Still Up in the Air
The District’s annual celebratory School Governance Council (SGC) forum Tuesday evening was coupled with a suddenly-called Board of Education Finance Committee meeting immediately afterward. At both sessions, un-finalized school and District budgets were still up in the air at this late date … just like those of the City and State. It’s a very unusual (not to say nerve-wracking) year.
For nearly a decade, the District’s annual SGC forum has presented an opportunity for parent, school, and community leaders, school by school, to relay their best practices, detail their deepest experiences, and convey their most careful caveats about the cuts that annually come to their budgets. But in this fraught year, dollars remain a mystery and SGC discussion this week was minimalized.
At Tuesday’s SGC forum at the old and new Barbour School site – the Journalism and Media Academy on Tower Avenue – the program had to be shortened due to time constraints, as the Board’s Finance Committee needed a piggy-back meeting to catch up to the fact that the Fiscal 2018 budget at all levels is still in limbo at this late date. The committee meeting shortened the annual SGC showcase (at which many more District officials were on hand and on the mic than were SGC members).
Budget Emergency Kidnaps Forum
The Courant’s editorial yesterday, exploring – and advocating – State fiscal oversight in return for the extraordinary fiscal support Hartford requires – made it plain that past, weak pension and benefits investments statewide and in the city have caught up with us. This is not only a local problem; it reverberates across our cities, our state and our nation, perhaps most prominently evident in the debate over health care. Credit Mayor Luke Bronin: Unlike many public officials, he refused to ignore this cost crisis as a voice in the suburban wilderness.
The Courant today further illuminates the uncertainty of both the State budget outcome and possible Hartford bankruptcy.
Hartford’s school budget is up in the air. Possible variations vary by millions of dollars right now.
Asterisks *** will have to be used, Board members concluded after a long meeting Tuesday night, as they could not resolve the various gap mitigation strategies, multi-million dollar additional reductions, continuously ambiguous Sheff-related seat availabilities, and ongoing budget amendments, yet to be finally adjusted. Some 150 more Hartford-host magnet seats may be made available, but no one can say for sure.
HPS has brought costs down by $23 million through cuts in salaries/staff changes, contracts, maintenance, transportation, benefits, and computer and printing, but these cuts may not cut the mustard. Nor may the State pass its budget this week.
The District is looking to further save $1 million just by eliminating its offices of academics and school improvement; streamlining the office of academics, and setting up offices of elementary and middle grades and secondary education, respectively. That’s 10 positions.
District Superintendent Leslie Torres-Rodriguez emphasized in an interview that a realignment of the offices was in the works long before the fiscal crunch this year. “As a systemic thinker and practitioner,” she reflected, “one of the first things I noticed when I came here as an assistant superintendent was that the central office structure did not lend well to implementation of inter-related strategies. That’s what we’re now designing, to ensure operational effectiveness, alignment, and coherence. The new Office of Academics, for example, will be purposeful and efficient in our support to schools.”
Uncertainty is the watch word at all levels, but at least some version of next year’s HPS budget will be adopted tomorrow at a special meeting of the Board of Education at 12:30 pm at 960 Main Street.