The major redesign of Hartford schools may be in jeopardy because of state funding changes going into effect next year.
Superintendent Steven J. Adamowski told members of the board of education and the city council Wednesday that the school district is looking at a budget shortfall of between $4.3 million and $25.5 million next year, which could result in job and program cuts. "This is a situation every school district in every state is facing," Adamowski said of the financial crunch.
But in Hartford, one of the state's lowest-performing districts, the hard times hit harder. The district is trying to re-create itself by reopening under-preforming schools as themed academies, and by offering students a choice of attending any school in the district. To implement those changes, Adamowski said the district needs more than a "maintenance" budget in which all programs are funded the same as before.
The city schools are also more vulnerable to state budget changes because about two-thirds of the current $284 million school budget comes from state funds. With less income tax revenue expected and legislative changes that redirect state funding, the district is expecting to receive about $20 million less from the state in fiscal year 2009-2010, when the school budget is expected to be $297 million.
Adamowski presented various proposals that look at other sources of revenue. For example, Hartford could charge tuition to school districts that send students to Hartford magnet schools.
Adamowski outlined possible impacts from the budget shortfalls, such as shortening the school year by three to 16 days or eliminating anywhere from 60 to 345 positions. But he said the outlines were merely an early warning of some of the challenges the district faces.
"I hope no one interprets this display here tonight as that the sky is falling and everything is hopeless," Adamowski said. "We have made progress in our reform over the last 18 months, and we are determined to maintain that progress despite the economic downturn."
While he didn't list possible positions to be cut, Adamowski said they would start with central office staff to cushion the effects on the schools.
But if the shortfall is very high, "this will play out at the school level," Adamowski said. "At the level of $4 million, we could keep this out of the schools. ... But beyond $4 million, it is impossible to do this without every school dealing with some reductions."
City officials offered the district support and blamed the situation on a state tax structure that leaves cities like Hartford with too much tax-exempt property. They vowed to take the issues to the state legislature.
"This year more than any other year we will have to speak with one voice," said Mayor Eddie Perez, who is also chairman of the board of education. "One loud, loud voice."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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