School budget slicing and dicing

At the hearing last night, the Board of Education heard lots of ideas for paring the proposed budget, according to today’s story in The Hartford Courant.

“Hall junior Alex Porter suggested reducing the school year by four days to trim costs,” reporter Fulvio Cativo wrote in his story. He added that school board members said that’s an idea that’s being explored.

Board members “said they would consider eliminating curriculum specialists, cutting the funds for conferences and meetings and discontinuing Norfeldt School’s magnet program,” the story reported.

Bruce Putterman, one of the school board members, said cutting all-day kindergarten is not on the table unless the referendum leads to a defeat for the budget.

Theresa McGrath, of the West Hartford Taxpayers Association, warned, “This is not the year to play politics or scare tactics,” according to the paper. That’s almost funny.

But I especially liked this: “People don’t move to West Hartford for the tax breaks, they move to West Hartford for the education,” said Kiernan Majerus-Collins, one of two Bristow Middle School sixth-grade students, who asked the board to save the Quest gifted and talented program.

That’s right on the money, kid.




Filed under Alex Porter, Board of Education, Bruce Putterman, budget, education, Fulvio Cativo, Hartford Courant, Kiernan Majerus-Collins, News, Norfeldt, Quest, referendum, Schools, Theresa McGrath, West Hartford, West Hartford Taxpayers Assocation

5 responses to “School budget slicing and dicing

  1. Tom Carroll

    I don’t mind paying my fair share of taxes. I’ve got two kids in the public schools, and a third on her way in, so I’d be the last one to propose a significant slashing of the school budget.

    But what I do care about very passionately is that there should always be a FAIR and EQUITABLE ALLOCATION of public school funding. So I’m hoping someone on this blog can help me come to terms with the Board’s original decision to initiate a disproportionate allocation of capital assets and operating funds to the Charter Oak and Smith schools, because so far the Board has failed to answer my questions about this subject.

    Despite the controversy that has been stoked by those who may be genuinely confused about the law underlying the “unique school” status of Charter Oak and Smith, my review of the applicable regulation leads me to conclude that the loss of these two schools’ “unique school” status is not at risk. The State’s regulation (Sec. 10-226e-1(10)) provides multiple ways a school can be designated “unique” for purposes of being exempted from compliance with the racial imbalance rules. The designation provided in this regulation that both Charter Oak and Smith unambiguously fall under is “…or provides for the voluntary enrollment of students.”

    In other words, since the parents in the Charter Oak and Smith districts are free to enroll their children anywhere else in the School District if they think these two schools are being short-changed—a right no other parent in this school district has—the intrusion by the State to correct de facto segregation is not necessary. The parents have the necessary power (in effect) to shut down these two schools if they believe their kids aren’t receiving a fair, equal, or even an “effective” education.

    Please read the applicable provision for yourself if you don’t trust my interpretation:

    “Unique school means an interdistrict or intradistrict magnet, local or state charter, lighthouse, regional vocational agriculture, regional vocational-technical, alternative, or special education school or other school designated by the Commissioner which offers specialized programs OR provides for the voluntary enrollment of students.”

    So unless the State has a new and creative definition of the word “OR”—ala what Bill Clinton tried to do with the word “IS”—how is it that the Board, the Town’s Legal Counsel, or anyone else can doubt that Charter Oak and Smith are and will continue to be classified as “unique schools” (which means they are exempt from the racial imbalance laws) even WITHOUT the disproportionate funding being called for in next year’s budget to “enhance” their magnet programs?

  2. Joe Visconti

    Good post, another question to ask is:

    Does the State earmark certain funds, including parts of ECS to be sent directly to the schools you mention with the ” Unique schools”? If so, how much and does it get there?

  3. turtle

    Tom Carroll,

    In other words, since the parents in the Charter Oak and Smith districts are free to enroll their children anywhere else in the School District if they think these two schools are being short-changed—a right no other parent in this school district has—the intrusion by the State to correct de facto segregation is not necessary.

    Actually, as I understand it, Smith and Charter Oak parents may opt out to certain schools, not any school, in the district. Transportation for opt-out families is also limited, and even more so after the latest round of cuts. More significantly, opt-out has not produced the desired effect of even a barely acceptable level of integration. One reason is that the overwhelming majority of Smith families are happy with the school and do not wish to opt out. I am a Smith parent and have been delighted so far with my child’s experience there. (I can’t speak for Charter Oak.)

    I think the present Commissioner of Education’s discretion in this matter is rather murky, but the possibility exists that he could revoke the magnet schools’ unique status irrespective of the opt-out policy, since the West Hartford schools are obviously segregated. You would have to ask the ed administration’s lawyers about that one.

    That leaves specialized programs. The enhancement funds were allocated to heighten the distinction between programming at the magnet schools and other schools in the district. To put it charitably, the town has not been vigilant in maintaining that distinction since the magnet schools opened ten years ago. Board of ed member Terry Schmitt admitted as much in this Hartford Courant article. Superintendent Sklarz has said that, even if West Hartford wasn’t under the scrutiny of the state, the board would commit to reinvestment in the magnet schools.

    But what I do care about very passionately is that there should always be a FAIR and EQUITABLE ALLOCATION of public school funding.

    You know what? West Hartford is a rich town at a time when disparities of wealth are comparable to those of the Gilded Age. I have heard stories of the dazzling sums that PTOs elsewhere in town have shelled out to get the goods for their kids. Well, Smith and Charter Oak just don’t have that kind of money in the community. Some of these families overextend themselves just to live in West Hartford so their kids may have a better chance, and life is hard for them.

    Low-income children are simply at a rank disadvantage in the education stakes. That is a fact. By the time they’re in elementary school, compared to middle-class+ familes who are literate and enjoy some measure of cultural capital, and who can afford books, museum memberships, trips, etc., and above all, time with their children, low-income students are already behind. They require ESOL and reading tutors, and other special services. These are kids we’re talking about, who did not ask to be born into reduced circumstances. Given the inequities, what would you have the town do to eduate these children?

    Even if you are unmoved by economic injustice, or justice in education, consider the civic well-being of West Hartford. Isn’t it simply in the best interest of our town to properly educate every child? Don’t we want a new generation of well-informed, critical thinkers who may advance the democratic ideals and prosperity that this country, at its best, represents? What else is there?

  4. R. Holland

    I think some of you are missing the point of WHTA concerns. I don’t think there is a homeowner in the town that doesn’t understand that the only reason s/he has the value in their home is the amount the market will pay to reside in WH.

    There are lots of reasons why someone will pay what they have to pay to live in WH. One of which is that it appears to be professionally managed. But, even professional managers, used to unions and bureaucracy, can overlook or allow to occur obvious inefficiencies and redundancies in the operation of the town.

    As a taxpayor, I want to know for sure that the Town management, as they are required to do, make certain that every dollar spent is spent well.

    Frankly, I personally believe that this is the perfect time to do a thorough spring cleaning on the city departments, the Education Department most obviously. I want an independent auditor with no ties to the education/educator community to look at the entire organization from top to bottom and provide a report. I am not interested in cost cutting, indeed I would be willing to add value to the schools if I believed that my tax dollar was being well spent toward the benefit of students and their eventual critical thinking skills. I am interested to know why the teachers union refused to look at the problem, although that is fairly obvious so what, exactly, do the taxpayers owe the teachers in return for their “concern”. I am interested in school officials and administrators doing everything they can to support the excellent teachers in the District and cease supporting those teachers taking advantage of the benefits of teaching in West Hartford without the dedication and commitment to the student in return and the town deserves.

    I’m certain we could have volunteers to fill the gaps to teach classes such as Biophysics, how to argue, basic legal concepts, economics – macro & micro, art history, astronomy, along with the required classes to be, I assume by union rules, taught by a thoroughly accredited dedicated employed union member teacher.

    I am interested in the many School administrators being fully engaged in bringing value to a classroom and not attending endless conferences in odd places, and then reporting on the conference in one of the endless pointless meetings at District headquarters.

    Someone just tell me the tax revenue is being WELL spent – not just spent, and I’ll shut up.

    I think it is time to right the ship and patch the sails.

  5. Joe Visconti

    Every dollar raised through taxation has been lobbyed hard for by one special interest group or another. Auditing will only show the money was spent as appropriated. Rich Goshdigian says it best, we need analyzers and pro’s to figure how to do it better and different, but that isn’t going to happen with the model of tax and spend government which has become a culture in West Hartford. Old habits die hard, they die harder when you try to change them. Relax things will only get worse before they get reformed.

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