When Bloomfield resident Florence Johnson got letters from the state's education commissioner last week informing her that her three children could receive notice from the Hartford school district that they may not be eligible to return to their host magnets schools, she had an immediate thought:
"I think it's a scare tactic," Johnson said.
She may be right, but Hartford Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski has said publicly that state funding for the city's magnet schools is not adequate to cover costs associated with running them. Hartford has also sent tuition bills to school districts sending students to the city's magnets this year and has informed them that he plans to charge $4,600 a student next year, according to Bloomfield Superintendent of Schools David Title.
Title said the district has not paid about $27,000 in tuition bills from Hartford this year and has no plans to pay Hartford the magnet school tuition it wants next year.
"I'm not paying it because I don't think they are entitled to it," Title said. "Hartford is trying leverage parents' consternation to get what they want from the legislature."
Title said Adamowski also sent out letters in April asking suburban districts about paying tuition next year.
"Our joint response was that we're going to have to postpone any decision because it may be a moot point," Title said, adding that it was his understanding that the legislature's appropriations committee has approved a budget that contains the funding Hartford needs.
In his letter to parents, State Education Commissioner Mark McQuillan also said that, too, but he added that "we must wait until the close of the session to know for certain what the final numbers will be and whether or not the anticipated funding will be available to operate Hartford's host magnet schools." He also asked parents to wait until the budget is finished before re-enrolling students in their home district, private schools or some other program.
Christopher Leone, Hartford's director for the Regional School Choice office, said in a written statement that Hartford has been asked to absorb more than 2,200 suburban students to meet the quotas mandated by the landmark Sheff v. O'Neill desegregation case, and that state Department of Education funding for them was not included in Gov. M. Jodi Rell's proposed budget.
"Hartford's ability to meet these Sheff demands depends on state funding or on charging tuition in the same manner that the Capitol Region Education Council has charged Hartford for years to send city students to CREC schools," Leone said. "Hartford will not be able to educate suburban students without the necessary funding."
And if Hartford doesn't get it from the state and turns away Bloomfield students unless the district pays tuition?
"We'll take them back," Title said.
If Bloomfield and other districts do that, Johnson said, the purpose of magnet schools will be defeated.
"There will be no more magnets," she said. "It will be all Hartford kids."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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