Hartford Public Schools facilities analyses, as yet unreported (except verbally in Board of Education discussions), foresee costly immediate repairs necessary at 10 schools in poor condition.  Long-term maintenance costs go into the stratosphere.  By the guideline that schools need some 350 students to be sustainable, 14 last week were not – with seven others on the borderline.  Factoring in the state of the 49 physical structures, it is obvious that smart school consolidation is upon us.

At a Board of Education School Choice and Facilities Committee meeting March 22nd:

  • Board Chair Richard Wareing and Vice Chair Jose Colon-Rivas made plans for a public workshop in April, centering on the state of Hartford school facilities;
  • School-by-school enrollment data as of last week showed several North End schools had fewer than 350 students: Clark (247); Culinary Arts Academy at Weaver (272); High School, Inc. (226); Journalism and Media Academy Magnet (177); and Wish Museum School (305).
  • At a meeting earlier this week, the Blue Hills Civic Association weighed the trade-offs between proceeding with the Weaver High School renovation on Granby Street; undertaking the planned renovation at the Martin Luther King School (the original Weaver building); and tearing down and rebuilding the environmentally uninhabitable Clark School.  See today’s Courant article for discussions of how one or more of those projects may no longer be feasible in the current State and City budget crisis.

Board Chair Wareing, looking at the number of small-enrollment schools, has said it is unlikely that the District can continue without consolidation.

Superintendent Beth Schiavino-Narvaez has launched an “Equity 2020 Advisory Committee,” comprising parents, teachers, principals, and community leaders.  Its focus will be to make recommendations to the Board, connecting facilities, geography, academic alignment, and school choice considerations to maximize resources and opportunities for children.

“In our current context, I see an opportunity to address enrollment, facilities and capacity challenges,” said Dr. Narvaez. “We will not be able to achieve or invest in everything that is articulated in the strategic operating plan during this budget cycle. However, my expectation is that even in the midst of a very challenging budget scenario, we will take major steps forward in executing our goals and to significantly increase the quality of education across all schools.”

The committee will hold its first meeting Monday; Dr. Narvaez plans to present a two-year budget April 19th.

The Bottom Line.  As objectionable as it may appear in many neighborhood school communities, consolidation may be the best, if not the only, way to improve students’ educational opportunities given the State and City budget deficits and declining enrollment in Hartford.  We have to see consolidation as providing not only the savings that come from operating fewer school buildings, but also ensuring better targeting of nonprofit resources to children in that smaller complement of schools.