Deep in the school system's $395.8 million spending proposal — on page 255 — are two items that total a relatively minuscule $250,000.
Yet those items, proposed bonuses for central office staff, might represent the thorniest part of the budget for the board of education.
Also allocated in Superintendent Steven Adamowski's recommended budget is $1.65 million in performance pay for teachers and other school employees.
Last year, the school system awarded $2.7 million in bonuses across the school system, stirring a public controversy when Mayor Pedro Segarra learned about the payouts belatedly and sent Adamowski — who received $16,412 — a stern letter criticizing the bonuses as seemingly "inappropriate ... in a time of great fiscal uncertainty."
Adamowski has defended the bonuses as largely contractual and as part of a national trend in education that ties some compensation to student achievement.
Existing and new labor agreements with the Hartford Federation of Teachers and the Hartford Principals and Supervisors' Association, for example, include provisions for performance pay. Teachers at schools that significantly improve student test scores have received a $2,500 bonus, while support staffers get $1,250.
In 2010, 22 city schools qualified for those group bonuses, a record, according to Adamowski, and a reason that the total payouts crept up to $2.7 million.
But on Tuesday, teacher bonuses weren't the issue for some school board members. It was the proposed central office payouts that made them uneasy.
Earlier that night, a public hearing on the budget drew bus drivers and monitors angry about a proposal to freeze their wages, and paraprofessionals upset that 27 of them could lose their jobs.
"I fully support performance pay," board Chairman David MacDonald said, and "think it's been a critical component of our reform strategy."
But MacDonald said it is bad timing to propose bonuses for top-level administrators, and suggested holding off for a year. Board member Robert Cotto Jr. agreed. Israel Flores said he supported administrator bonuses, but he seemed to be in the minority.
"I'm not comfortable with repeating what we did this last year," Elizabeth Brad Noel said.
"What we're dealing with here is the perception issue," said Ada Miranda. "It doesn't look right. And it just doesn't feel right."
Adamowski said he was open to some flexibility, such as withholding bonuses for the superintendent — who will be Christina Kishimoto next fiscal year — cabinet-level administrators and others in the central office who are not union members. The board will adopt a budget on May 3.
Chief Financial Officer Paula Altieri, who received a $10,955 bonus last year, said the school system plans to apply for a federal Teacher Incentive Fund grant in the coming months that could help pay for the performance bonuses.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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