May 5, 2007
By ROBERT A. FRAHM, Courant Staff Writer
State officials scrambled Friday to salvage the rest of the school year for students at a small Hartford charter school that will close its doors Monday because it has run out of money.
Officials of the Cross-Cultural Academy of Arts & Technology, an experimental school that opened last fall, told parents this week the school could no longer afford to pay its teachers and would be closing with six weeks left in the regular school year.
"I cried. I am so upset. I don't know what to do," said Joanne Rios, whose son is a sixth-grader at the school. "I don't know where they're going to go on Monday."
The announcement of the closing came as a surprise to parents and to state officials, who were working with the Hartford public schools and the Capitol Region Education Council to find a way for students and their teachers to remain together to finish the school year.
"Our greatest concern is continuity of education for the students," said Frances Rabinowitz, associate commissioner with the state Department of Education.
How the state would help finance the remaining six weeks was not immediately clear. The school has scheduled a meeting for parents Monday.
The Cross-Cultural Academy - an arts-oriented program that relied on collaborations with local and regional museums, theaters and other institutions - ran into budget problems related to busing, special education, rent and other costs, said Augustine Cofrancesco, one of the school's founders.
"For eight or nine months we made a difference," Cofrancesco said, "but financially it was just too much for us. ... The needs of our students were such that we had to have small class sizes and had to have aides," Cofrancesco said. That, however, also strained the budget.
"We were trying to run a Cadillac program on what it costs to run a Ford," he said.
In addition, the school, which gets a per-pupil grant from the state, could not enroll enough students to support itself. The school had hoped for as many as 100 students but opened with only about half that number. By this week, it had only 35 students.
Cofrancesco said he debated whether to open the school at all, but "I took a chance. I thought I could raise the extra money to make a difference. ... Unfortunately, we couldn't make it to the end of the year."
The Cross-Cultural Academy operated in Hartford's Parkville neighborhood at 237 Hamilton Place. It is one of 16 small experimental public schools that operate under an 11-year-old state charter law.
Charters are part of a national reform movement designed to encourage innovation by allowing educators, community leaders and entrepreneurs to operate publicly supported schools without many of the regulations governing traditional public schools.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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