Hartford Public Schools’ Chief Financial Officer Paula Altieri and Acting Superintendent Leslie Torres-Rodriguez on Monday conducted a budget retreat for the Board of Education, whose members finally turned to the issue of the money that could be saved – and re-invested – if under-enrolled schools were “co-located” together. That controversial conversation cannot start soon enough.
Indeed, the absence of any cost estimates or potential savings from school consolidation was the Achilles heel of the foundered Equity 2020 process, now on hold. Not so on Monday.
Some schools have said they cannot produce the curriculum at a robust level with a small enrollment, CFO Altieri told the retreat attendees (Board Members Mike Brescia, Robert Cotto, Jr., Julio Flores, Tiffany Glanville, Juan Hernandez, Kim Oliver, and Craig Stallings).
But with co-location, dollars saved could be re-invested in school needs, CFO Altieri advised. In keeping with this idea, she presented scenarios for school co-location, not naming the schools, but showing how, in four comparisons, $2 million; $1 million; $1.5 million; and another $2 million could be saved, should Board members and District communications be willing to touch that third rail. They’re not ready to do that yet – but facing at least a $6 million deficit, it is time.
Here are some key points from the discussion, reflecting threads of the conversations:
- The ability for HPS to charge tuition for magnet school students and Pre-K enrollees requires special legislation; what the legislative delegation might be doing about this is a question we are pursuing.
- Declines in enrollment and Choice applicants, occurring as contract-driven and other uncontrollable costs increase, are occurring in the midst of eight years of flat City funding (and a ninth-year reduction this year). These conflicting patterns are major threats to stability.
- Special education costs for out-of-placement tuition are in excess of $50 million; staff and knowledge capacity in Hartford is insufficient in terms of the most challenging social-emotional and prevention-intervention needs. Some five years ago, District leaders talked about exploring in-house capacity for serving children with disabilities, eventually to save costs and potentially get paid by other districts to provide these services. Talk is expensive.
- CFO Altieri reported that her staff is still working through the options with schools; the present budget breakdown is 83.7 percent for schools and 16.3 percent for Central Office (this is tentative, just the first Fiscal 2018 go-round). For comparison, the Fiscal 2016 and Fiscal 2017 school-level and central-office proportions were 89 percent and 11 percent, respectively. This is one reason why we advocate for more cuts to central office before schools.
- “We should want our kids to come back to us,” Board Member Glanville said; HPS could give Hartford kids free pre-school and charge suburban magnet participants. Two-thirds of District marketing funds are spent on the most non-compliant schools, she pointed out; “a complete waste of money.” Every year, someone mentions the Choice marketing budget; its efficacy needs to be studied.
The Bottom Line
Board Members – and District leaders – are at long last having a serious conversation about the money being spent for services in under-enrolled schools that could be co-located (sharing rather than duplicating). As well, they are looking at leased properties – and alternatives.
It is past time for the Board to set a timeline for a new and improved Equity 2020 process for re-setting the configuration of Hartford’s 49 schools. It also is time to think more boldly about how to deliver services in new ways that heighten quality … but cost less. For our perspective, please see the Board meeting video featuring Achieve Hartford! Chief Engagement Officer Derrick Everett (at the 1:28:22 mark).