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Hartford Bills Towns For Students In Its 'Host' Magnets


January 16, 2009

On top of paying tuition for magnet schools run by the Capitol Region Education Council, Hartford's suburban districts are being billed for the first time if they send children to one of the city's district-run "host" magnets.

Most districts have paid the $2,500-per-child bill from the Greater Hartford Classical Magnet School, but officials in Manchester and Bloomfield say they're not going to do so.

"We've suddenly been receiving invoices from Hartford for a host magnet, and we will not be paying them," said Margaret Hackett, a Manchester school board member. "These schools were supposed to be free."

David Title, superintendent of schools in Bloomfield, said his district has objected to the bill for local students attending Classical Magnet because his town doesn't charge Hartford for its students who attend the magnet school in Bloomfield, the Big Picture School.

"We don't believe that's proper," Title said. "If all of a sudden districts start charging for host magnets, it has the possibility of crippling participation in those schools."

Hartford sent the Classical Magnet bills this year as a pilot program, and they should be honored, said Christopher Leone, Hartford director of the regional school choice office.

"If somebody refuses to pay, students could be sent back to their home district, which would be a shame," he said.

Hartford doesn't want to charge tuition but will do so for all of its magnet schools next year unless legislation is passed giving host districts a large subsidy when suburban students enroll, Leone said.

"Our goal is not to charge tuition in this current economic climate," he said. "But the state has to arrive at some equity of funding."

The state gives Hartford $6,740 to educate each of the 1,900 suburban students in its magnets, but that's millions less than what it actually costs, Leone said.

Hartford officials say they may have to charge $8.7 million in 2009-2010 if state support does not increase.

On Tuesday, East Hartford's school board will considering paying the $42,500 invoice it has received for the 17 East Hartford children attending Classical Magnet.

Its chairwoman, Mary Alice Dwyer Hughes, said she doesn't blame Hartford for charging tuition.

In fact, East Hartford bills other districts $3,000 a year for each student who attends its Connecticut International Baccalaureate Academy, and no districts have objected, said Paul F. Mainulli, director of business services for the district.

State Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, D- West Hartford, co-chairman of the legislature's education committee, said Hartford officials probably feel they have no choice but to bill suburban districts.

"I'm sure it wasn't an arbitrary decision," he said. "When out-of-district participation goes up, the financing of these schools can start to get precarious."

Fleischmann called the education funding situation grave, but said there might be some help for Hartford.

"The state has entered into an agreement that it must uphold, so there could be some additional funding for Sheff [v. O'Neill] magnets," he said.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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