Insisting that “enough is enough with unfunded mandates,” school administrators are flatly refusing to go along with a request from the state’s commissioner of education to create 85 more slots for Hartford children to attend Bristol schools.
“We have simply reached the breaking point,” Superintendent Philip Streifer wrote in a March 10 letter to the commissioner, Mark McQuillan.
The move doesn’t necessarily mean that more inner city students won’t be placed in Bristol schools because the city has no authority to refuse to follow state law. But at this point, the commissioner’s request is not an order.
Cheryl Thibeault, a city Board of Finance member, commended Streifer and the Board of Education for “taking an aggressive stand” to try to fend off more expenses.
Streifer said the city receives $3,000 in funding for each student it accepts from Hartford, but has to shell out an average of $11,000 a year to educate each of them.
That means adding 85 more students would cost city taxpayers $600,000 extra each year at a time when the schools are scrambling to avoid layoffs and maintain existing programs.
The state is looking to increase the number of students who can participate in the Hartford regional program from 1,100 to 3,000 as part of a desegregation effort required by court decisions. Bristol currently has
Statistics from state education reports indicate Bristol has 46 Project Choice students, 36 of them minority students. It also sends some students to magnet schools in other towns so the flow of students goes both ways.
Board of Education members said they don’t want to expand the program because it costs too much.
“We simply can no longer afford to fund additional state mandates without adequate financial support,” Streifer said in his letter. He called it “paramount that the state fully funds” the program if it wants to increase the number of students served.
Bristol’s education leaders said they support efforts to integrate schools more, but argue that the state is responsible for the overall situation and should pay the tab for correcting it.
Streifer said that 30 percent of the city’s $101 million school budget is already devoted to mandated programs.
With state aid stagnant at best, there’s no way to take on additional educational responsibilities and ask struggling city property taxpayers to fork over the money for them, officials said.
The legislature is considering a bid to hand over responsibility for the Open Choice program directly to the state, rather than running it through the Capital Region Education Council, a move that might create a situation where Bristol could no longer say no.
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