Message from Dr. Leslie Torres-Rodríguez May 2017
Dear Hartford Public Schools, Families, Colleagues, and Friends:
Hartford’s long-standing school budget problems are no secret, with eight consecutive years of flat or decreased funding for local education and a budget shortfall this year. But a poor fiscal climate and chronic under-funding have been greatly compounded — for years — by the overall, systemic unsustainability of the school district in its current configuration.
To maintain the viability of our school system, we need to and we will implement a fundamental redesign of our school district that recognizes our fiscal and demographic realities and that allows us to fulfill our mission to ensure student safety and provide high-quality teaching and learning for all students.
Our resources are stretched while the needs of our students increase, resulting in a disparity of opportunity and achievement within the district. Hartford cannot afford such disparity and the objective of the redesign process will not be to create pockets of growth, but meaningful growth across the board to achieve equity in our system.
The simple truth is that we have too many schools for a reduced number of students. Our precious education dollars must be invested in students. And we must account for the proper investment of resources through data-driven analysis.
In order to achieve this restructuring we will:
— Immediately restart school consolidation discussions. We need fewer schools because we have fewer students. If we consolidate now to match our current enrollment, then every remaining school building will be better equipped to provide a high quality education for all students, while operating closer to capacity.
— Restructure our organization district-wide to center our resources on student needs and achievement so that they can be successful in school and in life. We must meet basic education standards and develop the leadership skills that will elevate our students’ profile in the job market.
— Ensure that our redesigned system is laser-focused on improving academic outcomes.
We will re-intensify our focus on our core mission and core values — students and student achievement, and ensuring that every student experiences high quality teaching and learning.
At the end, the district will not look like it does now. It will be a new, sustainable, best-practices school system delivering the best education with the best use of resources.
Rather than a short-term approach employing quick fixes and Band-Aids, this undertaking will be a top-to-bottom recasting of our school district, our facilities and our priorities and it will transform the system into what it must be: a district that will better support our students to succeed now and into the future.
We will engage our families and community to keep our students at the center of our discussions as we seek solutions. That process has started with an intentional, authentic engagement with our families, and we will continue to grow and strengthen the family/caregiver relationships in our schools.
We will mitigate the lion’s share of the current budget deficit through staff reductions and other measures to address the short-term problem. My recommended budget to the Hartford Board of Education has reduced the $26.5 million gap for fiscal year 2018 to under $3 million.
Progress is impossible without change. Sometimes we are the architects of change and sometimes factors beyond our control are in the mix. For Hartford Public Schools, the change that is coming over the next months and years is a combination of both.
The implications of these efforts extend far beyond the bright lights of Hartford. Our workforce, our economic and social health and the fabric of our community all depend on a school district that works for every student. Most of all, Hartford Public Schools’ students are depending on us for their future — just as our future heavily relies on them.
I am a product of the Hartford Public Schools system. I know what it is capable of and I know what is at stake. I own this process personally and professionally and I know that our mission is too important to fail.
With gratitude for the opportunity to serve,
Dr. Leslie Torres-Rodriguez