Budget Be Damned

Making the case for fighting for Hartford kids, we would like to suggest that when the consequential budget hearings unfold next week, a few questions ought to be not just on the table … but at its center.

 

The annual Hartford Public Schools budget development process runs a gauntlet of public hearings and debates every spring – and this year is no different.  A Hartford Board of Education meeting/budget hearing is scheduled for this coming Tuesday, April 18th, at Rawson School.

 

An unusual aspect of the Fiscal 2018 budget planning has been a series of community forums and a Board retreat devoted to the budget, led by then-Acting and now designated Superintendent Leslie Torres-Rodriguez and Chief Financial Officer Paula Altieri.

 

These meetings featured close looks at the City’s nine years of flat funding, the State’s unresolved deficit, and the impending $6 million shortfall facing the District.  The next budget likely will result in positions being cut and, depending on how natural attrition and replacements are juggled, teacher and other staff layoffs.

 

 

Another Way to Look at It

 

At the Yale School of Management Educational Leadership Conference last week, a recurring theme concerned the complexity – and opacity – of school budgets, which, by being incomprehensible, tend to disempower parents and community leaders when the important details are buried in fine print.

 

For example, the bewildering nature of the State’s 11 sources for its education funding formula makes it impossible for all but the most intrepid analysts to figure out where the money goes.

 

Former Bridgeport school leader – and now CT Association of School Superintendents Executive Director Fran Rabinowitz – advocates a single, “coherent” formula, weighted for students with disabilities, English learners, and poverty.

 

Another conference speaker heard from, Hartford Board of Education Member Richard Wareing, joked that after chairing the Board and its Finance Committee, “I still don’t understand how we spend our money!”  The budget is so opaque that people are scared of it, he reflected.

 

State Board of Education Member Erik Clemons offered a solution: “You need to ask the people who are suffering what they need … top-down solutions won’t cut it.”

 

Among the many unresolved questions on the District’s Fiscal 2018 budget, these stand out:

 

  1. Invitation to Co-Location.  Given the often-repeated guideline that a school with fewer than 300 students is unsustainable, when – and how – will the District and Board confront the fact that enrollment projections show that nine schools are estimated to be below that threshold – and another four are teetering on the edge?
  2. Balancing Act.  Given the tentative projection that 50 positions are subject to being eliminated, is the forecast of 36 cuts at the school level and 14 at the central office level the correct balance?
  3. Hurry Up and Wait.  If the Sheff negotiations indeed are stalled and the next phase is another court battle rather than a compromise, how will this delay affect the tuition reimbursement and other proposed Choice modifications that hang in the balance?

 

These questions – and more – warrant consideration at all policy making levels, including from our State legislative delegation, which could and should be more involved in tackling the disparities between the hard-pressed cities and the other 160 CT town governments that resist positive change.

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Education Matters! is a bi-weekly e-newsletter of Achieve Hartford! providing insight, analysis and information to support school improvement in Hartford. We believe strong schools lead to a strong city.