Mayor Defends Decision To Break Ground Despite Ongoing Spat
February 1, 2007
By RACHEL GOTTLIEB, Courant Staff Writer
Hartford Mayor Eddie A. Perez lashed out at the governor Wednesday for her opposition to building a magnet school on a sliver of land near I-84 and questioned her commitment to desegregating the city's schools.
"I was shocked to learn of your effort to derail the construction of the Pathways to Technology Magnet School in this morning's paper," Perez wrote in a letter to Gov. M. Jodi Rell. "This change of heart raises serious doubts about your commitment to desegregating Hartford's schools and the state's willingness to adhere to a court order."
Perez this week decided to break ground for the school on land the state gave the city, despite an ongoing spat about deed restrictions some say prohibit a school and concerns about heavy traffic.
In his letter to Rell, Perez said the school's mission to train students in technology "is aligned with the mission of the Governor's Office on Workforce Competitiveness." He also invited Rell to send a representative to join his team working on a plan for traffic improvements around the site - the busy intersection where Asylum and Farmington avenues and Broad Street meet.
Perez's letter was in response to a letter Rell wrote to state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal objecting to using the site for a school.
Deed restrictions limit the city's uses of the property to a park, economic development or a public safety complex. The city argues that the school qualifies as economic development.
Last week, Robert Genuario, secretary of the state Office of Policy and Management, asked Blumenthal for an opinion on whether the school does qualify as economic development under terms of the deed. Blumenthal is expected to issue his opinion soon.
Rell spokesman Adam Liegeot said the governor supports the school desegregation plan outlined in the settlement of the landmark Sheff vs. O'Neill court case, but she maintains that a school is inappropriate for the site.
"The magnet school concept is a key part of that agreement and an important part of our overall education strategy," Liegeot said. "But while Gov. Rell is very supportive of efforts to expand magnet school opportunities in Hartford, the governor is also aware that the proposed site poses numerous safety and traffic concerns and is not an appropriate use of the property."
Perez defended his decision to break ground at the site this week without waiting for Blumenthal to issue his opinion.
"We've been paralyzed for a year now ... I know that members of the [city's legislative] delegation don't like it," Perez said, "but we had assurances this is workable."
The assurances came from the city's lawyers, he said.
Sen. Thomas P. Gaffey, D-Meriden, senate chairman of the education committee, also criticized the city's position in a letter to George Coleman, acting commissioner of the state Department of Education. Gaffey insisted that "the Sheff case has nothing to do with economic development" and is based entirely on the state's constitutional right to an equal opportunity.
The precedent in the legislature of funding schools for the sole purpose of enhancing educational opportunities is longstanding, Gaffey wrote. "Departing from that long-standing precedent in order to accommodate a feeble nexus to unrelated economic development statutes defies common sense. Moreover, using the Sheff-stipulated agreement as justification of that twisted legal interpretation is shameful."
If the state does not accept the school as economic development and the legislature does not change the deed to allow the school, the city could end up paying for the $38 million school itself or the land could revert to state ownership.
"We had to take action," Perez said, adding that costs rise the longer the city waits. "This is a risk worth taking."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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