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Rell's Plan To Cut Family Resource Centers' Funds Could Leave Schools In Bind


June 11, 2009

Gov. M. Jodi Rell is proposing to eliminate $6 million in funding for 62 family resource centers in the state — including five in Hartford, two each in New Britain, Bristol and Middletown, and the center located at Charter Oak Academy in West Hartford — and to cut $1 million in state money from the American School for the Deaf.

And while funding of Education Cost-Sharing grants, the largest source of education aid for municipalities, would remain the same under Rell's revised budget, some cuts could still put schools in a pinch.

The governor's proposals include eliminating $3 million in funding next year for the Connecticut Education Network, which provides public schools and libraries with high-speed Internet, and reducing state subsidies to local school districts that educate blind students.

"It's not like the people stop being blind," said Chip Ward, West Hartford schools' finance and planning director. "They still need the programs and services and we'll continue to provide them."

Lawmakers have failed to approve a budget plan even though the new fiscal year starts July 1. Rell's supplemental budget, released two weeks ago, features an extra $1.3 billion drop in spending over two years and would require no new taxes.

At the American School for the Deaf in West Hartford, the country's oldest permanent school for deaf students, Executive Director Ed Peltier said Wednesday that he appreciated the state's partnership with the institution but feared a million-dollar cut — 10 percent of its state funding next fiscal year — could mean "serious consequences if we had to face that reality."

Across town at the Family Resource Center at Charter Oak Academy, an elementary magnet school, instruction now mingles with anxiety. Clients start arriving at the center at 7 a.m.: mothers seeking to learn English so they can read to their kids, and families learning from nutritionists and parenting educators on how to raise their children right.

"There has been one other time where our funding was threatened, but I have never been as concerned for the families as I am now," said Deborah Zipkin, the center's longtime director. With state funding, Zipkin said, the center at Charter Oak has served more than 300 people this year, offering family literacy programs to resum้ help for the newly unemployed.

Office of Policy and Management spokesman Jeffrey Beckham said Wednesday state officials are "making tough decisions and some of these institutions will have to make tough cuts as well ... . We're facing yawning budget deficits over the next two years and need to get a hold of our expenditures."

The West Hartford family resource center, an arm of a nonprofit social services agency called The Bridge, receives half of its budget — $97,200 — from the state. Some of the family resource centers in Connecticut, all of which operate in public school buildings, are fully dependent on state money. The state cut center funds by 5 percent last fall.

Beckham said the centers are considered "redundant extras" and that the state believes families will find other outlets in their communities for services.

Zipkin disagreed. "There isn't anyone else combining adult education and early childhood education," she said.

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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