Hartford works for me for many reasons,
chief among them that I don't have children. For years I've known professional
people of childbearing age - the kind Hartford wants to attract and
retain - who have lived in this city, believed in it, put their activist
stake in the ground, only to leave it when their children were ready
for school. Suburb-based Hartford advocates have told me they'll move
here in a minute - "when
my children are out of school."
More than crime, parking conundrums and claims of nothing to do in the
capital city, the top reason I've heard for why people don't live here
is the city's public school system. I don't know the answer to turning
the system around. But I know this: Hartford can't grow without it.
Because raising children is more of a societal norm than is being child-free,
the marketing call to relocate to Hartford - a great place to live, work
and play - must be grounded in the city's ability to deliver a quality
product to parents. That means effective schools for the children of
the people the city wants to attract. For every perk a Hartford employer
tosses at the feet of a prospective employee, there may be three Courant
headlines about the school system's failures, dousing enthusiasm for
settling in the capital city. The difficult topic of race always surfaces
when those failures assume the spotlight. Yet a different R-word requires
serious attention: regionalism.
In 1998, Gordon A. Bruno, a doctorate-holding
school superintendent, educator and founding director of the Connecticut
Center for School Change, released a comprehensive proposal called "The Unexamined Remedy" in
response to Sheff vs. O'Neill, the school-desegregation case. In the
fall 2002/winter 2003 issue of "Learning Communities Narratives" published
by the Learning Communities Network, Bruno wrote that the proposal outlined
how regional school districts would work. Specifically, the recommendations
included "abolishing present district boundaries that coincided
with municipal lines and establishing regional entities ..." Besides
ensuring racial balance, Bruno's recommendations included changes that
involved "curriculum, school and class size, finance, professional
development, teacher and administrative preparation, affirmative
action, student health and social services, parent involvement and school
Based on a successful school-assignment
model in Cambridge, Mass., the CCSC plan would, according to the Learning
Communities Network, enhance "the
caliber of education offered all students in the desegregating and consolidating
districts." Bruno wrote that "wide disparities in budgets among
municipalities [would] be eliminated ... with state resources reallocated
to schools according to need and a regional school tax assessed
to each municipality based on its ability to pay."
This makes a whole lot of sense.
Yet, in a state where residents so
rabidly identify with any one of the 169 municipalities they call home;
where The Courant is considered of little value if it doesn't report
on high school sports scores; where those who have the money to put
politicians in office may threaten to withdraw support of pro-regionalization
candidates, what legislators are going to have the intestinal fortitude
to support a Hartford-area regional school district? Moreover, how
many school boards and administrators are willing to relinquish autonomy
or risk job loss with streamlined district consolidation? The title
of Bruno's narrative, "A Remedy
Ignored," answers those questions.
Our eye is on the wrong prize. Who cares how many new restaurants, clubs,
bars, luxury condos and meeting venues open downtown if the city bleeds
current residents and repels prospective ones who are raising children?
Fix the school system. Otherwise, meaningful, long-term revitalization
of this city is doomed.
Gina Greenlee edits an internal publication for a financial services
company in Hartford and writes a twice-monthly column for The Courant.
To leave her a comment, please e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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