One big happy school district?

In yesterday’s Courant, Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez called for “a radical departure” to address the racial isolation that has helped keep his city’s students from greater academic success. He said that Hartford County, which exists only as a line on the map, should be one giant school district.

Forget the districts in West Hartford, Farmington, Simsbury, Avon, Newington and so on, just lump ’em all together in one massive bureaucracy that would have the oversight clout to ensure a more fair educational system.

Now this proposal is, of course, going to have just about zero support in West Hartford. After all, what do we gain from it?

But there is something in Mayor Perez’s plea that we really ought to take to heart: that Hartford’s woes are not its own, that we also have a duty to students there, that we are we not truly in a world apart. It’s not that I’m in a hurry to see my children buses off to Hartford, naturally, but we do have to find a way to help.

Here’s what Perez wrote in the Courant: 

It is time to make a radical departure in how we as a state address the historic and continuing segregation of our schools in Hartford County.

Over the years, Connecticut has made numerous decisions on housing, land use, education funding and taxation that have isolated students of color and poor students in certain schools and school districts. Eleven years after the state was ordered to desegregate the Hartford schools, they remain as segregated as when the Sheff v. O’Neil case was decided.

The state has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on a voluntary magnet school program, and yet the progress toward desegregation is barely noticeable. If we are truly committed to our court-ordered obligation to break down the barriers of segregation in the Hartford region and are committed to making all of our schools high-performing, we need to take bold action.

We should create a Hartford County School District that includes all 29 towns in the county.

This district should have as its core missions the management and creation of high-performing schools in every community and the elimination of the de facto segregation we now experience. In this new district, any school that doesn’t meet clear accountability measures for academic performance and integration would be closed or reconstituted, and the students in those schools would be given priority to attend any other school in the district, including magnet and charter schools.

For this new school system to succeed, the municipal cost of school operations and capital expenditures must be funded fully by the state. Hartford County towns annually spend more than $1.5 billion operating public schools — a cost of about $11,000 per student. Towns participating in this new school district would be relieved from funding schools through the local property tax.

For many towns this would mean cutting the average homeowner’s property tax bill by as much 50 percent.

Additionally, tens of millions of dollars would be saved by the streamlining of dozens of redundant school district bureaucracies, the elimination of duplicate buildings and the efficient use of excess capacity. The best public schools and facilities would constitute the backbone of the integrated school system. Those that need help would have adequate resources devoted to their improvement and those that fail to meet standards in a defined period of time would be closed.

In a Hartford County School District, inclusive and capable governance would be a critical component of garnering public support. The regional school board would have an appropriate mix of elected and appointed members representing the diversity of our communities, all committed to high-achieving public schools.

Additionally, every school would have a local governance committee. Parents would be urged to participate and become fully invested in the success of their child’s school. District schools that are already successful would have the autonomy to continue their success.

Connecticut cannot rely on a court order to fashion a comprehensive solution to economic and racial isolation and its effect on achievement and the future economic prospects of our region.

In Hartford, we are pushing forward with our plan to close the achievement gap and restructuring to create a system where parents and students can choose among a portfolio of high-performing schools. Without a comprehensive regional solution, the integration order by the court in Sheff will not become a reality and Hartford’s momentum for positive educational reform could be stalled.

Fundamental change is necessary if we are to fully integrate our schools and provide the high-quality public education the students of our city and our state deserve. This change is long overdue.

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53 Comments

Filed under education, Hartford, Schools

53 responses to “One big happy school district?

  1. Isaac S

    As a member of the Hall High School music program, specifically the Concert Jazz Band, I’m worried about what will happen to the music programs and districting/ funding of the district. Would students be redistricted, and teachers be changed? Also, wouldn’t this involve a mass layoff of people working for the West Hartford Public Schools, or any other school district for that matter?

  2. LXD

    I don’t see the unified school district happening. It’s not just West Hartford residents that would oppose this. I’m sure Farmington, Avon, and Newington residents would be opposed as well. But there is a way we can help Hartford. Get NCLB repealed. The punitive nature of NCLB is clearly designed to meet the ultimate goal of privatizing what we now know as public education. Then we could look at things like addressing poverty (the real problem with urban schools) and the amount of funding per student. Jonathan Kozol has written several books on this topic, including the aptly titled “Shame of the Nation”.

  3. turtle

    I think a regional district is an idea worth considering. I also think it will never happen.

    NCLB is on its way to being reauthorized, isn’t it?

  4. TWC

    “…Then we could look at things like … the amount of funding per student…”

    The last time I checked, the amount of money spent per student in Hartford was significantly higher than what we spend per student in this Town. So I don’t believe the problem is money.

    “…Hartford’s woes are not its own … we also have a duty to students there…”

    I agree with you WH Dad that we can’t ignore this problem. That’s one of the reasons most of us never complain about the disproportionate amount of money being spent per student in Hartford versus West Hartford. It’s understandably a tougher job teaching kids coming from the environment that these kids are raised in, so more money to do the job is to be expected.

    But busing my kids into the middle of the north end of Hartford so that Hartford students can sit next to a white kid and some how be magically inspired to do better is a fantasy. Even the Superintendent of the Hartford public schools recognizes this reality. He has publicly stated that it has never been proven that children of color do better when sitting next to white kids in a class room and so far we have heard no rebuttals that he’s wrong. This means the underlying premise of Sheff and the Mayor’s proposal is false.

    And busing these kids into West Hartford to accomplish the same thing is equally absurd. It risks the safety of these kids, contributes to global warming, and more immediately, consumes precious resources better directed at addressing the true problem behind this mess.

    However, I applaud Eddie Perez and the Sheff plaintiffs for finally putting their cards on the table. I agree that if Sheff is good law, a regional school district is the only viable solution.

    But the problem is, Sheff isn’t good law, as I anticipate the appeal from the upcoming decision will provide an opportunity to establish once and for all. Then Hartford can get back to addressing the true reason these kids remain unassimilated and are failing academically.

  5. I Love West Hartford

    This is when I will start homeschooling.

    I work hard. I make sacrifices for my children to go to school in West Hartford, and I am sure people in Newington, Avon, Simsbury, etc. feel the same way.

    I am 100% against bussing out of town in, and hell would freeze over before I would ever allow my child to be a part of this horrific science project.

    Yes, there are those of us who live here, because of who else lives here. Other hard working, educated people with family values. Paying 8k a year in taxes gives me the right to educate my children here in town.

  6. A few observations as a Hartford resident…

    1. It’s surprising to me that this “big idea” wasn’t announced prior to the mayoral election…

    2. The proposal that property taxes would be reduced by 50% is ridiculous. Education money comes from taxes, whether it’s property tax, income tax, or sales tax. If a town is to reduce its property taxes because it no longer needs to fund education, how is the state supposed to foot the bill? The state would create a county income or sales tax. Renters would then be penalized because they initially did not pay property tax and would then be compensating the tax rolls in other ways. Wouldn’t this lead to increased poverty?

    3. Closing failing schools would cause a logistical nightmare. Where would those students go? Wouldn’t they just overpopulate existing schools causing a strain on their infrastructure leading to their failure? Seems like a vicious cycle.

    My future children will attend the Hartford public school system. I believe there are other issues at the root of Hartford’s education problems and the Sheff solution does not solve them, it just pushes them on to other communities.

  7. Peter G.

    I’m always amazed when people talk about failed schools as if there’s something wrong with the building and if we just move the students to a different building they’ll be OK.

    The number 1 factor in the quality of the school is the quality of the students, the number 1 factor in the quality of the students is the quality of the household in which they reside.

    And this is more than just my opinion, it’s the opinion of many of my very liberal friends, of people I know at different levels of education, from principals, to teachers, to board of ed members. But everyone is very cautious when discussing this issue out of fear of being labeled as racists. But this isn’t a problem limited to minority communities, it’s in any impoverished community, it’s very prevalent in Appalachia.

    What makes a quality household for a child

    1) Two good loving parents are better than one good loving parent. As part of a two parent household I know how difficult parenting is and would not want to do it alone. But that’s not to say I don’t admire single parent households, it’s just a lot for one person.

    2) Parents who are educated and parents who value education make a difference.

    3) A household that is economically self sufficient is an important component

    4) An absence of substance abuse is critical.

    5) Parents need to be old enough and mature enough to be parents or the children suffer.

    Teenagers having kids as well as the absence of fathers in a high percentage of households plays a significant role in the education problem in Hartford.

    I do not believe minority students perform better when they sit next to white students. But there is another problem. If too many students who are disciplinary problems are in one school it can make it impossible for those students wishing to learn to receive a quality education.

    Poverty was mentioned as a problem. I agree, but what does that really mean? I believe it’s about the culture of poverty more than the money itself. If each of these impoverished households was given money I do not believe the children from those households would be better students.

    It’s the culture that led to the poverty that ‘s the bigger problem, an adult or adults who are uneducated, or aren’t motivated, or are substance abusers. Involved parents produce good students. How do we reverse this culture of poverty?

    We talk about using money to fix the schools rather than to bus students, but what do we fix? I believe the school isn’t broken, the problem is with the students. How do we fix that? We all want to fix it. We’re all willing to spend our tax money to fix it. But I’ve yet to see a plan that will really solve the problem.

    But let’s be honest, this consolidation isn’t happening.

  8. BMHW

    I Love West Hartford…Lets call a spade a spade here. Calling everyone who lives in Hartford lazy and lacking in family values is the kind of crap thinking that causes problems like the school segregation in the first place. And make no mistake, it is segregation. You don’t need to have George Wallace standing in front of Hall for it to be school segregation. You don’t even need to be doing it with malicious intent. It’s still happening.

    As someone who was educated in the New York City public schools (a thought that must send you into a total freaking tizzy) before coming to West Hartford, here’s a tip for you: don’t fear change.

  9. No doubt about it … when it’s something that impacts our children, the reactions quickly become visceral. It’s instinctual and I completely understand the need to give my child the most support and resources possible to help ensure her success. I bought a home here 10 years ago mainly because of the schools. But I also recognize that Hartford is not another planet. Hartford’s pain or prosperity will trickle and as an inner ring suburb, West Hartford will be one of the first communities to be feeling that. Indeed, we already have. An organization here in town – WHIRED [West Hartford Initiative on Racial & Ethnic Diversity], along with The Universalist Church, the YWCA and other organizations, is co-hosting a panel discussion, followed by a brief dialogue amongst participants who attend, about the issue of school integration. It’s entitled: ‘Fifty Years After Little Rock: WHere is Greater Hartford on School Integration?’ Elizabeth Horton Sheff will make brief comments, followed by families from both Hartford and West Hartford who send their children across town borders for an education. Stop by and hear first hand from families who are living the experience. There will be about 45 minutes available to talk together in a facilitated study circle format discussion after the families present their stories. Hopefully, a few Hartford families will be present, along with West Hartford residents. I plan to attend. Here is a link to the YWCA web site in Hartford, where you can click onto a press release they have on their home page with more information about this program. Or call Sue Wilson at 860-523-9970 to register. It will be held at the Universalist Church on Fern Street in West Hartford next Thursday, November 29, from 6:30 – 9:00 p.m. I believe Mayor Slifka will be greeting everyone and all West Hartford town council and school board members have been invited, along with Mayor Perez (not sure if he is coming). Child care will be available as well. This one is about our children … our future. It’s better to gather your own information based on shared conversations and experiences rather than read an article and reach conclusions with partial facts.

  10. Philk

    This is off topic, but I’d like to throw some kudos WHDad’s way. I’ve really enjoyed this blog since I discovered it a couple of months ago. I’ve learned a lot about the town I’ve lived in for 11 years, and a visit here is always entertaining.

    For fun I checked out the archives and looked to see when this blog took off as a lively forum. Some fun facts:
    The oldest archive shown is June 2006. Is that when you started?
    The first month with more than 10 comments on a post was Feb. 2007. Highest for a single post:
    Feb: 13
    March: 28
    May: 45
    June: 119
    July: 235
    Sept: 294
    Oct: 253
    Total posts in September: 704. October: 542.

    Thanks too to all the intelligent, thoughtful posters who enlighten me daily.

  11. Chalenois

    Hartford has a lot of problems with their school system, and I don’t pretend to have any answers. I can however share one family’s story with you:
    Single mom (over 20 when 1st child was born), 2 sons, dad was deported back to the DR 10+ years ago for immigration violation. Mom works 3 jobs, 16 hours a day M-F, 8 hours on weekends. She’s barely fluent in English. So her kids weren’t supervised, she couldn’t advocate on behalf of them, the older kid spent a few years in jail for a drug violation and the younger is a 19 y.o. junior at Hartford High who realistically stands little chance of graduating before turning 21.
    The situation is all too common. So what kind of system can be devised to fix everything that’s gone wrong in this family and families like them?

  12. TWC

    “…here’s a tip for you: don’t fear change…”

    With all due respect, BMHW, it’s not change we fear—it’s the significant degradation in the quality of our kids’ lives for no apparent gain that scares us.

    For example, this is what the Courant reports a classroom aide said at last night’s school board meeting while describing what she has been through at one of Hartford’s elementary schools:

    “…I chose to remain …after a teacher was mugged, after my car was broken into any my possessions were taken, after ducking gunfire while putting students on the afternoon bus…”

    I don’t know if you have kids, BMHW, but do you seriously expect West Hartford parents to allow their kids to be bused into an environment like this one to avoid being labeled a coward by someone like you?

  13. Ryan

    For many (if not most) families in West Hartford, Perez’s plan would result in 1 of 3 options:

    1. Stay in town and send kids to private school (if you have the $)
    2. Move to a cheaper town in the area and send kids to private school (using savings from lower property taxes to finance)
    3. Move to a cheaper town not covered by this plan and send kids to public schools

    Schools in West Hartford are the golden goose (other services and high end shopping/dining aside), kill that goose w/ some half assed link to Hartford public schools and say goodbye to life in town as you know it.

  14. srage

    Chalenois — you’re not exactly describing winners there. Why should it be the responsibility of someone else to “fix” this family’s issues?

    Sounds like these individuals who 1.) came into the country illegally, and/or 2.) refuse to learn English (which, it could be assumed, would allow said person to obtain a “real” job) should have had a little foresight. If you’re not going to be able to support your children, don’t have them.

  15. why is everybody against the radical change? becuase everybody in CT is just a bunch of old farts who can’t fathom a child from Hartfor that can actually gain something from their ethereal havens in West Hartford, Avon, Newington, etc.

    CT’s always been disconnected with the minorities, let’s not kid ourselves here. I remember listening to a radio program(Ray & Diane to be specific) and all I heard was complaints about how it would never would….why? becuase they want the minorities to stay in their place……plain and simple…..the parents that actually want to school their kids in West Hartford are proactive in their child’s education, they do care about their child attaining a good education, otherwise, they wouldn’t sign up for a dam school in West Hartford.
    But now I’ve heard that West Hartford is just as splintered as Hartford, only on a marginal level, you know, the blacks/hispanics go to the schools on the south end and the white kids go to schools on the Northend. Hmmmmmmmm. CT is really segregated no matter what you say about it.

    all the comments I’ve read so far are seperatist at best and racist at best.

    You have to learn how to deal with minorities, as they are becoming a force to be reckoned with in the near future. ignoring that fact will only make you a marginal part in this country and you will dwindle in existence, seriously. you need to start learning about diversity like everybody else in this country and stop being so country in CT

  16. and now I’m going to move to West Hartford just to piss people off………LOL

  17. TWC

    And speaking of the Sheff case and Perez’s ill-advised proposal, did anyone attend last night’s West Hartford Board of Education meeting and hear first hand the little “spat” that broke out over the choice for chairman?

    The Courant reports that the vote was 4-3, with our own Harry Captain crossing party lines to vote with the two Republicans against Terry Schmitt. The reported reason for the dissent:

    “…The vote was not without suspense, however, as Republican Lib Brassil Spinella, citing concerns over the process to elect a new chairman, nominated Darcey to stay on as chairman. Spinella also said she was concerned about the ongoing Sheff court case and said Darcey’s term as chairman and his frequent support of local school board control made him the right person for the job now

    Are we to take from this vote that we can expect our new BOE chairman to roll-over on Sheff, Perez’s proposal, or the State’s unreasonable efforts to threaten the revocation of Charter Oak and Smith’s “unique school” status (which would otherwise exempt these two schools from the statutorily defined Sheff-within-the-district racial imbalance rules)?

    If so, why did the Republicans wait until after the election to raise this issue?

  18. Mr. Bill

    The bigger concern here is for those who would like to see reasonable spending from the board of ed. Harry Captain has been exiled by his Democratic colleagues, and he is clearly the voice of reason when examining the cost vs. benefit of various programs and proposals.

    Mr. Schmitt is willing to spend every penney he can get his hands on. Want to bus some kids in later in the morning so they can sleep an extra hour, no problem at any price. Yes, the BOE was supporting this proposal without a price tag. Then they were supporting this proposal at a price of up to $800,000. Then that became $400,000 and the support was still there. Oh, Mr. Schmitt will tell you he voted against it, but let’s be honest. That was after the town council left him with no other realistic choice.

    You can almost bet with the power shift on the BOE that we’ll be looking at another budget referendum.

    The dems feel empowered because of the overwhelming victory on election day. The Mayor even referred to a mandate.

    Warning to the BOE. Be careful. Your past budget shenanigans caused a backlash, causing the education budget to get cut pretty close. If you try to budget things that we can do without, things that don’t really impact the classroom, you’ll suffer another backlash which will force you to have to cut too deep. By reaching too far you’ll be cut too deep. Wait until the end of re-val getting aggressive with the budget.

    Listen to Harry Captain rather than banishing him to Siberia.

  19. DTC

    Did anyone else notice that Tim Brennan got shafted? Although he finished with the second highest vote total the Deputy Mayor possition went to Chuck Coursey. I have a friend on the Democratic Town Committee and the word is that Coursey insisted he should be given the position. I guess being chummy with the Mayor trumps being a masterful rookie votegetter.

    Welcome to the town council Mr. Brennan!!!

    Other tidbits from my friend. Carolyn Thornberry was none too pleased being slotted in the number 6 seat, something her husband, Kevin Sullivan, tried unsuccessfully to change.

    And things aren’t much better in the house of D on the Board of Education side. Harry Captain has been busted to Corporal.

    I guess West Hartford Republicans aren’t the only dysfunctional family in town.

  20. I Love West Hartford

    <<>>

    As long as you are paying your fair share of taxes, Welcome! Just don’t expect me to smile while my kids get bussed to Hartford.

  21. I Love West Hartford

    I wish those parents in Hartford who are so concerned about their children’s education would get off their tails and provide them with the proper foundations, make some sacrifices, and stop expecting those of us tax paying WH residents to pay the dues for their children.

  22. Peter G.

    Those Hartford parents who are so concerned about their children’s education aren’t the problem, they’re the solution. The problem is too few of them.

    If the city was full of those parents the Hartford school system would be a success rather than the failure it currently is. Children of concerned parents are the ones being shortchanged because they can’t get an education due to the number of children without such parents.

    Quality parenting creates quality students which creates quality schools. The schools aren’t creating bad students, the studenst are creating bad schools. And that’s too bad for the many wonderful kids and families in Hartford who can’t escape this reality.

  23. well, I’ll agree with you, Peter G….and I apologize overreacting. I just think that there are those who won’t do for their children in West Hartford as well, they just won’t be in large numbers as in Hartford, which I’ve witnessed working for the public there. My intention was to read about Blue Back and I got swept on this topic, so I do apologize for this. Quality parenting is rare in Hartford and it sucks for those kids who get short-changed.

    What can one do about this situation though, I can do what I can to motivate kids’ parents to keep up with their kids’ education, but as the saying goes: :ou can take a horse to the pond, but you can’t make them drink the water”

    I would like to read some solutions, and I know that we shouldn’t do this but what else can be done. We can’t just eliminate those that don’t care and we can’t barricade them to only Hartford as well. There are plenty of qualified teachers in Hartford, but parents are the problem. what can one do? I have no kids and if I did I don’t know what I would do if I lived in Hartford but take them to schools in West Hartford since I’ve done my research and the stats say that it is a good school system. Hartford gone through their own accreditation nonsense and even their lunching system was cited as well for having unhealthy foods. I can always make my child take their own lunch to school, but what am I to do about a disruptive class.

  24. turtle

    I’m skeptical the Hartford County School District will be a reality any time soon, although the new Education Commissioner does seem to mean business. I think diversity is important (also: more interesting) and find arguments for voluntary regional cooperation (such as Mary Glassman’s) compelling, but compulsory integration is a bad idea for the reasons Ryan and others have mentioned.

    I’m not sure if Sheff’s underlying argument is as facile as TWC makes it out to be: of course low-income minorities can achieve without proximity to affluent whites, but the socioeconomic gulf between the urban poor and suburbanites is so profound that “the state” (we) has a moral obligation to do something about it. Closing the achievement gap would be a good start.

  25. Chalenois

    srage-
    The mom chronicled above is Puerto Rican and therefore a citizen. And yes they are a family of “losers”, by your definition. But guess what, families facing challenges of that nature are the MAJORITY in Hartford.
    I don’t think it’s possible to fix the schools without going a little further upstream to fix the problems in the families. If, on any given day, your ability to feed and shelter your family is on the teetering edge, education, discipline, and everything else take a back seat.
    Is it our responsibility to fix family problems, no. But do their problems eventually become a problem to all of society, absolutely.

  26. Peter G.

    Chalenois,

    I agree with everything you wrote. But the question is how do we help these people. Historically, at least in relatively recent history, we have provided welfare programs for such people. Clearly welfare has been a huge failure. Giving money/foodstamps etc. is not the answer, but teaching people how to earn money has merit for those who are willing to work hard.

    I am a true believer that almost anyone can carve out a life for themselves in this country if they are willing to work hard. And I say almost anyone because there are those with severe disabilities who would be incapable, but these people are not the problem, as a society we can easily provide for them.

  27. Chalenois

    Peter-
    As I said in my original post, I don’t know what the solutions are. I just can’t help but believe that there are systemic changes that could be made that would help enormously.
    Maybe the start is health care for all, and not a profit driven, let’s give another slash & burn CEO a $40 million bonus, type of system.
    Maybe we also look at truly affordable, quality child care…and throw in a parenting skills component.
    As a society we seem more than willing to throw buckets of money at the end result of shakey families and inadequate education (the prison system), but wouldn’t prevention make infinitely more sense?

  28. TWC

    “…I’m not sure if Sheff’s underlying argument is as facile as TWC makes it out to be…”

    Finally, turtle, we’ve flushed you out of your shell.

    Although I know it drives holier-than-thou moralist like yourself crazy when I say this, even white blue-eyed kids living in the north-end of West Hartford are entitled to an equal education under the U.S. Constitution. And I appreciate that the guilty white-liberals that populate this Town don’t believe that should be the order of things, but this is the law of the land as was recently re-affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court last spring in PARENTS INVOLVED IN COMMUNITY SCHOOLS v. SEATTLE SCHOOL DISTRICT.

    One of the plaintiffs in this case was a mother who lived less than a mile from her neighborhood elementary school. Her son was denied admission to this school because his race “…would contribute to the school’s racial imbalance…” Instead, for all the same and unproven reasons that the Sheff court has used to justify its egregious act of legislating from the bench, the school district loaded this poor kid onto a bus and shipped him all the way across town to better satisfy the school district’s racial re-engineering goals.

    (Doesn’t this sound like something many kids in West Hartford will be facing if the Sheff plaintiffs, Eddie Perez, or the turtles of the world have their way?)

    In clarifying that “all” means all (and not just some) whenever we espouse as a nation that “all children are entitled to an equal education under the law,” the Court rejected the school district’s racial re-engineering plan so that this poor kid could simply attend his neighborhood school. (Oh, the horror of such a thing!)

    The key points made in this case—the ones which I think makes Sheff subject to challenge in Federal court as a violation of the constitutional rights of any child forced onto a bus and shipped outside of his neighborhood because of his race—are as follows:

    “…Classifying and assigning schoolchildren according to a binary conception of race is an extreme approach in light of this Court’s precedents and the Nation’s history of using race in public schools, and requires more than such an amorphous end to justify it…The districts have also failed to show they considered methods other than explicit racial classifications to achieve their stated goals. Narrow tailoring requires serious, good faith consideration of workable race-neutral alternatives…”

    Amorphous end? The lack of good faith consideration of workable alternatives? From my perspective, this pretty much sums up the Sheff case.

  29. Elliot Check

    TWC,

    It’s about time someone other than me has started asking what the effect of this Supreme Court decision will have on the West Hartford and State’s schools. Thanks for bringing it up here.

    Whether or not you agree with pursuing Sheff v. Oneill further, it would seem the Towns in the State should have some idea if it is even valid anymore since last springs Supreme Court decision. It would seem that the Governor should have either the State’s Attorney or the AG analyze the decision to see how it applies to our towns.

    Of course the way things usually work in this State, they will first pursue Sheff try to implement new changes, incur large expenses (probably unreimbursed) in the process and then have the whole thing thrown out in court.

  30. turtle

    Although I know it drives holier-than-thou moralist like yourself crazy when I say this, even white blue-eyed kids living in the north-end of West Hartford are entitled to an equal education under the U.S. Constitution.

    I know you’re fond of thinking so, but sorry, what you said does not drive me crazy in the least. Why would it?

    Also, as I’ve told you several times before, I favor neighborhood schools and oppose compulsory integration! But I also favor alternatives (like the magnet schools) that provide incentives for integration. If that makes me a “holier-than-thou moralist”, so be it.

  31. TWC

    “…I think a regional district is an idea worth considering…”

    “…I favor neighborhood schools and oppose compulsory integration…”

    Sorry, turtle, but I took your endorsement of Perez’s proposal (which may also be where the Sheff court is heading next) as a pretty clear indication that you favored some form of compulsory busing.

    And speaking of busing, why don’t we forget constitutional law for one moment and focus on all the wonderful things that busing our kids from one neighborhood (or town) to the next—either voluntary or compulsory—will bring to our kids:

    Degradation of the Environment. Is there any vehicle on four wheels that contributes more to global warming than a fume-spewing diesel school bus? Anyone genuinely committed to addressing global warming has got to stop glossing over the negative environmental impact from having school buses running pell-mell throughout our towns.

    Increased Risk of Death or Injury. Every time I see a school bus on the freeway it makes me cringe to think about how risky it is to put kids on a school bus without seat belts and simply hope that the driver gets them to their destination without incident.

    And of course it’s not just our kids who are forced to assume the increased risk of injury whenever they climb onto a school bus, as was tragically demonstrated in this Town when an innocent pedestrian was killed by a school bus while simply crossing the street.

    Less Money for Education. Any guesses what the third highest line item in the West Hartford school budge is? Every dollar spent on busing kids anywhere in this region is one less dollar that could be put to better use reducing class sizes even further or enhancing the educational programs for kids with special needs.

    Less Exercise. Look around—it’s no secret that our kids are getting pudgier and less fit each day. Robbing these kids of two miles of mandatory exercise walking to and from school each day isn’t helping to address this problem.

    Less Time for Anything Else. My son, who is only a fifth grader, is coming to terms with the reality that the one thing none of us have enough of—no matter how rich or poor we are—is time. Every hour spent on a school bus represents a significant investment of the few remaining hours of free time these kids have once they complete their homework and deal with all the other tasks of everyday life.

    If there was some demonstrated quid pro quo for the heavy cost associated with busing, then perhaps some reasonable argument could be made for any solutions calling for more of it, despite all of these negatives.

    But seriously, the only gain I see is the opportunity for the feel-good chats taking place in the synagogues on Saturday–and the church rectories on Sunday–about how enlightened and noble we all are to be addressing Hartford’s problems by shipping off our kids to do our dirty work for us. This hardly represents a sound public policy reason for doing such a thing.

  32. turtle

    TWC,

    You are being a little presumptuous if you interpreted my willingness to consider regional solutions to be an endorsement of Eddie Perez’s proposal! Not to mention that I have told you, TWC, directly, right here on this blog, that I oppose compulsory integration. Further, I believe that a Superdistrict now would completely backfire, setting back the cause of integration. But at least you got to stoke your outrage over Sheff.

    You have a point about environmental degradation, but let’s take your other arguments in turn. Mind you, I am talking more about West Hartford, since I’m betting the Hartford Superdistrict is not going to happen any time soon.

    Increased Risk of Death or Injury. How many children have died or been injured on a school bus in West Hartford (or Hartford), ever? I’m confident you have the numbers handy to support your argument. How about the kids in Hartford who may have a higher risk of death or injury in their own neighborhoods than on the bus?

    Less Money for Education. Yes busing is expensive, but many kids take the bus because they live more than a mile (or whatever it is) from their neighborhood school. So townwide, anyway, how much more is being spent to bus kids to the magnets, for example, instead of their neighborhood schools?

    Less Exercise. I was unaware we have a town of little Lincolns walking two miles a day to and from school! I guess all those SUVs jockeying for position at drop-off are a figment of my noble imagination.

    Less Time for Anything Else. Is reading not allowed on the bus? How about conversation? Granted, the little pumpkins are probably squandering their precious time on the bus tormenting each other. I agree it’s great for kids to be able to walk to school. However, on the basis of my unscientific observation, it doesn’t have much of an effect on overweight kids.

    More to the point, what is the best way to close the achievement gap? Because that is the first priority.

    With regard to the Hartford schools, I was excited by Adamowski’s ideas, some of which were echoed by Perez, as reported earlier this year in the Courant. If Adamowski is able to raise academic achievement in Hartford, and if Hartford somehow creates a blue-collar economy and drastically reduces crime, then a superdistrict may one day be politically feasible. It seems like a goal worth pursuing.

  33. A-Rod Fan

    After one round the score is: TWC 50, Turtle 0.

    For his next act, Turtle proposes unifying West Hartford, East Hartford and Hartford into one big city, and having residents of West Hartford pay the bill.

  34. Gary Reger

    Still well worth a read on the problems imposed by laws forbidding cities to annex (precisely the situation in Hartford) is David Rusk, Cities Without Suburbs (Washington 1995).

  35. Osemasterofdoom

    Come on, folks. Jumping on Turtle because he has the temerity to even consider the Perez plan (even though he does so only to outline the reason he opposes it) exposes one of the root problems of government in Connecticut. As someone who m0ved to CT from another state, I am bewildered by how even the mention of regional cooperation is greeted with the rhetorical equivalent of storming the Bastille. Believe me, I am no fan of additional layers of bureaucracy, but when a state agency has to enter into 169 separate memorandums (memoranda?) of understanding to access federal grants (which occurred with homeland security funding), something is wrong.

    And, for the record, I strongly oppose the Perez plan, not particularly for the reasons mentioned by TWC, but for the simple fact that all it does is rearrange failing kids into different school districts. Let’s face it: the main reason that Hartford schools are failing is not that they are underfunded (I believe Hartford has the highest funding per pupil in the state) but that many kids attending Hartford schools do not receive the support and attention at home that is necessary to succeed. Now, there are lots of reasons for that; the primary one being that the working poor are stretched in so many directions that they face problems that more well-off families do not have to deal with.

    If we can’t even have a discussion in the blogosphere about this issue without jumping ugly all over each other, what hope do we have for developing a solution?

  36. TWC

    Wake up, Osemasterofdoom, and smell the bus fumes.

    Turtle may in fact not be as enthusiastic about shipping West Hartford kids into the north end of Hartford as Eddie Perez is, but let’s not pretend that his proposal has much if anything to do with “…regional cooperation…”

    If in proposing this plan Perez had limited it to the advantages it might bring to remedying the regressive method used to fund our schools, or the potential savings from streamlining “…redundant school district bureaucracies…,” or the savings gained from mass procurements, then I would be the first one to suggest that his proposal should be examined further.

    But instead his proposal is a clear and unambiguous attempt to grab our kids, and degrade their lives, by using them to provide what he thinks is the best solution to the problems identified in Sheff. And what’s worse, he probably published this proposal not because he thinks this plan has any hopes of being adopted, but because he’s hoping to influence the outcome of the latest round of Sheff litigation in this direction.

    So if you or Perez don’t want this Town “…jumping ugly…,” I suggest that Perez (or the judge in Sheff) take our kids off the table and re-phrase the question the way you have: what can the State do to assist Hartford in addressing the true reasons Hartford children remain unassimilated and are failing academically?

    Once they’ve done that I’d be happy to put my pitchfork down and participate in a constructive discussion about potential solutions to these problems.

  37. Osemasterofdoom

    Gee, I thought that was the conversation we were trying to have here.

  38. Nancy M

    I’ve been lurking on this blog for a while but feel compelled to comment on this thread, which seems to have driven many posters around the bend. I agree with other commentors that, given Connecticut’s near-religious devotion to town governance, Perez’ proposal has no realistic chance of succeeding. But I am disturbed at the tone that some responses have taken.

    1. The needy schoolchildren of Hartford cannot be wished away. If we want to have a viable region, we have to figure out how to help them become productive citizens despite their difficult circumstances, poverty, haphazard parenting, etc. Drawing up the gates around our suburban communities and washing our hands of them is not only not helpful, it’s not even an option under Sheff.

    2. Where in the Perez proposal did it say that West Hartford students were going to be forcibly bused anywhere? He says that successful schools would be left alone. I would think that our schools in West Hartford, which are both successful AND the region’s most diverse, would meet that standard. Right now, under Connecticut’s ridiculous racial imbalance law, Hartford, with 90-plus percent minority enrollment, is completely “balanced” while West Hartford is not.

    3. We must honestly face the fact that kids who have been raised in chaotic, impoverished environments are tough to educate. They have terrible behavior problems. Their family difficulties spill over into school in countless ways. We have learned through our own experience here in West Hartford that schools can absorb and manage a small percentage of these kids and still function well. Moreover, we can hope that the behavioral and educational norms of middle class kids might influence some kids from less advantaged backgrounds. Likewise, we have learned from the experience in Hartford that schools where these disadvantaged kids are in a large majority barely function at all. So it makes sense to me to try to figure out a way to distribute more of Hartford’s tough-to-educate kids EVENLY throughout the region. We’ve tried voluntary means such as magnet schools — haven’t worked. The current scheme for placing city kids in suburban schools is almost designed to fail. Other means are called for. Perez has offered one suggestion. Does anyone have others?

  39. turtle

    Thank you, Nancy M and Ose.

    It’s obvious that the only way the suburbs won’t mightily resist regionalization is simply if Hartford and its schools improve (a lot). Adamowksi has ambitious plans for raising achievement in Hartford; it can be done if the district insists on and is willing to pay top dollar for quality teachers and provide them with a safe environment. Perez does have a point; it’s not, I imagine, that he wishes to “grab our kids, and degrade their lives”, in TWC’s alarmist rhetoric, but to expand the engaged parent community that contributes to any successful school district. It would be a good idea if it didn’t have the effect of driving those parents away.

  40. I have a 2 year old. I plan on having more. That said…

    I grew up elsewhere and was bussed to inner city schools from the burbs. Vice-versa for high school. And I’m alive, educated, and better for it.

    The current 169 town governance exists because of long-standing racism and classism, pure and simple. “Liberal” CT is anything but. There is no more NIMBY state in America.

    The rationalization of this despicable practice is typical. “Hey Hartford, hey Bridgeport, sort it out.” Yeah, well, the problem is that NO ONE LIVES THERE and they give tax breaks to corporations to keep them in those cities.

    We here in W Hartford are a shining example. The rich folks on Prospect can look down upon crack houses in Hartford from their 3rd floor balconies and be secure in the knowledge that they don’t give a penny to help those people get an education or anything. How they sleep at night is beyond me.

    Think of it this way: Fairfield County is said to be the richest in America – at least in the top three. And yet, BRIDGEPORT is in Fairfield county – one of the poorest cities (relative) in the country. That is simply disgusting.

    When out-of-staters get wind of they we work here, they are incredulous. If Hartford was a nicer town due to the surrounding towns’ tax burden being spread around the county, guess what happens? Hartford is safer, nicer, more appealing and more people spend money there, more people move there, and everyone wins.

    Heck, maybe Hartford will then get a bookstore and a grocery store for crying out loud.

    Liberal idealism gone wild? Or rational forward-thinking? When done properly, as it has been done in many other states, it works. Town governance is a quaint idea which made sense in 1797… but not today.

  41. WH mom

    Hmmmm,
    Home in West Hartford $410,000
    Annual taxes $ 9,500
    Having my children sent into Hartford for school…

    priceless.

    Please put me down on the record as saying I will move and place my children in private school if I am told I will have to bus them 30 minutes down the road to help “Diversify” the system.

    Quick question, how many of you live in Bridgeport? And if you feel so bad for the crack heads then why don’t you go live with them.

  42. Osemasterofdoom

    Steve:

    I agree with you on CT being a NIMBY state. The rest of your post? Not so much.

    If I could respectfully ask you a question: if you are so passionate about Hartford, why do you live in West Hartford?

    I’m not trying to be confrontational here, and feel free to tell me it’s none of my business. I am just curious why someone is so passionate about CT’s cities would choose to live in the ‘burbs?

  43. B

    I wonder if anyone has read “the ones who walk away from Omelas”. It is a short story by Ursula Le Guin about a Utopia absolutely dependent upon the extreme suffering of one imprisoned child.

    The title refers to those able to walk away from what is otherwise a perfect life, understanding that they can’t help the child, but refusing to continue to gain the benefits of its depravation.

    I think it is unfair to question the choices of those who see the unfairness of a society yet are unable to “walk away”, particularly by those who continue to benefit from the child’s suffering without regret.

    One can both recognize that life is better in West Hartford and decry the politics that creates our little utopia.

  44. TWC

    Well, now that we’ve heard from the Left and the Right on this issue–and B has offered his apparent defense of Steve’s hypocrisy–I’d like to make a couple of points clear:

    (1) Denouncing any plan (either Perez’s or the Sheff court’s upcoming decision) calling for the wholesale busing of kids in either direction does not constitute “…washing our hands of them …” or “…walking away…” from this problem. The vast majority of the people I know in this Town recognize the moral imperative to address this problem. And even those that don’t probably recognize their self-interest in not allowing another generation of future employees to fail academically.

    So those of you who think you dwell in a higher moral plane need to answer this question. If the high costs of busing don’t generate any return on this investment (i.e., these kids will continue to fail academically, simply providing fodder for our prison system) who is being the more moral person if the real solution to this problem lies elsewhere?

    (2) I won’t disagree with those of you who think Perez’s plan has no hope of making it through the State legislature, but I think you are deluding yourselves if you think Perez’s plan wouldn’t result in the busing of West Hartford kids into Hartford. And what’s even more at risk is that the Sheff court will decide to order our legislature to do such a thing, something we only have to look north to observe (i.e., a court hell-bent on legislating from the bench when it thinks someone’s constitutional rights are being intruded upon).

    By the way, Steve, I wasn’t aware that any region in this country had forced suburban kids to cross jurisdictional lines and attend “…inner city schools…” Could you share with us which region conducted such an experiment? Perhaps we could learn more from any published results.

    (3) I fear that Nancy M’s well-intentioned proposal to “…distribute more of Hartford’s tough-to-educate kids EVENLY throughout the region…” is just more of the status quo. Project Choice, even a goosed-up more fully funded version, will never have enough slots in the suburban schools to accommodate more than a small fraction of the number of kids who need help. What about the vast majority of kids who will remain on the long waiting list waiting for slots to open up, or whose parents could care less?

    Thus, I find Project Choice only about one notch above “walking away” on the moral meter. It’s better than doing nothing, but it hardly addresses the core problem for the benefit of all kids (not just the lottery lucky).

    So despite Steve’s Marxist rant and his attempt to shift accountability for this problem to “…the rich folks,” can we get back to discussing a solution that addresses the real problem; one that will avoid wasting vital resources or our environment by busing kids everywhere?

  45. turtle

    OK, TWC, I give up. What’s the solution?!!

    By the way, I do believe your man Adamowski was behind Perez’s appeal. I forgot to ask you what you thought about that “Schools Chief Makes a Pitch” story that came out in the Courant a few weeks ago.

  46. TWC

    Hey, turtle, do I detect a note of cynicism that I have the solution to one of the most intractable problems of our time?

    More on my ideas when I have some time to do something other than working to become one of the “rich folks” living in WH.

  47. turtle

    Cynicism? No way! Just curious.

    (I thought you already were a rich folk!)

  48. DB

    Turtle,

    What makes you think that enough young, top-notch teachers will come to Hartford? By paying them the same as they would receive in almost any first or second ring suburb (top dollar, right?)
    It seems to me that you’d have to sweeten the pot much more than just a salary equal to what they could get in Glastonbury or West Hartford.

    Even if somehow you could assure teachers safety in Hartford they would still have a job markedly more difficult and stressful than most suburban teaching positions.

    I’m afraid that the free market may intrude a bit too much into the union driven education world, and taxpayers might have to be willing to actually enter a bidding war for the best and most dedicated teachers. I don’t know that taxpayers are ready to do that.

  49. turtle

    You’re right, Hartford would have to pay more than the burbs to attract teachers, and I should have said “extra” instead of “top dollar”. On the other hand, I have a passing acquaintance with a few teachers in Hartford; they’re very committed and are probably experienced enough to be up there on the pay scale, but I wonder if they make any more than teachers in West Hartford.

    Also, they don’t teach in the more violent areas of town. From what I read in the papers Hartford has been paying out a lot of overtime for police, but I don’t know how much it affects the crime rate, if at all.

    It is sobering to contemplate.

  50. db

    Turtle,

    I know several Hartford teachers who are preparing to leave the system due to the rumored (and probably true) stripping of the teachers contract presently under negotiation. I guess Adamowski’s plan is to make the work environment in Hartford so unbearable that the resultant mass exodus of experienced (and more highly paid) teachers to the burbs or early retirement will create openings for new (and cheaper) employees. The problem with that plan is that only the less well prepared teachers coming out of the education programs will apply to Hartford. The top notch kids will be going to the burbs. So how does that help Hartford? Second tier new teachers, loss of dedicated veterans and Adamowski will have Hartford in his rear view mirror when the whole thing collapses. He’ll be on to his next project and Perez will be doing the perp walk.

  51. turtle

    I guess things are not so hunky dory between the union and Adamowski:

    “Hartford teachers lashed out at Superintendent Steven Adamowski at an informational picket Tuesday night.

    A number of the 2,600 people represented by the Hartford Federation of Teachers held the picket just before a meeting of the city’s Board of Education.

    The group accused Adamowski of failing to communicate and the board of not caring about the city’s children.

    The teachers said that they don’t feel as though as they are being included in changes being proposed for the city’s school district.”

    http://www.wfsb.com/education/14659084/detail.html

    Yikes.

  52. whmom

    Wow, I am so happy/unhappy that I checked in on this site tonight. Someone else is using the Wh mom name. I don’t know how that happened but I would never use the word “crackhead.” That’s aweful! Those are not words that I would use and that is not a time of the day that I am available to post.

    West Hartford Dad, please help. Does that happen? People using the same name?

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