Message from the Superintendent About the Budget
As parents, family caretakers and taxpaying citizens, we recognize that providing adequate funding for our children's education is one of the best investments we can make to ensure Hartford's prosperous future. Our public schools made significant strides in the last decade, doing so under eight consecutive years of flat budgets.
Hartford's public schools, however, are at a critical juncture. State and city leaders face tough decisions in balancing employee layoffs and budget cuts, while trying to minimize changes that would negatively impact essential public services. All these measures are necessary in an effort to tame increasing deficits.
Given this, and the current downward spiral of state and city finances, it is impossible to keep operating as we have. Sadly, we will not be able to fund every priority identified in our Strategic Operating Plan: Cultivating Equity and Excellence 2015-2020. But we must — and we will — keep moving forward in executing our vision for equity and excellence for all students. This is an opportunity to make some important decisions. Some of them are long overdue and predate my arrival in the 2014-15 school year.
This budget shortfall will not be a one-year thing. Mayor Luke Bronin's blunt message truly describes Hartford's dire financial situation. The budget that I am going to propose to the school board on April 19 will reflect our grim fiscal reality. While we will continue to invest more than 80 percent of our resources directly in our schools, our biggest question is, in hard times, how do we ensure that we deliver quality education to all of our children in an equitable manner?
One problem we need to grapple with as a community is the competition for resources and the falling enrollment numbers at some of our schools. School size matters. Just as much as we do not want schools that are too big, we don't want schools that are too small. Although large schools can be difficult to manage and places where students tend to get lost, schools that are too small cannot provide in a cost-effective way the wide array of programming and services that our children need and deserve.
Our schools and our children need access to the arts, to language courses, and they need exposure to multiple disciplines and diverse ways of thinking. But schools that are too small lack the resources to make that happen. Nor is it possible in a very small school to organize a schedule that fosters teacher collaboration and that allows students to have access to those resources. A school that is so small that it cannot offer many of these things robs children of a quality education.
That is why beginning with this coming budget, Hartford Public Schools will align its resources for equity. We must and we will make sure that our schools have healthy enrollment numbers and that they are able to afford the services that our children need and deserve. This is a question of balancing the scales and engaging with our community in tough conversations about what the future of our school system looks like to make the best use of our resources. These conversations will range from school consolidations to staffing efficiencies and reorganizing our policy priorities.
Kids come first, so cuts will start at the district's central office. These cuts will be significant, but they will not be enough. We will have to cut both programming and services in our schools. Because every child matters, cuts will have to be spread out across the system, not just concentrated in a few schools in disenfranchised and marginalized communities.
Hartford's situation is dire, but it is not hopeless. We have a great city with many assets, first and foremost the 21,000 wonderful kids who attend the Hartford Public Schools. We are also resilient and we are creative. We will persevere and we will find a way to overcome. We will not let budget cuts prevent us from meeting our obligation to provide our kids with the first-rate education they deserve and our city with the agile public school system it needs to thrive.
(Originally published in the Hartford Courant on April 10, 2016.)