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.