Familiar Budget Pressures: Desperation … Instead of Innovation

Over the past decade of Hartford school financing, little change has occurred in the available resources. The District remains flat funded by the city, the availability of special funds has decreased over time, while costs have risen each year.  It’s a depressing situation, but it’s also the exact problem our public leaders have signed up to solve.  How bold have we been in addressing our situation?  We would say not bold enough, and maybe even not bold at all, begging the question, What is it going to take for necessity to actually be the mother of invention here in Hartford?

 

Looking in the rear-view mirror, we see that last year’s Fiscal 2017 budget discussion, detailed here by Dr. Narvaez a year ago, forecast the current Fiscal 2018 mess.  A strained financial situation resulted after theme-based academies proliferated for a decade but then could neither be adequately filled nor funded.  And, similarly, the year before talked of financial hardship and predicted a crisis in the following year as well.

 

And this year? “It’s challenging, not having enough to do the bare minimum,” the superintendent reflected in her statement at the 3:50 mark of this video.  If it was a crisis then, it is really a crisis now.

 

With not much changing each budget season these past three to four years, other than shrinking staffs, it seems like Hartford is stuck in a time of drought simply waiting for rain.

 

Does our public leadership not yet realize that more money might never come, and so we must deliver education in fundamentally different ways?

 

The only way to reach hundreds and even thousands of students with great programming is to leverage more and more resources outside of the schools, and to think in terms of new business models.

 

Using the Hartford Performs innovation as an example, the very capable HPS leadership can figure out how to:

 

  • Deliver sports differently, tapping private nonprofit entities to help run fewer, more robust and diverse cross-community teams citywide;
  • Market all CREC and HPS schools together, with community partners doing heavy lifting with their constituents helping guide them in the process;
  • Tap Hartford NRZs and other community hubs to rethink and take ownership of family engagement in our schools;
  • Share school and nonprofit budgets to serve kids on site at schools, and
  • Work with nonprofits to “double employ” teachers who already stay after school to help students catch to grade level using technology, among other strategies.

 

If we continue to refuse to innovate – and even worse, slash public investment in innovation, like HPS seems ready to do to one of its most compelling inventions, Hartford Performs – we send a message to every corporation, foundation, and nonprofit partner in this city that when the going gets tough, we just tighten our belts.  To save money, HPS is choosing time and time again to use a bit less electricity every year, while completely ignoring the fact that they have the ability to build wind turbines – it may not be the prettiest wind turbine, but it can get the job done.  Divesting from innovation at this time sends the opposite message needed right now.  Now, is the time to be bold.  If we wait for a better financial situation to foster innovation, we will be waiting for a long, long time, sacrificing another generation of children.

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