A regional school district that would craft and run interdistrict schools could be an effective way to diminish the racial and economic isolation of Hartford's schoolchildren, the city's superintendent of schools, Steven Adamowski, testified Wednesday.
The existence of 166 local and regional school districts in 169 towns has had the effect of segregating minority children, he said in the final day of testimony at Superior Court in Hartford in the landmark Sheff v. O'Neill desegregation case.
"All the poor students are bottled up in one place. It is essentially the reason we have the Sheff case," said Adamowski, whose city is now party to the case.
Adamowski testified that he has offered a series of suggestions to state education officials, including the creation of a regional school district for the 22 towns that are subject to the Sheff litigation. Such a district would spend state funds to create and operate magnet schools and interdistrict programs under its own school board. It would not replace existing school boards and school districts, but function alongside them.
"I'm very concerned we have no takers in the suburbs for magnet schools," he said, speaking after his testimony. A regional district should have enough authority to build new schools anywhere within the 22 towns, including Hartford, he said.
In 1996, the state Supreme Court held that the plaintiffs in the Sheff case had proved their case that Hartford schoolchildren were being denied an equal education because of racial and economic isolation. The plaintiffs have now returned to Superior Court, after a settlement before the Connecticut legislature broke down, to try to speed up integration efforts. The city's schools today, the plaintiffs said, are more segregated than they were when the case was first filed in 1989.
In his testimony, Adamowski endorsed some of the recommendations of the plaintiffs' witnesses, saying it is critical that the state develop a master plan to map out its integration efforts. The plaintiffs sought to underscore the need for such a plan through their witnesses and in cross-examination of state witnesses.
Adamowski's call for an independent regional district received a lukewarm reception from state education officials.
State Education Commissioner Mark McQuillan said that the idea has merit, but that it would take a long time for it to take shape and begin working. "It would take a long time to develop the political will in that many communities for a plan like that," he said.
McQuillan who says that making progress on desegregation is urgent said he's concentrating now on the establishment of a joint office between the state, the Hartford school district and the Capitol Region Education Council, which runs several magnet schools.
But Adamowski testified that he had asked the state to assign a full-time employee to work in the office, but in the end the state decided to support a part-time position.
Tom Murphy, a spokesman for the state Department of Education, said that the regional council serves a similar function to that of the regional school district proposed by Adamowski because it can build magnet schools in any of the towns that it serves.
One of the Sheff plaintiffs' expert witnesses suggested that the council be assigned contracts to develop, manage and market all magnet schools that are part of the desegregation effort. But Adamowski opposes such a plan. Based on test-score data, he said, "there is no superiority of CREC schools. I see no basis for CREC being the manager for magnet schools," he said.
He testified, however, that there should be a centralized overseer of integration efforts. "The appointment of a special master would be absolutely necessary to carry out the original Sheff decision."
Wednesday's session completed the bulk of the hearing. Judge Marshall K. Berger Jr. has told the attorneys that he will set a date for closing arguments in the coming weeks.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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