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Budget Woes Snarl Hartford Tutoring Program


February 27, 2009

More than 1,400 Hartford students will go without federally mandated tutoring for the next two weeks, while the school district figures out whether it has enough money to continue the services at the current level.

The district, which is required to allocate a certain amount of federal funds for tutoring, enrolled more students than it could afford to pay for in the program, prompting a review by the state Department of Education. The department found the district was in violation of federal No Child Left Behind requirements, and education officials will meet with Hartford school administrators today to make sure Hartford is working toward compliance.

Meanwhile, companies that were contracted to tutor students have started laying off employees while they await word from the district on whether their services will be needed.

School officials expect to determine how much money is left, and how many students can continue receiving tutoring services, by March 16, said Bethany Silver, the deputy chief academic officer for Hartford schools. Silver told parents in a Feb. 23 letter that the program "has now exceeded the funds we received," and would be suspended for evaluation.

The district had allocated $3.74 million for the tutoring services, and had already spent $2.2 million as of Feb. 20.

"It's a tragedy," said Nancy Pappas, the director of external affairs for the Community Resource Team, which started tutoring 75 Hartford students this year. "If there are a bunch of kids who are improving due to tutoring, then you want them to continue."

Under the tutoring program, called Supplemental Educational Services, students at schools designated as needing improvement under the No Child Left Behind Act qualify for outside tutors paid for with federal money. Parents get to chose the vendor, and if too many students apply for the services, the district must prioritize which students are enrolled based on need.

This is the first time since the No Child Left Behind Act was passed in 2001 that a district in the state has suspended its tutoring services mid-year, said Thomas Murphy, spokesman for the state Department of Education.

Penny MacCormack, chief academic officer for the district, said 3,368 students applied for tutoring, but the budget only paid for about 1,400. MacCormack said she did not know how many students had been enrolled in the program this fall, but that the number was more than the amount the district had budgeted for.

"What happened is kind of good news," MacCormack said. "Normally, what happened in previous years is that we didn't have a lot of parents signing up for these supplemental educational services."

For the past two years, Hartford schools contracted with another organization to administer the program.

Parents knew the tutoring program was in trouble because some schools stopped services as early as January, said PTO leader Milly Arciniegas.

"They didn't inform the parents of their mess-up. They didn't go back to the parents and say 'We under-budgeted.'" Arciniegas said. "They just pulled out providers, so the kids were left hanging."

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.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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