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More Than 100 Protest Planned Hartford School Cuts

JODIE MOZDZER

March 18, 2009

Passionate objections to a proposed $367.6 million Hartford schools budget took the form of a human whirlpool Tuesday night, as more than 100 parents, teachers and students marched in a large circle outside the Learning Corridor's theater on Washington Street.

They chanted and waved signs that said "Respect" and "I love my school counselor." And then, inside the theater, they waited.

They waited to tell stories of their successes and frustrations with the Hartford school system. They waited to plead to tell the board of education that it simply can't cut 254 positions from the district. That's what Superintendent Steven J. Adamowski proposed in the budget, which still must be reviewed by the school board and the city council.

The public portion of the hearing began after a 90-minute discussion among board members and Adamowski, as they considered more than 30 questions that board members had about the proposal. The more than 500 people in the audience grew restless, often calling out questions or comments, and erupting into applause at several points in the discussion.

You're playing Russian roulette with our children," said parent Martha Miller, when she got to the microphone. "They are real. And they are our future."

The speakers unanimously urged the board to avoid cutting jobs. The district Tuesday night released a list of positions that would be among the 254 to be cut. It includes about 120 teachers, 48 central office staff, 30 paraprofessionals, 15 custodians and 10 guidance counselors.

The counselor cuts were adamantly opposed by students, who offered stories about counselors helping students' abused friends, averting paths to drug dealing and leading students to college.

The PTO Presidents Council, which organized the protest, had concerns beyond the job cuts, including a lack of communication between parents and the district.

But the board of education has to work in a tough economic situation. Even if the state keeps Education Cost Sharing grants at the same level as last year, the district was counting on an increase to cover the rising cost of salaries and utilities. Adamowski said it's not clear if the state will reduce the amount Gov. M. Jodi Rell proposed in her budget or if the city will increase its payment to continue contributing about one-third of the school budget.

Adamowski proposed maintaining a $6 million contingency fund in the budget until the school board knows how much it will receive in state and city funding. He also proposed a plan that would give that money back to the schools if it's not needed.

The contingency fund has drawn criticism for being introduced in a year when so many jobs could be eliminated.

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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