The State of the City Address from Mayor Luke Bronin Monday evening was cut to the bone, just as the City and District budgets are about to be.  At a Hartford Board of Education retreat earlier that day, District and Board leaders grappled with the implications, emphasizing the importance of clear communications that encourage public knowledge and participation.

Parting company with characteristic State of the City language, the mayor reported that “the state of our city can and will be strong — if we face our challenges honestly, with clear vision and with an unflinching willingness to do the difficult things those challenges demand.”  In blunt detail, he reported, “as directly and as plainly as I can, that while our city is strong, the state of our financial condition is dire.  We are in a state of fiscal emergency.”

The City’s debt service cost is $10 million this year – and will jump to nearly $30 million next year and some $50 million by 2019.  “We’re like a household that’s taken out a second mortgage, maxed out the credit cards, and borrowed money from family and friends to keep up with the payments,” he said.  Cuts in services and layoffs are now unavoidable; new strategies are unfolding to address benefits and pension costs, as reported by the Courant.

The Devil Is in the Deficits

At the Board retreat earlier Monday, Chair Richard Wareing described the multi-level deficits projected for Fiscal 2017: $20 million for the District, $30 million for the City, and $900 million for the State.  “You don’t have to be Nostradamus” to figure out there’s a problem, he said.

The District is faced with restructuring, because many of its buildings have inadequate features or are run down, Board Finance and Audit Committee Chair Craig Stallings advised.  “I personally have said I want to close 25 schools,” he said, calling for a full Finance Committee hearing to apprise parents why principals are cutting seven to 10 positions per school.

Here are the text of the Mayor’s State of the City Address and last week’s Education Matters article related to the burgeoning budget issues.

The Bottom Line.  With layoffs coming at every level, we have to ask the question, how will Hartford’s strategy change to still meet the goals set forth by the Strategic Operating Plan?

While that question must be answered by management, the Board of Education and City Hall ultimately have to ensure management has what it needs to carry out its plan.  The buck stops with THEM, not the superintendent.

Also, the opportunity exists right now to make some bold changes as related to school consolidation and magnet school racial quotas.  As resources for neighborhood schools diminish during this fiscal crisis, Hartford should find ways to move more of its students into magnet school seats – even if the racial proportions at those are thrown a bit out of whack.  The time to have this conversation is now.