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Education Chief Proposes Desegregation Steps

Among McQuillan's Ideas Is Sending More Money To Suburban Schools That Accept City Students

Grace E. Merritt and Vanessa De La Torre

December 08, 2010

Facing a deadline for achieving court-ordered desegregation of Hartford schools, state Education Commissioner Mark McQuillan has proposed a new regional approach to the way the state tries to reduce the racial isolation of students.

Among McQuillan's proposals are increasing the money sent to suburban schools that accept city students and opening two "world-class" high schools in Hartford that would have competitive admission.

Another proposal is to create themed, regional schools inside unused or underused school buildings in Hartford and surrounding suburbs that would attract students from varied racial and ethnic backgrounds. The state would pay all of the renovation costs and give participating districts up to $250,000 a year to help run the schools. State education officials have not said how they would pay those costs.

By 2013, the state must place 41 percent of Hartford's minority population in racially and economically integrated schools under terms of the 14-year-old Sheff vs. O'Neill court agreement. Failing that, the state must ensure that 80 percent of Hartford students are attending a school of their choice, which can include a neighborhood school.

Currently, only about 28 percent of Hartford students attend integrated magnet, charter, regional or suburban high schools. That means the state would need to place roughly 3,500 more Hartford students in outside school systems within two years, an idea that has disturbed city school leaders.

McQuillan presented his ideas for a long-range, voluntary solution to Sheff requirements to the Hartford Board of Education Tuesday and plans to hold several other meetings in Hartford and the region in coming weeks.

McQuillan said it is crucial to develop a permanent solution to the Sheff agreement based largely on school choice and achieving equilibrium when it comes to the number of students coming into and leaving Hartford.

Among the proposals:

•Increase the payments offered to suburban schools for taking Hartford students from the current $2,500 per child to as much as $6,000.

•Develop two regional high schools in Hartford, each serving 800 to 1,200 students, that require competitive admission and are modeled on schools such as Stuyvesant High School, a selective institution in New York City specializing in math, science and technology. Thirty percent of seats would be reserved for Hartford students, with the rest open to students from other municipalities.

•Divide Hartford into four quadrants that extend into the suburbs. Each quadrant would work together to share transportation services in an effort to reduce the current $23 million transportation cost.

•Convert schools in the region that have recently closed or have dwindling enrollment into specialty schools. The themes would be closely tied to workforce needs, such as science and technology or international language and culture. The state would pay 100 percent of renovation and provide up to $250,000 a year for operating costs.

"We can't do this by building multimillion-dollar magnet or charter schools, but we can do it by using this excess capacity in empty or almost empty schools," said George Coleman, the deputy education commissioner.

Currently, 14,777 students apply for magnet schools, "open choice" selections, charter or technical schools or vocational-agricultural programs, but only about 3,800 are placed in those schools through a lottery system.

The proposal also calls for including Manchester, New Britain and Bloomfield more fully in the state's desegregation plans since the ethnic makeup in those towns is beginning to resemble Hartford's, Coleman said.

"As we begin to plan for desegregation of Hartford schools, we need to be flexible enough to address problems in those towns, as well," Coleman said.

State education officials said they are developing cost estimates for the plans. They said the initial plan would cost $2 million in 2012 to launch so-called Crandall specialty schools in the suburbs, and they hope to launch more by 2015, Coleman said. The program would be named after Prudence Crandall, a white Connecticut teacher who enrolled an African American girl in her Canterbury school in 1833, essentially creating the first integrated classroom in the country.

At Tuesday's meeting, Adamowski appeared to support the concept of specialty schools. But both Adamowski and school board Chairwoman Ada Miranda stated strong reservations about allowing 3,500 Hartford students to leave the city to achieve the 41 percent compliance rate.

For city school officials, the financial implications of a shrinking enrollment, currently at 23,000, looms large. There would be fewer educational aid dollars from the state, staff reductions, and the potential closing of schools.

"It has some human capital consequences," Miranda told McQuillan. "It's working against what we're trying to accomplish."

"Our interest … is not to plan for the demise of the city," Adamowski said later. He said he believes the school system could meet the Sheff stipulations and prevent an exodus of students from Hartford through ongoing improvements to existing city schools.

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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