70 percent of responses were from people over 50-years-old.

An open Question & Answer session after the presentations drew active participation from the audience.

While data is still being analyzed before the full survey results and recommendations from CERC are made public, Margules said the EDC has given Old Lyme First Selectman Timothy Griswold a preliminary review.

Margules then went on to share highlights of the survey results with the Community Connections audience, noting first that most respondents said they wanted more shopping and dining in town, but that there also was a loud and consistent message to retain the character of Old Lyme.

“People overwhelmingly told us they want more development on Halls Road,” he said, pointing out that a majority responded positively while only 19 percent opposed any additional development there. Almost 75 percent of respondents said they wanted more green space in the Halls Road area. Meanwhile, businesses responded that they wanted more and better promotion, more of a town center, and to attract more younger people.

While there currently is no Halls Road plan, he mentioned that the next steps will be to come up with a master plan, which would require appropriate zoning changes. Development would be done primarily by the private property owners.

“The idea of ‘Let’s do nothing’ will not hold up,” Margules said firmly in respect of Halls Road and the town’s retail areas.

Commenting that,“Housing is a very muddled response,” he noted that respondents appear to support more affordable housing options for downsizing seniors and also college students, who wish to return to town but not be living in their parents’ basement.

Once completed, the CERC reports will be shared publicly. A final piece still to be undertaken is an extensive feasibility study. This will include specific recommendations of the kinds of retail and housing, based on survey responses and available areas in Old Lyme, and what has worked in other similar communities in the region and state.

Since the EDC operates without a budget and Old Lyme does not have a professional town planner, Margules said next steps include addressing how the recent surveys, SWOTs and recommendations will be utilized and incorporated into the town’s planning, zoning and economic development strategies.

Letter to the Editor: BOE Candidate Thompson Offers a ‘Pragmatic … Creative … Fiscally Conservative” Approach

To the Editor:

Please exercise your right to vote in Old Lyme’s municipal elections on Nov. 5.  I am running for Region 18 Board of Education and ask for your vote.

We are fortunate to have strong community support for our highly-rated schools. But I believe we can do a better job of engaging taxpayers and residents in establishing and supporting our district’s priorities. I am pragmatic, yet creative and fiscally conservative; I seek to work across party lines, with all ages and interests for the betterment of our community and our schools.

Jenn Miller and Steve Wilson also deserve your vote. They are highly qualified, experienced and committed candidates with strong backgrounds in finance, business operations, academic boards and communications – please vote for Miller, Thompson and Wilson, Row B, on the Old Lyme ballot.

I welcome the opportunity to help our town continue to support high quality education and do so with fiscal responsibility.

Sincerely,

Suzanne Thompson
Old Lyme.

Sound View Septic Cost-Sharing Proposals Challenged at Tuesday Night’s Update

The audience at Tuesday’s Septic Public Update listened intently to the proposals presented by the WPCA.

OLD LYME — Sentiments were strong at the Coastal Wastewater Project public update on Tuesday, July 16, as members of the Old Lyme Water Pollution Control Authority (WPCA) presented plans to replace individual septic tanks with sewer systems in the Sound View Beach neighborhood.  The sewage is to be pumped through East Lyme and Waterford to New London’s treatment facility.

Around 100 residents, many from Sound View and neighboring beach communities, listened to a slide presentation by WPCA chairman Richard Prendergast, followed by a question and answer session that ran until 9 p.m.  The presentation, which includes cost estimates and a timeline, can be viewed at this link on the Town of Old Lyme website.

Members of the WPCA, who are volunteers appointed by Old Lyme Board of Selectmen, stayed behind after the meeting to answer additional questions and encouraged residents to contact them via email links given on the Town of Old Lyme website.

Prendergast and WPCA members explained the history of septic system studies along the shoreline, state statutes governing the use of Clean Water Act funds, administrative orders from the state’s Department of Public Health (DPH) and Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (CT DEEP), and the 2016 finding of a Public Health Nuisance by the Town of Old Lyme Department of Health.  This progression of events requires the town to move forward with either plans to address the waste water pollution or continue with state-approved studies to figure out a solution.

The problem is density-based — if sewage is to be treated through a septic system and leach field, DPH recommends about four times the undisturbed, well-draining yard space that is typical in beach communities.  Multiple inadequate lots create a community pollution problem that regulatory agencies require towns to address.

The neighboring chartered private beach associations of Old Lyme Shores, Old Colony, Miami Beach, which — unlike Sound View Beach — have the authority to negotiate with New London on sewage capacity, have been moving forward with self-financing of sewer systems and design plans. 

Old Lyme Water Pollution Control Authority Richard Prendergast addresses the audience during Tuesday evening’s septic update.

Prendergast explained that although the Hawks Nest Beach community has been approved by state agencies for additional study, the long-term expectation is that inadequate waste water treatment systems will be fixed.  Future actions decided for Hawks Nest will not be added to Sound View Beach costs.

While it is proposed that ratepayers using the system will bear the expense of connection and installation, which they can repay over time based on 2 percent financing, the Town of Old Lyme is the responsible entity to bond $9.5 million to fund the Sound View Beach project.  The total cost of the project will be offset in part, by the combination of a Clean Water Fund state grant of 25 percent, a donation by Connecticut Water Company of a portion of pipes and materials, and careful design of the system, reducing the actual cost to $7.4 million according to the WPCA. 

Costs related to the chartered beach associations are not included in the town bond.

The assessment formula is explained in the  WPCA’s June 10, 2019 Minutes, which can be read at this link.  At a minimum, each dwelling in the project zone will pay a $6,000 connection fee.  Long-term project installation costs are covered by the “betterment fee,” which can be paid over 20 years with 2 percent financing.  This fee would be $15,000 for the typical small house, $25,000 for the typical average-sized house of 1,242 sq. ft. and more for larger homes or multi-unit dwellings.  Users also would pay an annual sewer use fee, which was listed at $430 in WPCA’s presentation.

Residents in the project area will not have the option to opt in or out of sewer lines — existing septic tanks will be removed or collapsed and leach fields converted.  Prendergast pointed out that this would free up yard space for parking and other activities since these would damage the functioning leach field required for a septic system.  Property owners also would no longer have the liability or expense of repairing a failed septic system, which can cost $10,000 or more, or having their septic tank pumped out at a minimum of every three to five years.

Many questions were raised during the Q & A session following the presentation.

The majority of comments and questions Tuesday evening revolved around sharing of costs between the project area and the rest of town.  While Prendergast said the WPCA felt that it had developed the most economically viable proposal for the Town of Old Lyme, Frank Pappalardo summarized the sentiments of several in the audience, saying, “This is a town public works project that will benefit the town, why should the three streets on Sound View Beach be expected to pay for it all?”

“We’re not a private beach association, why should we be singled out to pay?,” said Robin Duffield, whose husband’s grandfather built their Sound View Beach home in the early 1950s. “It’s like taxation without representation. If they did the same 20-year loan at 2 percent and divided it among all households in town, it would be very little money per house. Instead, it’s going to cost three streets worth of people $50,000, on average, per household, and the rest of town pays absolutely nothing.”

Duffield, who lives in Killingworth and serves on that town’s public health committee, explained after Tuesday’s meeting that similar septic systems in Rogers Lake and other areas of town would also need to be addressed.

“Rogers Lake could be next, anyone who lives along the estuaries or marshes, they all have similar septic systems. It’s setting a precedent for dividing parts of town and putting the bill on them completely,” she said.  “They are putting the bill on people who they feel can afford it.”

This was the second of two public presentations by the WPCA before the planned town referendum, which was set July 17 by the board of selectmen. Voting will take place on Tuesday, Aug. 13, from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., at Cross Lane Fire Station. 

Information about absentee ballots will be available from the Old Lyme Town Clerk’s office next week either by visiting the office in person or calling 860-434-1605, ext.220.

Legislators, Superintendents, Residents Express Universal Opposition to Forced School Regionalization

Special to LymeLine.com

Sitting in the front row of the audience at Monday night’s forum on school regionalization were local school superintendents (from right to left) Ian Neviaser (Lyme-Old Lyme), Pat Ciccone (Westbrook) and Jan Perruccio (Old Saybrook.)

Over 100 people turned out for an Education and Regionalization Forum at Old Saybrook Middle School on Thursday, April 11. The event was hosted by Rep. Devin Carney, (R-23rd), with Senators Paul Formica, (R-20th), and Norm Needleman, (D-33rd).

While the two parties differ on Connecticut road tolls, all three local officials said they are against forced regionalization of school district bills proposed by Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney, Senators Bob Duff and Cathy Osten, Deputy President Pro Tempore, and by Governor Ned Lamont.

Rep. Carney said there was an enormous public outcry by small towns and school districts, thousands of pieces of testimony received and hundreds of people, including students from Region 18 schools, who testified in March hearings.  While this probably means that the idea of aligning school districts with recently consolidated probate districts is not advancing, the matter of reducing and reallocating education costs is very much still alive, and pieces of proposed legislation could still become law.

“Nothing is truly ever dead until we gavel out at midnight on June 5,” Rep. Carney said, explaining the state legislative process and timelines of the ongoing session in Hartford. 

State Rep. Devin Carney (R-23rd) addresses the audience Monday night while (left) State Sen. Paul Formica (R-20th) awaits his turn to speak. Almost hidden from view, State Sen. Norm Needleman (D-33rd) stands to Rep. Carney’s right.

Of the six bills introduced that address regionalization of schools or services, three have been passed by the Education Committee and further action could be taken on them:

  • Governors Bill 874 establishes an appointed Commission on Shared School Services that is charged with developing shared school services recommendations, requires boards of education (BOEs) to report on currently shared school services and requires regional BOEs to post online monthly current and projected expenditures and to submit information to their town’s legislative body. The commission would issue a report in December 2020, recommendations could be binding on towns and districts. Because of costs of setting up a commission, the bill has been referred to Appropriations Committee;
  • HB 7350 requires regional education service centers (RESCs) to distribute an inventory of goods and services to member BOEs, and the Department of Education (DOE) shall develop a report of best practices by RESCs for regional cooperation. (LEARN, at 44 Hatchetts Hill Road in Old Lyme, is a RESC);
  • SB 1069, proposed by Sen. Needleman, which allows the DOE to study the effects of towns working together as Local Education Agencies, is intended to encourage voluntary regional cooperation and maximize efficiencies and cost savings without being mandated to become regional school districts.

Superintendents Ian Neviaser (Lyme-Old Lyme), Jan Perruccio (Old Saybrook), and Pat Ciccone (Westbrook) addressed how their districts have been sharing services and resources to reduce costs while maintaining the quality of curriculum along with educational, extracurricular and sports activities and programs.  Standard practices include health and dental insurance, energy, financial software, food service and supplies, plus student transportation for specialized programs.

Old Saybrook, Westbrook and Region 4 (Chester, Deep River and Essex plus the three elementary schools for each of those towns, which are not part of Region 4) school districts already share staff, Perruccio said, in an arrangement that has the flexibility to change yearly based on each districts’ demographic needs.

Perruccio said she was alarmed that the forced regionalization bills showed a lack of regard and understanding of how school districts are already sharing resources with a focus on quality of education.

Ciccone cited how the districts are coordinating to provide professional development for their teachers, and how Westbrook’s school facilities, sports programs and fields are utilized by the Town Parks and Recreation Department and local YMCA. The schools and town share legal and financial services support, as well. 

Lyme-Old Lyme Schools Superintendent Ian Neviaser stands at the podium during Monday evening’s forum.

“There is a money issue here, we need to be frank about it,” said Neviaser, pointing out that significant redistribution of wealth from school districts with higher property values and tax base already occurs. 

Fifty-one percent of New London’s school budget is paid by the state, he said., as is over 60 percent of Norwich’s, 33 percent of Montville’s and 14 percent of East Lyme’s school budgets. Meanwhile, Lyme-Old Lyme Schools receive less than one percent of operating expenses from the state.

“There was no mention of improving educational outcomes in these regionalization proposals,” commented Tina Gilbert of Lyme. “It is because of our school district’s focus on that, we are in the top four in the country in education.  There is no discussion of parent involvement in schools; we are not wealthy or privileged people, we chose to live in this school district for our children.  What it takes to build [highly performing schools] is parent involvement, working with parents.”

When asked if they moved to their town because of the quality of the schools, a high number of people in the audience raised their hands.

While the majority of questions and comments addressed specifics of proposed legislation, the overarching issue of state fiscal problems and how to address government spending arose. Lyme and Old Lyme residents were some of the most vocal about the impact of proposed legislation on property values, taxes and the quality of local school districts.

“The majority of the state doesn’t have a problem, town government works in Connecticut, but Hartford is not responsible,” said Curt Deane of Lyme, pointing out a seven-page summary of education service-sharing produced by LEARN in February.  “The initial [regionalization] proposals would have raised my property taxes by 50 percent overnight. Taxes go up, property values go down. People have to understand, this is going to hit our property taxes and hit hard. This isn’t going to go away.” 

“We can’t be a state with only great little towns and not great cities,” Sen. Needleman said, citing imbalances of health care outcomes and school performance between wealthier communities and the state’s large cities. He continued, “While we don’t want to mess up what we have, we can’t turn our backs on the disparities.”

The legislators encouraged voters to speak up, write letters, follow grassroots organizations such as Hands Off Our Schools or form their own group to express concerns to elected officials.