At Clark School, air-duct contamination prompted temporary closure of the building in January 2015. Initial plans for re-opening have changed: Higher-than-expected costs for environmental remediation have led to a very tough decision by the Superintendent and Mayor to tear down and rebuild Clark School. What’s the big picture?
It’s unclear at the moment. Given the structural City budget gap that Mayor Luke Bronin has identified as a fiscal crisis, decisions to come may prove to be even more important. A comprehensive consolidation plan has been suggested by Council President T.J. Clarke (see our article, here).
The factors at play include:
Shrinking enrollment specifically in North Hartford schools, which raises questions about the wisdom – and practicality – of running four significantly under-enrolled for their capacity schools within close proximity [Wish, 303; Simpson-Waverly, 293; Clark, 247; Martin Luther King, 356, according to the October 2015 data provided by the district].
Hartford Board of Education Chair Richard Wareing’s advice to City Council that schools with enrollments of fewer than 350 students are unsustainable – and those with under 300 test the limits of what is possible [see this article on the City Council Q&A].
All of this being said, planned construction of a brand new school at the site of the old Clark building is just one piece of the larger North End puzzle.
There is no question that having to close the school, after promising to reopen it this fall, is disappointing to the Clark community. While needing to make that community whole is a priority for the mayor and superintendent,the entire North End will need to be made whole, in addition to other lingering building concerns city wide.
The Bottom Line. Multiple calls by multiple leaders for a comprehensive solution to the school enrollment issues facing Hartford – particularly North Hartford – make now the perfect time to engage the community in the decision-making process. Given the particularly low enrollments in some Zone 1 and Zone 2 schools of North Hartford, and the upcoming school building renovation projects already on the calendar, many questions need to be answered, such as these:
- How will MLK fill its school building after its $68 million renovation?
- How will lower-than-capacity student populations in Wish and Simpson-Waverly be affected when Clark gets its recommended new building?
- How will potential environmental problems at other old school buildings be assessed and then addressed?
Families’ concerns relating to school building renovation and location are already starting to heat up. At the February 23rd Hartford Board of Education meeting, for example, it was distressing to hear teachers and parents from the Martin Luther King School pleading to receive answers about its renovations … and their implications. As one teacher put it, rather than having to live in limbo or sorting through hearsay, “We need to be told the truth.”
Stakeholders in North Hartford can handle the truth, and any effort to engage parents and residents in an open dialogue about school renovation and consolidation we anticipate will be welcomed. The political courage to have that conversation publicly without having all the answers – as opposed to making decisions behind closed doors – would be noteworthy.