Although Hartford school officials have not yet said which specific positions will be among the 254 eliminated next year, a review of budget requests from principals and central office administrators indicates that the biggest cuts seem to be coming from special education staff.
The $367.6 million budget proposal for 2009-10 must still be reviewed by the board of education and the city council.
But, as the budget is proposed, about 34 certified special education teacher positions and 11 non-certified special education paraprofessionals will be cut from the schools' budgets. In addition, seven certified special education staff positions will be cut from the central office.
Merva Jackson, the executive director of the African Caribbean American Parents of Children with Disabilities Inc., (AFCAMP), a parent advocacy group, said that her organization long has been concerned about the city schools' commitment to special education.
"This clearly reflects the district's commitment to children with special education needs," said Jackson, who said that her group has recently seen a big increase of concerned parents seeking AFCAMP's help. Jackson said she fears the proposed staff cuts would result in special education students dropping out of school.
Another hard-hit area will be support staff, including social workers, guidance counselors and family resource aides.
Sixteen schools eliminated custodial positions, some cutting more than one worker. Thirteen schools cut intervention specialists, in most cases leaving the school without anyone in that position. And 13 schools cut security guards.
School officials blamed Gov. M. Jodi Rell's decision to keep education funding flat this year for the deep cuts they are being forced to consider.
"Everyone in our teachers' union and administrators' union, including myself, is getting a 3 percent raise. And the cost of fringe benefits is skyrocketing," said Adam Johnson, the principal of the Law and Government Academy at Hartford Public High School. "For me to run a school with all the raises, we had to cut back in some places."
Johnson said he first reduced supplies, field trips and professional development accounts. But the cuts still weren't deep enough. So he eliminated a security guard and four teachers.
Robert Travaglini, the principal at Naylor School, said he's drawing from the school's partnerships with Central Connecticut State University and local organizations to fill in some budget gaps. What he had to cut from supplies, for example, he hopes to make up for in donations, he said.
This year is especially stressful for principals in Hartford, who have become responsible for their budgets during a time of rising costs and uncertainty about state grants, which make up two-thirds of Hartford's education budget. Previously, the school budgets were largely dictated by the district's central office.
But while the district asked its principals to oversee their own budgets, it is also funneling more money directly into the schools. By 2009-10, officials hope to have 70 percent of district funds go toward school budgets. In 2006-07, more than 50 percent of the funds went to the central office.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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