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School Administrators Not Backing Down From Ad Campaign

Vanessa De La Torre

May 05, 2011

School administrators are not backing down from their "Choose Hartford" media campaign.

Instead, they seemingly have upped the ante: A $395.8 million education budget adopted this week includes $198,000 for next year's print, TV and radio advertising promoting the city's schools to parents who might be considering other options offered under the Sheff desegregation agreement.

The current advertisements, which cost $167,550, have been criticized by Sheff attorneys as undermining their efforts.

"I'm sure it's not perfect," Superintendent Steven Adamowski said, referring to the campaign. "I'm sure we will learn lessons from it and be able to do things differently in the future."

But he described the campaign as necessary to prevent an exodus of students from Hartford.

Tom Murphy, a Department of Education spokesman, said Wednesday that the state's goal is to have a total of 5,500 Hartford students leave the city for regional, magnet and suburban schools to comply with Sheff. The court-ordered agreement calls for the state to place 41 percent of Hartford's minority students in racially and economically integrated classrooms by 2013. Currently, the figure is just 28 percent.

About 3,050 city students are bused out of Hartford now, including 1,300 who attend suburban schools through the Open Choice program, according to state figures.

Adamowski believes that meeting the 41 percent goal would have a "devastating impact" on the city because it would require at least 2,500 additional Hartford students to leave for out-of-district schools. Several city schools would need to close, he warned, which would mean the potential loss of hundreds of staff positions.

Should the state fail to achieve that integration, the Sheff agreement can still be met if 80 percent of Hartford students are attending a school of their choice, which can include a city school. It is called the "demand" provision, and that's what Adamowski wants.

The "Choose Hartford" campaign urges parents to accept their children's assigned placement by May 15.

"Why risk their future on a lottery and then a waiting list?" one TV ad said, referring to the other Sheff options. The Open Choice and magnet school lottery results were mailed to applicants last month, but families that were rejected can seek a spot on the waiting list.

Adamowski said the radio and TV spots will end this week and commercials being shown at Bow-Tie Cinemas on New Park Avenue are scheduled to conclude next week.

The American Civil Liberties Union and attorneys presenting the Sheff plaintiffs have said they are "dismayed" by the campaign.

Board members Elizabeth Brad Noel and Robert Cotto Jr. also criticized the advertisements as too negative. David MacDonald, the board chairman, said "we need a more artful way" to market the schools with next year's $198,000 budget.

But incoming Superintendent Christina Kishimoto, who developed the city's own choice program as an assistant superintendent, offered no apologies. Last year, she said, the school system asked the state to be a partner in promoting city schools, and "the state would not market with us."

The state's 2010-11 budget for advertising and marketing under the Regional School Choice Office is $415,000, including $70,000 for the 12 regional magnet schools in Hartford and $70,000 for the Capitol Region Education Council magnet schools, Murphy said.

"So we ran our campaign," Kishimoto told the board. "And now we have their attention."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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