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Reaching the Tipping Point

Steve Goode

March 05, 2010

The workshop budget discussion between the board of education, Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski, city council and Mayor Eddie A. Perez, turned grim in a heartbeat Thursday night as school board member Pamela Richmond announced that the district was prepared to cut 180 jobs and $8 million from its transportation budget next year in an effort to address a looming $15 million deficit.

Trouble is that only got the district to the $10 million mark and Adamowski said "we're out of gas at that point."

The rest, he said will have to come from other areas, such as an increase in Sheff tuition from the state, which isn't likely to happen, union concessions, which, given Adamowski's shattered relationship with them, is surely not a slam dunk, or deferring pension payments.

There was also talk of reducing funding for preschool, kindergarten, elementary counseling, sports and adult ed, none of which the council had much of a stomach for doing.

One other option would be for the city council to pony up an extra $5 million and save the district from having to make some really tough choices. But the council has big trouble and tough choices to handle itself as the city tries to crawl out of a $43 million revenue hole that includes the school district's woes. So the chances of that happening aren't great either.

This comes on top of 250 jobs cut last year when the district dealt with a similar situation. Next year promises to be no better as the district has to survive another year of flat funding from the state.

If the numbers are to be believed, the district has made some significant gains in its reform efforts over the past couple of years. Test scores have gone up. Graduation rates are improving and a couple of months ago four city high schools were named to the U.S. News and World Report's list of best American High Schools.

But when does the constant cutting of people and programs reach a tipping point?

Jim Starr, executive director of Achieve Hartford!, a non-profit group that works to support the reform effort wondered the same thing after Thursday's workshop ended.

"It would be hard to believe that student acievement wouldn't be impacted," Starr said, adding that continued short term cuts could have long term effects on students in the system now and into the future.

Adamowski told the council that there needs to be a paradigm shift in the way schools disrtricts do business and that the state's model for funding education is unfair at best.

Love him or hate him - and there are plenty of folks entrenched in each camp - from the looks of things in Hartford, Adamowski may be on to something.

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