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Hartford Schools Face $19 Million Shortfall, And Teacher Layoffs Loom

Ryan Caron King
Clark School was temporarily closed due to PCB contamination. Now, as Harford grapples with its budget, the neighborhood school might not open at all.

Over 200 Hartford teachers could be laid off as the school district grapples with declining enrollment and rising costs. 

What's happening is basically this: Fewer kids are going to Hartford Public Schools. People aren't moving to the city or having children there.

Some students live in Hartford but attend out-of-district magnets that the district has to pay for.

On top of that, state funding has been flat, and the city of Hartford itself is nearing bankruptcy.

"It is a very timely and challenging situation that we're facing in our district," said Leslie Torres-Rodriguez, acting superintendent of Hartford Public Schools. Right now, the district is looking at filling a budget hole of over $19 million.

"Our biggest cost drivers include our tuition," Torres-Rodriguez said. "The tuition that we pay for our students to attend the regional magnet schools."

Hartford sends thousands of kids to magnet schools outside the city, run by the Capitol Region Education Council, or CREC. And the district has to pay CREC about $4,500 per kid. But when other school districts send kids to Hartford, they don't have to pay the city. That’s because the city has its own tax base, and CREC doesn’t.

If Hartford could charge other districts tuition -- say, about $2,000 -- Torres-Rodriguez said it could help close some of the budget shortfall. She admitted that this might be a hard sell for towns that are also strapped for cash, especially as state funding for schools has remained flat. But...

"We're serving the same population, the same students," she said. "And so I think that warrants examination as well."

But even if it's able to get towns to pay up, Hartford would likely still face layoffs and hiring freezes that she said could affect about 60 teachers.

Torres-Rodriguez added that they also might have to consider closing and consolidating some schools, and that her team is going to have to be "innovative and creative" to ensure that they meet the needs of all students. 

David finds and tells stories about education and learning for WNPR radio and its website. He also teaches journalism and media literacy to high school students, and he starts the year with the lesson: “Conflicts of interest: Real or perceived? Both matter.” He thinks he has a sense of humor, and he also finds writing in the third person awkward, but he does it anyway.

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