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    Friday, June 21, 2024

    Conn. superintendent: Impoverished schools ‘can’t spread ourselves anymore’. Layoff notices going out.

    Hartford Public Schools said 33 certified staff will receive pink slips this week as the district moves forward with an aggressive plan to mitigate a $77 million deficit in 2025.

    It is the first round of layoff notices after the district announced it would have to slash 387 positions in order to meet a $429 million budget for next school year.

    In a statement to the Courant on Monday, Hartford Mayor Arunan Arulampalam said his office is working with district officials and the Hartford City Council “to identify a path forward for our school system to adapt and meet the needs of our students while preserving the City’s ability to provide services without raising taxes.”

    “Public education is deeply important to me, and Hartford is not alone in facing challenges brought on by sunsetting federal funds and rising employment costs,” Arulampalam said. “It’s critical that we take action on behalf of our students, and we expect to have more details to share toward that end in the coming weeks.”

    In an interview with the Courant on Monday, Hartford Superintendent Leslie Torres-Rodriguez said the situation will not change unless the district receives substantial funding from either the state or the city.

    Previously Arulampalam proposed flat-funding education into Fiscal Year 2025, saying that most of the district funds come from the state. Arulampalam’s $623 million budget proposal would dole out $284 million to the district.

    Torres-Rodriguez said that a decade of flat funding from the city and increases in aid from the state have failed to keep pace with rising costs for open choice and special education tuition, which are projected to reach $122 million.

    Torres-Rodriguez said these factors, coupled with the expiration of millions in federal pandemic relief grants, resulted in a “collision” that created the current budget crisis.

    The district is issuing pink slips to 33 certified staff, “primarily in the areas of social studies, school counselors and English,” Torres-Rodriguez said.

    She said the district is working to identify 75 non-certified staff members for layoffs.

    Torres-Rodriguez said the loss of funding is “highly disruptive.

    “I guarantee you, we will see an impact across all levels of our organization,” Torres-Rodriguez said.


    Despite the cuts, Torres-Rodriguez said Hartford Public Schools will work to “maintain the integrity of our academic programming.”

    “What will be impacted is our ability to provide the added supports for students that in some communities it’s just day-to-day access and opportunity,” Torres-Rodriguez said.

    Torres-Rodriguez said that the district will shutter one of two Hope Academy programs created during the pandemic to provide wraparound social-emotional support services to students who are at risk of not graduating. As a result, Torres-Rodriguez said no new students will be admitted to the program.

    Additionally, Torres-Rodriguez said the district will reduce the number of student engagement specialists who work to support families that participate in Hartford’s program to reduce chronic absenteeism.

    While Torres-Rodriguez said the district will maintain access to required classes, she said opportunities for advanced placement and dual enrollment will potentially be compromised.

    Torres-Rodriguez said Hartford Public Schools Career Pathways programs, which offer a progression of courses including dual enrollment for college credit, could be impacted.

    She said the district is working with a scheduler to explore how schools might share access to AP classes across campuses.

    “All of the reductions have me concerned, but there’s an even deeper concern at the high school level because we’re not going to be able to offer the variety that we’re offering now,” Torres-Rodriguez said.

    Torres-Rodriguez said that this shift could lead to fewer students “being exposed to college readiness opportunities.”

    Torres-Rodriguez said that when budget cuts compromise such initiatives, it puts student outcomes at risk.

    “We know in communities like ours, unless we create the conditions and the opportunities, students might not see themselves in those courses. And so we, as the adults, have to provide the opportunity and the access and the support,” Torres-Rodriguez said.

    She said that wanting Hartford students to have the same AP course offerings and class sizes as their peers in neighboring districts, “is not even an extra” ask.

    “These are not shiny initiatives,” Torres-Rodriguez said. “This is what works and this is what opportunity and access look like.”

    Torres-Rodriguez said the cuts at central office will eliminate instructional coaches that provide support to teachers and school leaders. It will also terminate certain positions in the district’s talent office. Torres-Rodriguez said other departments will consolidate, redefine roles and identify efficiencies.

    “While we as central office have to shift, schools will also experience the way that we’re in service to them a little differently,” Torres-Rodriguez said. “There’s going to be a time in which we’re all going to have to relearn the ways of work.”

    ‘It’s not a conversation anymore’

    Torres-Rodriguez said that Hartford Public Schools students experience a “lack of resource equity” perpetuated by the implementation of open choice funding and other “structural inequities.”

    Torres-Rodriguez said there are “deep pockets of need” across the city which require a “different approach to meeting the needs” of the community.

    “The trauma, the violence, the generational poverty, the racial economic injustice … The impact of all of those, they (students) carry here,” Torres-Rodriguez said.

    Torres-Rodriguez said “it shouldn’t be the responsibility” of Hartford Public Schools to address issues like housing insecurity and health care inequities, but it is the reality. She said the district continues to work to mitigate needs and patch holes in the system, but now district leaders, teachers, social workers and school counselors all say “We cannot spread ourselves anymore.”

    “Now we can’t even patch,” Torres-Rodriguez said. “We’ve pulled at it on both sides and there’s no other give.”

    Torres-Rodriguez said the current budget relies on millions of dollars from the state legislature that lawmakers have yet to vote on this session. Torres-Rodriguez said she feels confident the allocations will pass. In particular, she said the district is “banking on” roughly $11 million from a tuition offset.

    “If that is not maintained, then that will mean that we have $11 million less to deal with. And, in the spirit of transparency, I don’t have a strategy and a solution for that,” Torres-Rodriguez said.

    Torres-Rodriguez said that if Hartford Public Schools acquires additional revenue, the district will prioritize funding for high school teaching positions, social-emotional and behavioral supports and instructional coaches.

    Torres-Rodriguez said the system needed to act “yesterday” to change funding structures and recognize the needs of students and families in the district.

    “It’s not a conversation anymore … there’s a broader, what I call macro system action that needs to take place,” Torres-Rodriguez said. “That’s what I want to happen. That’s what must happen.”

    Torres-Rodriguez said aftershocks from the cuts will reverberate for years to come.

    “We have to really look out and see the impact that it’s going to have. If we’re feeling it now, think 10 years from now,” Torres-Rodriguez said. “Think about the community and think about the broader impact on the economy … the circles expand and expand and expand.”

    “(If) we’re not going to deal with it now, fine (but) then what?” Torres-Rodriguez added. “Those are hard truths. And I know I’m not the only one that sees it, or feels it. I can’t possibly be the only one.”

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