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Mayor’s Austerity Budget Applies the Last Band Aids

Mayor Luke Bronin April 18th underscored the City’s fiscal situation as “worse than we could have imagined,” with a deficit of $48.5 million looming for Fiscal 2017.

Two days later, as a sign of the City’s weak financial position, its bond rating was lowered.

When the mayor last week recommended his budget, he warned of continuing ripple-effect deficits in the years ahead.  Pointing out that Hartford’s mill rate (74.29) is almost twice as high as any other city or town in the state – he said he won’t recommend higher taxes.  His initial concept was to set up a Financial Sustainability Commission to preserve City options, keeping City Council and mayoral oversight in place, rather than accede to a lack of control in the event of bankruptcy.  The City Council and State legislative delegation deep sixed that oversight concept fast.

Unfortunately, one of the easiest available escape routes, for decades, has been a tail-light exodus from Hartford every single day; the pattern of segregation that has beleaguered our metropolitan region.

Poverty is concentrated in most metro areas, as it is in CT cities, as are the service providers for our society’s deepest hardships.  Being in service to children is not cheap.  Ignoring the issue of regionalization is cheap.  Cuts are being felt now – and they’re deep.

In Hartford, a further raising of taxes would be a negative incentive, possibly driving out employers.  For this reason, the mayor has vowed not to hike taxes (already at the highest level in the state … and in one of the poorest cities in the U.S.).

The mayor discussed the City budget at a town hall yesterday (see today’s Courant article for details).  He also has detailed a number of indicators of what is commonly referred to as the City’s “structural deficit”:

  • Small Tax Base.  Hartford is a 17-square mile city in an otherwise wealthy metropolitan region.  Yet half the City’s property (among State, religious institution, and nonprofit organizations) is tax exempt.  No more blood in that tiny turnip.
  • Not Done with this Year’s Deficit Yet.  The Fiscal 2016 budget, with its underestimated overtime, pension, and other payout costs, led to the projected deficit and layoffs yet to be resolved.  Deficits going forward are one thing; the one going backward isn’t pretty either.
  • The Cupboard Is Bare.  Past reliance on one-time sales of City property to save the day this day has run out of gas.  While the City does recommend conveying its Battison Park land in Farmington to its pension fund (to help defray coming costs), there are no more band aids.  Indeed, the City reserve fund for emergencies will hit zero next year and the budget recommendation calls for eliminating 40 non-uniformed positions.
  • Trade-Off.  Police District Service Officers and other special duty police officers will be returned to patrol and subsidies for festivals and parades will end, and even more significant reductions will occur in every area, including those for the Department of Families, Children, Youth & Recreation, so crucial to early preschool and enrichment activities.  That’s a profound killing-your-seed-corn issue.
  • No Gain.  Education, representing half the City budget at $284 million, will remain flat funded for the eighth consecutive year.  The normal – and rising – cost of living increases for staff at all levels take place annually; those rising costs have had an impact on student resources for almost a decade.
  • Back of the Bus.  As well, a dramatic reduction is proposed for school construction funded under the City’s Capital Improvement Plan.  To minimize future borrowing, the mayor proposes to put the brakes on the previously announced plans for knocking down and rebuilding the environmentally challenged Clark School and finally renovating Dr. Martin Luther King Middle School (the original Weaver High School).  The more recent Weaver High School facility on Granby Street, where renovations have been well under way and on course to be completed, is going forward at the moment.

For perspective, Governor Dannel Malloy recently relayed State budget details on the WNPR “Where We Live” program, online here.  The nation has endured 11 recessions since World War II, he said, and the Great Recession of 2008 certainly was the worst since the Depression of the late 1920s, which had at least a 30-year impact.  Recovery takes time.  With State revenue sources deteriorating – and levels of growth so important to spearhead spending, the State will have to adjust its priorities to a new reality, the governor said.

The Bottom Line.  The governor – and Hartford’s mayor and school superintendent – are now under the broiler of budget cuts, very steep for Fiscal 2017.  However distressing the reductions may be now, the projections for tomorrow, unless corrected, foretell an even deeper plunge.  Year-by-year manipulations have tended to disguise the structural deficits that annually drag us down.


Inspire Hartford Event at the XL Center May 4th: A Ticket to the Future!

What could be more important than preparing our kids and parents for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) innovations, unless it is building their creativity and health and wellness?  STEM is the most common buzzword; but entrepreneurship and fitness – and so many other Hartford school activities – are the future.  We hope you will join us to experience all on May 4th at the XL Center.

Presented by UnitedHealthcare – and infused with the work of Hartford Performs, CREC, and UConn Husky Sport – the Inspire Hartford event at the XL Center May 4th will offer a unique opportunity for parents, children, and their advocates to see what 21st century learning is about.

Inspire Hartford will be held on Wednesday, May 4, 2016 at the XL Center in downtown Hartford. An exclusive VIP reception begins at 5:30 p.m.; the main event runs from 6 to 8 p.m with food, drink, networking and free ice cream.  To purchase tickets visit: www.inspirehartford.com

The event features four thematic, interactive zones, each demonstrating a different aspect of education innovation:

STEM Zone with Connecticut Pre-engineering Program (CPEP) 

You will experience the future as students wow and amaze you with Rube Goldberg Machines, Wind Turbines, one of a kind 3D printed items and so much more.

Future Entrepreneurs Zone with Pathways Academy of Technology and Design: Entrepreneurship Education

Entrepreneurship education prepares students to carry out the entrepreneurial process and experience the entrepreneurial spirit. Developing an innovative idea and writing a business plan are only the first steps of a successful business.  Hear students pitch their business ideas in our Shark Tank.

Creativity Zone with Hartford Performs

Find out what happens when a highly skilled teaching artist transforms a classroom lesson about math or reading into a creative and interactive artistic experience. Hartford Performs will demonstrate how the arts make learning more memorable, meaningful, personal and even joyful for students. You might even have a chance to exercise your own inner artist.

Health and Wellness Zone with Capital Region Education Council (CREC)

Do you like an adrenaline rush? Get inspired to literally watch your heart rate increase through virtual, adventure experiences and creative fitness games! It’s good for your body and good for your brain! The latest research shows that the combination of physical and mental challenges improves brain function, helping you to learn and remember better. Students in CREC’s secondary physical education classes engage in a variety of climbing and cardiovascular activities for body and brain health. Come get your heart rate in check!

2-4-1 Sports * Growing Great Schools * Husky Sport

Working in partnership with national physical literacy experts at 2-4- 1 Sports, along with UCONN Husky Sport, & the UCONN Department of Kinesiology, we have created the PLUSS Club™.  This zone will highlight the benefits of our PLUSS Club programming with live BrainErgizers™ and cooking demonstrations with Growing Great Schools Chef Educators.

Celebrity guest Jerry Greenfield, co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream and president of the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation, will discuss the intersection of social enterprise, education and the community.  An entrepreneur by circumstance, Mr. Greenfield and his friend Ben Cohen founded Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream and then became pioneers in corporate social responsibility, one of the most talked-about, unconventional success stories in American business.


Yale Conference Speakers Offer Reminders about Unified Activism

The 10th annual Yale School of Management Education Leadership conference in New Haven last week convened an impressive array of leaders tuned in to some of the most pressing issues in our capital city: understanding the roots of institutional racism and how the past, present and future are intertwined.

Here are the highlights perhaps most relevant for Hartford:

The Importance of Collective Impact.  Finding that one in seven Chicago 9th graders earns a Bachelor’s degree in their next 10 years, Thrive Chicago President & Chief Impact Officer Sandra Abrevaya said in her keynote address, “In Chicago this is a statistic that we collectively own.”  Discovering that postsecondary counselors were trained to varying levels of quality, she said, her organization decided to develop a certification in college counseling and set up a credential; the first 92 postsecondary advisers participated in eight monthly trainings – and the number has now grown to more than 300 advisers from more than 20 organizations.

That “collective impact” plan grew out of the mayor’s office; then became a 501(c)3    organization giving voice to many educators and nonprofits previously unconnected to the political process, she explained.  Random commissions and committees typically don’t have anyone driving the work – but by sharing data and changing practices accordingly, a coalition of collective impact organizations can work, she said (this work is a great model for the Hartford Coalition on Education and Talent to learn from – more to come on that).

Race Has Asphyxiated Our Expectations.  In a follow-up keynote address, Northside [Minneapolis] Achievement Zone President and CEO Sondra Samuels argued that children do not fail; “We fail them … we do not dream high enough for our kids.”  Following 350 years of legalized racism and only 50 years of civil rights under law, she said, we should reflect on Thomas Jefferson’s not so subtle point: “And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God?  That they are not to be violated but with his wrath?  Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep forever.”  With 12 million slaves made “involuntary immigrants” and some two million dying at sea – and 400 Black men untreated for syphilis in the Tuskegee experiment, she said, racism has left a stench in our classrooms.

We need to know the history of Blacks being arrested for not having a job, walking next to a railroad track, and talking too loudly to a white woman – and understand that once-AMA President James Marion Sims bought 30 slaves to conduct gynecological experiments on them without anesthesia.  He was America’s Joseph Mengele, she said.

When people ask, “’Why can’t they just get over it?’” the answer is … not until we talk about it honestly, adopt Carol Dweck’s growth mindset approach and teach belief, grit and resiliency.

What Can Be Done to Promote Diversity in K-12 Schooling?  For one thing, learn Spanish, Hartford Public Schools Executive Director of School Choice Enid Rey advised a packed room at the Yale Conference.

“Diverse communities are here – and we’re not leaving,” she said in Spanish . . . and then in English.  “It’s an economic imperative that we adapt for the future.”

“If you don’t know Spanish, learn it – it’s coming at you,” she elaborated.  Poor people recognize quality, too, she also said, and their interests, regardless of zip code or background, must be served.  Marketing is not the silver bullet, she pointed out; “It’s all about relationships.  Who’s going to take whom to prom?  Where are we going to the movies tonight?”

Speaking as a lawyer, Executive Director Rey said, at one point, if the quandary over integrated schools, affordable housing, and workforce participation were a “mergers and acquisitions” question, experts would be talking about creating a new financing model.  In the school world, perhaps that means districts could get a bump-up in resources for doing a better job with integration – or from finding ways to attract more students from various communities.  “There’s almost a need to create a new line of business,” Executive Director Rey reflected.

The Yale conference this year had more Hartford-relevant panels and points than ever: We need to amalgamate community forces for collective impact, continue to confront institutional racism, and reinvent school choice for the modern world of both African-American and Latino cultures, paying close attention at budget time to the students who already are teetering on the edge of success … or failure.

The Bottom Line.

Five takeaways from Sondra Samuels’ morning keynote spoke volumes to us, and they were:

  1. We must adopt a new mantra of “Believing is Seeing,” and not the other way around, because it’s the lack of belief we have in our students and in our ability to help them that prevents us from seeing results.  It starts with belief.
  2. We don’t have to wait for everyone to believe in our students; not all will, right away.  But we must hold the belief for them until they come around.
  3. Our aspirations have truly been asphyxiated; we must breathe new life into them if we are ever going to overcome our challenges.  We must stop the “deficits” model of thinking and dream again.
  4. We can no longer let the experiences of America’s poorest children be known only to their families.  No more invisible children, right?  Are you feeling this?
  5. The inability to talk about slavery is the same as the inability to talk today about the conditions poor children grow up in, right here in America, calling itself the greatest country in the world … but not always putting its best face forward.

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