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More School Cuts

A last-minute $3 million shortfall means Hartford Public Schools will cut another 10 to 12 jobs, and a planned college-prep academy

Daniel D'Ambrosio

July 07, 2009

About a dozen more jobs will be cut from Hartford Public Schools this week, bringing the total number of cuts this year closer to the 250 jobs school officials originally projected in their budget, according to spokesman David Medina. A new academy to prepare Hartford students for college has already been eliminated.

The additional job cuts, which should be decided by the end of the week, are the result of the city council's last-minute decision on May 31 to reduce school funding by an additional $3 million, adding to the $18 million in cuts that were already in place.

"That's a total of $21 million in cuts in one fiscal year," said Medina. "When we filed our budget it was 250 [job] cuts. We were able to salvage 20 positions and bring the total down to 230."

Medina said he didn't know if any teaching positions would be eliminated in the additional 12 or so cuts; 99 teachers were cut in the original reduction of 230 jobs.

School officials first thought they would now have to go ahead and cut all of the 20 saved positions to help make up the additional $3 million funding gap, but "a lot of the principals chose not to reduce any more staff," said Medina. They found ways to cut supplies and textbooks instead.

"There are not that many alternatives [to reduce costs]," Medina said.

One other alternative that ended up on the chopping block, however, is the Young Men's Leadership Academy that was slated to open this year along with four other academies: the Journalism and Media Academy at Weaver High School, the Insurance and Finance Academy and Teacher Preparatory Academy at Bulkeley High School and the OPPortunity High School. The academies are a centerpiece of Superintendent of Schools Dr. Steven J. Adamowski's reform strategy, dividing large high school populations into smaller, focused subdivisions in which the principals know each of their students personally.

The Leadership Academy would have been housed at 875 Asylum Ave., but will not open this year, saving $900,000. Losing the academy is particularly painful for a city that's trying to close the biggest in-state achievement gap in the nation for its students, since its intent was to prepare Hartford kids for college with a challenging curriculum and to encourage them to assume leadership roles in the professional world.

As the Advocate reported last March, an analysis of 2007 and 2008 Connecticut Mastery Test scores by ConnCAN (Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now) showed the number of Hartford students scoring within the goal range of the test increasing by 2.3 percent, more than three times the state average of 0.7 percent.

But as Adamowski said at the time, Hartford students will have to achieve the same results every year for a decade nine more times improving at three times the state average to close the gap between their performance and the performance of children in wealthy parts of the state.

Medina said Hartford school officials have "their fingers crossed" for good results in the CMT scores for the 2008-2009 school year, which will be out this month.

"That's a real measure of how you close the achievement gap. You have to increase at a faster rate than the state does," said Medina.

Medina was unwilling to speculate on whether a falling-off of Hartford test scores should that happen would be directly attributable to budget cuts. But Adamowski, in an interview on the PBS Newshour with Jim Lehrer that aired nationally on June 26, said it remained to be seen "whether or not we can keep the reform going at this level of resource."

And Ada Miranda, chairman of Hartford's Board of Education, said the additional cut from the city council "has implications not only for Hartford's achievement gap, but will also have long-term repercussions in our students' ability to impact national and global economies."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Advocate.
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