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Summer Classes In Jeopardy

Loss Of State Funding Might End Programs At Regional Magnets

June 18, 2005
By ROBERT A. FRAHM And MIKE SWIFT, Courant Staff Writers

At least a half-dozen summer school programs in the Hartford region failed to win state funding this year, jeopardizing classes for more than 1,000 children, officials said Friday.

The loss of funding threatens programs that have run for several years at regional magnet schools operated by the Capitol Region Education Council.

Although officials said there is still hope that the state could find the money to keep summer classrooms open, they are preparing to cancel classes, said Bruce Douglas, the council's executive director.

"We were completely caught by surprise," Douglas said. "Right now, there is very little time to react."

Officials at the Greater Hartford Academy of Mathematics and Science already have begun telling teachers that a summer science program will be canceled. The "Frontiers in Science" program was to have begun July 5 for about 250 students at the Learning Corridor campus in Hartford. Educators had already assembled a staff, ordered supplies and begun to fashion a curriculum.

Unhappy parents such as Rebecca Jablonski of Hartford, whose two sons were planning to attend summer science classes at the Learning Corridor, learned only in the middle of this week that those classes were in doubt. Jablonski said Friday that she had been scrambling to find an alternative, but that the late notice made it impossible to find a recreational or educational substitute.

"There is no alternative," she said. "There doesn't seem to be anything for the kids to do. This is an educational program, which makes it doubly important."

Much of what bothers parents about the funding crisis is the timing, said Roger Martin of Wethersfield, who only learned Friday afternoon that his 12-year-old daughter Nicole might not be able to attend the science classes at the Learning Corridor. Martin said families like his schedule their summer plans around summer school.

"What is everybody going to do? It's not even enough time to send in an application for another summer school program in Wethersfield, or in the surrounding towns. Those classes are probably full," Martin said.

Douglas said that the education council has appealed to the state Department of Education and the Office of Policy and Management, and he said Friday that he was "pretty optimistic" that the state would be able to find money. "It's a fluid situation," he said.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell's budget chief, Robert Genuario, agreed that the state might be able to help. "We are cautiously optimistic we can solve the problem, but it might take a few days," Genuario said Friday.

Even if the funding impasse is not fixed, the education council would still keep classes open for its most educationally needy students, Douglas said. "That's our responsibility," he said. "We would never walk away from our students."

About 50 percent of the students in the Frontiers in Science program are from Hartford, with the remainder coming from other area towns. The summer classes have operated under the state's Interdistrict Grant program, which funds efforts to bring together students from different towns in racially integrated school programs.

The funding problem stemmed from a different interpretation of whether state law allows use of the interdistrict grant money to fund programs in magnet schools. "Different folks are reading the statute a little differently," Genuario said. The legislature might have to take up the issue in its special session next week to clean up the interpretation, he said.

The applications from several regional magnet schools did not meet standards this year in the competition for the state grants, said Dudley Williams, an official in the state Department of Education's Office of Educational Equity.

In addition to the Learning Corridor science program, others that lost funding include summer programs at the Metropolitan Learning Center, the Montessori Magnet School, Two Rivers Magnet School, the University of Hartford Multiple Intelligences Magnet School and the East Hartford/Glastonbury Magnet School. Funding also was denied for summer classes for about 400 students in a school choice program that allows Hartford schoolchildren to attend suburban schools.

For both teachers and parents who had been planning on the Learning Corridor classes, the sudden uncertainty about summer school was more than a little frustrating.

"To think at this late date the funding has been cut is very disturbing to me," said Susan Fennelly, a Wethersfield High School physics teacher who has worked in the program. "There is such a need for these kids. ... The academy is such a fantastic facility, and now it's going to be left empty? It just makes no sense."

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.
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