Julissa Antigua, Anthony Tarantino and Samantha Roccapriore

A balanced-budget proposal that could have slashed state funding for Connecticut’s technical schools didn’t sit well with the students in Meriden. They decided to give legislators their thoughts about the plan — in person.

“We decided the only thing to do was to go to Hartford and voice our opinions,” says Anthony Tarantino, one of the students from H.C. Wilcox Technical High School who spoke to the state assembly last year.

Gov. Daniel Malloy had proposed turning over control of technical education from the state to local school districts. According to the students’ SkillsUSA advisor, Michele Leahy, “We all realized rather quickly that this would mean disaster to our Connecticut technical high school system, which is 101 years old.”

Especially distressing to Tarantino was that under the new plan, fees would be charged to students attending the schools. “No one charged me to obtain the skills I learned in the vo-tech system, and I feel that everyone should be granted that same chance,” he says.

Fellow student Julissa Antigua, who also testified, agrees. “This school is the reason I evolved into the person I am today. Therefore, I felt led to speak out against this bill and educate the governor as well as everyone else about technical schools.”

She and Tarantino arrived early at the capital but didn’t testify until 3 p.m. Classmates Samantha Roccapriore (pictured left, with Antigua and Tarantino) and Steven Dominguez went along for support.

Both Tarantino and Antigua made it clear to the legislators that the current system was already working well. Or as Tarantino succinctly put it, “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.”

Antigua told the assembly, “In my experience, attending a technical high school with an annual yearly progress has enforced a more productive attitude in me. Since I began my journey at Wilcox Technical High School, I have grown closer to becoming the person I want to be and achieving my goals.”

The issue has since been tabled by the legislature, and some, including Leahy, are crediting these testimonies as instrumental in saving the state’s technical high school system. However, both students believe it won’t be the last attempt to cut funding to their programs.

“When that time comes, supporters of the technical system will need to make sure their voices are heard and do whatever it takes to keep the system under state control,” Tarantino says.

Antigua adds, “There is no need to change a good thing when there is nothing wrong with it to begin with.”