Hartford superintendent: Our schools are taking a different approach this year. Here’s how.
By Leslie Torres-Rodriguez
Special to Hartford Courant|
May 23, 2019 at 6:00 AM
When I became superintendent of Hartford Public Schools in 2017, I promised to do things differently and to do them in service of transparency, stability and equity. Moving towards equity requires that we provide all, not some, students with what they need to achieve.
Our antiquated budget model was inequitable and inefficient. This year, we’re changing it.
This new budget formula values providing rigorous instruction and social emotional support for the development of skills, knowledge, and voice students need. It works together with all our priorities, helps to advance our major goals, and it aligns with our district mission to inspire and prepare all students to meet success in and beyond school.
And it does so in a challenging financial environment. With ever-increasing costs and a reduction in federal grants, HPS faced a deficit of approximately $12 million for 2019-2020 school year. The district dealt with a $24 million deficit in the 2018-2019 budget and $26 million in 2017-2018. We also continue to experience a decline in enrollment.
Previously, resources were distributed to schools very inconsistently. Schools received a budget allocation without any context on how the district decided what they would receive, and it wasn’t clear what flexibility principals had to change their staffing.
In January 2019, HPS rolled out a fairer and more transparent budgeting process to determine the level of staffing and resources each school receives. This new formula was based on input from a design team of principals and central office staff, school leader surveys and focus groups, forums with parents and school governance councils, and collaboration with district leadership.
All schools received a “starter budget” for the 2019-20 school year based on the number of students they are projected to enroll in each grade level this fall. Principals now have the flexibility to trade out certain positions on the starter budget if they identify different choices that would better fit their students’ needs and strategic priorities.
In a powerful move toward equity, the new budget formula allocates resources to schools that have historically been burdened with lower funding and persistent high levels of student need. Specifically, schools will receive supplemental resources based on the number of students who are chronically absent, are English learners, or are in middle grades (6-8).
The new funding formula makes an immediate equity impact across the district for the 2019-2020 school year, including:
· Allowances for common planning time for teachers, an essential structure that will support teacher collaboration such as sharing best practices, examining student work and planning lessons together;
· Six and a half additional teacher positions to support English learners;
· A family and community support service provider at every school;
· Expansion of the community schools model to four new neighborhood schools, providing additional support services tailored to individual schools’ needs;
· Additional funding for robust enrichment opportunities in magnet, middle and high schools;
· Student Success Centers at Hartford Public High School, Bulkeley High School and Weaver High School, designed to get off-track students reengaged and on the path to graduation;
· Fifteen new student engagement specialists for schools with high rates of chronic absenteeism;
· Appropriate allocation of student-support staff, including an addition of 11 social workers, 6.5 counselors and nine behavior specialists
Our magnet schools will continue to offer a diverse and enriching set of options for families in the greater Hartford area. Magnet schools will also receive a $500 per pupil supplement — as much as an additional $200,000 in a school with 400 students — and will continue to receive their full magnet operating grant from the state.
These are challenging times, and creating a balanced and equitable budget means making hard decisions. We are making great progress toward that goal.
Leslie Torres-Rodriguez is the superintendent of Hartford public schools.