Task Force Identifies $17 Million In Cuts In Hartford Schools Budget
Consolidating Low Vacancy Schools An Option
April 05, 2011
HARTFORD —— Consolidating city schools and offering financial incentives to cost-cutting school principals were among the recommendations the board of education's budget task force made Tuesday night to begin dealing with a chronic deficit.
The proposals were offered to Superintendent Steven Adamowski ahead of his planned 2011-12 budget presentation to the board on Monday, in which he is expected to request staff layoffs.
"They are important, highly credible and need to be taken very seriously," Adamowski said during the board's special meeting at the Mary Hooker Environmental Studies Magnet School.
The short-term recommendations totaled $17 million and include cutting the school system's central office budget by $2 million; deferring $2.1 million in planned maintenance and repairs for the schools; and saving $700,000 by freezing wages for bus drivers and bus monitors, which would require asking the city council to suspend its living wage ordinance for a year.
But the bigger savings could be the most controversial — combining schools that have low enrollments. The task force, composed of seven community members, many with business expertise, said consolidating only two out of six schools with the highest vacancy rates could save about $2.4 million. No specific schools were named.
The group also suggested $4.9 million in cuts to individual school budgets, which would amount to roughly $215 less in funding for each student in the city. While principals have control over spending at their schools under Hartford's school-based budgeting system, the task force said principals have no incentive to find savings in those budgets.
"If you're going to have $1 million to spend, you're going to spend $1 million," said the task force's chairwoman, Elizabeth Miller, a vice president at Travelers.
One proposal is to offer a bonus to principals who are "cost-effective," as long as their schools still meet achievement goals.
The task force was first convened by the board in December and was asked to recommend $17 million worth of savings for the coming schools budget — expected to be nearly $400 million — as well as long-term proposals.
More recently, school administrators have said that they are projecting a $9.8 million deficit for 2011-12. But in the next few years, they estimate that the school system will face annual deficits in the $25 million range because of rapidly rising costs in areas such as special education and insurance benefits.
On Tuesday, Adamowski said there will be staff layoffs to help close the deficit but declined to give an estimate before his budget presentation. He said he anticipated recommending fewer layoffs than he did last year. The current 2010-11 budget called for 92 staff reductions, which included teachers.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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