May 2, 2007
By RACHEL GOTTLIEB, Courant Staff Writer
Hartford's superintendent of schools, Steven J. Adamowski, presented a budget plan Tuesday night that relies on the passage of the governor's proposal to increase state aid for education to cover a 4.1 percent spending increase and keep the district in the black.
"We would be in a financial crisis were it not for the governor's proposal to increase the education cost sharing [formula]," Adamowski said.
The plan seeks to spend $271.6 million in the 2007-08 fiscal year - a $10.6 million increase over the current budget - but does not ask the city to increase its contribution.
A few significant cost increases amount to more than $10.6 million. For example, student transportation would increase by $5 million, a 40.9 percent hike, and negotiated salaries and benefits would increase by $8.4 million. Maintenance contracts are proposed to rise by more than $622,000.
But this year the district did not spend all of its money, so Adamowski said it has about $5 million to use on next year's costs. "We will not have turnover savings again," he said, criticizing the district's practice of not spending all of its money. "However, that has helped us offset the increases."
The district still faces a loss of $7.7 million, or 7.4 percent, of the "special funds" budget because several key grants are expiring, including the federal magnet school grant, the safe schools/healthy students grant and a comprehensive school reform grant.
The budget plan incorporates some of the reforms Adamowski is making to the structure of the district. For example, the ninth-grade experience is being revamped in an effort to stem the massive dropout rate in the freshman year that sees two-thirds of students giving up because they are not prepared academically. Next year, freshmen would be separated in the high schools and would have their own schedule and their own teachers. Math and reading would have double periods, tutoring would be offered, there would be a special summer school program for them and 17 teaching positions would be created to focus on the freshmen.
The Connections Academy, which serves troubled freshmen, would be folded into the new ninth-grade programs and freshmen would no longer be permitted to drop out of high school and enroll in adult education.
The message to freshmen, Adamowski said, is "one way or another, you are going to pass."
"It is a necessary investment," he said.
To increase the emphasis on math and reading in all of the schools, next year the district would transfer $12 million in federal Title I funding - which is meant to help poor districts improve math and literacy - to principals to spend as they see fit. The change makes principals more accountable for the success or failure of their schools by giving them more authority to control programs in their schools.
To free up the money, Adamowski would transfer some of the costs previously covered by Title I to the general budget. Those costs include a portion of the all-day kindergarten program, some preschool programs, bilingual teachers and the Suzuki violin program.
"The Suzuki strings program didn't belong there and all-day kindergarten is a fundamental part of our program and should be in the general budget," Adamowski said.
In all, the general budget would absorb 82.9 positions at school sites. Many of these are existing positions that would be transferred from the Title I grant and the new ninth-grade teaching jobs. A reduction of 20.3 jobs at the central office brings the net total to 62.6 additional positions in the general fund.
Adamowski hinted at his future plans to save money. They include: closing two or three elementary schools for a savings of about $1.5 million each in overhead; not renewing expensive leases, including the lease on the central office; and closing one of the two adult education schools after the district stops the flow of high school-aged students into adult education programs.
To help oversee academic improvements in the elementary schools, Adamowski named retired Simpson-Waverly Principal James Thompson as his new assistant superintendent.
During a long tenure at Simpson-Waverly, Thompson oversaw the transformation of the school from low performing to one of the first two elementary schools in the city to become accredited and the first school in Hartford to be recognized as a federal blue ribbon school.
The board also hired Myrella Lara as principal of Sanchez Elementary School. Lara, whose specialty is bilingual education, worked in New Haven and for the state Department of Education. She replaces Delia Bello, who left Sanchez with two months to go in the school year for a job with a community based organization.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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