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School Year Begins Today Amid Hopes For More Success


August 31, 2009

HARTFORD - School begins today in Hartford in the afterglow of a second consecutive year of improved test scores in the long-struggling district. Among the highlights today will be the opening of several new or reconstituted schools, and the shifting of students at two existing schools into state-of-the-art, multimillion-dollar facilities.

The district will also continue its mission of education reform that promises to raise achievement and provide school choice to about 23,000 city children, as well as to a growing number of suburban students.

Hartford Superintendent Steven Adamowski, who today continues his custom of taking a bus tour to key schools, said that the district is continuing its rise and that the administration is looking forward to another year of improved test scores and national recognition of its reform efforts.

But there are concerns as well. The district faces a $21 million deficit brought on by continued cost increases at a time when Gov. M. Jodi Rell is flat-funding educational spending. For the coming fiscal year, more staff layoffs and other cost-cutting measures loom.

Among those measures is a $4.3 million reduction in the district's transportation budget, which means that about 1,900 students who rode buses to the schools of their choice last year will be walking or finding other forms of transportation today and probably for the school year.

That decision does not sit well with parents who worry about their children's safety as they navigate busy intersections and sometimes troublesome neighborhoods.

"The district continues to poorly communicate with parents about things that are going to affect their children," said Milly Arciniegas, president of the Hartford Parent Organization Council.

Arcinieagas said that the district's decision to discontinue the extended routes was poorly communicated to parents at the end of July and was compounded by a late effort to organize families to provide volunteer escort walkers to and from school.

"We put a stop to it. Plan it right and then you'll get results," said Arciniegas. Hasty or poor planning of the Safe Routes to School effort could have made parents, rather than the administration, look responsible for any problems with the program, she said.

Schools spokesman David Medina defended the transportation change, which reverts to district standards before last year, when Open Choice was launched. The program allowed families to choose from schools throughout the city, and extended bus routes were offered to accommodate those choices.

"We hoped to keep it, but when you have a $21 million deficit, transportation is going to suffer," Medina said.

As for the Safe Routes effort, Medina agreed that its implementation was "too much too soon" and that it would eventually be launched as a neighborhood pilot program, before going districtwide next September.

In the meantime, Arcinieagas said that parents will be monitoring the situation closely and holding the administration accountable for the children's safety.

"Parents want to have safety for all the kids," she said.

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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