Someone say "winter of 2013-14 snow days?"

June 2013, news of LachatWeston is "rural" but also...very cute.  Report on Education Mandates meeting here.

U.S. Department of Education;  What is COMMON CORE?  At the Federal level, how about attention to student debt?

Link to State Department of Education by clicking above. CHARTER SCHOOLS got boost or was that burst, in CT, but...Robin Hood re-allocation formula?  And who needs college anyway when you can earn more at McDonald's?

NEWS FROM ALL AROUND - SEE PICTURES BELOW:
Just a note - here in November of 2013 some of the faces below are in the forefront of CT education news.  Dr. Palmer is on the Education Mandate Relief Taskforce, Dr. Reed is acting Superintendent in Newtown and after no news for a long time, we spoke with Dr. Pierson at the Education Mandate Relief informal public hearing. 

New Superintendent Dr. Colleen Palmer;  Dr. John Reed as interim replacement for both School Superintendents Jerome Belair and Dr. Pierson;  Bus Garage;  new and old bus fleets together.

LOCAL EDUCATION LINK:  Including notes from meetings sponsored by the Weston Board of Ed that we occasionally attend in person.

W.I.S. opened on time this Fall ('05); W.H.S. "Ribbon Cutting" May 13, 2006!  Video-tour streaming on this website now!
WestonArts at work on supporting Auditorium renovations;
Boston story, 30 years after first desegregation order.
compare to any other district in U.S.A.  (found while researching Whidbey Island, Washington); 
comparison of South Whidbey School District and Weston.  The northern part of Whidbey Island (Coupeville is there--Island County's capital) includes the Naval Air Station--how about their approach to inflation effect on school construction budget?
Everett WA has an interesting view...
Check out C.E.A. "calculator" website.

New Jersey moves on school funding...





Now this is an eye-opener - in Westport.

Almost unbelievable overrun - but as we know from other school projects, replacing windows = dealing with the mold issue.







Pryor Leaving By January As State Education Chief; Critic Says It's An Election-Year Ploy
Hartford Courant
BY KATHLEEN MEGAN, JON LENDER and VANESSA DE LA TORRE
2:27 PM EDT, August 18, 2014


Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced Monday that Stefan Pryor, his controversial state education commissioner, will leave by January and is "actively seeking new professional opportunities'' – in a move that a critic immediately branded as an election-year bid by Malloy for the votes of disaffected teachers.

Pryor informed the governor Monday that he will not serve a second term. "Having served for nearly three fulfilling years as commissioner, I have decided to conclude my tenure by the end of this administration's current term and to pursue new professional opportunities,'' Pryor said. "Because I believe it's important to communicate my decision proactively to the governor and the public, I am doing so now."

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced Monday that Stefan Pryor, his controversial state education commissioner, will leave by January and is "actively seeking new professional opportunities'' – in a move that a critic immediately branded as an election-year bid by Malloy for the votes of disaffected teachers.

Pryor informed the governor Monday that he will not serve a second term. "Having served for nearly three fulfilling years as commissioner, I have decided to conclude my tenure by the end of this administration's current term and to pursue new professional opportunities,'' Pryor said. "Because I believe it's important to communicate my decision proactively to the governor and the public, I am doing so now."

The announcement indicated that Pryor's move was his own choice. But a prominent Malloy critic said the truth is that Malloy has decided to "send...Pryor packing" -- in hopes of distancing the governor from Pryor and luring back public school teachers alienated by Malloy administration education policies.

"It's a late and overdue political maneuver to try desperately to convince teachers ,parents and public school advocates to vote for him.," said critic Jonathan Pelto, an independent candidate for governor who is trying to petition his way onto the November ballot. Pelto said the move won't win back any votes for Malloy from disaffected teachers and parents, "because Pryor is but one piece of a broader, anti-public-schools agenda."

Pryor has become a political liability for Malloy, with several Republicans calling for his removal. A champion of charter schools, Pryor was also criticized by some education union officials. That criticism was turned up after a series of embarrassing revelations involving a charter school operator that he had once embraced.

On Monday, Malloy publicly praised Pryor. "Commissioner Pryor has worked hard and well on behalf of Connecticut students. In the three years he's led the department, we've taken tremendous steps forward to improve education, with a particular focus on the districts that have long needed the most help. We needed someone who could act as a change agent, and Stefan fulfilled that role admirably. And we're seeing strong results. Graduation rates have gone up each of the last four years, national high school tests show that Connecticut students are leading among participating states in reading and math, and that we are making real progress in closing the achievement gap.

"It has been a pleasure working with Stefan," Malloy said. "His energy, intellect, and work ethic are exemplary. I wish him well in his next endeavor, and I want to thank him for his service."

However, Pelto -- whose petition forms are now being examined by election officials to determine if he has the 7,500 signatures from registered voters required to get on thye ballot -- issued a statement saying:

"Governor Dannel "Dan" Malloy's decision to send Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor packing is long overdue, but it is still great news for Connecticut's public school students, parents, teachers and taxpayers.

"As a leading proponent of the corporate education reform industry, Stefan Pryor and his team of anti-teacher, pro-standardized testing, privatization zealots have done immeasurable harm to Connecticut's public education system.

"While Governor Malloy remains the only Democratic governor in the nation to propose doing away with teacher tenure and repealing collective bargaining for teachers in so called 'turnaround schools," one would hope that he is finally recognizing that his anti-teacher, pro-charter school, pro-Common Core agenda is bad news for Connecticut public schools or, at the very least, a political disaster for him has he aspires to a second term in office.

"When it comes to actually supporting Connecticut's public schools, Malloy's true intentions remain unknown, but Pryor's departure is a small step in the right direction."

Copyright © 2014, The Hartford Courant




FIRST THE HEADLINE WAS "FAVORS POT" - NOW WE READ "FAVORS ARMED GUARDS IN SCHOOLS"








FULLY FUNDED IN WHITE
...as in Weston, Westport, Wilton, New Canaan, Darien, Greenwich, Redding, Ridgefield, Bridgewater and Sherman, in future WCOG's.  In varied shades of lemon (twohere lemon - the palest shade - so we left them blank so you could easily read the names) through rust color...  Danbury, New Milford, New Fairfield, Bethel, Brookfield, Stamford and Norwalk.
-----------------------------------------------------------------

Remember the first Speak Up (IIRC) when First Selectman George Guidera reported that he had received a bill from the CT Dept. of Education (the funding formula was being revised, and this was the draft amount)?

How much does the state owe your school district?
CT MIRROR
By: Jacqueline Rabe Thomas | April 2, 2014

In recent years, the state has increased the amount of education funding it sends cities and towns in an effort to direct funding to the towns that need it the most.

But the education spending formula -- which directs state spending to municipalities that have higher concentrations of poverty, less ability to raise revenue locally for education and more high-needs students -- has been capped throughout the years.

These caps have led to huge disparities in what towns are owed and what they actually receive.

For example, West Hartford this year will receive only 32 percent of what it is entitled to if the formula were fully funded, which translates to being underfunded by $37.7 million. West Hartford is one of five communities that receives less than one-third of what it's owed based on need. By comparison, 50 cities and towns receive 100 percent of what they are entitled to.


If the spending cap on education were removed this year, the state would have to pay an additional $687.6 million to fully fund the formula. The legislature's budget-writing committee last week recommended that the state add an additional $48.5 million into the budget for the coming year -- a move that would direct most of the increase to the state's lowest-performing districts.

The interactive chart below (actually, above, as we borrowed this lovely graphic from CT MIRROR) shows what each district currently receives, and what each is entitled to, according to the education-funding formula.






Click here for Dr. Scarise's testimony

And from Wendy Lecker, another who testified...



HOOVER INSTITUTE SCHOLAR (CONSIDER THE SOURCE, PLEASE) HAS INTERESTING TAKE ON HOW HOUSING, EDUCATION AND BULLYING ARE COMING TOGETHER IN FEDERAL POLICY...
Read the Valentine's Day weekend NYPOST article here.




"THE DOG ATE MY HOMEWORK"
Inquiring minds want to know:  Why $35 million more on top of $280 million already requested?  Really!




More like this?
Does not the NYTIMES mean to "founder" on the rocks of politics?


The Common Core in New York
NYTIMES
By THE EDITORIAL BOARD
FEB. 14, 2014

The new Common Core learning standards, which set ambitious goals for what students should learn from one year to the next, are desperately needed in New York, where only about a third of high school students graduate with the math and English skills necessary to succeed at college. But the standards, adopted in 2010, have had a bumpy rollout and are under siege from several constituencies.

To keep the momentum going, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Board of Regents, which oversees education in the state, need to resist any effort to roll back the reform. They have to continue to address legitimate criticisms of the way the standards are being put into effect — while also countering the rants of union leaders and other critics who are deliberately misleading the public.

The Common Core was little noticed by the general public until August, largely because only last spring did the state shift from its old standardized tests for grades three through eight to ones based on the new learning standards. Scores declined, as expected; only about 31 percent of the state’s students in those grades met or exceeded the new proficiency standard in English language arts, down from about 55 percent the year before. The decline in scores came as a shock to parents in affluent communities, many of whom insisted that the problem lay not in their schools but in the new tests.

The State Education Department deserves credit for the inventiveness it showed in creating the new tests and the curriculum materials that support the learning standards. In fact, those materials (instructional videos, teacher training kits and more) are widely used by educators in many other states.

New York, however, has failed to explain to parents and communities the aims of the Common Core and that much more would be expected of students, teachers and schools than in the past. To add to the confusion, the state’s 700 districts vary widely in how well they have changed to a new curriculum and trained teachers to execute it. This has created a great deal of anxiety in the teacher corps, not least because the teacher evaluation system required by state law takes student test scores into account.

The current situation is made worse by infighting within the state teachers union, which has hardened its anti-Common Core position. The union complains that teachers will be unfairly judged if the new tests are included in their evaluations. But 80 percent of public school teachers will be evaluated entirely based on locally determined measures. Moreover, in last year’s evaluations, which were based partly on the new test scores, only 1 percent of teachers were rated ineffective.

The regents this week released a Common Core report in which they recommended allowing teachers to challenge unfair dismissal based on student test scores in the 2012-13 and 2013-14 academic years. This provision would also give the districts time to get the learning standards in place more fully.

After Governor Cuomo objected, the regents made the proposal tentative. But the idea makes sense and would make clear to nervous teachers that the state recognizes that the smooth adoption of the new standards will take a bit of time.

The regents reiterated that the districts would need more state money to accomplish these reforms, which will also require a larger investment in professional teacher development. Additionally, they voted to require high school students to pass Common Core-based graduation exams at the college-ready level in 2022, instead of 2017, to ensure that all districts would be fully prepared.

And despite widespread misconceptions, the regents again explained that the new standards do not require school districts to increase the number of tests. (The scheduled time for the federally required tests in grades three through eight, the Common Core report said, accounted for less than 1 percent of instructional time.)

However, local districts themselves have increased testing to comply with a provision of state law created at the request of the unions. The law requires that tests measuring growth in student learning make up 40 percent of an individual teacher’s rating — but half of that must be derived from local measures agreed upon in collective bargaining. To comply, districts have piled on tests, many of which serve only to eat up valuable instructional time. The regents have rightly instructed the districts to cut back on these exams.

The rollout of the Common Core standards, which will give students in all districts a better chance at a good education, has not been perfect. But missteps aside, the state cannot afford to let this project founder.




ECS FORMULA CHANGE: 
No difference either way for Weston ("0") - this is a fancy map/graphic representation of data.

Not so fast: Key lawmaker upset with approval of more charter schools

CT MIRROR
By: Jacqueline Rabe Thomas and Keith M. Phaneuf | April 3, 2014
https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/1094414-education-funding-grant-2014-and-governors.html

The co-chairwoman of the General Assembly’s powerful budget-writing committee is upset that the State Board of Education has approved opening more charter schools than the state budget pays for.

“I am sort of outraged that they approved additional charters. Did they also vote on a resolution to fully fund our public schools? No, I don’t think so,” Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, said during an interview Thursday morning.

The current two-year state budget provides money for four new charter schools to open before July 2015. Those schools, in Bridgeport, New Haven, Waterbury and Windham, will collectively enroll 1,535 students once they reach capacity.

The state gives charters $11,000 for each student they enroll...story in full.

CT MIRROR EARLIER REPORT ON EDUCATION FUNDING FORMULA:  http://ctmirror.org/education-funding-malloy-wants-to-back-off-state-formula/


Wait 'til December...story in full here.
Changes to CT teacher evaluations depend on federal approval
CT MIRROR
By: Jacqueline Rabe Thomas | January 29, 2014

After backlash from teachers throughout Connecticut, state officials and education leaders Wednesday voted to scale back the sweeping changes approved less than two years ago on how every teacher must be evaluated.

The amended standards – which need U.S. Department of Education approval – will require school officials to set just one specific goal to measure student growth as opposed to the multiple goals currently required. The state’s Performance Evaluation Advisory Council also scaled back the number of times some teachers need to be observed, with higher-rated teachers needing to be formally observed just once every three years. The changes also delay for another school year linking state standardized test results to nearly one-quarter of a teacher's final rating.

Calling the changes the “wishes of educators throughout the state,” Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor pointed to the next step: “We need to seek federal approval” in order to proceed, Pryor said Wednesday...




CT EDUCATION MANDATE RELIEF IN OUR TIME?  CT-N BROADCASTED FORUM LIVE - TO BE REPEATED ON DEMAND LATER TODAY...
Speaking of CT education...informational forum by Task Force Education Mandate Relief:  Interesting- AFT agrees with CEA?  "Short Session" begins Feb. 5th.

And a related report?
Connecticut considering offers of private money to implement new education standards

CTNEWSJUNKIE
By Rachel Chinapen, New Haven Register
Posted: 01/06/14, 10:36 PM EST |

The state Department of Education is considering offers to support the promotion and implementation of Common Core State Standards, but to date has not received any “philanthropic” money, Commissioner Stefan Pryor said.

Pryor said Monday the department has “received inquiries from some foundations and other philanthropies regarding support for Common Core related efforts in Connecticut.”

The department announced in December it will invest $1 million in a public relations contract to promote CCSS. The state allotted $14.6 million over the next two years for transition to the new standards. At the time of the announcement, department spokeswoman Kelly Donnelly said the state is looking for private nonprofits to help with the cost. Since then, Pryor has been approached by several private nonprofits and one of the discussions is substantially far along.

While the department doesn’t have contributions from nonprofits yet, Donnelly said the state does receive “technical assistance” for the Common Core from agencies such as the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, the National Association of State Boards of Education and the Council of Chief State School Officers.

Common Core was developed by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers in 2009. The standards are intended to make students more internationally competitive and prepared for college and career.

Connecticut adopted the standards for English, language arts and mathematics in July 2010, joining more than 40 states in the transition.

The standards have widespread support but also face criticism for being drafted by policy makers, rather than experienced educators, and being funded by private dollars. Of the 29 people who worked on either the Math or English-language Arts work groups for the standards, 28 are associated with an education company, such as ACT, Inc., Student Achievement Partners or The College Board.

David Coleman, commonly labeled “the architect” of CCSS, previously co-founded Student Achievement Partners and is now the president of the College Board.

Louisiana public school teacher Mercedes Schneider conducted an audit in August and determined the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation contributed more than $147.9 million to the development and promotion of the standards just between the NGA, CCSSO, Achieve and Student Achievement Partners. The Gates Foundation has a public record of its grants online.

Since August, additional grants have been awarded to support promotion and implementation of CCSS.

In November 2013 Gates awarded CCSSO $1.9 million to support “a 20-month project” to help about 10 states integrate the standards. CCSSO is a national nonprofit committed to preparing every student for “lifelong learning, work and citizenship, according the organization’s website.

Gates has also awarded millions of dollars in grants to organizations such as the American Federation of Teachers, and other seemingly new foundations that “are popping up promoting common core,” said New York’s South Side High School Principal Carol Burris.

Burris has voiced her concerns about the standards on The Washington Post’s “The Answer Sheet” and co-wrote the New York Principals letter of concern about using test scores to evaluate educators.

In October 2013, Achievement First Inc.’s New Haven office received $837,355 from Gates to support development of a Common Core aligned interim assessment, according to the Gates website.

The foundation funneled about $4.5 million into to American Federation Teachers in June 2012 to “work on teacher development and Common Core state standards,” according to the Gates website. A year earlier in April 2011, the foundation gave AFT $1 million to help teachers understand and implement Common Core.

Burris said she thinks it would be difficult for AFT to accept millions of dollars to promote Common Core and then not promote it.  But in a written statement AFT CT President Melodie Peters spoke of the importance of resources.

“We need standards to ensure equal access to a quality education for all America’s children,” Peters said in the statement. “But they need to be done right, and that means providing teachers with support, training, and resources. What we don’t support is a one-size-fits-all standard handed off to teachers with no guidance, no instructions, or no curriculum. Common Core is based on a standard that makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is high stakes student testing and teacher evaluations without first assuring real progress and determining effective implementation.”

AFT spokesman Matt O’Connor said, “It’s very fair to raise questions about the sources of funding for our public schools” and said it’s important that those contributing money to education are transparent about any agendas or intentions they may have.

State resident Wendy Lecker, senior attorney for the Campaign for Fiscal Equity project at New Jersey’s Education Law Center, said she believes allowing private organizations to develop the standards is troublesome, including for “lack of transparency.” Lecker said the way the way “our state educational framework has gotten adopted in the past” changed and is not as public-inclusive a process and “here the NGA and CCSO are not subject to any kind of sunshine law, they can be private.”

The federal government also incentivized states to adopt the new standards by tying them to the Race to the Top applications and ESEA flexibility requests, Lecker said. The adoption of “college and career ready standards” is noted several times throughout the application. Lecker said the phrase was a “clear and well-understood” reference to CCSS.

Burris said additional concerns when it comes to private money supporting public education: loss of funding and teaching to the test. As with anything supported by private money, the money can always go elsewhere and the entire thing could “crash,” she said.

CORRECTION: In a previous version of this story, Achievement First was incorrectly listed as an “education company.” Achievement First is a nonprofit network of public charter schools.



Even Gifted Students Can’t Keep Up
By THE NYTIMES EDITORIAL BOARD
December 14, 2013

In a post-smokestack age, there is only one way for the United States to avoid a declining standard of living, and that is through innovation. Advancements in science and engineering have extended life, employed millions and accounted for more than half of American economic growth since World War II, but they are slowing. The nation has to enlarge its pool of the best and brightest science and math students and encourage them to pursue careers that will keep the country competitive.

But that isn’t happening. Not only do average American students perform poorly compared with those in other countries, but so do the best students, languishing in the middle of the pack as measured by the two leading tests used in international comparisons.

On the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment test, the most recent, 34 of 65 countries and school systems had a higher percentage of 15-year-olds scoring at the advanced levels in mathematics than the United States did. The Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland all had at least twice the proportion of mathematically advanced students as the United States, and many Asian countries had far more than that.

Other tests have shown that America’s younger students fare better in global comparisons than its older students do, which suggests a disturbing failure of educators to nurture good students as they progress to higher grades. Over all, the United States is largely holding still while foreign competitors are improving rapidly.

Federal, state and local governments and school districts have put little effort into identifying and developing students of all racial and economic backgrounds, both in terms of intelligence and the sheer grit needed to succeed. There are an estimated three million gifted children in K-12 in the United States, about 6 percent of the student population. Some schools have a challenging curriculum for them, but most do not.

With money tight at all levels of government, schools have focused on the average and below-average students who make up the bulk of their enrollments, not on the smaller number of students at the top. It is vital that students in the middle get increased attention, as the new Common Core standards are designed to do, but when the brightest students are not challenged academically, they lose steam and check out.

Analysts and scholars have studied international trends and identified the familiar ingredients of a high-performing educational system: high standards and expectations; creative and well-designed coursework; enhanced status, development and pay of teachers; and a culture where academic achievement is valued, parents are deeply involved and school leaders insist on excellence.

But raising the performance of the best students will require the country to do far more. Here are a few recommendations:

Government Support

The federal and state governments should support education of the gifted more aggressively. The federal government provides very little money to educate gifted students and state financing is spotty, with many states leaving it to local school districts. The states face a loss of federal funds if students don’t reach minimum proficiency levels, but they are given no such incentive to propel top students to defined standards of excellence. The federal government should require schools to monitor and improve the performance of their gifted students, backed up with financial incentives. Only eight states track the academic performance of gifted students as a separate group.

More money could help create a corps of teachers trained in identifying and teaching highly talented students. Many such students are never identified because of assumptions that overlook minority and low-income students. Currently, only three states require their general education teachers to have some type of training in gifted education and only 17 states require teachers in programs for the gifted and talented to have a credential for gifted education.

Accelerated Learning

Fewer than 45 percent of the nation’s public secondary schools offer Advanced Placement courses, which inject extra rigor and are intended to prepare students for more challenging work in the first year of college. That’s not enough, especially because the courses are increasingly popular when they are offered. At the same time, a disturbing number of the exams taken by A.P. students received failing scores in May — from 38 to 43 percent in biology, physics B, calculus AB, statistics and chemistry — suggesting that too many students are not being prepared adequately and taught well.

In past years, the College Board, which administers the program and the exams, has been justifiably criticized for requiring too much rote learning of a broad range of facts, and too little time for in-depth study, lab work or creative ventures. But now the board is beginning a drastic revision of its courses and exams, which will focus on the most important core concepts of a subject and leave more room for students and teachers to become more creative.

These courses are often missing in rural areas, which lack enough talented students and qualified teachers. It’s a perfect opportunity to take advantage of high-speed Internet service, making use of online materials and video learning to bring expertise to the most distant schoolhouses.

Early College Admission

The ultimate form of radical acceleration is to let extremely gifted students enter college at a young age. The University of Washington has long allowed a select group of seventh and eighth graders, none older than 14, to skip high school entirely and enter a one-year “transition school” in which they live at home to ease the social adjustment while taking courses on campus taught by an experienced faculty. The courses include physics and precalculus along with English, history and ethics. In the following year, transition-school graduates become regular full-time students.

Follow-up surveys have found that these early-entrance students do well academically and socially compared with regular students and with other talented students who have not skipped high school. Most acquire graduate degrees and some found their own start-up companies. A more modest approach used in some communities allows gifted students to take some courses in nearby colleges while still in high school.

In addition, SAT tests that are typically used as college entrance exams could be administered to some students before age 13 to identify who might easily jump ahead to a high school class in a particular subject. A few of these precocious students might be what researchers call the “scary smart,” whose reasoning ability, as measured by math or verbal SAT scores, puts them in the top 1 in 10,000 for their age group.

A pioneering study has followed a cohort of those extremely smart students for 25 years. It found that they have made outstanding contributions to advancing scientific and medical knowledge, earning tenured professorships, developing software, receiving patents, and serving in leadership positions in Fortune 500 companies and in technology, law and medicine. Such students could easily do the academic work in a high school class while remaining with their age peers in other subjects, or could explore real-world learning through internships and apprenticeships, potentially for school credit. The cost would be minimal. No need to hire or train new teachers or write new curriculums. Just add another student to an existing classroom.

Psychological Coaching

Rena Subotnik, director of the Center for Psychology in the Schools and Education at the American Psychological Association, along with several colleagues, has suggested that gifted students receive psychological coaching from well-trained teachers and from mentors outside the school system, to strengthen their ability to handle stress, cope with setbacks and criticism, take risks to achieve a goal, and compete or cooperate with others as needed. Such skills are often as important as brain power to achieve success. She has also proposed that the main goal of gifted education should be to produce not just experts but individuals who will make pathbreaking, field-altering discoveries and products that shake up the status quo.

There is little reliable evidence on the best ways to educate gifted students; much of what exists was produced by programs promoting their own success. Federal agencies should finance careful, unbiased studies of many of the programs in use: specialized schools for science, engineering and math students; courses for gifted students within a regular high school; enrichment programs in the community; after-school mentoring by local scientists; summer programs for high school students at leading universities; and in-depth research projects under the guidance of outstanding high school or professional mentors. There is no shortage of good ideas, but proof that they work — along with the money and will to back them up — remains lacking, a disservice to the students on whom the future depends.



This one has a history - MDC was to be the original supplier - story here.  But opposition to diversion issue seems to have won the day...
UConn approves water deal with Conn. Water Co. - Company to invest $21M to pipe water to campus
DAY
By PAT EATON-ROBB Associated Press
Article published Dec 12, 2013

Storrs - The University of Connecticut is getting out of the municipal water business.

The school's Board of Trustees approved a deal Wednesday with the Connecticut Water Co. for the company to supplement UConn's water supply. The agreement also calls for Connecticut Water to supply parts of Mansfield, including Storrs, that rely on the university for their water. A separate deal is being worked out with the town.

"The university does a lot of things, but running a water supply system is not essentially a core competency of the University of Connecticut," said Thomas Callahan, UConn associate vice president for infrastructure planning and project management.

Under the agreement, Connecticut Water will absorb the estimated $21 million it will cost to build a 5-mile pipeline from Tolland to the campus. The school is expected to spend about $2 million to hook the line up to its existing system.

The agreement calls for the company to sell the school up to 1.5 million gallons of water daily as needed over the next 46 years.

Callahan said UConn began looking for a water partner in 2010 as a way to ensure it could meet demands on the expanding campus for the next 50 years. He said the agreement will allow the school and town to go forward with planned development projects, such as the UConn Technology Park, without having to worry about a dwindling water supply.

UConn had rejected proposals from two other companies, one of which would have piped in water from as far away as the Farmington River.

"This agreement demonstrates the commitment of Connecticut Water and UConn to develop a long-term water supply solution for the region that is environmentally sound," said Eric Thornburg, president and chief executive officer of Clinton-based Connecticut Water.

The school said it expects to have the system up and running in three years. The deal still needs approval from state regulators. Callahan said the plan calls for maintaining water rates at their current level for the off-campus customers who currently use the UConn water system. New customers in Mansfield would pay whatever rates are authorized at the time by state regulators.





TOP RIGHT - IN 2008 THE GOVERNOR WAS FAIR GAME; - ECS GRANT FORMULA STILL IN QUESTION - THERE IS AN OBVIOUS CHANGE COMING...
Regional schools for all?  Mayor Malloy in 2008 at SWRPA Legislative Breakfast:  Lots of faces no longer in office and SWRPA itself is history - gone forever by Jan. 1, 2015. 


Landmark Education Trial Pushed Back To January
CTNEWSJUNKIE
by Christine Stuart | Jul 23, 2014 5:30am

A landmark education funding trial was supposed to start on Sept. 9, but according to the parties involved it will be moved to January 2015 — months after the November election.

Last January, Superior Court Judge Kevin Dubay refused to push the trial past the November election as the state requested, but the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding — the group that filed the lawsuit — said Tuesday that they agreed to a trial date of Jan. 6, 2015.

The group has been fighting the state to properly fund pre-K through 12th-grade public schools since November 2005. They had been hoping in 2011, when Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy took office, that he would seek to settle the lawsuit since he was one of the original plaintiffs. But it was a tough ask for a governor who was already struggling to hold cities and towns harmless when he needed to find money to replace the federal stimulus funds the previous administration had used in order to boost the Education Cost Sharing formula.

The plaintiffs have continued to put pressure on the Malloy administration to fully-fund the Education Cost Sharing formula — a move that may have been easier to do during his re-election campaign — but said they weren’t upset with the January 2015 trial date.

“The January trial date will enable CCJEF to gather information from the fall term of the 2014-15 school year and give additional time for other evidence collection.” CCJEF Project Director Dianne Kaplan deVries said Tuesday in a press release.

Former Newtown First Selectman Herb Rosenthal, who is president of CCJEF, echoed deVries’ statement.

“This is but an inconsequential delay in our decade-long struggle to make sure that school children will have their day in court,” Rosenthal said. “Moving the trial date to January can only strengthen our case and heighten our resolve.”

A spokeswoman for Attorney General George Jepsen said that the new trial date was necessary based on discovery requests.

“The state and the plaintiffs in this case agreed to the rescheduled trial date as it became clear that plaintiffs needed additional time to respond to court-approved discovery requests,” Jaclyn Falkowski said Wednesday. “We believe that a new trial date was necessary for the state to have a fair opportunity to defend this lawsuit, which seeks billions in additional taxpayer-funded education funding each year.”

In motions filed back and forth in court over the past three years, the state continues to argue that the Malloy administration has done enough to increase the Education Cost Sharing grant — an education grant that helps municipalities fund local schools. There’s also the question about if the state could even reasonably find the money to fully-fund the formula as it currently exists.

In court documents, Brian Mahoney, the chief financial officer at the state Education Department, said the legislature increased the Education Cost Sharing grant by $51.46 million in 2014 and $41.26 million in 2015. The boost in funding went to 119 towns and about 95 percent of it was directed at 30 of the lowest performing districts, called Alliance Districts, according to Mahoney.

But Jim Finley, former head of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities and now a lobbyist for CCJEF, has said the increases in funding still don’t fully fund the formula.

“The ECS formula is intended to ‘equalize’ the ability of towns to pay for public schools at a level that ensures all students equal opportunities for educational excellence,” Finley said. “Since its inception, however, the ECS formula has never been fully funded.”

If it were fully funded it would total $2.7 billion, according to Finley.

“The actual 2012 grant was $1.89 billion, more than $763 million short of the ECS promise under the last formula, which was revamped in 2007. The total ECS formula for 2013 was $1.94 billion and will be $1.99 billion in 2014 and $2.03 billion in 2015,” Finley testified in an affidavit filed last year.

CCJEF and the named parent and student plaintiffs are represented by Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, the Yale Law School Education Adequacy Project, and David Rosen & Associates PC.

The state is represented by Attorney General George Jepsen and his staff.



Judge Rejects Delay, Moves Education Financing Lawsuit Forward
CTNEWSJUNKIE
by Christine Stuart | Jan 16, 2014 5:58pm

Hartford Superior Court Judge Kevin Dubay rejected the state’s request to delay arguments in a landmark education financing lawsuit until after the November election.

Dubay concluded that the case should move forward even though he gave himself more time to think about whether the trial should start in July or whether it should start in September after his three-week vacation.

The rejection of the modification was the second ruling against the state in less than two months.

The Attorney General’s office, which sought to modify the trial date and is defending the state in the case, declined comment following Dubay’s decision.

The executive director of the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding, a coalition of cities and towns that sued the state in 2005 for failing to adequately fund education, said that the judge did the right thing Thursday.

“The state sought to delay this trial by another 16 months, so as to wait out the November gubernatorial election and then have another go at trying to moot out the case,” Dianne Kaplan deVries, executive director of CCJEF, said. “Yet next year there would have been still another motion seeking to delay the trial. No more excuses: it’s time for trial.”

In December, Dubay also rejected the state’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

For the past four years, ever since the Supreme Court sided in a 4-3 decision with the plaintiff’s in 2010, motions have been filed back and forth. In 2011, another judge set a scheduling order, which dictated when the case would go to trial. Under that order the trial was set to begin in July 2014.

“Quite simply I think the parties would have to agree with me that there’s been a lack of compliance with that scheduling order,” Dubay said Thursday.

“Any order that I enter today does not excuse any non-compliance with the prior court’s order,” he said. “Indeed, depending upon what the parties file there may be ramifications for non-compliance with past court orders.”

Attorney’s for the coalition told the court Thursday that they will be ready for trial in six months.

“We just need to set a realistic schedule and get this case tried,” Megan Bannigan, an attorney for CCJEF, said.

She said the case can be tried in July and it’s their view that the state has been “dragging their feet on discovery, but we have almost six months.”

She said some of the plaintiffs have been waiting nine years, while others have aged out of the case already.

The state continues to argue that the $100 million in additional education funding in fiscal year 2013 and the $137 million in additional education funding in 2014, along with a 1,000 new preschool slots—it’s doing enough to fund education and meet its constitutional mandate. The plaintiff’s continue to argue that even with the additional resources, Connecticut’s schools are woefully underfunded.

Judge Rejects Request To Dismiss Education Funding Lawsuit
CTNEWSJUNKIE
by Christine Stuart | Dec 6, 2013 2:24pm

A Superior Court Judge rejected the state’s request to dismiss an 8-year-old education funding lawsuit Thursday.

The Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding sued the state in 2005, alleging that under the state Constitution students are entitled to a public education that works, and one that assures them, at minimum, an adequate education. The Connecticut Supreme Court agreed in a 4-3 decision in 2010 and sent the case back to the trial court. Motions have been filed back and forth for the past three years in anticipation of a 2014 trial.

Judge Kevin Dubay’s decision this week clears the way for a trial to begin in July.

The Attorney General’s office, which is representing the state, argued that the 2012 education reforms and 2013 changes to the Education Cost Sharing formula approved by the legislature satisfy the Supreme Court’s decision in the case. State lawyers argued that because of those legislative changes, the case should be dismissed.

In his 34-page decision, Dubay questioned whether the constitutional claims could be severed from the effects of the 2012 reforms. He concluded that the “question of the jurisdiction is intertwined with the merits of the case, and may not be severed.”

How big of an impact did those reforms have on the system? That’s a question that remains unanswered.

“There is no dispute that 2012 legislative reforms, in some respect, implicate the state’s educational system. The extent to which these reforms alter the system for the purpose of meeting constitutional standards in regard to adequacy remains in dispute,” Dubay wrote.

The state conceded that it will take time, perhaps years, to determine whether the changes the state made to the system had an impact. It argued the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding lacked standing and that the issue wasn’t ripe for discussion since it would take time for the reforms to be realized.

The Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding prevailed on both claims. In a press release, it applauded Dubay’s decision calling it a “major win for children in Connecticut public schools.”

The group comprised of parents, boards of education, and municipal leaders said the opinion “sets the stage for students of Connecticut to finally get their day in court.”

A spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s office said they are still reviewing the decision.

“We will review the court’s decision with our client agencies and will determine the state’s course of action after appropriate review,” Jaclyn Falkowski said Thursday.

As Mayor of Stamford, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy was one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, but as soon as he was sworn into office in January 2011 he became one of the defendants. Members of the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding thought Malloy’s election may help resolve the alleged underfunding of education. It didn’t.

Malloy’s budgets have increased education spending about two percent a year since he was sworn in, but the plaintiffs argue it’s still not enough.

The Education Cost Sharing formula should account for about $4 billion in annual state spending, but it’s funded at about $2 billion a year, according to Jim Finley, CEO of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities.

Finley and other town officials who are members of the coalition have submitted affidavits to the court in support of the plaintiffs.

In court documents, Brian Mahoney, the chief financial officer at the state Education Department, said the legislature increased the Education Cost Sharing grant by $51.46 million in 2014 and $41.26 million in 2015. The boost in funding went to 119 towns and about 95 percent of it was directed at 30 of the lowest performing districts, called Alliance Districts, according to Mahoney.

But it’s still not enough for the plaintiffs. Finley argues the new formula still falls short.




Passing the basketball with a neat bit of misdirection...
"I was just 'trash talking' about right-wing moms to distract the press."


Duncan regrets ‘white suburban moms’ remark

NYPOST
By Associated Press
November 18, 2013 | 7:33pm

Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Monday said he regretted his “clumsy phrasing” in singling out white suburban moms for opposing new higher academic standards.  Duncan has consistently shown little patience for critics of the Common Core State Standards, being implemented in 45 states and the District of Columbia. But his remarks, as reported by Politico, went a step further and add elements of race and class.

“It’s fascinating to me that some of the pushback is coming from, sort of, white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were, and that’s pretty scary,” Duncan said Friday in Richmond, Va. “You’ve bet your house and where you live and everything on, ‘My child’s going to be prepared.’ That can be a punch in the gut.”

The Education Department said no official transcript of the remarks exists, but did not dispute Politico’s account.

In a late-Monday posting on the Education Department’s website, Duncan said “every demographic group has room for improvement.”

“A few days ago, in a discussion with state education chiefs, I used some clumsy phrasing that I regret — particularly because it distracted from an important conversation about how to better prepare all of America’s students for success,” Duncan said in his posting.

Duncan did not apologize and his statement was unlikely to quiet the outcry from his strongest critics, many of them online where anti-Common Core activists have organized.

Conservative columnist Michelle Malkin called Duncan a “corrupt and bankrupt bigot” for his remarks. American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten said Duncan “really doesn’t get it.” Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Texas, tweeted that Duncan “should be fired for dismissing #CommonCore critics as just white suburban moms with dumb kids.”

At the White House, spokesman Jay Carney said he hadn’t seen Duncan’s full comments or spoken with President Barack Obama about them. But Carney seemed to defend Duncan’s sentiment.

“I can just tell you that the secretary of education and everybody on the president’s team dedicated to this effort is focused on making sure that we do everything we can, working with states and others to ensure that our kids are getting the education they need for the 21st century,” Carney said.

When schools shift to standardized tests based on Common Core standards, scores generally fall. Duncan has long warned of those first-year tumbles and says the lower scores more accurately reflect the reality at the school.

Education Department communications chief Massie Ritsch said the secretary was noting that the higher standards sometimes reveal “that good schools aren’t as strong as parents in those areas have long assumed.”

The Common Core State Standards were a project of the nation’s governors and state school chiefs that aims to improve students’ readiness for life after high school. The standards outline grade-by-grade skills students should learn although the actually lessons to teach them are left to each school.

Under Common Core, students are encouraged to do more critical thinking. It’s no longer good enough for students to recall facts and figures, but they have to demonstrate why things work the way they do.

Some opponents of the standards say they are a one-size-fits-all approach that isn’t appropriate. Other critics say the standards put too much emphasis on high-stakes testing and punish teachers for students’ stumbles. Some oppose the standards because the Obama administration used them as a requirement for states to receive money from the economic stimulus bill.



Rep. Gail Lavielle Announces Public Meeting on Education Mandate Relief

HARTFORD – State Representative Gail Lavielle (R-143) is inviting education professionals and members of the public to attend and speak at a public meeting designed to help identify state mandates that may be detrimental to teaching and learning in Connecticut’s public schools. The meeting will be held on Thursday, November 21, at 7:00 pm, at Bedford Middle School, 88 North Avenue, in Westport.

The meeting will be run like a public hearing where all in attendance will have an opportunity to speak. Participants from school districts anywhere in the state are welcome. Everyone is encouraged to submit written comments, particularly since speakers may be asked to summarize their oral remarks if attendance is high.
 
Lavielle is one of the appointees to a task force created during the 2013 legislative session by PA 13-108 to identify opportunities to offer relief to public schools from mandates that may be negatively affecting their ability to provide the best possible education to students. She authored the section of the bill that required the creation of the task force. Lavielle will be presiding at the meeting and listening to speakers’ comments along with other task force members, including Colleen Palmer, Superintendent of the Weston Public Schools.

“Our goal is to have a legislative proposal ready for the 2014 session, which opens during the first week of February,” said Lavielle.

“In identifying options for mandate relief, we want to address the concerns that superintendents of schools, principals, teachers, parents, school board members, union representatives, elected officials, and members of the general public have expressed over the past few years,” said Lavielle. “Teachers are overburdened with administrative tasks, and towns are under constant pressure from escalating costs in their schools. Mandate relief can help school districts save money by operating more efficiently and free up resources to devote more time to educating students and to pursue real innovation in learning that will benefit every Connecticut school district.

“The ultimate goal,” said Lavielle, “is to ensure that our schools can provide the best possible learning environment and education to our students.

“It’s important to note that, while the bill creating the task force refers to mandate relief for only high-performing schools, there may be state mandates that are unnecessary, ineffective, or detrimental to learning in all our public schools,” said Lavielle. “And it is also critical to recognize that mandate relief options provided in high-performing school districts may well translate effectively to other districts. That is why we absolutely want to hear from all types of school districts at this meeting and during all of our research on the subject.”
 
“I want to thank Elliott Landon, Superintendent of the Westport Public Schools, for offering to host this meeting in Westport,” said Lavielle. “This meeting is just one step in seeking input from school districts around the state. We welcome all ideas and comments on this important issue.”

Those who cannot attend the Westport meeting or would like to submit written comments or discuss the issue may contact Representative Lavielle at gail.lavielle@cga.ct.gov, 860 240 8700.



LIES, DAMNED LIES AND STATISTICS DEPT.
Guess what we just found?  A report that U.S. schools not as bad as thought vis a vis international competition!  Click here.  And then there is the college education game...



Higher ed a growth industry and for how long?

Study: Record number of foreign students hit US

DAY
By KIMBERLY HEFLING, AP Education Writer
Nov 11, 12:18 AM EST

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Hundreds of thousands of Chinese students are flocking to U.S. colleges and universities, helping to drive the number of international students studying in America to record levels.

Similarly, all-time high numbers of American students are studying abroad, although there are far fewer and they tend to do much shorter stints than students coming to the United States.

The findings are in an analysis being released Monday that was conducted by a nonprofit group that worked with the State Department.

They say international education programs do more than advance cultural enrichment; they also are an economic boon to communities that host foreign students and to the students themselves, who improve their job competitiveness.

Foreign students contribute about $24 billion annually to the U.S. economy and about two-thirds of them primarily pay their own way or their families do, according to the Institute of International Education and the State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

All told, 819,644 students came to the United States to study abroad in the 2012-13 school year. The highest numbers were from China, India, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and Canada. That's a record high, with a 7 percent increase from a year earlier and 40 percent from more than a decade ago. Despite the increases, international students make up less than 4 percent of all students.

There was some slowdown in the number of students coming to the United States in the years after the Sept. 11 attacks, in part because of visa issues, but the number has since rebounded.

About 235,000 of the international students were from China, a 21 percent increase. A burgeoning middle class combined with a view that America has quality colleges and universities were factors cited as driving the demand. About one-third studied business and management once they arrived, the report said.

"Chinese students and their parents are looking for high quality education, get the importance of international education, and it's making America the No. 1 destination because we actually have the capacity to absorb international students," said Allan Goodman, president and CEO of the institute.

The number of students from Saudi Arabia studying in the United States jumped 30 percent, to 45,000. These students are largely funded by a Saudi government scholarship program nearly in its 10th year, the report said.

The top destinations for international students were the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in Champaign, Ill., Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., New York University, and Columbia University in New York.

By contrast, 283,332 U.S. students studied abroad for academic credit - a 3 percent increase from a year earlier.

In the past 20 years, the number of U.S. students studying abroad has tripled. But less than 10 percent of American students study abroad during their college years. The United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, France and China were the top destinations.

Attention tied to the Beijing Olympics and more classes taught in English are factors starting to drive more American students to China, Goodman said. A State Department program called 100,000 Strong, which officially started in 2010, aims to send 100,000 American students to China over a four-year period.

The report found that 14,887 Americans studied in China in 2011-2012 - a 2 percent increase, but that doesn't include students going to China for noncredit programs.

"We encourage study abroad whether it's short term, long term, whether it's credit, noncredit," said Evan Ryan, a State Department official, on a conference call with reporters.




EDITORIAL
Heartless Betrayal Of Winchester Neighbors;  Finance Director: Alleged theft leaves struggling town in the lurch
Editorial - The Hartford Courant
5:50 PM EDT, October 3, 2013

If the charges against him are true, there should be a special place in hell for Henry L. Centrella Jr.

He was finance director in Winchester for three decades, a man people liked and trusted — until he was arrested this summer on charges that he methodically stole more than $2 million, and possibly much more, from the northwest Connecticut town.

He left the community in such a lurch that officials told the State Board of Education this week they may have to close their public schools by the end of the year. The state provides about $8 million of the town's $20 million annual school budget, but the money isn't paid until the spring. Town officials asked the state for an advance.

Though the state board will investigate, an advance is highly unlikely, possibly even illegal. It's the town's problem and one the town will have to resolve, most likely through some form of borrowing or taxing. The interests of the children demand that schools remain open. Winchester is not a wealthy community to begin with, and in the recession years had to lay off town employees, including police officers. As this was going on, it is alleged, Mr. Centrella was fleecing the community for hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

In 2012, an auditor got wind of it and the state police were called in. Mr. Centrella was fired in January and arrested in late August on charges that he stole more than $2 million from June 2008 to November 2012. But officials are still investigating because they suspect Mr. Centrella, who appears to have had three separate schemes in play, was scamming the town as early as 1995.

What was he doing with the money? According to the arrest warrant, Investigators found evidence he and his wife lost more than a half-million dollars gambling at casinos. Also, perhaps unbeknownst to his wife, he was lavishing money on a mistress in Florida. That money should have been keeping roads paved, textbooks updated and police on the street.

"Adding insult to injury," said town attorney Kevin Nelligan, "he insisted on comp time."

The town's board of selectmen has nothing but bad options, but will have to pick the best of them. The case should encourage all town officials to strengthen their fiscal systems and safeguards — something Winchester's new finance director has done.

Copyright © 2013, The Hartford Courant



Case of Bridgeport schools chief returns to court
Norwalk HOUR
Posted: Wednesday, July 10, 2013 9:20 am


BRIDGEPORT — A Connecticut judge will hear arguments on whether Bridgeport's interim school superintendent should be ousted from his job immediately, following a court ruling that he's not qualified for the position.

The hearing is set for 2 p.m. Wednesday before Bridgeport Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis in the case of interim Superintendent Paul Vallas, who previously led school districts in Philadelphia, Chicago and New Orleans.

Bellis ruled last month that Vallas wasn't qualified and should be removed because he didn't complete a state-mandated school leadership program. City officials are appealing that ruling.

The Connecticut Post reports that Wednesday's hearing is on a motion filed by retired state Judge Carmen Lopez to immediately remove Vallas and not let him remain on the job while the city appeals Bellis' earlier ruling.


School's out for Vallas
Daniel Tepfer, CT POST
Updated 10:49 am, Saturday, June 29, 2013

During his short time at the helm of Bridgeport's failing education system, Superintendent Paul Vallas was both hailed as savior and demonized as an arrogant, inflexible dictator.  Now school's out for summer -- and for Vallas.  In a decision expected to rock the city's education system, a Superior Court judge Friday ordered Vallas removed from his job.

"This could be disastrous for our education system," said Thomas Mulligan, a city Board of Education member and local lawyer. "If Superintendent Vallas is unable to continue serving, this will mean Bridgeport will have gone through four superintendents in a three-year period --John Ramos, Vallas, the interim superintendent who replaces Vallas and a permanent superintendent."

No interim superintendent had been picked as of Friday night.  Although the Board of Education voted Monday to elevate Vallas from acting to permanent status, Judge Barbara Bellis ruled that Vallas is not qualified under state law to serve as superintendent.  In her 27-page decision, the judge agreed with critics of Vallas that he had taken a "sham" course to become qualified to serve as superintendent...full story here.


You can imagine the comments made NOT in print...
Ed Groups: Bonds For Books Unique to New Britain

Mayor's Staff Takes Issue with Detroit Bankruptcy Comparison
The Hartford Courant
By WES DUPLANTIER
6:45 PM EDT, July 30, 2013


The day after New Britain city leaders opted to borrow nearly $10 million for new textbooks and upgrades to the town's schools, observers at two state education groups said most Connecticut school districts probably wouldn't make a similar decision, even if their classrooms were strapped for cash.

New Britain's common council voted 13-2 to pay for the books and upgrades with local bonds. Nearly half of the borrowed money will be used for textbook purchases, according to the request made by the school district.

Cities and towns routinely issue bonds to pay for larger projects, such as building and renovating schools. But Joseph Cirasuolo, the executive director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents, said he had not heard of any other schools in the state issuing bonds to pay for everyday classroom supplies like books.

"It's the first I've heard of it," he said. "But given the situation they're in, I understand why they're doing it. New Britain is the poster child for being an underfunded school district."

He said that school districts usually avoid borrowing to cover the costs of supplies because interest costs increase the overall price in the long run. And the school books might become obsolete even before the bonds used to purchase them are paid back.

Patrice McCarthy, the deputy director and general counsel for the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, said she also didn't know of any instances where a district had issued bonds for textbooks, though she said some schools have issued bonds for computer purchases.

Phil Sherwood, the deputy chief of staff to New Britain Mayor Tim O'Brien, said in an interview that the bonds were necessary because the city's schools had been underfunded by previous mayors.

He said the city has to buy the new books and upgrade the schools to help its students keep pace with their peers around the state and also to prevent the city from losing middle-class families who might move to other towns in search of better schools.

"The mayor was not excited about bonding for this technology and these books," Sherwood said. "It's not normal operating procedure, but the alternative was to fall further behind other cities."

Sherwood said most of the bonds approved this week will likely be paid off in a decade, but the money for the textbooks could be paid off in five years.

The borrowing has drawn some criticism. Alderman Adam Platosz drew a comparison Monday between New Britain's borrowing and the finances of Detroit, which recently filed for bankruptcy with more than $18 billion in debt.

In an interview Tuesday, Platosz acknowledged that New Britain is not bankrupt and that the city is able to make the payments on its outstanding bonds. But he maintained his position that city officials should be careful not to burden the city with too much debt.

"We've got to be careful and we can't overspend," he said. "When you borrow for everything under the sun, you have to pay for it."

Platosz said that New Britain should have gotten money for the textbooks and school fixes from a massive consolidation of city services that O'Brien ordered last year.

In May, Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy visited the Gaffney School in New Britain and pledged to increase state funding for urban school districts. And the state budget he signed in June is projected to send millions more in state education aid to New Britain.

Copyright © 2013, The Hartford Courant




No easy, or popular, fixes for enrollment issues
Greenwich TIME
By Paul Schott
Published 6:33 pm, Saturday, June 15, 2013

Eleven public elementary schools serve Greenwich in a "neighborhood school" model that ensures students can learn in the section of town where they reside.

But that framework may need to be substantially altered or even overhauled for the school district to address a citation by the state for having minority populations at New Lebanon and Hamilton Avenue schools grossly out of proportion with the rest of the district.

As the Board of Education weighs options developed by a consultant to address the racial imbalance predicament, as well as projected crowding in some schools, its members are quickly discovering it will be difficult to build broad support for any course of action. Widespread resistance to change reflects both the popularity of the neighborhood school model and the resolute opposition of many to any plan that mandates relocating students from their current attendance areas.

"I haven't heard one parent saying, `We want change in our district,'" Leslie Moriarty, the school board's chairman, said Friday during a forum at Town Hall. "People are comfortable with what we do in town. They like their neighborhood schools. Nobody wants any change, so we have heard that that's the message to us."

To varying degrees, each of the four options developed by the consulting firm Milone & MacBroom modifies the current distribution of elementary pupils.

One, full redistricting, would maintain each of the elementaries as neighborhood schools, but require moving as many as 900 students, about 20 percent of the elementary population.

Another scenario would also keep the neighborhood school model, but would move one of the magnet programs from Hamilton Avenue School to North Street School and establish "magnet zones" to delineate the sections of town from where the magnets would draw students. But that structure would not rule out assigning some students to schools.

The other two options would dismantle the neighborhood school system and necessitate student relocation through either districtwide school choice or reconfiguration of some elementaries into full magnets and the others into pre-K through second-grade or third-grade through fifth-grade buildings.

Since they were presented by the consultants at a June 6 school board meeting, none of the options has garnered strong support. Instead, they have been roundly criticized.

"When you tell me my daughters aren't going to have this teacher they're looking forward to having in the next grade or they're going to be separated from some of their friends, I think that's why you're seeing people getting very upset and coming out to voice their feelings," said Gregg Sollenne, the father of a kindergartner and second grader at Glenville School.

Faced with that dissatisfaction, the school board is to vote Thursday to set a "sense of direction" for the development of options. Its members aim to adopt a plan by October, but they have indicated that timeline could fluctuate.

Superintendent of Schools William McKersie has not expressed a preference for any of the options, but he has voiced support for Milone & MacBroom's approach.

"Short of charter schools, all the possible options that have ever been used to address enrollment issues, or in Connecticut these racial balance challenges, are somewhere in this mix," he said at Friday's forum. "What we've done is to bring to the community, the board, these four conceptual options the board can work with how they want. They can mix and match them. The community can say, `We like these parts, we don't like those parts.'"

Amid the disgruntlement about the Milone & MacBroom options, some parents have proposed other ideas. Ben Bianco, a North Street School parent, has suggested allowing students at over-enrolled schools to ask for reassignment to any under-capacity school.

"The guiding principle here -- which nearly all parents seem to support -- is that no child will be forced to attend any school outside of his/her zone," he said in a June 13 letter to education officials.

Some Parkway parents have suggested that their school -- where enrollment is projected to plummet by about a third during the next 10 years -- could accommodate a partial magnet program.

"Anything that doesn't have voluntary choice is bad," said Lori Fields, the mother of a kindergartner at Parkway. "We love our neighborhood schools, and we don't want to lose them. Nobody wants to be forced to go away."

Many parents, including some from the racially unbalanced elementaries, have also advocated for the school board to consider challenging the racial balance law.

"Option five to me would be to challenge the state of Connecticut on this outdated law that is ridiculous," Sharon Beasley, a New Lebanon parent, said at a June 11 forum at Western Middle School. "Save the money that we would be using possibly for transportation or consultant work and put the resources into the schools that definitely need it."

No litigation is imminent, but school board members have not discounted that possibility.

"Given that this issue has been raised again, our board is relooking at the issue to understand what the statute says, what Supreme Court cases may have been, what it might mean to the town to challenge in terms of costs and other factors, and we are pursuing to understand that issue as well," Moriarty said.

If the district does not comply with the racial-balance requirement, it could risk losing approximately $10 million in annual state funding. But support for that option will likely persist, as long as the prospect of mandatory change remains.

"If necessary, the BoE [Board of Education] should make clear that it will not engage in radical redistricting," Bianco added in his letter, "to the detriment -- and against the will -- of Greenwich parents and their schoolchildren, in order to comply with a state regulation that is constitutionally invalid."




MANDATES
http://www.cga.ct.gov/2013/rpt/2013-R-0305.htm#P239_8116

About Town current interview is with Rep. Lavielle.

GOP legislator collaborates for school relief
GOP lawmaker from Wilton saw moment to push measure
Ken Dixon, Stamford ADVOCATE
Published 11:18 pm, Sunday, May 12, 2013

HARTFORD -- It's a rare thing for minority Republicans to get their way in the state House of Representatives, where a 99-52 majority means Democrats can get just about anything they want.

But late Thursday night, toward the end of a 10-hour legislative day, second-term Rep. Gail Lavielle, R-Wilton, succeeded in persuading Democrats to adopt an amendment.

The bill was about fostering innovation in public schools, and Lavielle saw the moment as a good time to help both higher-performing and lower-achieving school districts. The bill passed 135-0 and now heads to the Senate.

"I was pleased at how well it went," said Lavielle, a former corporate executive who is on the legislative Education Committee. "I introduced something very similar last year around this time, but there was not an appetite for it."

The amendment calls for a task force to study the possibility of giving schools relief from expensive state mandates.

Under Lavielle's bill, high-performing schools such as Weston High School and New Canaan High School could have more field trips and laboratory work in lieu of mandatory class time. Group learning and online learning could also replace classroom lessons.

In addition, Lavielle's bill would include the five, low-income districts that show the greatest decrease in the achievement gap from July 2010 to July 2012. As a whole, Connecticut has the largest gap in the nation between high-performing and low-performing schools.

Lavielle said that while some legislative task forces can create reports that do nothing but gather dust, her proposed eight-member group appointed by legislative leaders would have a narrow scope and an Oct. 1 deadline.

In 2012, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy created the Red Tape Review and Removal Task Force, which Lavielle said produced a dry report that seems to have gone nowhere, especially on the issue of mandate relief.

An example of her mandate relief would be to allow schools to divert from the so-called common core of classes and create other curriculum options. Another example would be to cut down on reports that many teachers say eat up time that would be better used for instruction.

"I think it's just been long in coming," Lavielle said, adding that it won't cost any money, but it has the potential to save money and resources.

"I was very happy (by the bill's passage in the House)," she said. "It appears to be a sincere desire for collaboration from both sides. This can't be one of those task forces that do nothing."


Are Top State Education Officials trying to circumvent Connecticut’s Freedom of Information Law by using personal email accounts?
"What?  Wait! Blog
Jon Pelto
Apr 22, 2013


Yet another source has confirmed that certain high-ranking officials in the State Department of Education are using their personal computers, personal email accounts or texting on their personal phones to conduct state business.

Unfortunately from time to time, government officials have tried to side-step Connecticut’s Freedom of Information laws by using their personal computers or personal email accounts to conduct the public’s businesses.  Others have used their personal phones to text information that deals with public issues.

In all those situations, when the necessary evidence has been provided, the Freedom of Information Commission has been absolutely clear.  Public records are public, even if officials use their private computers or phones.

The problem is that most Freedom of Information requests only seek copies of emails that have been sent via state accounts.  Without evidence, it becomes difficult, if not impossible for the Freedom of Information Commission to know when public officials are using their private accounts to conduct public business.

If you have evidence that any government official, especially those in the State Department of Education, are using their private email accounts to conduct state business, please pass that information along so that future Freedom of Information requests can take those facts into consideration...

This blog request not necessarily the opinion of the About Weston website, but it does explain why FOI Commission is under the microscope and in danger of having its teeth pulled by the Administration.



State moves to dismiss long-standing challenge to education funding

Jacqueline Rabe Thomas, CT MIRROR
April 9, 2013

Calling their demands "extreme and radical" as a trial draws nearer, the Connecticut attorney general has asked a judge to dismiss the lawsuit filed by parents and educators demanding more funding for education.

In a motion to dismiss filed earlier this year, Attorney General George C. Jepsen argues that the education problems in the complaint dating back to 2003 have since been addressed by lawmakers through the changes to state law made in 2012.

"It is too late to evaluate the adequacy of the education system that existed at the time the lawsuit was filed," Jepsen wrote. By the same token, he added, "It is too early to adjudicate Connecticut's newly reformed education system."

In his motion to Superior Court Judge Kevin Dubay, Jepsen reports that, "Two or three years is needed before the experts can properly assess, and the court can properly consider, the benefits that may be realized from Connecticut's significant reform initiatives."

But 18 parents whose children attend some of the state's lowest-performing schools are tired of waiting for things to improve, said Dianne Kaplan deVries, who leads the coalition suing the state.

"Enough is enough. It's time for these kids to have their day in court," deVries said.

Despite the rhetoric, she says the state is still not providing a quality education for every Connecticut student -- particularly those from poor communities.

Since the lawsuit was filed in the fall of 2005, the case has garnered a lot of attention and support as mayors from Bridgeport, East Harford, Hartford, New Haven and Windham joined forces with the leaders of the state's two teachers' unions to sue the state. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who was mayor of Stamford at the time, also joined the suit.

In 2010 the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding won a key victory when the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that the state is responsible for providing an "adequate" education, and returned it to the lower court to determine if the state's current level of funding is sufficient.  But Jepsen argues in his attempt to get the case thrown out that setting funding levels for education is the legislature's responsibility -- not the court's.

"The bottom line is that plaintiffs' extreme and radical requested relief would amount to taking the state's funding decisions for public schools away from the citizens' elected representatives..." Jepsen wrote.

The state is expected to spend nearly $3.8 billion this fiscal year on education, nearly 20 percent of the state budget.

An 'educational underclass'

At the time the lawsuit was filed in the fall of 2005, schools across the state faced a long list of problems, particularly those districts in poorer communities.  At Roosevelt School in Bridgeport, the average class size far exceeded state averages. At East Hartford High School, students who fell behind in math had to catch up on their own because there were no tutors or remedial instructors.

"Once in the school [these factors] increase the chance that these students will become part of the educational underclass," the lawsuit alleges.

In New Britain, only half the fourth graders were reading proficiently, but 99 percent were being socially promoted to fifth grade. At Bassick High School in Bridgeport, almost half the students who entered as freshman would make it to graduation.  And while there is widespread agreement that too many children in Connecticut were not receiving a quality education, Jepsen argues that it would be unfair to litigate constitutional violations from 2005.

In addition to linking student performance to teacher tenure and dismissal decisions, the law passed last year largely focuses on improving the state's lowest-performing schools. The reforms direct most of $92 million in new funding to increasing enrollment in charter and magnet schools, enrolling 1,000 more students in high-quality preschool programs and paying for certain new programs in the 30 lowest-performing districts.

But deVries said the new funding pales in comparison to what is needed. Her expert estimated in 2005 that the state was underfunding education by at least $2 billion a year.

As for the new funding provided by the legislature last year, "It's just a bunch of pilot programs," she said. "There will never be enough for all the students -- that's the Connecticut way."

Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, D-New Haven, who was the leader of the legislature's Black and Puerto Rican Caucus during the education reform debate last year, said workable programs get funded piecemeal because there's limited money.  Take universal access to preschool -- which the governor supports and was in Meriden last week promoting its impact. Offering preschool to every low-income family's children would cost the state $43.8 million more a year. So, instead, the legislature last year created 1,000 new spots at a cost of $6.8 million.

The same can be said for full-day kindergarten -- something the legislature's Achievement Gap Task Force has been recommending for years. Implementing that program has also been sidelined until the funding is identified.  A program to help students who are behind in learning to read -- one that Holder-Winfield says was successful in the handful of districts where it was implemented -- has also stalled because of funding. Instead, legislators decided last year to expand the pilot program.

"We do pilot after pilot. Study after study. That's not nearly enough," the New Haven Democrat said.

Malloy's evolution from plaintiff to defendant

As mayor of Stamford, Malloy grew so frustrated seeing his wealthy neighbors get almost the same per-pupil education grants from the state as his city did that he joined a class-action lawsuit over the funding system.

During Malloy's first weeks in office as governor, he vowed to change the "broken" way education was funded in Connecticut, and he has steadily increased the amount the state spends on education. In his first two-year budget, he filled the $271 million budget gap school districts faced when emergency federal stimulus dollars ran out.  And this year he is asking the legislature to increase education spending yet again, though municipalities would not be required to spend some of the $101.5 million increase on education.

Malloy does not claim that this increase will get the state to an adequate funding level, but says "it is moving us in that direction."

For the state's existing funding formula to work as intended, it needs at least an additional $724 million each year, according to top state officials. However, the state spends more for each student than almost every other state after factoring in the region's higher cost of living, according to a national report card released this year by Education Week, a nonpartisan publication.  While touring a preschool program in Meriden that was able to offer more children enrollment because of the 2012 law, Malloy said the reforms were not meant as a way to get out of the state's funding obligations or to delay the lawsuit.

"No. No. No. That's not why we are doing this," he said. "Education is my focus -- has been, will be."

If the suit is not dismissed, the trial is set to begin in July 2014.  Holder-Winfield, who is also running to become the mayor of New Haven, said a court order may be exactly what's needed to force the state to find the money to provide a quality education.

"I don't think that a good defense is 'We are trying.' Good intentions don't help those young people that end up in prison or on social services" because they aren't given an adequate education, he said. "There needs to be some strong force that spurs the legislature into action."




Not a CT educational institution - nor a medical one.

More Diagnoses of Hyperactivity in New C.D.C. Data

By ALAN SCHWARZ and SARAH COHEN, NYTIMES
March 31, 2013

Nearly one in five high school age boys in the United States and 11 percent of school-age children over all have received a medical diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, according to new data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

These rates reflect a marked rise over the last decade and could fuel growing concern among many doctors that the A.D.H.D. diagnosis and its medication are overused in American children.

The figures showed that an estimated 6.4 million children ages 4 through 17 had received an A.D.H.D. diagnosis at some point in their lives, a 16 percent increase since 2007 and a 53 percent rise in the past decade. About two-thirds of those with a current diagnosis receive prescriptions for stimulants like Ritalin or Adderall, which can drastically improve the lives of those with A.D.H.D. but can also lead to addiction, anxiety and occasionally psychosis.

“Those are astronomical numbers. I’m floored,” said Dr. William Graf, a pediatric neurologist in New Haven and a professor at the Yale School of Medicine. He added, “Mild symptoms are being diagnosed so readily, which goes well beyond the disorder and beyond the zone of ambiguity to pure enhancement of children who are otherwise healthy.”

And even more teenagers are likely to be prescribed medication in the near future because the American Psychiatric Association plans to change the definition of A.D.H.D. to allow more people to receive the diagnosis and treatment. A.D.H.D. is described by most experts as resulting from abnormal chemical levels in the brain that impair a person’s impulse control and attention skills.

While some doctors and patient advocates have welcomed rising diagnosis rates as evidence that the disorder is being better recognized and accepted, others said the new rates suggest that millions of children may be taking medication merely to calm behavior or to do better in school. Pills that are shared with or sold to classmates — diversion long tolerated in college settings and gaining traction in high-achieving high schools — are particularly dangerous, doctors say, because of their health risks when abused.

The findings were part of a broader C.D.C. study of children’s health issues, taken from February 2011 to June 2012. The agency interviewed more than 76,000 parents nationwide by both cellphone and landline and is currently compiling its reports. The New York Times obtained the raw data from the agency and compiled the results.

A.D.H.D. has historically been estimated to affect 3 to 7 percent of children. The disorder has no definitive test and is determined only by speaking extensively with patients, parents and teachers, and ruling out other possible causes — a subjective process that is often skipped under time constraints and pressure from parents. It is considered a chronic condition that is often carried into adulthood.

The C.D.C. director, Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, likened the rising rates of stimulant prescriptions among children to the overuse of pain medications and antibiotics in adults.

“We need to ensure balance,” Dr. Frieden said. “The right medications for A.D.H.D., given to the right people, can make a huge difference. Unfortunately, misuse appears to be growing at an alarming rate.”

Experts cited several factors in the rising rates. Some doctors are hastily viewing any complaints of inattention as full-blown A.D.H.D., they said, while pharmaceutical advertising emphasizes how medication can substantially improve a child’s life. Moreover, they said, some parents are pressuring doctors to help with their children’s troublesome behavior and slipping grades.

“There’s a tremendous push where if the kid’s behavior is thought to be quote-unquote abnormal — if they’re not sitting quietly at their desk — that’s pathological, instead of just childhood,” said Dr. Jerome Groopman, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and the author of “How Doctors Think.”

Fifteen percent of school-age boys have received an A.D.H.D. diagnosis, the data showed; the rate for girls was 7 percent. Diagnoses among those of high-school age — 14 to 17 — were particularly high, 10 percent for girls and 19 percent for boys. About one in 10 high-school boys currently takes A.D.H.D. medication, the data showed.

Rates by state are less precise but vary widely. Southern states, like Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, South Carolina and Tennessee, showed about 23 percent of school-age boys receiving an A.D.H.D. diagnosis. The rates in Colorado and Nevada were less than 10 percent.

The medications — primarily Adderall, Ritalin, Concerta and Vyvanse — often afford those with severe A.D.H.D. the concentration and impulse control to lead relatively normal lives. Because the pills can vastly improve focus and drive among those with perhaps only traces of the disorder, an A.D.H.D. diagnosis has become a popular shortcut to better grades, some experts said, with many students unaware of or disregarding the medication’s health risks.

“There’s no way that one in five high-school boys has A.D.H.D.,” said James Swanson, a professor of psychiatry at Florida International University and one of the primary A.D.H.D. researchers in the last 20 years. “If we start treating children who do not have the disorder with stimulants, a certain percentage are going to have problems that are predictable — some of them are going to end up with abuse and dependence. And with all those pills around, how much of that actually goes to friends? Some studies have said it’s about 30 percent.”

An A.D.H.D. diagnosis often results in a family’s paying for a child’s repeated visits to doctors for assessments or prescription renewals. Taxpayers assume this cost for children covered by Medicaid, who, according to the C.D.C. data, have among the highest rates of A.D.H.D. diagnoses: 14 percent for school-age children, about one-third higher than the rest of the population.

Several doctors mentioned that advertising from the pharmaceutical industry that played off parents’ fears — showing children struggling in school or left without friends — encouraged parents and doctors to call even minor symptoms A.D.H.D. and try stimulant treatment. For example, a pamphlet for Vyvanse from its manufacturer, Shire, shows a parent looking at her son and saying, “I want to do all I can to help him succeed.”

Sales of stimulants to treat A.D.H.D. have more than doubled to $9 billion in 2012 from $4 billion in 2007, according to the health care information company IMS Health.

Criteria for the proper diagnosis of A.D.H.D., to be released next month in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, have been changed specifically to allow more adolescents and adults to qualify for a diagnosis, according to several people involved in the discussions.

The final wording has not been released, but most proposed changes would lead to higher rates of diagnosis: the requirement that symptoms appeared before age 12 rather than 7; illustrations, like repeatedly losing one’s cellphone or losing focus during paperwork, that emphasize that A.D.H.D. is not just a young child’s disorder; and the requirement that symptoms merely “impact” daily activities, rather than cause “impairment.”

An analysis of the proposed changes published in January by the Journal of Learning Disabilities concluded: “These wording changes newly diagnose individuals who display symptoms of A.D.H.D. but continue to function acceptably in their daily lives."Given that severe A.D.H.D. that goes untreated has been shown to increase a child’s risk for academic failure and substance abuse, doctors have historically focused on raising awareness of the disorder and reducing fears surrounding stimulant medication.

A leading voice has been Dr. Ned Hallowell, a child psychiatrist and author of best-selling books on the disorder. But in a recent interview, Dr. Hallowell said that the new C.D.C. data, combined with recent news reports of young people abusing stimulants, left him assessing his role.

Whereas Dr. Hallowell for years would reassure skeptical parents by telling them that Adderall and other stimulants were “safer than aspirin,” he said last week, “I regret the analogy” and he “won’t be saying that again.” And while he still thinks that many children with A.D.H.D. continue to go unrecognized and untreated, he said the high rates demonstrate how the diagnosis is being handed out too freely.

“I think now’s the time to call attention to the dangers that can be associated with making the diagnosis in a slipshod fashion,” he said. “That we have kids out there getting these drugs to use them as mental steroids — that’s dangerous, and I hate to think I have a hand in creating that problem.”

Allison Kopicki contributed reporting.



National publication provides a rundown of Connecticut's college scandal
Political Mirror
Jacqueline Rabe Thomas
January 14, 2013

Did you miss the trio of scandals that hit the state's college system in the last few months? Don't worry, Inside Higher Ed, a national publication, has a complete rundown of all the trials and tribulations the 100,000-student system faced after being reorganized by state lawmakers.

Here is a link to the article
.

The article outlines the lack of clarity in the law, which possibly doomed the newly merged college system from the start. And coupling that with an aggressive governor wasn't helpful, either.

As Aims McGuinness, with the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, told the national publication, "the trick... is finding a way for the governor to back off gracefully."


Study: State debt and worker benefits ate into education and social services over two decades
Keith M. Phaneuf, CT MIRROR
October 25, 2012

A new study released today says that health care and debt service have consumed more and more state resources in the past 20 years -- the shift in funding hurting education and social services the most.

Connecticut Voices for Children, a New Haven-based, progressive public policy center, attributes the shift to an aging population and workforce, rapidly rising health care costs, three recessions and the "ripple effects" of several other policy choices.

"The state budget is an expression of our values and priorities," said Wade Gibson, co-author of the report and senior policy fellow at the Fiscal Policy Center. "In the face of these trends and continued budget deficits, we need to make sure that we make forward-looking budget decisions that maintain investments in the future while fulfilling our obligations to our most vulnerable populations -- young and old alike."

Education has experienced the largest decline, according to the report. It represented 29.2 percent of the state budget in the 1991-92 fiscal year, falling to 23.1 percent in 2011-12.

"This reduction has been borne most heavily by state colleges and universities. As a result, costs have shifted to students and families," the report states, adding that "in-state tuition and fees have increased by nearly 90 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars over this period."

At the same time, state funding also shifted away from one of the largest sections of the budget, human services. This share of overall state spending dropped from 33.4 percent to 30.9 percent. This was driven by declining payments to welfare recipients and to hospitals that serve a disproportionate share of poor patients, and declining staff numbers in the Department of Social Services, the report noted.

Over the same two decades that these programs received a smaller portion of state spending, the state has relied increasingly on borrowing. State debt has more than doubled in real dollars, increasing by 142 percent over the past two decades, the report notes.

And the "non-functional" section of the state budget, which includes funding to cover debt service and health care for current and retired state employees rose over the last two decades from 16 percent to 22.4 percent of the state budget.

"These trends mean that Connecticut will likely face similar budget pressures into the future," said Matthew Santacroce, co-author of the report and policy fellow at the Fiscal Policy Center. "Policymakers will need to confront the long-term factors producing these budget trends if we hope to maintain the schools, health care, transportation and other public services we need for a healthy economy."

Connecticut Voices also made several recommendations to reverse this cost shift, including: 

    Reforming Connecticut's "obsolete" system for financing K-12 education, reducing the reliance on municipal property taxes and increasing state funding.
    Expand recent efforts to improve state employee wellness and otherwise contain state health care costs.
    And, avoid borrowing to cover state operating expenses.





Fallout lingers over Conn. higher ed pay raises

DAY
By DAVE COLLINS, Associated Press
Oct 15, 7:21 PM EDT

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) -- The two top executives of Connecticut's new university and community college system are gone, but the fallout from secret pay raises continues for Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who hand-picked both officials to lead a high-profile effort to streamline higher education.

Republican lawmakers are calling for legislative hearings and questioning what administration officials knew about the raises and when. Staffers with the Board of Regents for Higher Education are trying to minimize any disruptions to the schools and reform efforts while limiting damage to the system's reputation.

"We hope not to lose a beat in all this because what we're after is so important," said Lewis Robinson, chairman of the Board of Regents. "Our aim is to regain our momentum as quickly as possible."

In what has become one of the most high-profile controversies of Malloy's 21-month-old administration, the Board of Regents revealed last week that President Robert A. Kennedy had awarded $250,000 in pay raises to 21 board staff members over the past year without the board's knowledge or its required approval. Kennedy and Executive Vice President Michael Meotti resigned on Friday.

"It's probably the biggest problem that has cropped up in state government since Gov. Malloy took office," said Roy Occhiogrosso, senior adviser to the governor. "The governor accepts the fact that mistakes happen and that problems crop up in state government. His job is to make sure ... they are dealt with swiftly, and that's exactly what he did."

Malloy denounced the raises last week and urged the Board of Regents to address the issue immediately. Before he resigned, Kennedy suspended the raises pending a review by a new panel on whether the increases were warranted. Kennedy said the staff members deserved the raises because they had taken on more responsibilities in the consolidation of different higher education systems.

The board tapped former University of Connecticut President Philip Austin to temporarily oversee the college system while officials search for a permanent successor to Kennedy.

Beginning operation in July of last year, the Board of Regents was originally proposed by Malloy as a way to streamline the way Connecticut runs its colleges and universities. The group governs four state universities, 12 community colleges and a public, online school, excluding the University of Connecticut.

Board officials say they have identified $5.5 million in savings in the consolidation, which paved the way for hiring 47 new faculty and student support positions. They launched three manufacturing centers to help better prepare students for the workforce. And they said they've made it easier for students to transfer to other schools in the system.

House Republican Leader Lawrence Cafero of Norwalk and Senate Republican Leader John McKinney of Fairfield have been calling for the legislature's higher education committee to hold hearings on the raises. Occhiogrosso said Malloy found out about the raises just over a week ago and acted swiftly.

"How in a time of fiscal crisis ... do you miss a quarter of a million dollars in raises being given out?" Cafero said. "How do you not know that?"

Occhiogrosso accused Cafero and McKinney of trying to score political points shortly before the November election. He said Malloy doesn't regret recommending Kennedy for the job and believes Kennedy is a "smart, thoughtful" guy who made a mistake.

Majority Democrats who lead the higher education committee said Monday that they don't believe hearings are needed at this point because the Board of Regents already is taking action.

Gary Rose, a political science professor at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, said the pay raise controversy has had a big impact on Malloy's higher education efforts and become campaign fodder for Republicans.

"I think it has a devastating effect on any kind of reform effort," Rose said. "He doesn't have his lieutenants in place to execute his plan. So I think that's problematic for him."

Cafero pledged to continue looking into the raises.

"I hope no one believes that just because Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Meotti resigned and Mr. Austin was appointed that this is over," Cafero said.


Austin Named As Interim President
CTNEWSJUNKIE
by CTNewsjunkie Staff | Oct 12, 2012 4:11pm


Former University of Connecticut President Philip Austin was named Friday as the interim president of the Board of Regents that oversees the state’s four universities and community colleges. He agreed to step into the role vacated by Robert Kennedy, who resigned under fire after approving more than $260,000 in raises for the higher education agency’s top executives.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who recruited Kennedy, praised the Board of Regents for choosing Austin as the interim.

“His reputation is beyond reproach, and he will bring much needed stability to the Board of Regents central office the first day he walks in the door,“ Malloy said. “He’s also the right person to make sure the reforms that have started to be implemented continue.”

Austin, who served for more than 11 years as president of the University of Connecticut, also served as the interim president during the transition between Michael Hogan and its current president, Susan Herbst.

Lewis Robinson, chairman of the Board of Regents, announced the pick after the board spent more than a half hour in executive session discussing its options.

“Dr. Austin is an outstanding educator and leader of educational institutions,” Robinson told reporters after the meeting adjourned. “He served as the 13th president of the University of Connecticut with distinction and he was asked to come back as interim president in their search for their president, Dr. Herbst, and did a fine job.”

Robinson said Austin’s experience made him a good choice as the Board of Regents moved quickly to find a permanent replacement for Kennedy. Robinson said he had a conversation with the governor’s office Thursday and Austin’s name “came up.”

Austin’s pay has yet to be worked out, he said. Malloy will have to appoint him before he starts his job.

Robinson said the board may take five or six months to choose a new permanent president.

“In order to get the top quality leader that’s going to propel us into the 21st century so we have graduates equipped to compete in a global economy, we need a first-rate person,” he said.

The 15-member board voted unanimously to accept Kennedy’s resignation before it nearly unanimously voted to recommend Austin.

One member, Alex Tettey, Jr., chairman of the board’s Student Advisory Committee, abstained from the vote. Tettey said he had respect for every member of the board, but had only heard Austin’s name mentioned for the first time about an hour before the vote. Without being able to research the candidate for himself, Tettey said he didn’t want to cast a vote one way or another.

“I didn’t feel it was enough time,” he said, adding that he may have to explain his vote to other students. “A lot of students around the state — their confidence is a little shaky in the board.”

Some of that discontent was evident while the board was in executive session. Chris D’Amore, a Manchester Community College student, spoke with reporters about his frustration with the raises and the staff who received them.

He said most state employees are under a pay freeze and that it was wrong for Board of Regents’ staff to accept raises that weren’t even approved by the board. D’Amore said everyone who received a raise should pay back whatever extra money they received and ideally resign.

Robinson said Executive Vice President Michael Meotti has agreed to pay back his raise and the others have had theirs frozen. Those raises will be studied, he said, noting that some raises were approved by the board.

One of the actions taken by the Board of Regents on Friday was to establish an administrative committee to look into the raises and other personnel issues. Robinson said he still had confidence in the board’s staff unless or until the that committee came back with evidence to the contrary.

“We’re not going to operate at the board on innuendo with regard to other people who are not involved with what’s transpired this morning,” Robinson said.


Aside From Meotti, 21 Other Officials Get Raises
CTNEWSJUNKIE
by Christine Stuart | Oct 9, 2012 5:05pm

Michael Meotti, executive vice president of the Board of Regents, wasn’t the only education administrator to get a raise this summer. Twenty-one other executives also received significant pay increases from Board of Regents President Robert Kennedy.

The raises ranged from as low as $5,000 to as much as $48,000 for people such as Eastern Connecticut State University President Elsa Nunez and Norwalk Community College President David Levinson. The $48,000 pay hikes are on top of Nunez’s and Levinson’s salaries of $320,480 and $204,188 respectively. They received the raises when they were named vice presidents of the regents overseeing the former Connecticut State University System and the Community College System.*

The raises reflected increased and consolidated responsibilities that go along with their new job titles.

For instance, Colleen Flanagan Johnson was the director of public affairs and marketing for the Board of Regents, but she accepted additional duties as chief of staff along with the $20,000 increase in salary. Her salary went from $130,000 to $150,000, which means she’s now making as much as her former boss, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

Earlier in the day Tuesday, Board of Regents Chair Lewis Robinson and Kennedy putting out a statement saying Meotti, who was expected to receive a $47,820 pay increase, “has chosen to forgo his raise in salary.“ None of the other 21 who received pay increases and increased responsibilities have offered to give up their raises, which will now be reviewed by the 15-member board.

The unfolding story of the salary increases at a time when the state budget deficit is growing has lawmakers contemplating their next move. If House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero has his way, the legislature’s Higher Education Committee would have a public hearing on the matter.

“What, exactly, is going on here?” Cafero said in this letter to Sen. Beth Bye. “I do not believe the legislature envisioned these developments when it approved higher education ‘reforms’ more than a year ago. The apparent breakdown in oversight of higher education, and the lack of transparency in running these systems, are perhaps most disturbing.”

Bye, who was concerned about the “ill-timed” raises, said she’s in the process of gathering the facts along with her co-chair Rep. Roberta Willis, and the ranking Republican members of the Higher Education Committee. Once she has the information the committee leadership will decide whether to hold a public hearing, or what other action they should take.

Most of the raises were approved by Kennedy over the summer. All have gone into effect, but the Board of Regents will now review them and could decide to eliminate them, reduce them, or keep them in place.

Bye said Kennedy never had the authority to order the raises under the legislation, and has admitted his mistake.

The Board of Regents oversees the state’s four regional colleges, 12 community colleges, and Charter Oak State College. The creation of the board stemmed from Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s desire to consolidate the state’s colleges and eliminate $5.5 million in administrative costs in the process.

-----------------------

*
The reason why Presidents were asked for their resignations...a new system under centralized operation is our read of what's going down!
http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/upload/BOR_Salary_Adjustments.pdf



Second community college president: 'We're on the chopping block'
Jacqueline Rabe Thomas, CT MIRROR
October 5, 2012
Updated, Oct. 6, 9:30 a.m.

A second Connecticut community college president has come forward to confirm that the 12 presidents "have been offered a buyout," and it was "made clear we're on the chopping block if we don't accept."

Barbara Douglass, the president of Northwestern Community College in Winsted, said Friday that her understanding of what the presidents were told by the higher education administration coincides with the account given by Gena Glickman, president of Manchester Community College.

"President Glickman's account of the meeting was accurate," said Douglass. "The other presidents are not coming forward because of fear and intimidation. I am coming forward because I feel one of my colleagues is being held out to dry."

Although no one from the higher education system was available during the day Friday, a statement from "Connecticut State Colleges and Universities" was released Friday night that called their recent actions "consistent with practice in both of the former university and community college systems." (See below for statement.)

Douglass said the controversy surrounding the presidents' tenure is not related to the implementation of a new law governing remedial education at the college level, as some administrators have claimed.

Earlier this week, Michael Meotti, the state college system's executive vice president, told the Board of Regents for Higher Education that Glickman's account was not accurate.

In an email to her faculty Tuesday, Glickman said the 12 college presidents had been given until Oct. 31 to decide whether to take a buyout or put their positions at risk.

Meotti described the proposal to the presidents as a way to hasten their dismissal if they thought "they could not carry out the directions of the [remedial education] law and the board." In his email Tuesday to the regents, Meotti said the proposal was put forward because several presidents are resisting implementation of the new state law limiting when students can be forced to take noncredit remedial courses. It is known as SB-40.

But Douglass said at no time during the meeting did Steven Weinberger, the director of human resources for the regents, bring up the remedial education law.

"I have never said or indicated I would not carry out the law," said Douglass, who has run her community college for nine years. "I know we all have concerns. That doesn't mean we aren't going to follow the law," she said.

"During the meeting," she said, "all that was mentioned was the need for change in leadership, nothing to do with SB-40... It was not discussed as related to it."

Douglass said her legal counsel has advised her not to share the details of the "buyout offered."

Response

Meotti, Robert Kennedy, the Board of Regents president, and Lewis Robinson Jr., the board chairman, were not immediately available Friday afternoon to comment.

However, Friday night, a statement from the "Connecticut State Colleges and Universities" was released: "This approach is consistent with practice in both of the former university and community college systems. The discussions start with central office leadership and the presidents."

"Balancing these sometimes conflicting goals is what led to recent conversations with our community college presidents. This conversation started with a meeting of community college presidents where an explanation was provided of how these goals would be addressed in the regular presidential evaluation process that should precede a Board of Regents decision on reappointment," the statement reads. "System leadership will complete discussions with any interested presidents by the end of the month. Sometime after that, the presidential evaluation process will start for those who have not entered into a mutually agreed upon separation agreement."


Not a 'buyout' for college presidents, an 'expedited' separation process
Jacqueline Rabe Thomas, CT MIRROR
October 4, 2012

In reaction to what one official says is internal dissent over a new law governing remedial education, members of the state's community college governing board were notified this week that their staff has offered 12 college presidents an expedited exit from their contracts.

The 15-member Board of Regents for Higher Education was also informed for the first time that the presidents' performance is being evaluated earlier than usual as part of the expedited separation process.

In an email to the board Tuesday, Michael Meotti, executive vice president of the college system, addressed an issue first broached publicly by Manchester Community College President Gena Glickman. She told her faculty and staff that she and the 11 other college presidents were offered a buyout that they must decide to accept by Oct. 31 or risk dismissal.

This is not the first time the manner of dismissing college presidents has been an issue in Connecticut. Two years ago, the state's attorney general ruled in another college president's ouster that dismissal authority rests with the higher education board, not its executive staff.

Meotti has denied the accuracy of Glickman's account, but told the board in his memo that the college system's vice president for human resources, "met with the community college presidents to reinforce the significance of our change agenda across a range of educational issues. Steve explained that there would be a process for review of presidential performance..."

"The urgency of our work required us to expedite the process this year," Meotti wrote.

The urgency stems from the system's need to implement a new state law that limits when students can be forced to take remedial courses. Some college presidents have balked at the change, Meotti wrote; yet their contracts require they be given a 12-month notice before they are dismissed.

So Meotti's office proposed offering "an earlier trigger to the 12-month notice period if mutually agreed upon. [Staff] would follow up individually with presidents," he told the board. The move was an effort to "create a path to an amicable resolution with anyone who might feel they could not carry out the directions of the law and the board," Meotti told the board.

"The board hasn't met so they have not been briefed," he said Thursday.

Meotti said he will not disclose what areas of his administration's "change agenda" the presidents are resisting, saying that's a personnel issue.

Board of Regents members Richard Balducci and Lawrence DeNardis have said that Meotti's memo and a Connecticut Mirror story earlier this week were the first they have heard about problems with the college presidents and implementing the new remediation law known as SB-40.

"The board has never met [about] or discussed this," Balducci said.

"That would be well within our jurisdiction." said DeNardis. "The board has not been involved up to this point. I expect the board to be."

Two years ago, the Connecticut Mirror reported about the controversial dismissal of Southern Connecticut State University's president, Cheryl Norton.

Then-Attorney General Richard Blumenthal issued a legal opinion saying the higher education board at the time improperly allowed then-Chancellor David Carter to unilaterally remove Norton.

The board eventually changed its policy, and promised to be "more transparent" in dismissals of college presidents in the future.

Since then, the college system has been reorganized into a new system that merged the boards of the dozen community colleges and four four-year state colleges.

Nothing in the new board's bylaws delegates the authority to make decisions about a president's tenure to the central office staff or the executive committee. State law requires that "the board shall establish terms and conditions of employment of its staff, prescribe their duties..."

Both DeNardis and Balducci said no discussion has taken place on the future of the presidents during a full board meeting.

College presidents were informed about their potential expedited exit from their posts during a private meeting Sept. 24. The full board met the following day, but the move was not discussed in public.

The lingering uncertainty on the MCC campus created by Glickman's email to her faculty and the ensuing media coverage has fueled a demand for answers from some faculty members.

"Given that we only know what we know from [Glickman's] communication and we don't have any information from the Board of Regents or the Governor's office to confirm or deny the allegations, I am asking all of you to contact your legislative representatives and raise ... questions," wrote Carl Stafford, an MCC culinary instructor in an email circulated to the faculty this week.

"We have not really been told what the plan is or if there really is a transitional plan," Stafford wrote. "Our legislators need to know that we hold them accountable for the votes they make... I'm concerned about recent events and feel that by removing the president, we as a campus community lose significant representation and voice."

The new law will limit remedial enrollment beginning in the fall of 2014 to one semester and requires more than a standardized entrance exam to determine who must take these non-credit courses. Figures from the Board of Regents show that 70 percent of the students who enroll in community colleges have been determined to have not been adequately prepared in high school, and will be required to first take remedial courses.

When the bill was debated in the General Assembly, several legislators referred to these remedial courses as the colleges' Bermuda Triangle: Just 13.6 percent of the full-time students who take them actually earn an associate's degree in four years -- twice the time it should take, reports the Board of Regents.



Enrollment Drops Again in Graduate Programs
By CATHERINE RAMPELL, NYTIMES
September 28, 2012

Enrollment in college is still climbing, but students are increasingly saying no to graduate school in the United States.

New enrollment in graduate schools fell last year for the second consecutive year, according to a report from the Council of Graduate Schools.

The declines followed surges in enrollment in 2008 and 2009 as many unemployed workers sought a haven during the recession. Financial considerations probably played a role in the shift. Students may be dissuaded from continuing their education in part because of the increasing debt burden from their undergraduate years.

Additionally, state budget cuts are forcing public institutions to reduce aid for graduate students, who in some disciplines have traditionally been paid to attend postgraduate programs.

The number of students enrolled in master’s and doctoral programs (excluding law and certain other first professional degrees like M.D.’s) declined by 1.7 percent from the fall of 2010 to fall 2011.

Among American citizens and permanent residents, matriculation fell by 2.3 percent. In contrast, temporary residents increased their enrollment by 7.8 percent.

Temporary residents made up 16.9 percent of all students in American graduate schools, and that figure has been growing as foreign governments pay for more of their citizens to obtain education in the United States, particularly in technical areas. Temporary residents represented 45.5 percent of all students enrolled in engineering graduate programs in the United States, and 42.4 percent of those in American mathematics and computer science graduate programs.

The changes in 2011 varied by discipline, with education having the biggest drop-off in new graduate enrollment at 8.8 percent.

“The states are in financial stress,” said Debra Stewart, president of the Council of Graduate Schools. “The school systems especially are in financial stress. Teachers are no longer being provided time off to get graduate degrees, and schools are no longer funding principals to go back and get principal certificates.”

The next sharpest decline was in programs for arts and humanities, where new graduate enrollment fell by 5.4 percent, perhaps reflecting that career prospects for such graduates are becoming more limited as colleges lay off even tenured faculty members in these areas.

Health sciences, on the other hand, experienced a big increase in enrollment. The health care industry has been hiring consistently and robustly during the recession and the weak recovery.

The number of new graduate students studying health care rose by 6.4 percent, which was slightly slower growth than the average in the last decade. The average annual change in new graduate enrollment in health sciences from 2001 to 2011 was 9.8 percent.

Enrollment showed more tepid growth in business, which was up by 2.6 percent, and in mathematics and computer sciences, up by 1.6 percent.

While overall enrollment for graduate school declined, the number of applications rose by 4.3 percent. It was the sixth consecutive increase in application volume.

The Council of Graduate Schools did not have data on how many schools the typical applicant applies to, so it was unclear if there were more people applying in 2011 than in the previous year. But there was an increase in the number of people taking the Graduate Record Examinations (G.R.E.), a test that many graduate schools require as part of student applications.

As the number of grad school applications has risen, the share of those applications leading to offers of admission has been falling. In 2007, the acceptance rate across all master’s and doctoral programs was 44.6 percent, whereas in 2011 it was 40.8 percent.

Women continued to outnumber men in the nation’s postgraduate programs, 58 percent to 42 percent, in the 2011 report.

The Council of Graduate Schools, a membership organization for institutions of higher education in the United States and Canada, based its findings on an annual survey of American graduate schools. The latest report reflected the responses from 655 institutions, which collectively award 81 percent of the master’s degrees and 92 percent of the doctorates each year.





Panel looks to tackle skyrocketing special education costs

Jacqueline Rabe Thomasn CT MIRROR
September 17, 2012

A state panel is considering recommending wealthy school districts and high-income parents with special needs children to pay more to cover the skyrocketing price of special education.

One in eight Connecticut students -- more than 60,000 -- receives special education services, and nearly $1 of every $4 spent on education goes to special education. In the past decade, while general education costs increased 40 percent, spending for special education increased by 65 percent, nearly a $700 million jump.

The panel -- the Education Cost-Sharing Task Force -- which includes the governor's budget director and the co-chairwomen of the legislature's Education and Appropriations committees, will likely recommend who should pay for special education as it's now structured.

Panel members at a meeting last week, however, hesitated to support changes that many local school leaders say would cut their special education costs; the members leaned, instead, toward studying those changes.

"I'm afraid special education costs are growing at the expense of regular education," Ben Barnes, the governor's budget director, said at last week's task force meeting. "If we do not figure out a way to control special education costs then anything we do for [overall education funding] is irrelevant."

Meriden Superintendent Mark Benigni, a member of the task force, said every year he has to consider cutting music programs, advanced placement courses and other elective classes so he can afford to pay for mandated special education services.

The situation is "alarming," he said.

In an interview after the meeting, Nancy Prescott, executive director of the Connecticut Parent Advocacy Center, said it's disappointing that decisions may be made on costs, not on the actual need of special education students.

"It shouldn't be based on numbers," said Prescott, whose center helps about 5,000 parents of children with special education needs receive services each year.

Who should foot the bill?

The cost of educating an average student in Connecticut is about $14,400. Thousands of special education students cost their districts well over $50,000 a year each. This can pay for services that include one-on-one tutoring, special learning equipment or tuition for an out-of-district program. (About 300 students cost more than $150,000 each year.)

Currently the state picks up the bill when the cost to provide special services for a student exceeds 4.5 times the district's average cost to educate a student. However, in seven of the last 10 years, the state did not pay its full share, which left districts paying even more of the cost.

The State Department of Education's budget director has reported that it would cost the state an additional $101 million to fully pay its share of special education costs for the 2013-14 school year, a challenging price tag that for a state struggling to keep its budget balanced.

In addition to the panel's preliminary recommendations to require that wealthy districts and parents pay more of special education costs, it also calls for low-income districts -- which typically have higher concentrations of students with special education needs -- pay a smaller share of the costs.

"Just put it on a sliding scale, where the wealthy districts pay 80 percent of the costs... Why don't we ask parents who can afford it to contribute," suggested Ted Sergi, a task force member and former state education commissioner. "And by the way, it will reduce costs for the state."

While committee members were receptive to the idea of different state reimbursements for districts, they noted they don't want to create any incentives for districts to identify for more or less students based on how much money they will, or will not, get.

Some panel members questioned whether federal and state special education laws would allow parents to chip in, noting that those laws require that special education students receive a "free appropriate education."

Prescott, of the parent advocacy center, said she has a serious problem with charging parents, no matter their income, for education.

"Free means free. Unless federal law is changed, I don't see any place for a parent to be paying for an appropriate education," she said. "It's amazing it's being considered."

What's driving the cost?

Connecticut is one of six states that requires a school district to prove that a special education student is receiving an appropriate education. In 44 states, the burden of proof lies on the parents to prove the education is not sufficient.

Many local school officials have complained for years about the costs of fighting a parent's complaint because the district must pay the legal fees regardless of the outcome. The State Department of Education reports that each year only about 200 cases are challenged and brought before an independent hearing officer.

Many districts point to the burden of proof issue as the single most expensive cost of providing special education. A preliminary task force recommendation would keep this state regulation -- but calls for the state to pay for an independent study to look at requiring the parent and the district to share the burden.

In a recent education department survey, 68 percent of districts say shifting the burden in the cases that came before the hearing officer would save them an average of $74,000 a year. But if parents had to pay to prove that their child's education services were not adequate, nearly half the districts said they would have made a different, and possibly less costly, decision, when negotiating which special services to provide.



Preliminary Headcount Shows Dip In Simsbury School Enrollment
Kindergarten, Project Choice Numbers Up Compared To 2011-12

The Hartford Courant   
By HILLARY FEDERICO, hfederico@courant.com
1:20 PM EDT, September 13, 2012

SIMSBURY Enrollment in the Simsbury Public School System has declined this academic year, with 178 fewer students than reported last year during the first weeks of classes.

Assistant Superintendent Erin Murray told the School Board Tuesday night that the school system's budget had been built around a projected enrollment of 4,518 students. As of the most recent headcount, the school system's enrollment is 4,485.  But this isn't the official fall headcount, Murray stressed.

"Although it is always informative and interesting to review opening of school enrollment data, it is important to note that the official enrollment count is calculated on Oct. 1," she said in a report to the board.

The Oct. 1 enrollment count is then reported to the state Department of Education and is also the number Simsbury provides to the New England School Development Council for calculation of annual enrollment projections. Last year, Simsbury reported a total of 4,663 students enrolled in its seven public schools.  According to Murray, overall enrollment at the elementary level has decreased by 54 students from last year's opening day number of 2,235. The declining enrollment at the elementary school level is consistent with NESDDEC projections and national trends, she said.

A total of 747 middle school students are reported to be enrolled at Henry James Memorial School, a decrease of 47 students compared to last year's opening number. At Simsbury High School, enrollment is down 77 students from last year's opening of 1,634.

Despite an overall district-wide decline in enrollment, both the number of kindergarteners and Hartford students participating in the Project Choice program in Simsbury have increased.

The district, which this year implemented a full-day kindergarten program, reported a record 244 enrolled students, 27 more than school officials had anticipated.  On Aug. 29, there were 127 Project Choice students enrolled in K-12, and 10 Project Choice students enrolled in PK, for a total of 137. Last year, there were 112 Project Choice students enrolled at the opening of school.



Enrollment Off in Big Districts, Forcing Layoffs
By MOTOKO RICH, NYTIMES
July 23, 2012

Enrollment in nearly half of the nation’s largest school districts has dropped steadily over the last five years, triggering school closings that have destabilized neighborhoods, caused layoffs of essential staff and concerns in many cities that the students who remain are some of the neediest and most difficult to educate.

While the losses have been especially steep in long-battered cities like Cleveland and Detroit, enrollment has also fallen significantly in places suffering through the recent economic downturn, like Broward County, Fla., San Bernardino, Calif., and Tucson, according to the latest available data from the Department of Education, analyzed for The New York Times. Urban districts like Philadelphia and Columbus, Ohio, are facing an exodus even as the school-age population has increased.

Enrollment in the New York City schools, the largest district in the country, was flat from 2005 to 2010, but both Chicago and Los Angeles lost students, with declining birthrates and competition from charter schools cited as among the reasons.

Because school financing is often allocated on a per-pupil basis, plummeting enrollment can mean fewer teachers will be needed. But it can also affect the depth of a district’s curriculum, jeopardizing programs in foreign languages, music or art.

While large districts lost students in the 1970s as middle class families left big cities for the suburbs, districts are losing students now for a variety of reasons. The economy and home foreclosure crisis drove some families from one school system into another. Hundreds of children from immigrant families have left districts in Arizona and California as their parents have lost jobs. Legal crackdowns have also prompted many families to return to their home countries.

In some cases, the collapse of housing prices has led homeowners to stay put, making it difficult for new families — and new prospective students — to move in and take their place.

But some say the schools are partly to blame. “We have record-low confidence in our public schools,” said Kevin Johnson, the mayor of Sacramento and head of education policy for the United States Conference of Mayors. (He is married to Michelle Rhee, the lightning rod former chancellor of the Washington public schools and now an advocate for data-driven reform). “If we have high-quality choices in all neighborhoods, you don’t have that exodus taking place,” he said.

The rise of charter schools has accelerated some enrollment declines. The number of students fell about 5 percent in traditional public school districts between 2005 and 2010; by comparison, the number of students in all-charter districts soared by close to 60 percent, according to the Department of Education data. Thousands of students have moved into charter schools in districts with both traditional public and charter schools.

Although the total number of students in charter schools is just 5 percent of all public school children, it has had a striking effect in some cities. In Columbus, Ohio, for example, enrollment in city schools declined by more than 10 percent — or about 6,150 students — between 2005 and 2010, even as charter schools gained close to 9,000 students.

A year ago, Tanya Moton withdrew her daughter, Dy’Mon Starks, 12, from a public school and signed her up for Graham Expeditionary Middle School, a nearby charter school.

“The classes were too big, the kids were unruly and didn’t pay attention to the teachers,” Ms. Moton said of the former school.

She said she sought help for her daughter’s dyslexia at her former school, but officials “claimed that she didn’t need it.” After transferring to Graham, Ms. Moton said, “one of the teachers stayed after school every Friday to help her.”

During the recession and weak recovery, pinched state financing and dwindling property taxes forced many public schools to shed teachers and cut programs.

“The fewer students we have, the fewer dollars we’re getting” from the state and federal government, said Matthew E. Stanski, chief financial officer of Prince George’s County Public Schools in Maryland, where enrollment has fallen by almost 5 percent in five years, despite sharp gains in nearby counties.

Officials have laid off about 100 teachers and district employees, cut prekindergarten to half days and canceled some athletic programs, Mr. Stanski said.

In Los Angeles, the district has dismissed more than 8,500 teachers and other education workers in the last four years as enrollment fell by about 56,000 students. The Mesa Unified District, which lost 7,155 students between 2005 and 2010, has closed four middle schools in the last three years, delayed new textbook purchases, and laid off librarians.

The students left behind in some of these large districts are increasingly children with disabilities, in poverty or learning English as a second language.

Jeff Warner, a spokesman for the Columbus City Schools, said that enrollment appears to be stabilizing, but it can be difficult to compete against suburban and charter schools because of the district’s higher proportion of students requiring special education services.

In Cleveland, where enrollment fell by nearly a fifth between 2005 and 2010, the number of students requiring special education services has risen from 17 percent of the student body to 23 percent, up from just under 14 percent a decade ago, according to the Cleveland Metropolitan School District.

Such trends alarm those who worry about the increasing inequity in schools. “I see greater stratification and greater segregation,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.

Educators are concerned that a vicious cycle will set in. Some of the largest public school systems in the country are in danger of becoming “the schools that nobody wants,” said Jeffrey Mirel, an education historian at the University of Michigan.

Jeanmarie Hedges, a mother of two teenage sons, moved her family out of Prince George’s County two years ago because the proportion of students passing standardized tests was much lower than in neighboring Charles County, Md.

Ms. Hedges said she was also driven by fear of violence in the school. “Some of our friends went there and they were beaten up a lot,” she said.

A. Duane Arbogast, acting deputy superintendent for academics in Prince George’s County, said he recognized the challenge of persuading families to send their children to public schools.

“We simply have to get better and provide an education that people of all social classes would be proud of,” said Mr. Arbogast, who cited a new health sciences academy and a planned performing arts high school in his district.

But declining enrollment can force tough trade-offs. “If you want to offer Spanish but you only have 80 kids taking Spanish, then your cost per pupil” is larger than if you have 500 in Spanish classes, said Jonathan Travers, director at Education Resource Strategies, a nonprofit consulting group that helps school systems adjust to changes in enrollment.

Before the Mesa district closed Brimhall Junior High School this year, the school lost teachers in art, music and technology in part because of a declining student head count. That made it harder for the school, which faces competition from many charter schools, to attract students.

“Education has gotten to be almost a sales job,” said Susan Chard, who taught seventh grade math at Brimhall for 18 years. “You want to provide reasons for parents to bring their children to your school.”

Hank Stephenson contributed reporting from Mesa, Ariz., and Rebecca Fairley Raney from San Bernardino, Calif.




University of Pennsylvania neurology prof's course online - "senior option" course?
Could Weston student get credit (like advanced placement) - attending at computers in the WHS library?

Top Universities Test the Online Appeal of Free
NYTIMES
By RICHARD PÉREZ-PEÑA
July 17, 2012

A few months ago, free online courses from prestigious universities were a rarity. Now, they are the cause for announcements every few weeks, as a field suddenly studded with big-name colleges and competing software platforms evolves with astonishing speed.

In a major development on Tuesday, a dozen highly ranked universities said they had signed on with Coursera, a new venture offering free classes online. They still must overcome some skepticism about the quality of online education and the prospects for having the courses cover the costs of producing them, but their enthusiasm is undimmed.

But at universities that have not yet seized a piece of this action, the response ranges from curiosity to fear of losing a crucial competition. When University of Virginia trustees ousted their president last month — a decision they later reversed — one reason cited was concern about being left behind online. (Virginia was included in Tuesday’s announcement.)

“There’s panic,” said Kevin Carey, director of education policy at the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan research group. “Whether it’s senseless panic is unclear.”

Massive open online courses, or MOOCs, let colleges reach vast audiences at relatively low cost, but they have not yet made money from them. And if it becomes possible in years to come to get a complete college education from an elite institution online, free or at relatively low cost, experts wonder whether some colleges will find it harder to attract students willing to pay $20,000, $40,000 or even $60,000 a year for the traditional on-campus experience.

Online classes have been around for years, with technology evolving to include multimedia features and interaction among students and faculty. What is new is the way top colleges are jumping in with free courses — in effect, throwing open the doors digitally.

So far, most people signing up live in foreign countries. But MOOCs will become more appealing to domestic students when they give course credits toward a degree, something the elite universities have not yet done. The University of Washington says it plans to do so, and it may be just a matter of time before earning credits becomes standard.

“The people who should be worried about this are the large tier of American universities — especially the expensive private schools — that are not elite and don’t have the same reputation” as the big-name universities now creating MOOCs, said Anya Kamenetz, an author who writes on the future of higher education.

Residential colleges already attract far less than half of the higher education market. Most enrollment and nearly all growth in higher education is in less costly options that let students balance classes with work and family: commuter colleges, night schools, online universities.

Most experts say there will always be students who want to live on campus, interacting with professors and fellow students, particularly at prestigious universities. But as a share of the college market, that is likely to be a shrinking niche.

The elite universities will be best able to compete with low-cost alternatives because their large endowments make them less dependent on tuition income, and they can lower their effective prices through generous financial aid, said John Nelson, a managing director at Moody’s Investors Service who analyzes higher education finances.

Analysts say that universities will inevitably try to make money from MOOCs, whether by charging tuition or not. Software companies working with colleges have looked into advertising, or selling information on students to prospective employers.

William E. Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland, noted that a few public colleges, including his system’s University College, already offer mostly online courses. In the future, he said, the standard class will be a hybrid of in-person and online elements, which Maryland is experimenting with.

“We think this approach can cut costs by about 25 percent,” he said, “enabling each professor to work with more students, while producing a clear improvement in learning outcomes.”

For a decade, Carnegie Mellon University’s Open Learning Initiative has created free online courses. But for many educators, Stanford fired the starting gun last fall, with a free online course in artificial intelligence that drew 160,000 students.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology started a free class project, MITx, in December. The next month, a Stanford professor who helped teach the artificial intelligence class founded Udacity, a company offering free courses in partnership with colleges and professors.

In April, Stanford, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Michigan joined forces with Coursera to offer free classes. In May, Harvard teamed with M.I.T. to create a similar venture, edX.

In the last week, more universities signed on with Coursera.

“Our participation was finalized literally over the weekend,” said J. Milton Adams, vice provost at the University of Virginia, which listed five free courses. “I’m going to have some unhappy faculty members saying, ‘Why can’t my course be on there?’ ”




School District: Race to the Top money not worth the effort
Las Vegas Sun
By Paul Takahashi (contact)
Thursday, July 12, 2012 | 2 a.m.

The cash-strapped Clark County School District is expected to forgo a pursuit of millions of dollars in federal grant money because it has too many strings attached.

This month, the $4 billion Race to the Top grant program opened its latest round of funding to individual school districts for the first time in its three-year history. Previously, only state education departments were eligible to apply for the grant, which rewarded states for implementing innovations supported by President Barack Obama. Nevada is not a Race to the Top state.

School districts across the country are eligible to apply for $400 million in Race to the Top funding, with each four-year grant worth $15-25 million. Final deadline to send in grant applications to the feds is set for October.

With only 15 to 20 school districts across the country anticipated to win the multimillion-dollar grants, the competition is expected to be fierce.

However, the School District doesn’t seem too interested in participating in what one School Board member likened to “mud-wrestling.”

That’s because the grant is too restrictive and potential for failing to meet its requirements is too high for a large urban district like Clark County, officials said Wednesday during a special work session.

These requirements include creating a “personalized learning environment” — an individualized learning goal and plan — for each student in the pilot program, in Clark County’s case about 10,000 students. The grant also requires that a teacher, principal, superintendent and school board evaluation system be implemented by 2014-15.

There is also an expectation that school districts scale up these innovations after the Race to the Top pilot program ends, said Kimberly Wooden, chief student services officer.

That could prove difficult for a 309,000-student school district such as Clark County.

“It’s a great idea, but in order to bring it to scale in a district our size, it may require technology,” Wooden said, adding there may be additional costs incurred to the School District to implement this technology.

Furthermore, for all its troubles, the School District may receive just $6 million a year in Race to the Top money, officials said. The School District operates on a $2 billion budget.

“My concern is that a grant, once awarded, becomes a contract,” School Board member Erin Cranor said. “Sounds like selling your soul for $6 million.”

States such as Georgia and Hawaii that have failed to meet the grant requirements now face heavy sanctions — a fate School District officials say they don’t want to fall on Las Vegas.

“I just have real concerns. I already feel that we have so many mandates on us,” School Board member Deanna Wright said. “No, let’s keep on our course. Let someone else mud-wrestle for $6 million.”

School Board member Chris Garvey agreed: “Let’s continue on our path. Look for money without a lot of strings on it.”

Superintendent Dwight Jones, who was on vacation during Wednesday’s work session, has the option to submit an application that is to the School District’s benefit, said Cranor, who has experience as a grant-writer. The federal government is likely to reject the application; however, there is a small chance the money could be awarded to Clark County, she said.

The School District currently has about $20 million in federal grants, including more than $8 million in School Improvement Grant, or “turnaround,” money.



Board to hire long-range consultant
John Burgeson, CT POST
Updated 02:19 p.m., Saturday, July 7, 2012

MILFORD ---- The city's public school system is to see its enrollment drop by about 100 students a year over the next 10 years.

This will mean that changes are needed. To lead that effort, the Board of Education is expected to hire a consultant at its meeting set for 7 p.m. Monday in the Parsons Complex on River Street. The consultant would work with the board over the next few months to help it create a long-range plan.

School officials say the current enrollment of 6,814 will drop by about 14 percent, or 1,000 pupils, by 2022.

Assistant Superintendent Michael Cummings said school closings will not likely be recommended. The system has eight elementary schools, three middle school, two high school and one alternative high school.

"The enrollment projections have sparked some concern over the need to develop a long-range plan, and given that backdrop, and their main concern is what must be done to develop the best educational system for our kids," Cummings said. "The enrollment projections do provide us with an opportunity to do some things, and this will also be a good time to examine our work, too."

Cummings said that while closings aren't likely, the consultant will explore how to best use the schools. The person hired will consider various options for groupings based on grade level and geography, as well as assess the physical plant.

"The consultant will be conducting public hearings and will talk with all of the stake-holders before writing a final report," Cummings said.

The board began looking for a consultant in May, when it established its Long Range Committee, which includes board members Susan Glennon, Chairwoman Tracy Casey, Dr. Mark Stapleton, School Superintendent Elizabeth Feser and Cummings.



Hamilton named superintendent
Interim superintendent chosen: Appointment made despite push for national search
Maggie Gordon, Stamford ADVOCATE
Updated 10:31 p.m., Tuesday, June 19, 2012


STAMFORD -- The city's school board appointed Winifred Hamilton as the district's new superintendent on Tuesday evening, with eight members in support and Board President Polly Rauh abstaining. 

Hamilton has been serving as interim superintendent since September and was named acting superintendent in June, after former schools superintendent Joshua Starr accepted a position leading the Montgomery County, Md., school district.  Hamilton has worked in the district for more than four decades. She began as a physical education teacher at Dolan Middle School, working her way through the ranks as a middle school assistant principal and principal before heading downtown to serve as assistant superintendent and deputy superintendent.

Board member Lorraine Olson spoke at length about the search process, citing the campaign platform she used when running for her post three years ago, which centered around the need to promote people from within.

"It's not like we're just taking her on face value, because she's been here for 43 years. We did 28 focus groups and asked the public what they're looking for in a superintendent," Olson said.

"We had pages and pages of pros for Winnie and just a couple cons; the cons were that she wasn't a superintendent before and had no elementary experience ... Our last superintendent wasn't even a teacher," she said.

The vote puts an end to what became a publicly dysfunctional process in the last several days as board members were surprised by a last-minute resolution to restart the search for a superintendent rather than appointing Hamilton.  Board member Gary Klein, who wrote the resolution, said the request to extend the search process was not about Hamilton's personality or qualification, but rather that "the right thing for our staff, our students and our citizens is to conduct a national search."

Four board members voted to extend the search earlier in the regular meeting, including Klein, Geoff Alswanger, John Leydon and Rauh. It was defeated by a five-vote majority.

"There in effect was no search," said Alswanger, who said he was holding true to his campaign promises -- do what you say and say what you do. "And to me folks, that's the definition of transparency. Say what you do and do what you say and that's my issue tonight."

After the search resolution was voted down, the board moved onto a resolution to appoint Hamilton; Alswanger, Klein and Leydon then all threw their support behind her as a candidate.

"Dr. Hamilton has been a fixture, and we're proud to have her," Alswanger said. "I'm thrilled and ecstatic to support this nomination, and it's going to be privilege I think to work with her."

But board President Polly Rauh said she would abstain from the vote, drawing a visual grimace from Hamilton.  Rauh said she could not in good conscience support Hamilton as the "best" candidate without conducting a more thorough search.

"Best is multiple people. One person can't be best when measured against only themselves," Rauh said.

"It is not a vote in my heart on Dr. Hamilton as superintendent -- it is a vote that we should not be talking until we have completed the search," Rauh said. "That's my position and I will stand by it."

When the other eight board members voted in support of Hamilton, more than 100 people present at the meeting rose to their feet to applaud the new superintendent.

"As I first said when I was first appointed principal, I said `You will not be disappointed.' Thank you," Hamilton said drawing another loud round of applause from the crowd.

After the appointment was official, a line of dozens of people formed in the board room to get an opportunity to hug Hamilton, while others milled around discussing some of the more contentious points in the evening.

"We're pleased that Dr. Hamilton will be continuing the good work that's gong on in Stamford," said Regan Allan, co-president of Stamford's Parent Teacher Council.

Allan also said she was not surprised the vote was not unanimous.

"We weren't expecting a unanimous vote. And I'm glad in the end she'll be superintendent. But I think it was great for the public to see some of the dysfunction that goes on in this board room. This was a good example of that," she said.



Malloy Appoints Panel To Cut Red Tape In Education System
Panel Charged With Removing Bureaucratic Barriers To Allow More Innovation In Schools
The Hartford Courant
By KATHLEEN MEGAN, kmegan@courant.com
2:21 PM EDT, June 14, 2012

As he promised in January as part of his education reform package, Gov.Dannel P. Malloyhas appointed a panel to clip red tape and remove bureaucratic barriers in the educational system.

"While there are certainly districts that need help to turn their schools around, many districts throughout our state are doing great work and we in government need to get out of their way," Malloy said.

"The work of this task force will look at our bureaucratic policy with an eye toward removing the policies that inhibit innovation."

The state Department of Education is already analyzing the forms local districts must fill out and aims to eliminate a third of the required paperwork in the first year.

State Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor said the state's role in education "should be as a partner, not a barrier, in helping educators prepare students for success. When state regulations, statutes or practices hinder school districts' efforts, we need to examine ways to reduce that burden."

Pryor said that many of the forms issued to local districts from different bureaus and divisions of the state Department of Education are redundant.

"Districts may be asked over and over again for the same pieces of information," Pryor said. "An early task for us is reducing that redundancy in the request for data."

The purpose, he said, is to free districts from "unnecessary and onerous constraints" and to eliminate requirements that are outmoded, unnecessary or overly burdensome.

"We aim to prune those [requirements] when possible in order to give districts more room in which to innovate," he said. Pryor said that schools districts frequently complain of "too much bureaucracy and too little support. The rules too often get in the way and prevent the types of innovation that will lead to progress."

The Red Tape Review and Removal Task Force includes Michael Tetreau, Fairfield's first selectman; Freeman Burr, superintendent of the Shelton public schools; Ronald Goldstein, chairman of the Colchester board of education; David Scata, director of special education and pupil services in East Haddam; Donald Macrino, prinicipal of Waterford High School; Charles Zettergren, director of finance and operations in the Rocky Hill public school system; Danuta Thibodeau, executive director at the Education Connection Regional Educational Service Center; Sharron Solomon McCarthy, a special education teacher in the New Haven public schools; and Tasia Kimball, a general education teacher in the Amity Regional School District.

A date for the panel's first meeting has not been set yet, but it will be in July.




How many of your favorite books make the list?

Common Core Standards To Change State's Education Landscape
The Hartford Courant
By KATHLEEN MEGAN, kmegan@courant.com
5:15 PM EDT, September 21, 2013

A sweeping change now underway quietly in Connecticut is transforming school curriculum from kindergarten through 12th grade with the aim of raising achievement and ensuring that all students are ready for college and career.

The new Common Core State Standards — a set of academic goals that were developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers — are driving the changes. Along with 44 other states, Connecticut adopted those standards after they were issued in 2010.

The standards, however, are simply goals, and state administrators and teachers have spent many hours developing a new curriculum and training teachers in new strategies.

"We are trying to have teachers teach in a way that they were not taught themselves," said Alan Addley, Granby superintendent of schools. "That's a huge transformational change that cannot be simplified or overstated, to be honest. … It's just a huge undertaking, but it's one that we believe should happen and it takes time and resources."

Michelle Puhlick, executive director of curriculum and instruction for the Hartford schools, explains the change as something as basic as how an elementary school student learns about frogs.

"Let's say you're reading a story about a family of frogs," said Puhlick. "It's a cute little story, everyone loves it." But a teacher might combine that with a non-fiction text about particular type of frog or information from a website about frogs.

The new standards are based on proven techniques and standards used in other countries and in some states, such as Massachusetts, where student achievement has been higher, according to Dianna Roberge-Wentzell, chief academic officer for the state Department of Education

"We will be doing what countries like Germany and Singapore and Korea have done," said Roberge-Wentzell, "really focusing on helping kids develop a strong foundation before moving on."

A recent PDK-Gallup poll shows that almost two thirds of Americans know nothing about the Common Core standards. Parents of school-aged children are only now learning about the comprehensive changes.

At an open house at Duffy Elementary School in West Hartford last week, Kristen Burns said she thought her son learned less last year when the common core-based curriculum was used for English language arts in his second grade class.

"I think it's good for when you have bad teachers, but I think it stymies good teachers from teaching in a creative way," Burns said. "My son had a very good teacher last year and I think it stymied her ability to teach in creative ways."

Another parent, Tammi Flowers said she wasn't certain how she felt about the Common Core, but added, "If it makes my kids more competitive with rest of the world, that's a good thing. My kids need to compete in a global world."

Billion Dollar Effort Across The Nation

This year, many districts are expected to voluntarily give students a new computerized test based on the Common Core State Standards and developed by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium.

The new, more rigorous test replaces the long-standing Connecticut Mastery and Connecticut Academic Performance tests. By next year, every district will have to replace the old tests with the new Smarter Balanced assessment.

And while most educators believe the new standards — and the tests — will lead to better educated students, some are raising questions and concerns.

Thomas Scarice, school superintendent in Madison, said the claim that the new standards will make students college- and career-ready is "a brilliant marketing strategy," but he questions how educators can be so certain about a new approach.

"I am hopeful for the promise," Scarice said, "but I'm very, very skeptical until I actually see it because it's never been done."

Mark Waxenberg, executive director of the Connecticut Education Association, the state's largest teachers' union, said he is concerned about whether the standards are all "age-appropriate," and whether students will be prepared to take the Smarter Balanced test in the spring if districts opt to give it.

"My personal concern as a grandparent now is, is my child going to go to school and be traumatized by a test that is not appropriate?" Waxenberg said.

Implementing the new standards will be costly. The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a Washington, D.C- based education policy think tank, estimates that states will spend $1.19 billion in transition costs to implement the Common Core.

Connecticut has allotted almost $14.6 million to the task over the next two years. While many districts have a difficult time estimating exactly how much it has cost to make the transition to the new system, Addley, the Granby superintendent, estimates the district will spend $100,000 this year, and $150,000 next year.

The Common Core Standards have also drawn strong opposition from conservative groups across the country, partly because they have been misunderstood, according to Robert Rothman, a senior fellow with the Alliance for Excellent Education.

"There's been a lot of concern that this is national federal takeover of state and local education systems," Rothman said, "when what has actually happened was that states collectively agreed to establish a set of standards for student learning that defined what students would know and be able to do to succeed in college and career."

What Is different?

Normally, second-graders don't even think about numbers in the thousands until the spring, but 7-year-old Sam Parkin, a student at the Nayaug School in Glastonbury, was determined to step that up on a recent September morning.

Using tiny blocks that teach place values, he adds another sheet of a hundred blocks to his current number, 950. "It's one thousand and fifty," Sam tells Suzanne DeFelice, his teacher.

While it might seem like a small breakthrough, it's the kind of insight into numbers that DeFelice expects to see more of, now that the school is using new strategies to teach math based on the Common Core State Standards.

"The fact that this program pushes the expectations is fantastic," said DeFelice. "It's a big day here. … We got over a thousand."

With the new curriculum comes a shift away from a math curriculum that some said was too broad and shallow to a more in-depth approach that helps students develop a deeper understanding of numbers and of the multiple strategies that can be used to get to an answer.

"Now we'll do a number talk," said DeFelice, in which students will discuss all the different says to solve the problem. "Some added up the hundreds, someone added up the tens. … When I grew up, it was always you carried the one, there was no other way to do it."

Kelly DiPietro, a West Hartford teacher at Bugbee Elementary School, said that last year — the first year she tried the new approach — she was worried that her first grade students would get bored, focusing so intently on math and subtraction.

Instead, she saw students leaping ahead in their understanding. "They were bouncing off multiplication by the end of the year," she said.

In English and Language Arts, the biggest change is an emphasis on non-fiction. At the elementary level, where students often read almost all fiction, the goal is to push the percentage to 50 percent non-fiction; in high school, the non-fiction percentage is expected to be 70 percent.

This change was the subject of much controversy when the Common Core first rolled out. Some English teachers feared that they would have to replace Shakespeare with historical or sociological texts. but those who wrote the standards clarified that the ratio referred to the entire school day, so science, history, math and other "non-fiction" reading could figure into the 70 percent.

"We will still be reading 'Hamlet.' We're not going to stop reading 'The Great Gatsby' in eleventh grade or 'To Kill a Mockingbird," said Tom Paleologopoulos, English department supervisor at Conard High School, "but at a certain point, we have to make a choice. … Perhaps longer works or works not as current won't be chosen."

The state education department's Roberge-Wentzell said the educators who shaped the standards took "a combination of what has been proven for decades" in other states and countries.

The new approach also changes the thinking that used to prevail about whether students headed for college after high school needed different preparation than those headed for careers.

"These are the standards that all of our students should reach," said Roberge-Wentzell. "It's really about putting the 'all' in 'all children.' It's a mind-set shift. It's one that we are more than ready to make in Connecticut."

Copyright © 2013, The Hartford Courant


New education standards end rote learning, cursive
San Francisco Chonicle
Jill Tucker
Monday, June 11, 2012

Like fashion, trends in public education come and go.

What's in vogue depends on the decade and often reflects which way the political wind blows and what shiny gadgets have hit the market.

With the threat of Soviet innovation and Sputnik, old math became new math in the 1960s and then back to old arithmetic about 10 years later.

Phonics, like bell bottoms, always makes a comeback, although some fads are but brief historical blips. Think the metric system and mullets.

But with such limited time to teach, there have long been debates about what children need to know and how and when to teach it - and when to stop teaching something altogether.

"Is it still necessary for kids to learn their times table when they can pick up their iPhone and ask Siri what is 20 times 2?" asked Dan Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators.

A new set of national standards, called the Common Core, has sought to answer that, offering states a guide for what skills and knowledge children should have at the end of each grade level.

The ultimate goal is to get every child college and career ready. That means, cursive is out and keyboarding is in. Repetition and rote learning are passe while critical thinking is, well, critical.

Literature and novels see less class time than literary nonfiction and informational texts, including essays and speeches. Spelling gets a cursory nod, with the caveat that kids can consult "references."
New national push

Critics have called the effort a federal push that weakens states' authority over public schools.

Yet the standards, a multistate effort coordinated by the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers, are optional, and states that do adopt them can choose to add more content. California has opted to do that.

And the Common Core State Standards don't dictate how to teach the knowledge and skills. That's up to districts and teachers.

Since the standards were released in 2010, nearly every state has signed up to use the new standards, with districts like San Francisco and Oakland leading the way. Texas, Nebraska, Virginia and Alaska have opted out.

The new standards, which in the coming years will be incorporated into new textbooks and assessment tests, expect students to apply skills or information rather than, say, solve 50 multiplication problems on a worksheet.

"You kind of make choices on what you're going to spend significant time on," said Maria Santos, Oakland Unified deputy superintendent.

In sixth grade, for example, that means "draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection and research," or "use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others."

In other words, the new system focuses less on learning facts and more on using that information to synthesize and create new ideas, said Domenech, a supporter of the national standards.

"What we're trying to do is to take the level of learning to the higher levels of cognitive development," Domenech said. "What (students) have to learn now is not how to get the data, but what to do with it when you have it."

But the Common Core doesn't skip over the basics, such as multiplication tables or spelling, it just doesn't dwell on them, Domenech said.

"We cannot lose sight of the basic skills," he said. "On the other hand, we shouldn't spend 12 years teaching basic skills."

Mike Konshak, the curator of the online International Slide Rule Museum, cautions against an overreliance on technology. For starters, batteries die. He also cited what he called "the lost art of numeracy" that came with the advent of calculators.

He's not advocating for slide rules to return to the classroom, but he said they required the users to have a number sense, an idea of the size or scope of an answer to a problem.

"You'd have this feel of what your number should be," Konshak said. "Kids nowadays punch it in the calculator, and if they have fat fingers ... there could be an erroneous answer in there, and they would just assume that's the correct answer."
A balancing act

Parents might also feel a bit uneasy with these changes as the textbooks get smaller and their children are spending less time studying flash cards, drilling arithmetic or memorizing facts and more time on projects that, say, delve into space exploration.

It will require new teaching styles and classrooms, more like a high-tech startup, with students clustered together in teams solving problems.

Whether Common Core will stand the test of time or fade away like feathered hair remains to be seen.

In the meantime, Oakland third-grade teacher Oceanhawk will be combining past and present, teaching multiplication tables and spelling and hard-core grammar in addition to in-depth projects and critical thinking.

"It's not either-or," the Encompass Academy teacher said. "I'm doing all the basics, but I'm tying it into the core standards through art and science."

And she insists her students master the loopy cursive letters crafted by students through the centuries.

Manuel Sanchez, 8, is OK with that.

"My grandmother and my dad write in cursive," he said. "So I just want that family tradition to keep going."





SAMPLE DESIGNED TO WHAT END?
CT Education Reform version of a sample:  Of 5061 total teachers in the pilot, 1545 are from the Bridgeport system or 30%.  Note that some districts eventually will get waivers.

Coming to a school near you. Teacher evaluations based on student performance.

Jacqueline Rabe Thomas, CT MIRROR
June 4, 2012

Nearly 5,000 teachers and hundreds of principals from 16 school districts will begin being graded this coming school year based largely on student performance.

"This is an important, a very important step towards getting to a [statewide] evaluation process down the road that we all seek," Gov. Dannel P. Malloy told reporters at the state Capitol complex Monday.

Teachers and principals will likely be evaluated on a four-tier scale. Their grade will come from a mix of teacher observations, standardized tests and student, parent and peer surveys. The new education reform law, which was signed last month, for the first time links teacher tenure decisions to evaluations and allows teachers to be fired if rated "ineffective."

While 10 percent of the state's teachers will be included in this pilot during the 2012-13 school year, every district will need to implement the state model the following year.

"The work of pilot districts will inform our process and offer lessons learned for our statewide rollout next year," Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor said. The University of Connecticut's education college will provide a report on these evaluations by October 2013.

Superintendents and school boards from 42 districts applied to be included in the pilot evaluation process. Teacher unions in those districts did not need to sign off because evaluations are not part of the collective bargaining process.

"I am pleasantly surprised how many districts applied. We heard nobody is going to apply," said Joe Cirasuolo, referring to the controversy that has surrounded these evaluations during a meeting last week. Criticism had focused on linking the evaluations to student test scores and having tenure and dismissal decisions tied to them.

While happy about the diversity in size and location of the districts selected, the executive director of the state's largest teachers' union has concerns with the list. Mary Loftus Levine specifically takes issue with the inclusion of Bridgeport's 36 schools.

"For every reason in the world we shouldn't be doing this there," she told the commissioner during a meeting last week, alluding to the "instability" in the city because the state Supreme Court in February invalidated a state-appointed school board in Bridgeport, and the city has an interim superintendent. "It's like a wild card... I wouldn't spend a lot of money in a place that's completely unstable."

The state budget has appropriated $2.5 million for the pilot program. Pryor said that money will be used to train every teacher and principal in the 112 schools involved. The budget also provides $5 million for statewide teacher improvement and recruiting. Pryor said some of that will likely be used to provide support for teachers determined to need improvement. He said he will be seeking more money from the legislature next year for the statewide rollout of the state model.

Members of the Performance Evaluation Advisory Council, which has been working to finish the evaluation guidelines by July 1, also expressed some concern that none of the state's wealthiest districts applied to pilot.

"There was some concern about that," said Pryor. "I am not overly concerned."

There are some districts that this state model will never impact, said Pryor, noting that "a small number" of school systems are doing a superior job with their independent evaluation system and will get a waiver.

"We don't believe we have the monopoly on good ideas regarding evaluation," Pryor said. "The reality is most districts will need to adopt the guidelines."

Malloy added, "without a fair and reliable evaluation system, teachers and administrators are left with no clear indicators of where they are succeeding and where they should improve. Learning everything we can from this pilot is a huge part of getting us to that goal."




No "racial imbalance" in Weston Central Part of Town
All schools in one location.  Revamped bus routes and schedule make for shorter routes; WMS & WHS together.

Two Greenwich schools still racially imbalanced

Lisa Chamoff, Greenwich TIME
Updated 10:45 p.m., Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Greenwich's school board will have to address the racial makeup at several town schools, including two magnet schools that were once again cited by the state as being racially imbalanced.

In Connecticut, a school is considered racially imbalanced if its proportion of minority students varies more than 25 percentage points from the district average. In Greenwich, the district average is about 33 percent.

Both Hamilton Avenue School, where about 61 percent of the school's 412 students are minorities, and New Lebanon School, where about 67 percent of the school's 261 students are minorities, were listed as being racially imbalanced in a report reviewed recently by the state Board of Education. That's up from a 58 percent minority population at Hamilton Avenue and a 62 percent minority population at New Lebanon two years ago.

Julian Curtiss School, Old Greenwich School, Parkway School and Western Middle School all have an impending imbalance, meaning they have minority populations that are 15 percentage points off the district average.

The report from Connecticut Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor notes that the state will ask the Greenwich school board to amend the plan to correct racial imbalances it submitted to the state Board of Education in September 2010.

Greenwich Board of Education Chairman Leslie Moriarty said Tuesday that the board is awaiting an official letter from the state Department of Education on the issue, and will then decide what to do. The district has a few ways it can change the racial balance at schools, including redistricting, bussing kids to other schools and creating magnet schools, which offer seats not taken by neighborhood children to students from other parts of Greenwich. The seats are filled through a lottery process that gives greater weight to applicants from areas where students are more likely to be white, though race itself is not used as a factor in determining where a student attends.

In 2007, the district launched a task force to examine the racial balance issue, and the committee ultimately decided that creating magnet schools was the best way to address it by attracting students outside their neighborhoods and helping balance the schools' racial makeup. The district has created magnet programs at Hamilton Avenue, Julian Curtiss and New Lebanon schools in the past several years, but the system does not yet appear to be solving the problem of racial imbalance.

"Our current strategy is probably not going to be able to address the situation given the enrollment trends in town," Moriarty said. "When we get the letter, we can see what the state's action for us is."

There isn't much the state can do, however, to force a solution. Jim Polites, a spokesman for the state Department of Education, said the state wants the plans that address racial imbalance to be locally driven, so it will not step in and require a community to redistrict, for example.

The school board had planned to examine the racial balance issue last fall, but it was faced with a number of other more pressing matters, including the search for a new superintendent of schools and the discovery of contaminated soil at the high school. The Board of Education will soon be addressing facility reorganization, and Moriarty said the discussion about racial imbalance will play into that.



A federal boost for Connecticut's education reforms
CT MIRROR
Jacqueline Rabe Thomas and Robert A. Frahm
May 29, 2012

When it came time for U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan to decide where he would make the announcement on which states landed an exemption to the federal No Child Left Behind requirements, he said Connecticut was the obvious choice.

"Connecticut is absolutely a winner," Duncan told a beaming Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in a crowded function room Tuesday at the state Capitol. "Of the 26 applications we received this round, Connecticut's was amongst the strongest, most creative and most innovative."

The waiver to NCLB signals that the federal government has confidence in the state's reform efforts to turn around low-performing schools, improve the teaching profession and hold schools more accountable for student progress.

For Malloy, Duncan's announcement was a quick validation of the importance of education reforms that were passed until the final week of the session, which ended May 8.

Connecticut joins 18 other states that have also received a waiver to the NCLB benchmarks, which includes a requirement that 100 percent of students be proficient in reading and math by 2014. Almost half of the schools in Connecticut this year failed to reach the NCLB benchmarks.

Connecticut hosts the largest-in-the-nation achievement gap between low-income students and their peers and has lost three bids to land federal money through the government's Race to the Top competition.

State officials say they have grown accustomed to not being recognized for their education reform efforts. That ended Tuesday, Malloy said.

"It's about time Connecticut starts winning federal approval," Malloy told education advocates and leaders at the Capitol's Old Judiciary Room, while standing next to a nodding Duncan.

So what has changed?

For starters, the state passed what Duncan called a bold education overhaul, spearheaded by Malloy's education commissioner, Stefan Pryor. The fact that it had the buy-in from most education leaders, including teachers' union leaders and administrators, also made the waiver a sure thing.

"It's inspiring to see that collective commitment," Duncan said.

Pryor is pleased that the Nutmeg State is beginning to shed its embarrassing national reputation when it comes to education.

"We are now known for some other distinctions," Pryor said. "We are known as a state where labor and management can work together to achieve progress. We are known as a state that has just been identified by the United State's Secretary of Education as a leader among states."

But the journey to this celebration has been rocky, as the state's largest teachers' union aired advertisements attacking Malloy's initiatives and teachers from both unions rallied outside the Capitol in protest.

In the end a bill was eventually approved that had teacher union support, a key component to the state winning its waiver, Duncan said.

Phil Apruzzese, president of the Connecticut Education Association, the state's largest teachers' union, said it was critical that teachers remain engaged as the reforms are implemented.

"We need to keep that collaboration open," Apruzzese said.

New Haven has had a collaborative model for three years, which is why Duncan decided to stop by an elementary school there earlier in the day.

"You guys have really helped to create a national model. New Haven is absolutely on the forefront of tough-minded collaboration," Duncan told New Haven educators and city officials before heading to the Capitol.

What the waiver means

Connecticut's 397-page accepted waiver sets up a new five-tier system for rating schools. The lowest-rated schools will guarantee state intervention.

The existing NCLB system required schools and districts to increase the number of students, as measured by racial and socio-economic groups, to become proficient in math and reading from year-to-year on standardized tests.

The waiver still uses standardized tests as its benchmark for rating schools. Instead of just requiring students to reach proficiency, schools will receive credit for the continued growth of students beyond proficiency.

The schools also will begin for the first time take into account test results on science tests when rating schools.

This emphasis on standardized tests when grading schools has some concerned, including Sharon Palmer, the president of the state's chapter of the American Federation of Teachers.

"That's a glitch we have yet to work out. I hope it will be more than a test," Palmer said.

High schools will have their graduation rates factor into their rating, but elementary and middle schools will be dependent on standardized tests, said Ranjana Reddy, an official at the State Department of Education who helped write the state's waiver application.

"We want to build beyond that with other indicators," she said, mentioning upcoming student attendance, school climate and achievement in other subjects like civics and art are being considered. "By no means is this a perfect accountability system. It's a work in progress."

The waiver runs through the 2013-14 school year. The state will need to reapply for exemption from a list of repercussions that schools face if 100 percent of their students are not proficient in math and reading. Those penalties include closing a school and offering students enrollment in other schools.

Duncan said he would welcome such inclusion of more than test scores.

"Looking at graduation rates, looking at reductions in dropout rates, looking at closing achievement gaps, making sure high schools graduates are actually college and career ready and not taking remedial classes. You can't just look at one indicator you have to look at a range," Duncan said.

Annual teacher and principal evaluations based largely on student performance is also a centerpiece of the state's waiver. Calling the state's evaluation framework "meaningful", Duncan did not weigh in on how much of a teachers' grade should be tied to standardized tests. The state panel in charge of making that decision has butted heads recently on whether tests should be allowed to make up to 50 percent of a teachers grade. The state has until July 1 to make a decision.

"Having student achievement was important, but we didn't say how much," Duncan said during a conference call with reporters. He noted that in New York he supported their reforms when it accounted for both 20 percent and 40 percent of a teacher's evaluation.

The waiver also means $20 million in federal money the state receives each year can be redirected to new initiatives the state department deems appropriate for turning schools around, Pryor said.

Following New Haven's lead

Before heading to the state Capitol, Duncan stopped at a New Haven elementary school where teachers, school officials and political leaders talked about the role of teachers in making that city a model for school reform.

"Turning around schools is tough, tough work," Duncan said at the Brennan-Rogers School during one of a nationwide series of roundtable discussions focused on reshaping the teaching profession.

The Obama administration has cited New Haven as a model for collaboration because of a teacher contract that is the centerpiece of reform, including a rigorous teacher evaluation system that links evaluations to student progress.

That collaboration is evident at schools such as Brennan-Rogers, a struggling school that has begun an intensive turnaround effort, aided in part by union-negotiated work rules that allow greater flexibility for teachers to alter schedules and work extended hours.

"It's a very different place. We eliminated most of the restrictions," David Cicarella, president of the New Haven Federation of Teachers, told Duncan. "We want to make sure we have buy-in from the teachers."

Cicarella said the collective bargaining process was often difficult but was a key element in New Haven's reform effort.

"It put teeth in everything we did," he said. "The things we put in the agreement that we signed off on -- we have to do that...There was no walking away from that."

Among those at Tuesday's roundtable was Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, who praised New Haven officials, including union leaders, Mayor John DeStefano and Superintendent of Schools Reginald Mayo, for their persistence in creating the reforms.

"The road they chose was not an easy road," Weingarten said. "These folks put their heads down [and] focused on kids...People have seen you can actually make an evaluation system work respectfully and work fairly.

"None of this is easy, whether it is turnaround for schools, whether it is ... college affordability, whether it is teacher evaluation."

The discussion, one of more than 200 meetings sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education, is designed to encourage teachers to take an active role in the effort to reform the teaching profession. The department says the national project, known as RESPECT, envisions a "sweeping transformation of the profession," including a shakeup in the way teachers are recruited, trained, promoted and paid.

Efforts nationwide and in Connecticut to change the profession, however, often have met with resistance or complaints that teachers have been left out of the process. In Wisconsin, for example, teachers and other public employees staged mass protests when Gov. Scott Walker and the state legislature sharply curtailed bargaining rights.

Duncan said the debate should include teacher voices. "For far too long, teachers and teaching have been beaten down...This [discussion] has to be teacher-led, not Washington-led," he said.

During Tuesday's meeting, Duncan asked one teacher why she chose to transfer to Brennan-Rogers after previously working at a higher-performing school.

"The main reason I did that was for the challenge," said Tamara Raiford, a pre-kindergarten teacher. The school's turnaround effort attracted a wide range of teachers, she said.

"We had people coming from different facets of life. This was their second career, third career. We had people coming from the business field. We had people coming from all over the country, and we all came with that commitment that we were going to work hard," She said. "We knew that something good was going on here."

Duncan asked, "How do we create a climate where everyone is clamoring to come to a school like this?"

The discussion was hosted by U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District.

"In Connecticut, we know education reform is no simple task," DeLauro said. She added that school reformers should "be careful not to make changes without the input or at the expense of teachers."

Part of the debate over Connecticut's school reform law was whether to give the state education department the authority the commissioner requested to limit some collectively bargained rights in the state's lowest-performing school districts. The new law does not strip these rights.

"Connecticut's approach has been to affirm the role of collective bargaining," state Senate Majority Leader Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, told Duncan. "I think that's critically important. The model only works when you have buy-in."



Redding-Easton District for Joel Barlow H.S. one of these?
Regionalizing schools: a carrot or a stick?
Jacqueline Rabe Thomas, CT MIRROR
February 22, 2012

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has grown impatient waiting for small school districts to team up with nearby districts to shave costs.  He wants the state to significantly scale back the amount it sends towns such as Canaan, which spends $22,450 for each of the 139 students it educates each year, the most expensive per-student spending in the state.

"It's a way to not target your investments appropriately," Malloy said of the 18 small schools districts his administration has identified as spending too much.

But what Malloy may call excessive costs, the leader of Canaan, which is located in the state's northwest corner, calls providing a quality education.

"Our town should be commended for spending this much, for spending what is needed to provide an adequate education," said First Selectwoman Patricia Ally Mechare. "We're being responsible by spending what it takes, while the state hasn't."

The state sends $78.8 million each year to the 49 towns with fewer than 1,000 students.  But the Malloy administration reports that $12.5 million of that is being sent to towns that are spending way above the amount the state deems acceptable, or $15,400 per student.

Malloy is asking the legislature to pass a bill that would cut the amount of funding the state sends to a district by thousands of dollars starting in four school years.  James Finley, head of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, said his members have some concerns. "We would like to see [the bill] modified so it's more a carrot than a stick approach."

This change is already receiving pushback from Republican leadership, who outlined their opposition to such a change in their legislative package.

"It is not an incentive to regionalize. It's a penalty if they don't... I would ask the committee to be cautious about that," House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero of Norwalk told the Education Committee Wednesday.

Leaders from Eastford, which is on the cusp of spending too much to educate its 233 students, worry that the $1.1 million in state funds the town receives each year will be cut.

"Citizens agree that it is the small school, small class size, attention from teachers and administrators, and regular interaction with parents that has made Eastford students successful... Bigger is not always better," the selectmen from the town wrote members of the Education Committee this week.

State legislators have been talking about regionalizing school districts for years. The most recent attempt was in 2010, when lawmakers passed a law that would allow towns to keep half the savings they netted from regionalizing transportation. Few districts took the state up on that offer.

"It would actually cost us more. We found out very quickly it wasn't cost-effective," said Mechare.

"There are a lot of reasons we don't want to get rid of our elementary school," she said, "the No. 1 reason being we know we are providing a great education and we aren't convinced we will get the education we desire for our youngsters if we regionalize."



Malloy proposes separate board to run tech schools
DAY
Feb 3, 1:36 PM EST

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) -- Connecticut legislators will soon be asked to create a new oversight board for the state's technical high schools under a plan intended to make their training align with skills needed by the students' potential employers.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Friday he will ask the General Assembly to create the 11-member appointed board to operate separately from the State Board of Education, which currently runs the 16 technical high schools.

Malloy announced the proposal as part of a series of education reform ideas he plans to pitch to lawmakers, who convene to start their 2012 legislative session Wednesday. Education reform is expected to be the main focus of the session, which runs through May 9.

Malloy's proposal for a new board to oversee the technical schools is similar to an idea proposed by a task force that was created after Malloy proposed, then withdrew, a contentious plan to turn over the state-run schools to the control of the municipalities in which they sit.

He said Friday that the technical schools' training should reflect the job skills in demand nationally and globally, and that putting a new oversight board in place would help accomplish that. He also wants $500,000 allocated to the technical school system to boost their supplies and training equipment.

"Turning the corner on decades of economic decline means we have to prepare our students for a successful future in the high-tech workforce and we have to create the skilled labor that Connecticut companies need to compete globally," he said in a written statement Friday.

The new 11-member board, if established, would include four business executives nominated by business groups, four members appointed by the state school board and a chairman appointed by the governor's office.

The commissioners of the state's education, labor and economic and community development departments would also sit on the board as non-voting members.

About 11,000 students attend the 16 technical high schools. The schools offer regular high school degrees in a college prep curriculum and training in 38 technical fields ranging from aviation maintenance to culinary arts, diesel repair, masonry and hospitality management.

About 5,500 adults also take apprentice training part time at the schools.

In addition to the 16 schools, a 17th school - J.M. Wright Tech in Stamford - has been closed since summer 2009 for restructuring but is expected to reopen in 2014 in a new building.

State figures show at least one student from every Connecticut town and city attends a technical high school, even students from rural corners of the state who travel lengthy distances to their regional schools.



Angry Parents, Scared Students Seek Answers About Farm Hill School 'Scream Rooms'
Middletown School Officials Host Meeting, Pledge Change
The Hartford Courant
By SHAWN R. BEALS, sbeals@courant.com
11:01 PM EST, January 12, 2012

MIDDLETOWN —

Frustrated parents of Farm Hill Elementary students told school officials Thursday night they were disappointed by a lack of communication about the use of "scream rooms," while students described the school as "scary."

Some parents said their children do not feel safe at Farm Hill because of what parents described as a distracting and intimidating environment. Their children, they said, can hear screaming from students in the rooms, called time-out rooms by school officials.  Superintendent Michael Frechette and Farm Hill Principal Patricia Girard led the meeting Thursday with the school's parent-teacher association to address concerns over the so-called scream rooms. About 150 people attended the session, which lasted close to three hours in the school's gymnasium.

Elexa Belin, 10, a student at Farm Hill, said the school is "scary" to her.

"I walk down the hall with my head down," she said. "You hear kids screaming outside and you can't concentrate on your work."

"There's a lot of anger and still a lot of concerns," PTA President Apryl Dudley said. "Unfortunately I think there's a lot of faith that's been lost in the administration. We are going to make sure the administrators and the board of education address the concerns. We're going to stay on top of this."

"There have been a lot of rumors and accusations," Girard said. "They are scary and unfounded. They have created a perception that this school is out of control. That is not reality."

The issue was brought to light at a school board meeting Tuesday, when parents complained about the use of the rooms, and when a letter Dudley sent to Mayor Daniel Drew and the board of education was made public. In response to those complaints, two state agencies have begun investigations into Farm Hill School.  In her letter, Dudley said out-of-control students were being put in the rooms and allowed to act out physically while a staff member waited outside until the child calmed down.  School officials this week acknowledged the problems at Farm Hill, and Frechette presented a plan to add staff hours and resources from a variety of state and private agencies to help address behavior and communication issues.

"I want to ensure the Farm Hill community that we're here to support what's going on in Farm Hill," Frechette said Thursday night. "We've narrowed the issues down to communication, climate and student management. We're going to be aggressive and we have the support in place to help the administration here, help the parents here and help the students here."

Girard said the time-out rooms would be moved to out-of-the-way locations so their use in the future is not disruptive to other students. Right now, the time-out rooms border a hallway, she said.  According to the state Department of Education, use of the time-out rooms is allowed under state law for students with disabilities, "as specified in an Individualized Education Program (IEP) … as determined by a team of professionals that includes the parents of the child."

"There are no provisions for the use of seclusion time out for students that do not have an IEP," according to a statement issued Wednesday.

Frechette said Thursday that the time-out rooms are not used for students without an IEP.

"Unless you have an IEP this is not part of your daily [plan]," he said. "The rooms have been used very infrequently for students without an IEP, but generally they try to find another location for the students."

James McGaughey, executive director of the state Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons With Disabilities, said Wednesday that his office is conducting a "preliminary investigation," and state Child Advocate Jeannie Milstein said she, too, would look into the use of the rooms.

Frechette said Thursday that he was planning to meet with state officials on Friday.  School board Chairman Eugene Nocera said the comments parents made Thursday night were important to help the district address problems.

"Mistakes have been made," Nocera said. "We're here to correct those mistakes."

School officials said their plan for improving things at Farm Hill School includes adding hours for the school psychologist, adding a student management coordinator, developing a school climate committee, increasing training, working with a state consultant on school climate and a behavior services consultant from a private education agency, adding teaching training and adding support to the school's Family Resource Center. The district will also work with a behavioral studies graduate student at St. Joseph College, who will "assist in developing and implementing behavior plans," according to the district's plan.



A grim picture of education on display
Jacqueline Rabe Thomas, CT MIRROR
January 5, 2012

More than half the school superintendents in the state say the state is not helping to close the achievement gap between minority and low-income and Caucasian students.

One-quarter of the school leaders say they have no authority to turn around low-achieving schools; 87 percent say they lack the ability to remove ineffective teachers; and two-thirds say bureaucratic obstacles -- "red tape" -- stand in their way to implement change.

"There are a lot of challenges," Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor told a roomful of national and state education advocates and officials Thursday, as he revealed the results of his recent survey of almost every superintendent.

Pryor’s presentation took place Thursday afternoon at Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's long-planned Education Workshop, at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain.

After laying out the education system’s grim landscape, Pryor offered his audience some hope with the gamut of changes he and Malloy are closing in on. Those changes include expanding early childhood education, intervening in the worst-off schools, replicating successful education models, cutting bureaucratic obstacles and ensuring that schools have the best teachers.

"If superintendents don't feel we are helping, we've got some work to do," Pryor said.

Joseph J. Cirasuolo, the longtime leader of the state's superintendent association, said there should be nothing surprising about the results of the survey, given that the state’s 157 school leaders have begged the state for help for years.

"It's not news to us," he said, of the survey showing the four out of 10 superintendents are doubtful the state's education system will change, even after Malloy’s promise to tackle the problems facing education during this coming legislative session.

Connecticut has long held the title of having the largest achievement gap in the country, a reality numerous task forces and commissioners have failed to change.

"We are the worst, No. 1," Pryor said. He then added his final statistic of the day: only 7 percent of the state’s superintendents believe the state has a "clear plan" to turn education in the right direction.

"What a shame, but we are going to change that," Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman told the room, then called out the legislators attending the event to stand. "Legislators you are going to carry the ball to making sure we get this done."

The state's superintendents have given the commissioner a wish list of changes they would like to see, but Pryor was mum on which of those recommendations he plans to back. Pryor said he intends to conduct similar surveys of other groups, including employees at the State Department of Education and, possibly, teachers.


Education advocates pin high hopes on Malloy for reform
Linda Conner Lambeck and Ken Dixon, Staff Writers. CT POST
Updated 11:20 p.m., Wednesday, January 4, 2012

In Dannel P. Malloy's first year as governor, Connecticut struck out in its third bid at Race to the Top dollars. The state takeover of the failing Bridgeport school board is being legally challenged and is in the hands of the state Supreme Court. Connecticut's standing on national and international benchmarks continues to slip.

About the only top slot the constitution state still clings to is "largest achievement gap in the nation."

So educational reform advocates say much is riding on Malloy's pledge that 2012 will be the year of education reform.

Malloy is hosting an Education Workshop Thursday at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain. Many invited are convinced the policies that begin to take shape there may lead to legislation that can transform the state's failing schools and ultimately assist in growing the economy.

"I am cautiously optimistic," said Pat Riccards, director of ConnCAN, a New Haven-based advocacy organization.

Riccards said the governor, thus far, has done everything he said he would do in his first year of office by appointing a like-minded commissioner of education, shaking up the state department of education and setting the stage for movement on teacher performance, early childhood education and school funding.

"I think the governor is sincere in his attempt to address all six of the principles he laid out and that we will likely see a plan ... that offers some real and I would say bold solutions to get us there," said Riccards.

Late last month, Malloy outlined his reform "road map" in a letter to state legislative leaders. Malloy -- like the administration before him -- wants legislation that will give more students access to high-quality preschool. He wants to improve teaching and school leadership, deliver more state resources to needy districts, expand access to high-performing magnet and charter schools, and allow for more state control of low performing school districts while lessening the grip on districts that do well.

Gwen Samuel, president of the Connecticut Parents Union, said all that sounds great, but she isn't getting her hopes up.

"Quite frankly, I don't think the moral courage exists to do what needs to be done," said Samuel, a Meriden parent whose efforts two years ago led to a law requiring schools to set up school governance councils. The councils, which include parents, play a role in reconstituting failing schools.

Samuel said there are important issues not on Malloy's list that she'd like to see addressed, such as changing the residency law. This law got Tanya McDowell, a mother arrested on larceny charges last year for "stealing" education for her son by placing him in a Norwalk school when officials said he belonged in Bridgeport.

"I do believe [the governor] will push the envelope. For that I will get behind him 200 percent, as long as it is not just rhetoric," said Samuel.

Steve Simmons, vice chairman of the Connecticut Council for Education Reform, a group of business and foundation leaders, said he is very optimistic that this year will bring significant change to education in the state. "This time it's for real," said Simmons, who also co-chaired the Connecticut Commission for Education Achievement under the Rell administration.

Simmons said the principles outlined by Malloy would go a long way in lifting educational achievement of all Connecticut students. He is also convinced lawmakers will ultimately go along with the plan.

State Sen. Pro Tem Donald Williams this week said education will play an important role in the short session that starts Feb. 8, but that jobs and the economy are still front and center.

Rep. Auden Grogins, D-Bridgeport, a member of the General Assembly's Education Committee, said she is looking forward to hearing Malloy's educational initiatives and hopes they will help close the achievement gap -- between students based on race, ethnicity and poverty -- which has its epicenter in districts like Bridgeport.

"Suburbs don't have as much of the achievement gap as we do," Grogins said. "They don't face as much as we do, with the large population of English-language learners. It costs us more. I think the governor is committed to progress in those areas."

State Rep. Andres Ayala, D-Bridgeport, leader of the city's legislative delegation, said that the Educational Cost Sharing formula has to be revised in order to pump more money into the school district. "We need to be talking about more funding for Bridgeport, more teachers, more critical services," Ayala said.

The city's delegation recently sent a letter to the task force studying the ECS issue, inviting them to Bridgeport for a hearing.

Rep. Debralee Hovey, R-Monroe, a member of the legislative Education Committee whose district includes part of Newtown, said that the achievement gap looms over all school systems, "but it's an issue you can't paint with a broad brush." Hovey likes Malloy's idea to give districts that meet certain educational goals a pass on expensive state mandates, such as in-school suspensions, where staff must supervise small numbers of students who are being disciplined.

"My districts are worried about providing the best education they can for the dollar," Hovey said. "Taxpayers in this economy are very concerned about spending the money and they want to make sure the money gets to the kids."

Thursday's workshop will feature an address by U.S. Department of Education Under Secretary Martha J. Kanter and a number of panelists, including Sandy Kase, a former superintendent for the New York City Chancellor's District, who is now in Bridgeport to work under interim Superintendent of Schools Paul Vallas. The governor's office said 350 people have been invited to the daylong event.



Early Childhood Education: We’re for it – Unless We’re Against it:
What?  Wait!  Blog
Jon Pelto
December 23, 2011


Wait, or is it the other way around?

If there are any legislators out there – now is the time to speak out and make a real difference concerning the future of early childhood education.  Please join Representative Gary Holder-Winfield and Senator Beth Bye who has been very outspoken and Representative State Representative Matthew Ritter, who was the only legislator to sign onto a letter written by the Connecticut Early Childhood Alliance.

Last week the federal government, once again, rejected Connecticut’s application for $50 million Race to the Top education funds.  That makes three times that Connecticut has failed to successfully compete with other states for these vital funds.

This time it was Connecticut’s application for the Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge Funding that was rejected. The federal government was looking for “High-Quality, Accountable Programs; Promoting Early Learning and Development Outcomes for Children; A Great Early Childhood Education Workforce and Measuring Outcomes and Progress.”

The Department of Education in Washington gave Connecticut a C- for its existing early childhood education programs.  Despite the high hopes, we weren’t even contenders.

This week, Connecticut Voices for Children, the state’s leading policy think tank, released a report about Connecticut’s early childhood education system.  They found that it “is currently a patchwork of multiple funding streams, controlled by multiple agencies, with varied reporting and eligibility requirements and inconsistent and insufficient data collection.”

The report added that federal and state funding for Early Childhood Education in the state has declined by about 10 percent over the past decade.

Connecticut has once more created a system in which there are the “haves” and “have-nots.”  About 67 percent of white children are in early childhood education programs, compared to 59 percent for African-American children and 51 percent for Latino children.

Also earlier this week, Governor Malloy reiterated his commitment to make 2012 the “year of education.”   Malloy’s spokesman said, “The governor has long recognized the importance of Early Childhood Education, going back to his time as mayor of Stamford where he launched a universal pre-k program…He agrees that our education system needs major reform, which is why we released a set of core principles to legislators earlier this week.”

However, there has been no indication that the Governor or Legislature are planning to come up with additional money, although the Governor did write in the federal grant application’s cover letter that “I am committed to fund one thousand new early childhood education slots targeted to high need children.”

The good news is that there is an increasing recognition among Connecticut’s elected officials that Early Childhood Education is important; that Connecticut is already far behind what other states are doing; and that a major initiative is needed if we hope to close the achievement gap and maintain an educated and capable workforce for our economy.

Yet to be seen is whether our officials will put real money into this effort.

And, at the other end of the scale, is that move by Attorney General George Jepsen, with the strong backing of Governor Malloy, to get the courts to carve out Early Childhood Education from the definition of education.

As a result of the lawsuit brought by the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding, the Connecticut Supreme Court not only reiterated that children have a constitutional right to an education, but that Connecticut’s education system must actually work and provide children with the knowledge and skills to succeed.

Then, three months ago, the Attorney General, citing the fact that Connecticut’s Constitution only refers to primary and secondary schools, petitioned the courts to make it clear that when the state government addresses the constitutional provisions associated with funding education, Early Education programs are specifically removed from what needs to be done to fulfill the state’s duty to its children.

Jepsen has responded to criticism by saying;

“My office, on behalf of the state has not questioned the potential benefits of press school education of the wisdom of providing such services to Connecticut children as a matter of public policy

Rather, we have filed a motion asking the Court to decide – as a legal, not policy matter – whether the Connecticut constitution’s guarantee of ‘free public elementary and secondary schools” was intended to encompass pre-school services.

Not to raise this important legal issue would be irresponsible and a disservice to the state of Connecticut and its people”

While reasonable people can disagree about exactly what the state Constitution means when it refers to education, there are two critical issues Jepsen overlooks.

First, the one constant that prevails throughout the broader education debate is that without successful Early Childhood Education programs you simply can’t have a successful education system.

Second, there is nothing, absolutely nothing that required Jepsen, with Malloy’s support, to file that motion.  As Dick Blumenthal showed day after day, year after year, the Attorney General’s Office is guided by a combination of both legal and policy issues.  If a future Attorney General wants to strip early childhood education out of the definition of education they can.

But as virtually every politician across the ideological spectrum is calling for a new and profound investment in Early Education, Jepsen has engaged in a separate, unnecessary and harmful effort to exempt state government from having to maintain its early educational programs in the future.

The voters of Connecticut elected George Jepsen over his opponent because they believed he would use his values and beliefs as he worked to uphold the law.  This second and counterproductive effort is not only being spearheaded by a Democratic, but it has the blessing and support of the Democratic Governor.

And perhaps the most amazing piece of all is that only three out of 187 member of the Connecticut General Assembly have stepped forward to officially ask the Attorney General and the Governor to withdraw their motion to carve out Early Childhood Education.

Every Connecticut elected official needs to decide: are you for Early Childhood Education or are you not?

And if they are for Early Childhood Education, they need to have the conviction to ensure that, in Connecticut at least, the notion of “education” includes Early Education programs.

Had we done that over the last couple of decades we might have received that $50 million federal grant.  We didn’t get the grant; but these officials can have an even bigger impact – they can work to make sure Jepsen and Malloy pull back on their anti-early childhood education motion.

Legislators, three of your colleagues have stepped up, now is the time for you to join them and speak out.


Governor Calls For 'Academic Excellence For All'
Saying 'We Have Lost Our Edge,' Malloy Outlines His Principles For Education Reform

The Hartford Courant
1:45 PM EST, December 20, 2011

Saying that "over time, we have lost our edge as a state," Gov. Dannel P. Malloy Tuesday outlined his principles for education reform, saying they will serve as a roadmap for the upcoming session of the General Assembly.

In a letter to state legislative leaders, Malloy called for measures to help restore Connecticut "as a model for creating academic excellence for all."

He cited students' stagnant performance on standardized tests and the fact that the state's position has grown so weak compared with other states "that we are not competitive in national grant competitions like the recent Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge." Connecticut learned last week that it lost its latest bid for federal challenge grant money.

Worse, Malloy said, is that Connecticut has the largest academic achievement gap between poor minority students and more affluent peers in the nation.

In his letter, Malloy said he was asking state Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor to develop a set of "ambitious and carefully tailored" legislative proposals for the upcoming session.

He said the proposals would be rooted in a number of principles, among them enhanced access to high-quality early childhood education; authorizing intensive interventions and supports in the state's lowest-performing schools and districts; expanding the availability of high-quality schools, including magnets and charters; removing red tape for high-performing schools and districts; and valuing teachers and principles more for their skill and effectiveness than seniority.

Malloy said he would convene a set of workshops on Jan. 5, to delve more deeply into the most pressing education reform issues.



Up next -- education unions' plans to reform schools
Jacqueline Rabe Thomas, CT MIRROR
December 19, 2011

The education commissioner has been to nearly a dozen school districts during his inaugural tour, hearing what does and doesn't work to improve education -- and last week was the teachers unions' turn to pitch their strategy.  Instead of inviting the new commissioner to one of their highest-performing districts, union leaders took Stefan Pryor to the epitome of the crisis facing education.

"Welcome to Bridgeport," said Mary Loftus Levine, leader of the largest teachers' union, as the commissioner entered Bassick High School's library.

The figures were alarming. One of every three students drops out before graduation. Fifteen percent don't even show up for school on any given day. And of the students that do make it to 10th grade, fewer than one in three are proficient in reading, math or science.

"I was petrified to come here," Luise Lenis, a senior, told Pryor.

JoAnn Kennedy, a parent of two freshmen, shared that fear.

"We were terrified because of all the stories I'd heard," she said.

Metal detectors adorn the entrance at Bassick. Nine full-time security guards stroll the halls and parking lot, and stories of fights and gangs at the school are frequently in the local newspapers.  What students and parents didn't know was that things were about to change. The teachers' union had a plan, and the University of Connecticut's highly regarded education college was there to help.

That plan called for the school's teachers and parents to vote to make the management decisions themselves so initiatives would no longer be stalled at the central office.  Those changes, to name a few, include requiring students to wear school uniforms; staff sweeping the halls and rounding up students not in class; dividing the building by grade instead of subject area; and making sure that teachers have common planning periods.

"This is a living example of what school reform is all about," Levine told a roomful of teachers and state officials Thursday.

"I'm hearing you've achieved incredible progress," Pryor said.

Indeed, test scores and other outcome measures are already beginning showing dramatic upticks, just a few months into the changed model. Last year, 32 percent of students were proficient in writing compared with 52 percent this year. Similar spikes are found in reading, science and math test scores and daily attendance rates.

"This school is clearly uptrending ... It's so impressive to see," Pryor said.

"Teachers were used to being told what to do," said Kathy Young, a longtime Bassick teacher.

Principal Alejandro Ortiz explained that his staff "was hungry for change." Parents and teachers overwhelmingly voted to approve the changes they concocted.

"We gave them a simple voice," he said. "They own these changes."

UConn's Neag School of Education's Center for Education Policy Analysis believes that giving autonomy to individual schools is critical in making reforms.

"Local principals and teachers are best positioned to make decisions on how to help their students reach high levels of academic achievement because they are most familiar with their talents and their challenges," reads a policy brief on this initiative, known as CommPACT.

Over the past decade, teachers at Bassick have seen multiple reform attempts fail, they said. But now many are convinced they have finally found the right strategy.

An investment

Michele Femc-Bagwell got a little teary as she started to talk about how far these low-income students have come.

"This is just so great. We're really making a difference," she said to a group in the library, as emotion started to build. "I have to pull myself together."

Nearly every child at Bassick comes from a low-income family, 95 percent receiving free- or reduced-price lunches and breakfasts.  So five years ago, the Connecticut Education Association and the state's other teachers' union, the American Federation of Teachers, gathered a coallition of parents, superintendents and UConn officials to brainstorm.  They were sick of children not getting a quality education.

"We were given a blank slate in how we wanted the school to change," said Walter Brackett, a Bassick teacher for nearly two decades.

The change wasn't cheap. Launching this model at seven schools across the state in Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven and Waterbury took $3 million from federal, state and local donations.

"That's about $120 per student," Levine said. "That was a great investment, just look around."

But the start-up money that spurred these reforms and hired the experts from UConn is set to begin running out at some of the schools at the end of next school year.  And despite Levine and AFT's president, Sharon Palmer, insisting that there is a long line of schools their unions want to expand this model to, there is no funding to do it.

"These schools are really shining stars. Now we just need to validate what we think is working," Palmer said.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy proposed cutting funding for the initiative as he worked to close a massive state budget deficit last year, but in the end the unions succeeded in getting the money back.  Pryor said he is looking into expanding this model.

"It's very important that reform models be able to thrive in our state," he said.

Switching things up

The norm last year was to find dozens of students, who should have been in class, roaming the halls.  Teachers worked on that by having all the ninth-graders go to class on one floor, so it would be difficult for them to get lost as they switched from one class to the next.

"There was just a lot of room for them not to make it there," the principal said. Attendance data being tracked by UConn shows the effort is paying off.  Another initiative was to have common time off for teachers to work on lesson plans with each other, discuss issues facing the same students and be there for other areas of support

"The research shows this works," Bagwell said.

What also appears to be working is requiring students to wear uniforms.

"It makes you look like you're going to school and not a fashion show," said student Brandon Williams, who wore the mandated black polo shirt and khaki pants during a tour of the school.

"This [uniform] is not a joke, because Mr. Ortiz will send you home if you aren't wearing it," Sasha Rosario, a senior, told Pryor.  Later, Sasha conceded that the uniforms have shifted the focus to what school is for.

"We can get to learning now," she said. "What a difference it has made."



Education commissioner proposes easing bureaucratic barriers
CT MIRROR
By Robert A. Frahm
November 25, 2011

FAIRFIELD - In affluent, high-achieving school districts like this one, the state's top education official thinks the best strategy might be for the state education department to step aside and do less, not more.  State Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor asked Fairfield officials how the state could ease the burden of regulations, annual reports and other bureaucratic mandates that often lead to a mountain of paperwork.

"We're interested in hearing about regulatory barriers, anything that might be a hindrance ... We want to know how to get out of your way," Pryor told the Fairfield Board of Education this week.

Fairfield was the latest stop on what Pryor calls a "listening tour" to visit schools, meet educators and assess the needs of the state's public education system as he completes his second month on the job.  Pryor, whose most recent job was deputy mayor of Newark, N.J., was an unconventional choice for the education post, taking over a system that boasts some of America's best schools but also struggles with low-achieving schools in the state's poorest towns and cities. On national tests, Connecticut has the nation's largest academic achievement gap separating the poor from the well-to-do.

Fairfield is among the state's top-performing districts. More than 90 percent of the town's eighth-graders, for example, met the reading goal on the state's annual Mastery Test last spring, well above the state average of 75 percent. Similarly, 87 percent met the mathematics goal, compared with a statewide average of 67 percent.   Pryor praised Fairfield's record, including its recent expansion of pre-kindergarten classes to include children as young as age 3.

Nevertheless, despite the success of school systems such as Fairfield's, the state can do better, Pryor said.

"We are not as high-flying as we may think we are," he said, citing recent 8th-grade mathematics scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as the Nation's Report Card.

Connecticut's scores fell behind those of states such as Massachusetts, New Jersey, North Dakota, South Dakota and Texas. "I'm tired of hearing how Massachusetts is beating Connecticut," Pryor said. "There is no good reason for it. They are doing some things right that we are not...We ought to aspire to be number one."

He added, "Many states do a far better job of supporting and intervening with lower-performing schools than we do." In Massachusetts, for example, the state has a "tight alignment of curriculum, instruction, professional development and assessment," he said.

While the education department intends to focus much of its attention on improving low-performing schools, it also will try to help high-achieving schools by relaxing some of the state's bureaucratic requirements, Pryor told the Fairfield school board.

"It's all in pursuit of higher performance in all our districts for all our children," Pryor said.

Phil Dwyer, a member of the Fairfield board, asked Pryor about the time-consuming regulations and record-keeping requirements imposed on schools by the state. "Does it really help us move the needle when it comes to school climate?" he asked.

Pryor said, "Where there are outdated or irrelevant or barrier-creating regulations, we want to know about it."

The State Department of Education lists more than 60 reports that are issued on a regular basis, many of them required annually under state or federal laws. The reports cover matters such as busing, school construction, school lunch, discipline, graduation surveys, technical education, bilingual education, immigrant students, dropouts, teacher shortages, racial balance and teacher certification.

Across the state, school officials have often complained that state and federal regulations are burdensome, but reducing paperwork or easing regulations could be difficult, possibly requiring new legislation.

Fairfield Superintendent of Schools David Title cited the example of certification regulations for teachers and administrators, saying the rules are so cumbersome that they sometimes prevent school districts from hiring talented educators from other states.

Title also said later that the state's annual Strategic School Profiles - which require schools to report a range of data on demographics, test results and other matters - are outdated and include information that also is contained in other reports published by the state.

"It's arcane," he said. "We never get rid of anything. Any data collection they do really needs to be examined."


New commissioner looks for schools that are succeeding
Robert A. Frahm, CT MIRROR
November 14, 2011

MERIDEN - When unionized teachers in Meriden's public schools needed more time to examine student test data, they voluntarily added extra classroom time to their schedules to make room for regular weekly data review meetings.

That simple solution, the result of informal talks between the union president and school superintendent, was cited Monday by the state's top education official as one of the reasons for the success of Thomas Hooker School.

"It's a perfect example of how a district solves a problem - union and management together," said state Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor. "You are creating a model for the rest of the state."

That spirit of teamwork, along with strong leadership and an intense focus on monitoring student progress, have made Hooker stand out, Pryor said.

Pryor, who took over as commissioner last month, stopped at Hooker as one of the first stops on what he calls a "listening tour" to visit schools and meet educators across Connecticut and to look for education strategies that work.

In Connecticut, Pryor oversees a public education system that boasts some of America's best schools but also has the nation's largest academic achievement gap separating the poor from the well-to-do. At Hooker, that gap has virtually disappeared over the past six years as test scores among low-income children gradually improved.

Although about half of Hooker's students come from low-income families and one-third of the student body is not fluent in English, the school regularly posts impressive results on the statewide Connecticut Mastery Test. More than 90 percent of Hooker's third-graders scored at the proficient level in reading and math last spring, for example, compared with statewide averages of 74 percent in reading and 84 percent in math.

Hooker, along with a school in Old Lyme, tied for the Connecticut Association of Schools' award as the state's top elementary school this year. Two years ago, it was named a national Blue Ribbon school by the U.S. Department of Education.

"There are numerous exemplary schools in our state even though there are certainly challenges statewide," Pryor said after touring Hooker. "There are bright spots, and we want to highlight those and learn from them."

Monday's meeting with teachers and administrators provided an early glimpse of some of the themes likely to mark Pryor's approach as commissioner.

Although he was an unconventional choice for the education post -- his most recent job was as deputy mayor in Newark, N.J. -- Pryor's grasp of key education issues was evident as he took notes and asked the Meriden educators about curriculum, teacher training and other matters.

In particular, Pryor asked pointed questions dealing with monitoring student progress: How often do teachers gather data? Does the district work with the state in designing test questions? Do schools use data to diagnose problems for individual students?

Meriden Superintendent of Schools Mark Benigni said teachers regularly review how their students' growth compares to that of students in other schools, throughout the district and across the state. "We know that these results matter," he said. "We want to push all our students to their optimum performance."

Later, Pryor said that Hooker's focus on data was a key element in its success.

"There is very thoughtful attention being paid to the use of data. ... There is concern for reaching further into the data to examine students' needs beyond the surface level analysis of right and wrong answers on the standardized tests. There's an interest in deeper diagnosis, which is so important," he said.

"It's rare that you find a school these days that's succeeding at this level that isn't aiming for such deeper diagnosis. It's great to see it happening, and it's the kind of thing that the state can enable."

Pryor, who arrived in Connecticut with a reputation as a skilled leader able to bring together groups with differing points of view, also praised the union-management relationship in Meriden, citing the example of altering the schedule to create time for the data review meetings.

"It was great to see it in action," he said. "There is problem-solving on a routine basis and also on a structural long-term basis between the superintendent's office and the union president's office. That is terrific to see. It's essential."

Hooker's success has not come without obstacles. The school district's budget has had no increase for the past two years. The building is aging, and class sizes are edging upward.

"With 29 students, it's a challenge to get to every single one of them," said fifth-grade teacher Jacqueline Sapinski. Nevertheless, part of the school's success is the result of the close bond among staff members, she said.

"It's definitely a school that is a team," she said. "I can depend on anyone -- the cafeteria worker, the speech therapist -- to help me when I need it."


A 'change agent' seeks consensus on school reform
CT MIRROR
By Robert A. Frahm and Caitlin Emma
October 5, 2011


When Gov. Dannel P. Malloy tabbed Stefan Pryor, a charter school founder, as the state's next education commissioner, the appointment raised eyebrows among some in public education circles.

Would Pryor, whose career has been shaped both inside and outside the education arena, be able to win over a public school establishment that viewed some charter advocates with suspicion?

Those who know him best are betting the answer is yes.

Pryor officially begins his new job Friday, taking over a public education system that boasts some of America's best schools but also has the nation's largest academic achievement gap separating the poor from the well-to-do.


Colleagues describe the 39-year-old Yale graduate as a tireless reformer unafraid to try new ideas - not limited to those tested in charter schools - and as a skilled leader able to bring together groups with differing points of view.

"I think he's practical. He's not really an ideologue," said Paul Vallas, a former school superintendent in Chicago, Philadelphia and New Orleans. Pryor worked alongside Vallas as a volunteer in Haiti and Chile as those nations rebuilt school systems after suffering devastating earthquakes last year.

"I don't think he comes in as a person who sees one model or one solution to addressing the deficiencies that exist in the educational system," said Vallas, one of the nation's leading voices in school reform. "I think that he's a supporter or charter schools without being a critic of traditional schools... In all the projects he's worked on with me, people liked him. He's not divisive...He works with diverse groups."

That was a mark of Pryor's style in Newark, N.J., too, where he worked as deputy mayor for the past five years to revitalize the struggling city.

"One of his great secrets is he just never looks at sides - this side versus that side," said Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who has known Pryor since the two were classmates at Yale Law School. "He's somebody that really [says] let's all come together, find out where we can agree... and make something happen that can benefit us all."

Pryor, whose background includes a major role in rebuilding Lower Manhattan, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, was an unconventional choice for the education post. Nevertheless, he had been on Malloy's radar for months, said Timothy Bannon, the governor's chief of staff.

Soon after Malloy's election last year, the governor met Pryor and began thinking about finding a spot for him in the new administration, Bannon said. The governor "was quite taken with his intellect and his grasp of public issues," said Bannon, who described Pryor as a flexible leader not bound to any single strategy of school reform.

"He is very outcome oriented...The other thing that stands out when you look at his record is he really is able to form a consensus," he said. "That's going to be a key to any success in terms of education reform."

In Connecticut, Pryor will confront thorny, divisive issues such as teacher tenure, pay and evaluation. He must do so in the midst of a slumping economy that has led to teacher layoffs,  school budget cutbacks, and a shrinking staff at the State Department of Education. He takes over an agency that has intervened in two struggling school districts, Windham and Bridgeport, and that has begun reviewing the state's complicated and often-criticized school aid formula.

Although Pryor's predecessor, former Commissioner Mark McQuillan, helped win reforms such as more rigorous high school requirements, he never was able to build a strong alliance with former Gov. M. Jodi Rell - a factor, some observers say, in Connecticut's failure to win a grant last year in the Obama administration's $4.3 billion Race to the Top school reform competition.

Pryor, by contrast, appears to have the strong backing of Malloy, who has pledged to make education reform a central element of his agenda.

Pryor "has the wind at his back," said state Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, D-West Hartford, co-chairman of the legislature's Education Committee. "He is a change agent who arrives with a lot of support for change."

His biggest test will be to shore up lagging academic performance, particularly in schools with large populations of low-income and minority students - a key to restoring Connecticut's status as a leader in education circles.

Pryor is no stranger to big challenges. After heading the agency charged with rebuilding Lower Manhattan following the attacks on New York's World Trade Center, he left for Newark, where he worked alongside Booker and played a central role in promoting business development, expanding affordable housing and developing innovative projects such as a mentoring and job training program for former prisoners.

Newark has more than $700 million in construction projects under way or in the pipeline, Booker said. Pryor has been influential in attracting dozens of new businesses, including the first new downtown hotel in nearly 40 years and the headquarters for Panasonic Corporation of North America.

"He presided over probably one of the greatest development periods in our city in the last 60 years, and he did it during the worst economy when people weren't building, weren't investing," Booker said. "He's a guy who has achieved great success in everything he's done and really has become one of the more sought-after leaders in America... He was always being wooed by other cities, states, communities."

Kathryn S. Wylde, president and CEO of the Partnership for New York City, a nonprofit organization of business leaders where Pryor once worked on school reform, described him as pragmatic. "I would say progressive, but not at all confrontational." she said.

"If you were comparing him and Michelle Rhee, they're sort of opposite ends of the spectrum," Wylde said, referring to the former Washington, D.C. schools chancellor, whose aggressive, often blunt style rankled teachers' unions and made her a controversial figure in school reform.

At the partnership, Pryor worked with two troubled school districts in Brooklyn, focusing heavily on the use of data to monitor student progress and trying strategies such as performance incentives for principals and financial incentives for recruiting teachers, Wylde said.

Pryor is known for devoting long hours to his work, rarely taking time off. "He has total immersion in the work he's doing," Wylde said. "He's a 24/7 guy."

Booker, who called Pryor one of his closest friends, said, "He's a guy who has gone at full speed, around-the-clock with the intensity I've rarely seen matched by others...Stefan is his work. It's what he does. It's who he is...His hobbies were things like leading missions down to Haiti to serve after that disaster."

Pryor, who is single, is the son of two public school teachers. He grew up and attended public schools in New City, N.Y., a suburb of New York City.

On the day his appointment was announced in Connecticut, Pryor said he will focus on strategies that work, wherever they exist.

"I think it's important we look at schools not in terms of their governance model but in terms of their results - whether we're talking about conventional public schools or magnet schools or charter schools or vo-ag or tech schools," he said. "The question is not how is a school structured. The question is: How is a school providing for outstanding student outcomes?"

The search for effective strategies is something Pryor did along with other Yale law students and community leaders in founding Amistad Academy, a successful, high-profile charter school that opened in New Haven in 1999 and became a national model.

"He's very results focused and people focused," said Dacia Toll, former Amistad director and now president and CEO of Achievement First, a network of charter schools that includes Amistad and other schools in Connecticut and New York.

"In coming up with a model for Amistad," Toll said, "we traveled around the country, going as far as Calgary, Canada, to look at schools that were serving kids from low-income backgrounds who have historically been underachieving - yet in these schools, they were achieving breakthrough results."

Charter schools are publicly supported schools that are free of the usual central office restrictions and union rules. In theory, they are designed to foster experimental approaches that can be expanded to other schools, but critics, including teachers' union officials in Connecticut, have been at odds with some charter advocates, accusing them of bashing public schools and acting as competitors.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, knows Pryor and believes he has the skill to mend that relationship.

"Part of what he will need to do is reduce that toxicity. That will be both a challenge and opportunity for him, particularly since he comes from the charter school side," said Weingarten, who remembers Pryor from his school reform work in Brooklyn when she was head of United Federation of Teachers in New York City.

"I think he has seen both the potential of charter schools and the limits of charter schools," Weingarten said.

She said that Pryor is likely to draw not only on the lessons of charter schools but on other experimental approaches such as a reform-minded teachers' contract in New Haven. That contract includes a rigorous new evaluation process for teachers, linking their performance to student progress.

The contract has drawn praise from the Obama administration and others, including Pryor.

"The fact that the collective bargaining unit and municipal administration and school district administration came together and grappled with issues and resulted in a contract that everyone felt good about...that's impressive, and that's a good model," Pryor said.

Weingarten said a key element of the New Haven reform is that it reaches an entire district, not just a single school.

"The fact that [Pryor] has looked at the New Haven model...and sees that collaboration as a key lever to school district reform to try to help all kids - not just some kids - I think is very positive," Weingarten said.

When the Partnership for New York City tested various reforms in Brooklyn schools, Pryor "was pretty honest about what did and didn't work," she said. Even when some of the reforms did not work as planned, "the partnership didn't blame the schools for failure to try," she said.

"I found him at the time...to be open-minded and flexible, you know, pragmatic," she added. "It's about how you help all kids, and the one thing we've learned is it's not so easy."




From the official  CT website




Changes To Education Funding On The Horizon This Year
CTNEWSJUNKIE
by Christine Stuart | Jan 12, 2012 2:20pm

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s Budget Director Ben Barnes, who co-chairs the task force in charge of looking at the state’s Education Cost Sharing formula, tried his best to dodge reporters’ questions about whether there would be changes to the education funding formula this year.

As the awkward pauses and vague answers continued one reporter jokingly volunteered to hold him while the rest tickled the information out of him.

But Barnes defended his cagey behavior explaining that he’s in the middle of making some of those big policy decisions and wouldn’t want to say the administration will do something that it ends up scrapping. But when he was asked if Malloy will be able to accomplish everything he wants to accomplish this fiscal year without changes to the education funding formula, Barnes replied “ultimately no.”

The statement was an indication changes to the formula will be forthcoming.

But Barnes refused to offer any more details or confirm anything Thursday.

“If I were to say something and then we change our mind,” Barnes said as his voice trailed off. “There are a lot of trade offs and clearly we don’t have as much money as we’d like to, to do all the things we‘d like to get done,” he added.

He admitted there was a certain awkwardness to attending the CT Voices for Children budget forum at the state Capitol Thursday because of the proximity of the budget adjustments.

“I don’t bring any paper because I don’t want to say anything,” Barnes joked.

Sen. Andrea Stillman, D-Waterford, co-chairwoman of the legislature’s Education Committee and co-chairwoman of the ECS Task Force, said there may be some small policy changes to the “framework” of the ECS formula this year. But like Malloy, she doesn’t want to impact funding to municipalities.

“To pull the rug out from under our residents and taxpayers would not be well received,“ Stillman said Thursday in a phone interview.

However, she believes there are some small changes the state can make to the formula in anticipation that bigger changes are on the horizon.

She said there are parts of the formula that can be looked at and changed, but was reluctant to say exactly which parts of the formula will be undergoing those small changes, since the task force has yet to finalize its draft report.

Stillman said everyone is hoping fiscal conditions improve this year, so they have an opportunity to make more significant changes to the formula in fiscal year 2013.

Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, D-West Hartford, co-chairman of the legislature’s Education Committee, said given all of the variables involved and the complexity of the formula he didn’t expect to see changes until 2013. However, he said he has nothing but respect for the wide range of aims the governor has enunciated on education reform.

It’s possible to set up a system where you can hold all municipalities harmless, while increasing funding to several school systems, Fleischmann said. It’s been done in the past, but how exactly how Malloy plans on funding it was still a mystery to Fleischmann.

During an interview on WNPR Wednesday Malloy told John Dankosky that his education proposal will be “the most far-reaching in our state’s history, and probably one of the most far-reaching in the nation.”

He said there are about 29 school districts mostly in urban communities that need more help than they’re currently getting from the state. His comments were similar to those made in December at the Council of Small Towns meeting.

“I’ve already said that I’m going to hold municipalities harmless of losses that we’re going to stand by our funding commitments. I made that very publicly about four or five months ago. Believe me if I say it, you can believe it,” Malloy told Dankosky.

Administration sources said changes to the formula are inevitable and will be done this year, but how they will be funded is still unclear.

Since the state won’t be increasing taxes this year many school and town officials are wondering if the state should be taking money from high performing districts to give to low performing districts. This would create winners and losers amongst municipalities.

Bart Russell, executive director of the Council of Small Towns, said Thursday that it would be quite a challenge to imagine significant changes to the ECS formula during the short session of the legislature. And “I don’t know if you can automatically assume these changes to the formula will be robbing Peter to pay Paul either,” Russell added.

He said it would be difficult and challenging to cut municipalities in the second year of the two-year budget, but the ECS formula is the 800 pound gorilla in the room.

“We’re all waiting with baited breath and hoping we’re going to be held harmless in the second year of the biennium,” Russell said.



Just 2 in 5 Connecticut high school grads finish college
Westport News
Linda Conner Lambeck, Staff Writer
Updated 12:21 a.m., Friday, December 30, 2011

HARTFORD -- As the state strives to improve student performance, high school graduation rates and eventual success in college, a new report suggests just how far public schools have to go.

For the 35,671 high school students who graduated from Connecticut public high schools in 2004, just two in five had earned a degree or certificate from college six years out. Another one-third started college during this time, but did not finish. One-quarter skipped post-secondary education altogether.

Locally, the percentage of students successfully completing a college program six years out of high school ranged from 6 percent at Henry Abbott Technical High School in Danbury to 73 percent at Ridgefield High School.

Suburban high school graduates find more success at college than urban students, the report shows.

The data comes from the National Student Clearinghouse, a central repository of enrollment and graduation data, and was requested by the state's Board of Regents for Higher Education, the state Department of Education and P-20 Council, a collaboration between the state's early childhood, K-12, higher education and workforce training sectors.

The council, which held a series of college readiness workshops across the state this fall, is releasing the data to give policymakers and educators a better idea of what high school graduates in the state do with their diplomas. The report provides degree completion rates by high schools in the state, information which has previously not been available in Connecticut.

Michael Meotti, vice president of the state's Board of Regents, said the report signals a need to identify ways to help students prepare to enter the workforce.

"We need to ensure that we're preparing our students for success from the very moment they set foot in our schools," Meotti said in a prepared statement. "That means identifying ways in which we can help them learn and be better able to adapt to the 21st century workforce."

The report calls for a focus on students who enter college but fail to graduate within six years.

Of the 41 percent of the class of 2004 who completed at least one degree or certificate program, half -- representing 20 percent of the class -- went to Connecticut colleges and universities and half attended colleges or universities out of state.

In Connecticut, according to the U.S. Census, 46 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds have an associate degree or higher. That puts the state seventh in the nation. The state's level of education attainment is slipping.

Braden Hosch, director of policy and research for the Board of Regents, said the results are about what was expected.

The data also shows the college-going rate between 2004 and 2009 has increased. According to the state Department of Education, 77.8 percent of the class of 2004 indicated they planned to attend college. In actuality, 57.4 attended college, according to clearinghouse statistics that officials say are accurate within 5 percent.

In 2009, 80.5 percent said they were college-bound. The clearinghouse reports 66.9 percent enrolled the following fall.

"What we are trying to focus attention on is: What matters for Connecticut's economic competitiveness is not simply that students go to college, but when they go, they finish," Hosch said. "We know that in the economy we have today, having some sort of credential after high school makes you much more competitive in the job market."

The report doesn't get into the reasons why students don't finish. While some point to the cost of college as for why some students start but don't finish college, many say not enough students enter college prepared to do the work or have the motivation to stick with it.

State Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor said there is a need for better preparation. The higher education report comes out the same day the Department of Education released a report that shows graduation rates from public high schools in 2010 showed only a slight improvement. Nearly one in five students still fail to graduate within four years. For minority students, one in three fail to graduate with the class they entered with as freshmen.

Ten districts in the state, including Monroe, had greater than a 95 percent graduation rate in 2010. Six districts, including Bridgeport, had rates lower than 65 percent.



Former SWRPA member Dudley Williams on this panel.as is Ted Sergi, former CT Education Commissioner (coined the phrase "The Two Connecticuts")...
ECS PANEL HOPES TO MEET IN LOWER FAIRFIELD COUNTY (UNDER "TASK FORCE ACTIVITIES" NOT TO BE RANKED)

Go directly to the first cut of 49 alternative changes here

Please note that CT MIRROR forced the hand of Education Committee Co-Chair. to release this draft.  How many people on the task force and who do they represent?  Inquiring minds would like to know!


Is there a link here?
First challenge of ECS panel: Untangling old compromises

Keith M. Phaneuf, CT MIRROR
September 15, 2011


The new state panel charged with ensuring fairness in Connecticut's education financing system hit its first quandary Thursday: How do you fix the program when decades of political compromises and nearly $3.8 billion in under-funding have left virtually all communities--rich and poor alike--feeling short-changed?

In its first detailed briefing on state education financing, the Education Cost Sharing task force learned that:

    Connecticut's share of local education funding reached its lowest point in two decades over the last two years.
    While poor cities argue they don't receive sufficient funds through ECS, nearly 50 of the wealthiest communities effectively receive less per student now than they did just before the first education equalization formula was drafted, after adjustments for inflation.
    And an artificial capping system has deprived the ECS program of an average of $760.4 million annually since 2006-07.

The ECS system "has been a series of political compromises over the years," Brian Mahoney, the state Department of Education's chief financial officer, told the panel that must recommend options to reform education financing next February. "The state has never really, actually funded the pure formula."

With nearly $1.9 billion in grants this fiscal year to Connecticut school districts, the ECS system is largest component in a $4.2 billion state funding plan for municipal education that also includes school construction grants; teachers' pension account contributions; a vocational-technical high school system; specialized state school districts serving abused and disabled children; and racial diversity programs.

While a major state tax hike enabled Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the legislature to maintain ECS funding despite the loss of federal aid, the state budget includes significant cuts to spending on construction, diversity and technical high schools.

And though the ECS spending level was maintained, Mahoney and Office of Legislative Research analyst John Moran also told the panel that the grant formula, which takes into account a community's wealth, student population, numbers of families from households on federal assistance, and past education spending, still will distribute $724.8 million less than the formula calls for.

Artificial caps on the ECS program are nothing new. In each of the prior four fiscal years, under-funding levels have ranged from $731.1 million to $865.9 million.

Part of the controversy over ECS stems from what analysts called "the myth of the 50-50 funding promise."

The state Supreme Court ruled in the landmark 1977 case of Horton v. Meskill that Connecticut's flat, $250 per pupil grant to municipal school districts was unconstitutional because it didn't recognize disparities in local wealth.

Though a state Board of Education advisory panel recommended a long-term goal of state assistance covering, on average, half of each community's local education costs, "no one who controlled the purse strings, neither legislatures nor governors, came forward and said 50-50 is our goal," Moran said.

Nonetheless, that perception creates a problem: The state's share of local education spending generally has been in the high-30 percent to low-40 percent range for much of the past two decades. And the deviation among communities has been even greater.

Almost immediately after the first equalization formula was enacted, legislators added "stop-loss" provisions to ensure wealthier communities didn't experience reductions in state aid--a move that has long drawn criticism from poorer communities, both urban and rural.

But while more affluent towns may have been protected in the short term that didn't last. Accordingto Thursday's briefing, the 24 wealthiest towns receive about $378 per student, and and the 24 in the next wealth ranking receive about $735. The $250 per student grant issued in 1977, when adjusted for inflation, would be worth $934 now.

"Which virtually means for the last 35 years they have gotten nothing," said former state Education Commissioner Theodore Sergi, a member of the task force.

ECS funding per student then climbs in the next five wealth tiers to $1,720, $2,744, $3,125, $4,586, and $6,860 per student for the poorest communities in Connecticut.

Sen. Toni Harp, D-New Haven, co-chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, said it's crucial that this task force not only analyze funding issues, but also assess the educational results school districts are achieving.

But Sergi cautioned after the meeting that no school funding equalization program can--on its own--also equalize education results.

"You can't look at ECS to solve everything," he said, adding that the effects of poverty and other social problems can't be overcome by school spending alone.

Meriden School Superintendent Mark Benigni, who also serves on the task force, said that rather than look for ways to fully fund the current ECS formula, the panel might be better off trying to determine the fairest way to distribute the $1.9 billion the program has been allocated in each of the past three budgets. "I think for this committee to do its job, that's what has to be shared," he said.

The alternative, he added, is to develop a formula that calls for more--and then faces the risk of being subverted by state policy makers unwilling to fund it.

"I don't know who in the legislature is happy with the ECS formula," Sen. Andrea L. Stillman, D-Waterford, co-chairwoman of the task force, said. "I think everything needs to be on the table, ... but I think there's a good foundation with what we have now and I'm not sure I want to throw it out."



Charter school founder to be named education commissioner
Robert A. Frahm, CT MIRROR
September 6, 2011

One of the founders of an acclaimed Connecticut charter school who later led the redevelopment effort in Lower Manhattan after the attacks of 9/11 will be named Connecticut's next commissioner of education.

Gov. Dannel Malloy is expected to appoint Stefan Pryor, now the deputy mayor of Newark, N.J., to succeed Mark McQuillan, who resigned abruptly in December, citing the stress of the job. Acting Commissioner George Coleman has held the interim post since then.

State Board of Education Chairman Allan Taylor confirmed the selection of Pryor but would not comment further. Pryor's selection was first reported in a story by Hartford Courant columnist Rick Green.

The board, which led a six-month search for the new commissioner, will issue its recommendation of Pryor at its meeting Wednesday, where the new commissioner will be introduced. Pryor is one of five finalists interviewed for the job.

Pryor, 39, a graduate of Yale Law School, was among the founders of the Amistad Academy in New Haven, a high profile public charter school that has had a successful track record with children from low-income families.

The selection of Pryor signals Malloy's intent to focus on reforming the public education system and is certain to raise eyebrows among the education establishment, including teacher union officials who have sometimes clashed with charter school supporters over funding and other issues.

Pryor's background indicates he is no stranger to big challenges.

In Newark, Pryor oversees economic development, city planning and housing as part of the administration of Mayor Cory Booker. Before taking that job, he was president of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation in charge of rebuilding the area after the attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001.

Before 2001, he worked as vice president of the Partnership for New York City, a leading business organization, where he was involved in school reform efforts.

In the mid-1990s, Pryor worked as a policy advisor to New Haven Mayor John DeStefano.

"I'm hearing from folks in New Haven. They think it's a good choice," said Sharon Palmer, president of the American Federation of Teachers-Connecticut. "If he is bringing a vision of what charter schools are supposed to be--schools of innovation and creativity--then that's a good thing."

"I'm hoping he doesn't have the ConnCAN vision of charters being competitors with K-12 [schools]," she said, a reference to the New Haven-based organization that has pushed aggressively for school reforms, including more support for charters.

Alex Johnston, ConnCAN's executive director, knew Pryor when the two men worked for the City of New Haven, Johnston as an official with the New Haven Housing Authority and Pryor as an advisor to DeStefano.

"I think it's an exciting appointment," Johnston said. "He's really an experienced public administrator who has taken on turnaround challenges in New York City and Newark...Think about trying to rebuild Lower Manhattan after 9/11...

"I think we have a rebuilding challenge of our own with a public school system that historically has led the nation but in recent years has fallen behind."

In Connecticut, Pryor will take on a public school system that has struggled to close one of the largest achievement gaps in the nation, with low-income and minority students trailing far behind more affluent and white students in reading and mathematics. Some critics also have expressed concern that the state failed to win a grant last year in Race to the Top, the Obama administration's $4.3 billion school reform competition. The surrounding states of Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York all won grants.

"If you can work in Newark and New York City," you should be able to handle Connecticut," said Mary Loftus Levine, the recently appointed executive director of the Connecticut Education Association, the state's largest teachers' union.

"I never met him...He has a very interesting background," she said. "I think having an urban background will be a big plus. My hope is he'll want to work collaboratively with us and listen to the voices of teachers."

Attempts to reach Pryor Wednesday were unsuccessful.

Pryor, who has been described as a tireless worker, also has done volunteer work in earthquake-damaged Haiti and Chile alongside one of the nation's most noted school reformers.

Paul Vallas - former school superintendent in Chicago, Philadelphia and New Orleans - said Pryor was a valuable voice in building school systems and other services as those countries recovered from devastating earthquakes.

"He's a great guy. The governor has made a real smart choice," Vallas said Wednesday by phone from Haiti, where he has been working for the past 20 months helping to design a publicly funded school system.

Vallas, a proponent of school choice and charter schools, said Pryor is highly respected and has a solid grasp of education issues. "He knows what constitutes good schools - what works and what doesn't work. He's not a novice when it comes to education."

 The report of Pryor's selection also won an enthusiastic response from Frank Carrano, longtime president of the New Haven Federation of Teachers before leaving that post in 1999.

"I'm very excited about the appointment. I knew Stefan from his days as an undergraduate at Yale through his involvement with public schools," said Carrano, now chairman of the Board of Education in Branford. "I found him to be, as a young man, genuinely interested in making positive changes happen. As a college undergraduate, it's rare to find those qualities...

"We've kept in touch over the years. I know his involvement in the Lower Manhattan project is another example of his willingness to step into a difficult situation. His greatest strengths lie in his ability to bring people together, to collaborate."

Robert Rader, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, said of Pryor, "I don't know him personally, but he has some accomplishments. He has more background in education that we first thought. My understanding is he was the governor's first choice, and we'll do what we can to make him successful."


Stefan Pryor named state's next Commissioner of Education
Linda Conner Lambeck, Staff Writer
Updated 11:33 p.m., Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Before 9/11, education was Stefan Pryor's focus.

The Yale graduate helped found the state's most successful charter school and led education programs for a business leadership partnership in New York City. After the terrorist attacks of 10 years ago, he shifted his energy to rebuilding lower Manhattan, then went to work for Cory Booker when his college buddy became mayor of Newark, N.J.  Now, Pryor, 39, is poised to return to education as Connecticut's top school chief, taking on one of the nation's largest achievement gaps between poor students of color and more affluent white students.

Officials have confirmed that Pryor will be introduced Wednesday by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy as the state's next commissioner of education.  The announcement will be made at 2 p.m. in the Legislative Office Building during the monthly state Board of Education meeting. Pryor did not respond to calls for comment.  Board Chairman Allan Taylor said he was pleased with the selection. Others, like New Haven Mayor John DeStefano, called it a good day for the young people of Connecticut.

"I don't think Gov. Malloy would have picked Stefan or Stefan would have accepted the position if both weren't about the mission of creating aggressive change in the state Department of Education," said DeStefano, who pulled Pryor from the city council in 1994 to work with him on youth and education issues early in his administration.  DeStefano called Pryor a change agent who has the ability to set clear goals and to be persistent and collaborative.

"I think the state Department of Education is in desperate need of leadership and change," DeStefano added.

Pryor becomes the state's fourth commissioner of education since 2007, counting acting Commissioner of Education George Coleman, whose nine-month stint in the job this year included naming a new Bridgeport Board of Education after a majority of the existing one asked to be replaced. Commissioner Mark McQuillan was commissioner prior to Malloy taking office. Before him, Betty Sternberg spent three years in the job.

This will be the first commissioner appointed under a relatively new statute that puts the final decision in the hands of the governor and the Legislature, not the state Board of Education.

Dacia Toll, who co-founded Amistad Academy Charter School in New Haven with Pryor in 1997, called Pryor's appointment great news for Connecticut. She thinks Pryor can do for Connecticut what he did for students at Amistad, who in very short order were scoring at or above the state average on the Connecticut Mastery Test. The school has since expanded to include schools in New York, Hartford and Bridgeport under the Achievement First brand name. Pryor was the first chairman of the board of Amistad Academy.

Alex Johnston, executive director of Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, or ConnCan, which advocates for education reform and charter schools, said picking someone like Pryor suggests Malloy is serious about turning around the state's achievement gap.

"I'm encouraged," Johnston said. "He is someone who helped rebuild ground zero despite complex political challenges, worked on redevelopment in Newark and before that education," said Johnston.

Pryor graduated from Yale University and then Yale Law School. After he helped found Amistad Academy, one of the state's first charter schools, he went to work for Kathy Wylde, president and CEO of The Partnership for NYC, where his job was to support public education, reform and improvement.

"He was responsible for a major initiative called Breakthrough that was all about bringing data-driven management and accountability to schools," said Wylde.

She was not surprised when Pryor recently confided in her that he was considering becoming Connecticut's education chief.

"Education has always been his first passion," said Wylde, who lent him to the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. after 9/11 to help with the rebuilding effort. "All of our staff went from what we were doing on 9/10 to focusing on emergency response and rebuilding effort. Stefan lived and worked 10 blocks from the site."

Pryor helped found ReStart Central, which provided donated and discounted goods and services to 9/11-affected businesses.  For the past five years, he has been deputy mayor for economic development in the city of Newark.



State tells 11 towns they must increase education spending

Jacqueline Rabe, CT MIRROR
August 31, 2011

Officials at the State Department of Education are notifying officials in 11 cities and towns that they are in violation of state law setting minimum spending requirements for education and that they must increase their school appropriations for the current fiscal year."If they don't comply soon then we will have to figure out what the next step is," said Brian Mahoney, the longtime chief financial officer for the SDE.

In order to receive state education funding grants, the law requires school districts to spend at least as much each year than they did the previous year. For the first time a significant number of districts have submitted budget figures to the state that do not comply with the minimum spending requirement.

"This is unprecedented. This has never happened before," said Mahoney. He said in the nearly 30 years of the state imposing minimum spending or appropriations requirements for districts, fewer then 10 incidents have occurred of districts failing to meet the requirement.

"It must be the recession that's catching up with their budgets," said Allan B. Taylor, chairman of the State Board of Education.

Taylor and Mahoney said the state will be forced to take action against the non-complying districts if they don't increase their school budgets. Possible options include legal action or withholding state funding.

Mahoney has told districts that they have until Thursday to let the department know what their plans are. He said he expects there will be some districts that respond that they cannot resolve the issue locally and need the state to step in.

One of those districts is likely to be Winchester, where town and school officials are in a dispute over a $1.4 million gap in the education budget.

"I must report that I do not expect that the Town will provide funding at this required level," Superintendent Thomas M. Danehy wrote Mahoney last week. Danehy accused the board of selectmen are offering "fictitious savings" to justify not allocating more money for the schools.

Selectwoman Lisa Smith said the board if not going to budge on the issue.

"I just don't understand how giving them millions and millions of more dollars is going to solve the problems facing education," she said. "I am not willing to go back to the taxpayers and ask for more money...  It's a very frustrating position we are in."

Mayor Candy Perez, a local principal who supports giving the schools more money, said the dispute is not going to be resolved without some action by the state.

"When two sides are in a stalemate the state agency needs to intervene," she said.

This tug-of-war for funding between town councils and school boards has existed for years, but Bristol Superintendent Philip Streifer says the recession is the "straw that finally broke the camel's back."

Bristol's school budget is $2.6 million short of the minimum requirement. Streifer, who is also the head of the Connecticut Association of Urban School Superintendents, says said he is hopeful his town council will decided to fill the gap.

"They respect the law. They may not be happy with it, though," he said. "School districts and towns are at loggerheads everywhere and we are going to keep having these issues unless something changes."

David Medina, a spokesman for Hartford Public Schools, said the mayor's office has informed the district that they intend to appropriate more money for the schools so they are in compliance with the law.

The legislature did attempt to give towns and school districts some relief this year by passing a law that allows them to cut spending if enrollment declines under certain conditions. But the change only applies to districts that have have met federal benchmarks under the federal No Child Left Behind Law. Districts with high levels of poverty were also restricted from cutting spending.

Without this change in law, seven of the 11 districts that are set to spend less than the required amount would have been much further in the hole. For example, Columbia's school budget is $159,000 short of the minimum; without the new law, if would have been $275,000 below the required appropriations.

About one-fifth of the state's school districts are spending the same as last year. Sixteen of those 30 school districts were able to cut their budgets below what they spent last year, but elected not to, according to the SDE figures.



Wetlands remediation work at Weston schools postponed until next summer
Weston FORUM
Written by Kimberly Donnelly
Wednesday, 24 August 2011 11:20

The town has been given permission to delay wetlands remediation at the school campus until next summer when school is not in session.  Full story here.




The next debt bubble: college loans
NYPOST
By NATHAN HARDEN
Last Updated: 12:11 AM, August 23, 2011
Posted: 10:58 PM, August 22, 2011

In the last few years, excessive borrowing has led to a housing-market collapse -- and now, to Standard & Poor’s downgrading of the US credit rating.

But America’s debt-fueled woes haven’t ended: The higher-education industry may be the next bubble to burst.

Moody’s rating agency recently issued a report that should be a wake-up call to every student now considering taking out large loans to pay for college.

Total student debt is at an all-time high -- and may top $1 trillion this year. Meanwhile, default rates are rising alarmingly. Skyrocketing tuition, lax lending standards and high rates of unemployment have created the perfect financial storm.

Some advice to college students: Learn from our government’s mistakes and avoid borrowing your way into a hole.

Tuition costs have more than doubled since 2000, far outpacing the inflation rate -- even surpassing the bubble-fueled growth in real-estate prices.

Tighter lending standards for auto loans and mortgages have vastly improved loan performance. Yet student-loan-default rates are getting worse, not better.

For 2008, the most recent year for which data is available, the default rate was 7 percent, up from 4.6 percent in 2005. Among students who attend for-profit institutions, the default rate is nearly 12 percent.

Despite high default rates, lenders have had little incentive to curtail the amount of money they loan to students because the federal government guarantees most student loans. Yet, for borrowers, the consequences of default are severe.

Unlike most debt, student loans are almost impossible to dispose of through bankruptcy. If students fail to repay, their tax refunds can be withheld and wages and Social Security payments can be garnished.

President Obama’s takeover of the student-loan industry last year means the government no longer backs private loans, and most students now borrow directly from the government. But unless the government improves underwriting standards, we’ll have an ever-growing portfolio of bad loans on the federal books, and all taxpayers will pay for it.

Financial advisers often refer to educational debt as “good debt” because college graduates make far more on average than nongraduates.

But not all degrees provide an equal return on investment. A degree in chemical engineering, for example, produces an average starting salary of $64,500. Someone with a degree in culinary arts, however, can expect to start out making less than $30,000 -- a salary they might get without a degree. Yet despite such differences, the government subsidizes loans as if all majors were equally valuable.

Another problem is that many students borrow money for college but never finish, and so don’t reap the financial rewards of a degree. Of those who enroll in college, more than 40 percent fail to complete their degree within six years. Among minorities and the poor, graduation rates are even lower.

Moody’s report expressed concern that many borrowers and lenders have unrealistic expectations of borrowers’ future earnings. “Unless students limit their debt burdens, choose fields of study that are in demand and successfully complete their degrees on time, they will find themselves in worse financial positions and unable to earn the projected income that justified taking out their loans in the first place,” the agency wrote.

Education has an intrinsic value beyond finding a good job and making more money. But most students enter college expecting it to pay off economically. Looking at the rising student-loan-default rate, it’s hard not to conclude that, for many students, college is failing to produce the returns they expected.

The job market, while tough for all, is even tougher for recent college grads. A study showed that among 2010 graduates, only 56 percent had managed to hold at least one job by this past spring. No wonder defaults are on the rise.

In this troubled economy, students should look for ways to reduce their borrowing, such as working a part-time job. Some may wish to lower their costs by attending community colleges for the first two years. Most should avoid for-profit colleges, where costs and default rates tend to be higher. Finally, students should carefully assess the marketability of their chosen course of study and the likelihood that they’ll be able to finish their degree.

With no lift to the job market in sight, the financial consequences of mishandling such decisions could be dire.



Malloy tells school superintendents 'We've got to do a better job'

Jacqueline Rabe, CT MIRROR
August 17, 2011

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy told school superintendents from across the state Wednesday that he will tackle a host of education issues in 2012, including a flawed school finance system, a seniority system that protects bad teachers and the failure of many students to learn.  He also said the state Department of Education has to play a larger role in improving education in the state.

"Education has such an important position on my list of priorities," he told a roomful of superintendents and other education leaders in East Hartford. "We got to check our presumptions [and] our assumptions at the door."

The governor offered few specifics, but school leaders welcomed his commitment.

"We have long waited for this. It's been a long time coming," said Manchester Superintendent Kathleen Ouellette, who was recently selected to become the superintendent of Waterbury Public Schools.

Several measures show the state is failing when it comes to education, Malloy told the audience. They include the failure of one out of every four students in several urban districts not graduating from high school, minority students testing far behind their white classmates and 70 percent of students showing up to community colleges needing to take remedial courses for things they should have learned in high school.

"I am not convinced we are properly preparing students," Malloy said.

While he spent just over 20 minutes telling the group what is wrong with the system, what he didn't do was offer specifics on how exactly he intends to change the status quo or who would be leading the State Department of Education, which has not had a permanent commissioner since December.

"I'm not here to be critical. I am here to focus," he said. "We've got to do a better job."

Malloy said he is still shaping what specific initiatives he intends to ask the legislature to approve. He also said he expects the next education commissioner to be named in "a matter of weeks."

The changes he intends to make to how the state finances districts are sure to be controversial however it plays out. With the likelihood that the state will not be able to spend more on education anytime soon, his budget director said Tuesday the state has to more fairly distribute the $2.7 billion pot of money it does have for education.

"I apologize to you that I can't send a lot more money to your districts," Malloy told the education leaders at Rentschler Field.

It's the specifics of that new financing formula that leaders are waiting to see.

"The fact that he's promising to tread in new water and figure this out once and for all is really refreshing," said Hartford's Superintendent Christina Kishimoto.

How he intends to identify the bad teachers will also likely be controversial. Education advocates for years have been calling on state leaders to develop a teacher evaluation system to begin the process of helping teachers improve and dismiss those that do not.  Mary Loftus-Levine, the head of the Connecticut Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, said she agrees with the governor that something needs to be done.

"We are also looking for a new system to evaluate teachers," she said, adding she believes it's a small minority of teachers that are so bad they should be shown the door. "The [districts] needs a rubric to follow."

"Every teacher in every school in Connecticut can be proud of their colleagues sitting next to them, or in the hallway next to them or in the hallway down -- that should be our goal," Malloy said, reiterating his previous statements that seniority should not be the only thing looked at when districts lay off teachers.

Kishimoto, whose district has been unsuccessful in getting the State Board of Education to allow it to circumvent seniority rules in teacher layoffs, said she's eager for change.

"The current approach is not grounded around quality assessment," she said. "I hope [Malloy] follows through."



Maryland teachers union balks at pension cost change
By David Hill, The Washington Times
Thursday, August 11, 2011

Maryland's teachers union is resisting state lawmakers' efforts to trim an anticipated $1.1 billion budget gap by sharing teacher pension costs with counties.   A state-appointed commission has recommended Maryland begin splitting the cost of nearly $1 billion in annual teacher pension benefits with its 23 counties and Baltimore, to help close the state's structural deficit during next year's legislative session  Yearly pension payouts to Maryland teachers have essentially tripled in the past 10 years as salaries have increased and more teachers have retired, and represent nearly two-thirds of the state's annual $1.5 billion in total pension costs.

Maryland is one of just three states that pay teacher benefits without help from counties, though hiring and salaries are determined on the county level.  While the commission and many legislators say a 50-50 sharing of costs is long overdue, unions and local governments argue it could yield disastrous results for many already cash-strapped school systems.

"Shifting costs to local boards of education is really tantamount to a huge cut in education funding," said Adam Mendelson, spokesman for the Maryland State Education Association, which represents more than 71,000 school employees and is the state's largest union. "There would be a tremendous impact on the quality of education."

Cost sharing has become a hot topic in Annapolis in recent years, as legislators look to fix an underfunded state pension system that has been wracked by underperforming investments and salary and benefits increases.  Legislators during this year's General Assembly considered shifting as much as half the costs of teacher pensions to counties, but met stiff opposition from state and local teachers unions that staged several protest rallies and predicted the plan would force jurisdictions to increase class sizes, cut programs and lay off as many as 2,800 employees, Mr. Mendelson said.

Counties currently pay retired teachers' Social Security benefits, which Mr. Mendelson said makes up about one-third of their total benefits.  The unions eventually won out, with the Assembly taking the less drastic steps of shifting $17 million in administrative costs to counties, raising the early-retirement age from 55 to 60 and requiring many employees to pay higher contribution rates.  Cost sharing is sure to come up again in next year's session, and could even be considered as early this fall, in a special redistricting session, some legislators say.

The state-appointed Public Employees' and Retirees' Benefit Sustainability Commission recommended in a July report that legislators work as soon as possible toward evenly splitting costs with counties — a move that committee Chairman Casper R. Taylor Jr. characterized as necessary and inevitable.

"Before the budget deficits became a huge, major issue, it was still always a concern simply because the body that sets the salary level hasn't been required to pay the bill," said Mr. Taylor, who was House speaker from 1994 to 2003 and served in the chamber as an Allegany Democrat from 1975 to 2003.

"That, on itself, is a mistake," he said, adding that he'd like to see legislators phase in an even split over two or three years.  The MSEA criticized several of the commission's recommendations, including that the state look into a hybrid pension plan in which employees would be partially on the hook if investments underperform.

Senate Majority Leader Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Prince George's Democrat and vocal cost-sharing supporter, has said he believes cost sharing has majority support in the Senate but could be in for a tough battle in the House.  He said during last session that less-tenured legislators could be reluctant to go against the will of education proponents and a union, ardently supporters of Democrats in a majority Democratic state.

Delegate Melony G. Griffith, a Prince George's Democrat who serves on the House Appropriations Committee, downplayed any potential loss of union support in the next election cycle, saying this year's changes to the pension system have helped cut costs in the short term and that discussions about cost sharing are "a little premature."

"What the educators want to ensure is that the commitments that are made to teachers are lived up to," said Miss Griffith, House chairman of the Assembly's Special Joint Committee on Pensions. "Clearly, the conversation will continue, but it is a different conversation than it was a year ago."

© Copyright 2011 The Washington Times, LLC.



Arne Duncan’s NCLB Overreach
National Review editorial
August 11, 2011 4:00 A.M.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently announced that he will offer a waiver to the requirements of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) to any state that wants one — so long as the state agrees to enact the Obama administration’s preferred education reforms.

This is an overreach. No Child Left Behind gives the secretary a broad authority to grant waivers, but Duncan is essentially using that authority to create a whole new policy. If the administration wants to encourage states to adopt specific reforms that are not prescribed in existing law, it should encourage Congress to pass legislation to that effect, not just make the decision itself. This move is of a piece with the administration’s other attempts to legislate by fiat, including the Environmental Protection Agency’s move to regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant.

But the deeper problem here is NCLB itself — the ridiculous assumptions of which nearly justify Duncan’s actions. The 2001 law mandates that all American schoolchildren be “proficient” in reading and math by 2014; whenever a school fails to make adequate progress toward that goal, it runs a risk of losing federal funding. Needless to say, thanks to a wide variety of factors, not all children are capable of becoming academically proficient — so the law punishes schools for failing to do the impossible.

The drafters of the legislation, and President Bush, who signed it, were perfectly aware that they were making unreasonable demands. We know this because they built escape routes into the law. In addition to giving the secretary of education the right to waive the requirements, NCLB allowed each state to define “proficient” however it wanted. Not surprisingly, massive fraud resulted: To simulate improvement, states made their “proficiency” tests progressively easier. In many states, student scores improved on NCLB tests, but not on other standardized measures of achievement.

However, there are limits to states’ ability and willingness to fudge the data, and the 2014 deadline — at which point tests will have to be so easy that all students pass them — is approaching. It’s clear that a change is needed, and Congress has thus far failed to pass new legislation.

If the federal government got out of education entirely, we wouldn’t face problems such as this one. But at the very least, legislators should take the reins back from the administration — and base their funding requirements on plausible assumptions this time.

Duncan scolds Congress, announces bypass plan
By Ben Wolfgang, The Washington Times
3:01 p.m., Monday, August 8, 2011

Education Secretary Arne Duncan had harsh words for Congress on Monday, calling it "dysfunctional" and announcing plans to bypass lawmakers and institute sweeping education reform through a waiver system for states.

Despite repeated calls from President Obama to pass a comprehensive overhaul to the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act before the next school year, Congress has been unable to do.

The inaction is especially apparent in the Senate, where Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat and chairman of the committee which oversees education policy, continues to push back his own timetable for introducing a reform bill.

"We can't sit here in Washington and turn a deaf ear to what's going on around the country," Mr. Duncan said during a press conference at the White House. "Right now Congress is pretty dysfunctional. They're not getting stuff done."

The House Committee on Education and the Workforce has made some progress, passing the first three bills in a five-step process out of committee. They await votes on the House floor.

Earlier this year, Mr. Harkin, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said he'd introduce a bill by the spring. Two weeks ago during an Appropriations subcommittee hearing, he said he hopes to introduce the bill "this year."

The lack of progress has clearly frustrated the administration and education specialists, who criticize NCLB for its high-stakes testing and what they call its unrealistic expectations.

The Education Department's waiver system — the details of which will be announced sometime next month — will free states from many NCLB mandates, including the "failing" school designation, if those states demonstrate real reform and a high bar for student achievement.

Mr. Duncan said he hopes all 50 states will apply.

© Copyright 2011 The Washington Times, LLC. 




Acting Commissioner of Education George Coleman (l);  Mayor Bill Finch (r. second from right)

Bridgeport schools case heads to Conn. high court
Greenwich TIME
Published 11:20 a.m., Sunday, October 16, 2011

HARTFORD (AP) -- The dispute over whether Connecticut education officials acted properly when they swept out Bridgeport's elected school board is heading to the state Supreme Court.

Justices are scheduled to hear arguments Oct. 27 in the case, in which some parents and former board members challenge the validity of a 2007 state law allowing the takeover.

Connecticut's state Department of Education removed the elected board members this summer amid budget stalemates and other problems. They were replaced with appointees under terms of a law that lets state officials intervene when students' academic performance is in dire need of improvement.

The takeover provision hadn't been used before.

The parents and other Bridgeport residents argue the sate's actions deprived them of their right to be represented by people who were legally elected.


Board of Education case is continued
CT POST
Daniel Tepfer, Staff writer
Published 03:25 p.m., Tuesday, August 16, 2011

BRIDGEPORT -- There were 19 lawyers and one judge but after two and a half hours of discussion Tuesday the only thing that apparently was clear is that the board of education takeover case is a complicated situation.

Waterbury Superior Court Judge Salvatore Agati continued the hearing to Friday morning hoping the lawyers would work out a number of "procedural" matters by then.

There are four separate lawsuits seeking to block the state from taking over the city's school system; a lawsuit from parents of school children, a suit from members of the city's board of education who had opposed the takeover, and lawsuits from Democratic mayoral candidate Mary-Jane Foster and several people who had intended to run for positions on the city's board of education.

The Foster slate lawsuit claimed the takeover is a violation of the U.S. Constitution and that resulted in their suit going to federal court, a move they are now trying to retract so that their case can be heard by Agati.

In addition, Norm Pattis, the lawyer for the opposition board members, wants members of the new state-appointed board of education for the city added to the case as defendants.

Then there is the Democratic and Republican town committees' applications to join the case.

There are also claims that at least one of the lawsuits wasn't served properly.

And Josephine Smalls Miller is waiting to find out whether her lawsuit on behalf of the parents of Dunbar School children will even make it to the next stage or be thrown out by the judge for lack of standing.


Outside interests were working behind the scenes to reconstitute school board
CT POST
Linda Conner Lambeck, Staff Writer
Updated 08:28 a.m., Thursday, August 4, 2011


HARTFORD -- A consultant for a Greenwich billionaire interested in education reform was advocating behind the scenes for charter changes that would give the mayor control of the Bridgeport school board at the same time that local and city officials were also looking to reconstitute the board, email correspondence released to Hearst Connecticut Newspapers revealed.

Meghan Lowney, of Fairfield, who works for hedge fund philanthropist Steve Mandel, tried first to find a way to create a mayor-controlled school board through a charter change and then to get the board reconstituted.

Numerous email exchanges between Lowney and State Board of Education Chairman Allan Taylor detail an ongoing lobbying effort that she repeatedly asked be kept confidential. Lowney and Taylor were introduced, via email, by Alex Johnston, director Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, or ConnCan, of New Haven on Jan. 11.

In the emails, Lowney tells Taylor she is part of a small group strategizing a Bridgeport charter revision campaign that would result in mayoral control of the schools. They were hoping to turn it around in time for the November 2011 election. She called the Bridgeport Partnership for Student Success a new community-based education reform coalition gaining momentum.

On Wednesday, Lowney said her efforts were not on behalf of the partnership, or any other group.

"In the last few months I've talked with Mayor (Bill) Finch and others about the possibilities for private support for the Bridgeport public schools," she said. "Just as in other challenged urban districts ... private-public partnerships can fuel innovations and system transformations."

In emails to Taylor, Lowney tells him that Mandel, founder of Lone Pine Capital in Greenwich, along with his wife, was interested in making meaningful school change in Bridgeport. They did not think accelerated change could take place under the current school board, which by most counts was deemed dysfunctional.

The emails were released to Hearst Connecticut Newspapers by the state Department of Education after a Freedom of Information request was filed. The emails between Taylor, Acting Commissioner of Education George Coleman, members of the department's legal staff and local officials chronicle efforts to get a resolution to reconstitute the school board on a state board agenda for months -- first in February, then March, before the effort to reconstitute the school board became public on July 6, when the state board voted 5-4 to allow Coleman to replace the board following a vote by the school board, 6-3, to dissolve itself.

Some of Lowney's emails to Taylor list examples of the board dysfunction. She tells him in April she is working behind the scenes to support a request for state intervention. When the Bridgeport school board, faced with a $17-million shortfall, failed to pass a budget on June 16, Lowney writes Taylor the next day to tell him time is running out. She asks him how far in advance of a state board meeting must an item be placed on an agenda. She also tells him she'd like to talk to him and Coleman about support she's organized in the private sector. "Should the state (Department of Education) act to intervene, there is excellent private partnership to be activated," she wrote.

Taylor said Wednesday he had no idea what Lowney's role was in the Bridgeport situation, but that she contacted him, and he counseled her. "When people want to know how to do something, if I can tell them, I do. It doesn't mean I am going to agree with them," said Taylor. He doesn't think his exchanges in any way compromised his ability to vote on the matter.

Lowney said Wednesday her efforts to reach out to Taylor were to become informed about and to support opportunities for meaningful system change. Lowney, of Fairfield, said for too long Bridgeport children have been denied the opportunity for an education that prepares them for success -- despite the efforts of many talented teachers and leaders, and the advocacy of caring parents.

The emails suggest that as early as January, the Bridgeport situation was being discussed with local city officials -- both Schools Superintendent John Ramos and Finch's office.

"My conversations with John Ramos indicate ... the mayor regards the situation as being near crisis," Coleman writes to Taylor in a Jan. 28 email.

There were discussions between Coleman and his staff about whether the board had sufficient training as is required by the reconstituted law. The lack of training is an argument raised in one of the lawsuits filed against board reconstitution.

Coleman's staff also discussed if there was evidence school board rancor was hurting student achievement. His staff couldn't establish a link. Taylor suggests the question perhaps should be if the board is doing anything to improve student achievement.

On Feb. 22, Coleman emails Taylor to tell him he spoke with Ramos, who wants to get a reconstitution resolution on the March agenda of the state board. Coleman tells Ramos it would be beneficial if in the resolution most board members declare they have availed themselves of training as required under the law. Until the weekend of July 4, three members of the school board -- along with the public -- were unaware of any discussions taking place.

Who will be on the new state appointed board is still under review.

Coleman told the state education board Wednesday he is pleased with having more than 50 applicants and is encouraged by the talent pool. He said prospective board members come from as far away as Hartford and New Haven. He won't say when the selections will be made and indicated he might be open to picking more than five members. "The quality of talent leads me to consider more than five if we can get more than that to commit to doing this difficult work that has to be accomplished. My mind is open until I have to make the decision," he said.

He said he is looking for the best individuals to do the job and is not concentrating on groups they are affiliated with. Despite a recent lawsuit, Coleman said he is continuing to move forward.

City will argue injunction preventing school board takeover should be thrown out
CT POST
Published 11:08 a.m., Thursday, July 21, 2011

BRIDGEPORT -- A group of city parents rallied outside of Superior Court Thursday morning in an effort to prevent a restructuring of the city's Board of Education by the state.  The parents, joined at a press conference by Connecticut Parents Union president Gwen Samuel, pleaded their case prior to a hearing in front of a judge who the parents hope will impose an injunction stopping the proposed takeover.  The injunction request was tacked on as an amendment to a previous request filed by parents in order to prevent the Dunbar School from closing.

But city officials have since said the Dunbar School will not close -- bringing the fate of the injunction into question.

At the hearing, Superior Court judge Barbara Bellis continued the case until Aug. 15, at which point Associate City Attorney Russell Liskov will argue the case should be dismissed because the Dunbar School -- at the center of the initial injunction -- is no longer a target for closure.  Karen Johnson, a parent at Cesar Batella School, criticized both city parents for their lack of involvement and Mayor Bill Finch for comments Finch made earlier this month to the state Board of Education.

"There's no support," Johnson said. "It's very difficult when the mayor goes to state Board of Education and tells them that the majority of parents in Bridgeport can't vote because they have criminal records."

Finch's comments, made at a hearing in Hartford, have generated criticism from parents and political rivals.

Speaking in support of a schools takeover by the state earlier this month, Finch told state Board of Education officials concerned about the disenfranchisement of voters that doing away with the BOE election wasn't a "great loss" because few people vote in Bridgeport.

He added that many parents can't vote because of their citizenship status or due to "having done things in a previous life."

"I just do want to remind you that ... many of my parents who either because of them not being citizens or having done things in their previous life cannot participate in the Democratic process," the mayor said at the hearing. "Democracy doesn't work. It doesn't work in all cases."

Johnson, who is not named in the lawsuit but said she came to the hearing to support it, also criticized parents for being willfully ignorant about issues in the city's school system. "The main problem is, enough parents aren't involved," she said.

Johnson said she hopes the judge will rule that the state and city have to listen to parents and consider other options of how to deal with the school system.  The parents said they realize there are major issues that need to be dealt with, but they said the restructuring of the school board by the state, and thereby taking away the parent's voice, is the wrong move.  The plaintiff in the lawsuit, Shavonne Davis, a mother of five children who attend Dunbar School, said she wanted the parent's to be heard.

"We have a voice and it will be heard," said Davis in front of cameras from multiple telvision stations. "It's sad that it had to reach this point for us to be heard."

Davis said many people in the past died so that there could be the right to vote in this country and said they would not be happy if they saw what was happening in Bridgeport.

"We have the right to vote and our votes are being taken away from us," Davis said.


Fifty people interesting in serving on revamped Bridgeport school board
CT POST
Linda Conner Lambeck, Staff Writer
Updated 07:10 a.m., Thursday, July 21, 2011

BRIDGEPORT -- More than 50 people have indicated a desire to sit on the reconstituted Bridgeport Board of Education, state officials said Wednesday.

The applicants represent a wide range of ethnic and racial backgrounds and live both within and outside the city school district, said Mark Linabury, a spokesman for the state Department of Education.

Linabury said he could not be any more specific about the number of applicants and who applied. He did say some of the applicants are individuals whom acting Commissioner of Education George Coleman asked to apply.

In a cursory initial review, Linabury said, Coleman is impressed by the range of talents the applicants bring to the table both from within the city and the surrounding towns. Some of the applications came by email, others through the U.S. Postal Service.

The list is expected to be paired to about eight to 10 candidates in the short term. Those individuals will be brought in for interviews.

Coleman was away at a educators conference until Wednesday. Last week, he indicated that the decision as to who would be on the new five-member panel would be his and no one else's.

The new panel will replace a nine-member board that voted 6-3 on July 5 to ask the state to replace it. The very next day, the state Board of Education voted 5-4 to grant the request. The unprecedented step was made possible by a year-old law that allows for state intervention into school districts with chronically failing schools.

The state's action is being challenged in court.

At 9 a.m. Thursday, the Bridgeport Superior Court will hear oral arguments regarding an amended injunction filed against the City of Bridgeport and the state Department of Education that challenges the state's authority to replace the elected board with one appointed by the commissioner. The law requires the board to receive training before being reconstituted. The injunction, filed on behalf of Shavonne Davis, a parent, and Laurayne Farrar-James, a community activist, argues that the required training did not occur.

The injunction asks for a temporary restraining order. It also argues that the state Department of Education acted beyond its statutory authority and is depriving city residents of the right to vote for school board members of their choosing.

Takeover Is About More Than Bridgeport
Malloy Must Address Real Problem: Suburban Kids Learn, Poor Kids Fail

The Hartford Courant5
Rick Green
July 7, 2011

Bridgeport's forlorn plea for a state takeover of its schools isn't about another dysfunctional school board. It's about our abject failure to deal with the problem that, year in, year out, never fails to go away.

Suburban kids learn. Poor kids fail. It's a problem we won't, or can't, fix. Is it any surprise that an inept school board devolves into a squabbling mess?

One fourth-grader in four in Bridgeport reaches state goals for reading. The number is about the same — or worse — in Hartford, New Britain and New London. It's only slightly better in New Haven. All this has barely changed in decades of hand-wringing, commissions and studies.

No company or college wants graduates like this. We are talking tens of thousands of young people.

This is about Gov. Dannel P. Malloy deciding to make our greatest shame, the failure of city schools, his priority. Whether Malloy takes the lead here will tell us much about the success of his administration and the growth of Connecticut's economy. His office, not surprisingly, has been discussing the proposed takeover with Bridgeport officials for months.

The future of our state very much depends on whether cities like Bridgeport and its 20,000 students figure out a way to succeed. Because if it's not Bridgeport, it's New Britain or East Hartford, New Haven and Hartford. This is where our future workforce is coming from.

Cynics tell me the real problem is the raw material — poor children from dysfunctional families arrive in kindergarten years behind their counterparts. It certainly is. But I'd rather look to the striking success of the Achievement First schools in Hartford and New Haven and other public school programs for a glimpse of what can happen.

At least Hartford and New Haven have a clear schools strategy and strong leadership. Malloy, who showed no reluctance to jump in and pick a favorite in the Hartford mayoral primary last week, must provide the muscle to make sure Bridgeport also gets on track.

"He is not afraid to tackle big problems,'' Malloy's adviser, Roy Occhiogrosso, assured me. "Bridgeport has thrown up its hands and said, 'We can't do this.' "

Unfortunately for Malloy, this sticky mess comes at the wrong time and long before his promised legislative session devoted to education reform next year. He doesn't even have a permanent commissioner for the agency that will assist the Bridgeport schools, the state Department of Education. That department is facing a 20 percent cut in staff.

At the meeting Tuesday night where the Bridgeport board voted to ask for state intervention, a lot of folks in the audience of a couple hundred were slamming Mayor Bill Finch, who has little control over city schools and nothing to gain through his support of a takeover just 90 days before a tough primary.

"This is a state of the suburbs, by the suburbs and for the suburbs,'' Finch told me Wednesday before heading into a State Board of Education meeting where a takeover was approved by a 5-4 vote. "That leaves mayors to run quarantine zones for poverty."

Finch wisely thinks Bridgeport ought to be open to a range of solutions: more public school choice for parents, more charter schools, hiring better-trained teachers, and even private school vouchers for children trapped in persistently failing schools.

To make change, Bridgeport will need a strong new leader to replace its underwhelming superintendent of schools, John Ramos, who didn't even attend the board meeting this week where members voted 6-3 to ask for state control. Eventually, the city will probably need an appointed board of education that gives the mayor real authority.

And Bridgeport, which receives thousands of dollars less per pupil than Hartford, will also need more money.

At the top of the list to temporarily take charge in Bridgeport is Steve Adamowski, the highly regarded former superintendent in Hartford. Adamowski isn't perfect (teacher unions loathe him) but he would bring strong leadership, direction and immediately restore confidence of parents and taxpayers.

Just remember, this isn't merely about Bridgeport. It's about whether there is someone in all of Connecticut's government who can step up and finally make sure we address the problems of urban education. We're waiting, governor.

Copyright © 2011, The Hartford Courant


After slow start, applications for top education post begin flowing in
CT MIRROR
Jacqueline Rabe
1 July 2011

After a slow start, State Board of Education Chairman Allan Taylor said the extended deadline to apply for the state's top education job has paid off and a wave of people have since applied.

"I kinda lost track of how many people applied," he said Friday. "All I know is I am very happy with the pool of candidates."

The deadline to apply was Thursday and the State Board of Education committee responsible for recommending a name to the governor to fill the vacant job will meet next Wednesday. Taylor said there will not be another extension and interviews of the finalists will begin shortly after Wednesday's meeting.

Taylor had originally said the finalists would be revealed to the media, but has since decided against that after candidates signaled they did not want their names released if they did win the nomination.

Taylor said he is hopeful a new education commissioner will be in office before the start of the upcoming school year.




FLOOD PLUS LEAN TIMES = DO IT YOURSELF READING?
Mary had a little lamb, his fleece was white as snow.  Everywhere that Mary went to escape the flood, he went, too.


Tied to enrollment
In Lean Times, Schools Squeeze Out Librarians
NYTIMES
By FERNANDA SANTOS
June 24, 2011

Budget belt-tightening threatens to send school librarians the way of the card catalog.

The schools superintendent in Lancaster, Pa., said he had to eliminate 15 of the district’s 20 librarians to save full-day kindergarten classes.

In the Salem-Keizer school district in Oregon, all 48 elementary and middle school librarians would lose their jobs under a budget proposal that faces a vote next week.

In Illinois’s School District 90, which spans several rural and suburban communities in the southern part of the state, parent volunteers have been running the libraries in the district’s seven schools since September, in what the schools superintendent, Todd Koehl, described as “a last-ditch effort” to avoid closing their doors.

And in New York City, half of the secondary schools appear to be in violation of a state regulation requiring them to have a librarian on staff, with the city currently employing 365 licensed librarians.

“The dilemma that schools will face is whether to cut a teacher who has been working with kids all day long in a classroom or cut teachers who are working in a support capacity, like librarians,” the city’s chief academic officer, Shael Polakow-Suransky, said in an interview.

In New York, as in districts across the country, many school officials said they had little choice but to eliminate librarians, having already reduced administrative staff, frozen wages, shed extracurricular activities and trimmed spending on supplies. Technological advances are also changing some officials’ view of librarians: as more classrooms are equipped with laptops, tablets or e-readers, Mr. Polakow-Suransky noted, students can often do research from their desks that previously might have required a library visit.

“It’s the way of the future,” he said.

Nancy Everhart, president of the American Association of School Librarians, whose membership has fallen to 8,000 from 10,000 in 2006, said that, on the contrary, the Internet age made trained librarians more important, to guide students through the basics of searching and analyzing information they find online.

Libraries, Ms. Everhart said, are “the one place that every kid in the school can go to to learn the types of skills that will be expected of them when it’s time to work with an iPad in class.”

Some states, including Arkansas, Indiana and Kentucky, require every public school to employ a certified librarian; others, like Maine, leave staffing decisions to districts. New York requires certified librarians in middle and high schools but not elementary schools, and also requires a certified library assistant for any school that has more than 1,000 students.

But an analysis of state and city data shows there is one librarian for every 2,146 students this year, compared with 1 per 1,447 in 2005. At least 386 schools serving students from grades 6 through 12 do not have a librarian on staff, the records show. A spokesman for the Education Department said some of those schools shared librarians, though he could not say how many.

Separately, Mr. Polakow-Suransky said that once principals received their individual school budgets for the coming year, “we will work with them to ensure compliance with the state’s regulations.” He noted that schools “need great flexibility to staff them in these tough times.”

Schools around the city have already been flexible: in addition to sharing librarians, some classroom teachers, particularly in elementary schools, have been trained to stand in for librarians. But there are also libraries sitting unused for lack of someone to staff them.

At a squat brick building on Underhill Avenue in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, parents at the elementary and middle schools that share the space banded together a few years ago to improve the library, whose books were so outdated that some still referred to the Soviet Union without reporting its demise. They convinced the Brooklyn borough president and the local councilwoman to provide $450,000 for the project. One parent, an interior designer, helped sketch the plans and supervised the renovation.

The new library opened on Nov. 17, with nine new computers and 4,200 titles, but has been used only as a reading space, mostly by kindergarten teachers who bring in their pupils once a week.

“We just put all this money into a project that may never be fully utilized,” said Kiki Dennis, 43, the designer.

The problem is that shortly after the library’s completion, the city announced plans to close the building’s Middle School 571 by 2013, prompting a drop in enrollment that officials expect to worsen in the fall

Because school budgets are largely tied to enrollment, the principal decided she could no longer afford to pay half the salary of a librarian, who earns about $70,000. The principal of the elementary school, Public School 9, decided she could not pay the salary alone, and so no librarian was hired.

At the Morris High School campus in the Morrisania section of the Bronx, where five schools — with a total of 1,900 students — share space, the central library has been closed all year because it has no librarian. At the John F. Kennedy High School campus, in the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx, the lack of a certified librarian was only part of the problem: the principal of one of the six high schools that share the building said the books there were too outdated to be usable.

The principals, with the help of New Visions for Public Schools, which will run two charter schools scheduled to open on the Kennedy campus this fall, submitted a request to Councilman G. Oliver Koppell for $1.8 million to create a media center equipped with e-readers, iPads and a language lab for students not proficient in English. Mr. Koppell sought $600,000 for the project in the budget, which must be approved by Thursday. Whether the request will be granted is uncertain.

But Mr. Polakow-Suransky said he understood that in tight times, principals had to make stark choices — as do their counterparts elsewhere.

Pedro Rivera, the Lancaster superintendent, said that when he realized a few months ago that his largely poor and immigrant district faced a $10 million deficit, he gathered his senior staff members and asked, “If this budget is an expression of our values, what is it that we value the most?”

The team decided to limit class sizes. They made sure there would be no cuts to physical education — “to prevent obesity and promote a healthy lifestyle,” Mr. Rivera said — or arts or music. And they protected prekindergarten classes.

Given what was left, he said, “it was either library or kindergarten.”

Robert Gebeloff contributed reporting.




Latest in the continuing story about the budget...

Ramos urges new path in difficult budget process
CT POST
Linda Conner Lambeck, Staff Writer
Updated 08:29 a.m., Friday, June 17, 2011

BRIDGEPORT -- Dunbar School will not close. More than 400 school employees will not lose their jobs. Students in city schools won't lose their guidance counselors, gifted program or social workers. For now.

In a move that even brought his sharpest critics to their feet, Schools Superintendent John Ramos Thursday convinced the Board of Education to not pass a $215.8 million budget that he called shameful and simply not enough to educate children in the state's largest city.

"This whole process has caused me to look at my roots," Ramos said.

He acknowledged the tipping point was a unilateral move by Mayor Bill Finch on Thursday to announce an agreement with AFSCME Local 1522, a union made up largely of school aides, clerical staff and special education bus drivers, to pay more for health insurance in exchange for job security. The agreement was reached without school board knowledge. Finch hailed the action as a plus to the city, since he plans to transfer the benefit cost savings to the school district.

Ramos said the district would force the district $4 million further into a budget hole, which is already $19 million deep. School and city officials agree the benefits would save about $600,000, but school officials say keeping employees they planned to cut as a budget-cutting move would have meant restoring more than $4.8 million between the general and grants account.

The board for the past three weeks has been wrestling with fitting $233 million worth of needs into the $215.8 million it has received for the fourth straight year. After a week of painful public hearings on the damage the cuts would cause, the board's Finance Committee was prepared to recommend a reconciliation plan that would have increased class sizes to 29 students, and cut nearly every area of the school system. Even with all that, the district was still $1.5 million short -- before the city created an inability for the district to lay off 110 AFSCME workers.

Ramos said the deal forced him to reconsider his position on the budget.

"This budget reconciliation plan is simply not good for children," Ramos said. "The largest city in Connecticut, the state with the largest achievement gap in the nation, cannot provide an equitable education for its children based on this budget. We cannot do it."

He recommended the board authorize him to file a complaint with the state specifying the district's inability to educate children equitably, given the reconciliation budget. He proposed to continue working with the city and union officials to secure more money, and with parents and the community to have their collective voices heard. All three proposals passed unanimously.

A fourth proposal, to run the system as is, until at least Oct. 15, passed on an 8-to-1 vote with board member Thomas Mulligan voting no, to a large cheer from a packed audience. Ramos said he wasn't grandstanding but doing what he thinks it's right.

"If we do anything but what I am proposing, we are setting ourselves up for everyone else to just go away," he said.

Ramos acknowledged that at a certain point, cuts must be made if additional funds aren't found. Otherwise, he and the board will be personally liable.

Finch, in a statement released by his office, offered his continued assistance, including the support of his top labor advisers and budget experts to help the district address its very serious budget issues. Ramos welcomed the help.

Board member Sauda Baraka said regardless, the city needs to cough up the cash for the AFSCME workers that it is dictating remain on staff. She also wants the board to continue working on the budget.

Ramos agreed and said his thoughts about closing Dunbar changed when he learned the state authorized $8.8 million be spent to renovate the school.


Compromise will allow some towns to cut spending on education
Jacqueline Rabe, CT MIRROR
May 19, 2011

Legislation that would allow communities in which student populations have declined markedly to cut school funding appears likely to pass this year--but some hard-pressed cities and towns won't be eligible.

Rep. Andy Fleischmann, the co-chairman of the Education Committee, said legislative leaders and the Malloy Administration have agreed on a measure that would allow municipalities to cut education spending--but only if they have had "sizable" reductions in the student population, and only if their schools reach federal education benchmarks.

"We don't want to make massive reductions possible," Fleischmann said.

Towns are currently required to spend at least as much on education as they spent the previous year in order to qualify for state education aid. Local officials have complained for years that the requirement is an unfair burden.

"Town government has no say how much they spend. This disenfranchises town's democracy," said James Finley, executive director of Connecticut Council of Municipalities.

The original proposal, backed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, would have allowed all municipalities to cut education spending when school enrollment drops. The compromise, Fleischmann said, will only allow districts that make Adequate Yearly Progress under the federal No Child Left Behind law to cut their spending.

Last school year 33 school districts did not make AYP, including the state's largest cities and many inner-ring suburbs.

"If there's a district that has been performing well, I would like to allow them to reduce their budget. That's rational," said Fleischmann.

Municipal and school officials alike were dissatisfied with the compromise.

"We are somewhat disappointed by this. We were hoping there would be more significant relief in the end," Finley said. "It remains to be seen how effective this will be."

Joseph Cirasuolo, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents, said it doesn't make sense to allow districts that meet AYP requirements to cut spending.

"How much longer do you think they will reach those goals if their budgets are cut? That's a very questionable public policy," he said.

Abbey Dolliver, the superintendent of Norwich Public Schools, stood to lose more than $400,000 the upcoming school year under the original proposal. But her district has did not make AYP last year, so town officials will not be able to cut her budget.

"I will take it, but what happens when we make that [goal]? It's like you are being punished for being good," she said. "As soon as you make progress and get to where you need to be resources can be taken from us. Any resources being taken away is going to be very detrimental.


Falling enrollment could cost schools $18M under Malloy plan
Jacqueline Rabe, CT MIRROR
April 15, 2011 (we just noticed this today - and did the research to find the number of the bill, etc.)

Proposed legislation allowing cities and towns to cut their school spending when enrollment drops--part of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's education funding package--could reduce the collective local school budgets by more than $18 million, the head of a superintendents' group says.

"We're talking major teacher layoffs if this is approved," said Joseph Cirasuolo, head of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents. "Those dollar amounts are tough to accommodate."

A district-by-district list of potential cuts, circulated by Cirasuolo to local superintendents, has 20 districts losing more than $300,000 a year if members of the General Assembly approve Malloy's plan. Those districts are responsible for teaching almost one-quarter of the state's public school students.

The bill -- approved unanimously by members of the Education Committee last month -- would allow municipal leaders to cut the amount they spend on education when their student enrollment declines.

"We just think this makes sense," said Jim Finley, executive director of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities. "We just think in these tough times, if there are ways to decrease spending then towns should be able to see some of those savings."

This proposal could certainly intensify the tug-of-war towns and local school boards face when determining how much of the budget will go to pay for education. Almost 70 percent of municipal spending currently goes to pay for education, according to CCM. And because tows are forbidden by current state law to cut school allocations, even if fewer students attend, that percentage is unlikely to dwindle.

"State leaders, in an effort to make themselves feel good for not fully funding their share of education, have this requirement that towns spend a certain amount," Finley said.

Malloy, a former mayor of Stamford, wants to change that and give town the opportunity to cut the amount they spend on education. Stamford Public Schools would not lose money under his proposal because enrollment actually has increased, making it one of 42 districts immune from cuts under his proposal.

But school officials in districts that could lose money are concerned.

Abby Dolliver, the superintendent of Norwich Public Schools, is one of them.

"We are the poster child," she said. Year after year, her district has barely met the minimum state budget requirements. "This could be devastating... I think the city [leaders] would like the ability to lower funding because in years that they didn't have the money then they could just cut."

She said the $403,000 her schools would be at risk of losing would mean she may have to fire eight more teachers. Her district has had laid off almost 70 teachers and staff over the last two years.

"Right now we have pretty much just what's mandated... We don't have books to cut anymore. We don't have any more programs to cut. And we don't have any more federal [stimulus] dollars," she said.

Hartford Public Schools would be vulnerable to losing the most, the according to the CAPPS report. City schools have lost 589 students, which means the city council and mayor could cut their budget by $1.8 million.

Ben Barnes, Malloy's budget director, said he expects this change to have a "minimal impact" on school budgets.

"I don't expect they'll see enormous declines," he said, noting that only a handful of cities only spend the minimum amount required. Leaders of those cities -- which include New Britain and Bridgeport -- should be able to reduce funding if enrollment declines, he said.

"We look at it as being reasonable," he said.

Finley also said he doesn't believe many towns will take advantage of the full amount they are allowed to cut if the bill becomes law, but Cirasuolo said the proposal leaves too much authority in the hands of town leaders to do just that.

"They will have the final say in how much is cut," he said.

------------------------------

Substitute Bill No. 6385
January Session, 2011   

AN ACT IMPLEMENTING THE BUDGET RECOMMENDATIONS OF THE GOVERNOR CONCERNING EDUCATION.

July 1, 2011 this would go into effect:

(e) For the fiscal years ending June 30, 2010, and June 30, 2011, the budgeted appropriation for education shall be no less than the budgeted appropriation for education for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2009, minus any reductions made pursuant to section 19 of public act 09-1 of the June 19 special session, except that for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2010, those districts with a number of resident students for the school year commencing July 1, 2009, that is lower than such district's number of resident students for the school year commencing July 1, 2008, may reduce such district's budgeted appropriation for education by the difference in number of resident students for such school years multiplied by three thousand.

(f) For the fiscal years ending June 30, 2012, and June 30, 2013, the budgeted appropriation for education shall be no less than the budgeted appropriation for education for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2011, plus any reductions made pursuant to section 19 of public act 09-1 of the June 19 special session, except that (1) for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2012, those districts with a number of resident students for the school year commencing July 1, 2011, that is lower than such district's number of resident students for the school year commencing July 1, 2010, may reduce such district's budgeted appropriation for education by the difference in number of resident students for such school years multiplied by three thousand, and (2) for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2013, those districts with a number of resident students for the school year commencing July 1, 2012, that is lower than such district's number of resident students for the school year commencing July 1, 2011, may reduce such district's budgeted appropriation for education by the difference in number of resident students for such school years multiplied by three thousand.


As teacher layoff notices go out, no change in seniority rules
Jacqueline Rabe, CT MIRROR
March 29, 2011

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's announced plans to give school districts the "flexibility they need to retain new, talented teachers" will not come soon enough for this year's round of layoffs -- as hundreds of teachers this week are expected to receive pink slips based on their tenure, not on the quality of their teaching.

The Education Committee last week rejected a proposal that would restrict districts from only considering years of service when making layoff decisions, instead opting to wait for a model teacher evaluation to first be created.

"Given the fact that we know there are districts that lack a robust evaluation system... it's hard for me to see how this is the time," Rep. Andy M. Fleischmann, D-West Hartford, and co-chairman of the Education Committee, said before voting against the proposal.

In a review of more than half the school districts in the state, 77 percent used seniority as the sole or primary factor when making layoff decisions, the state's largest teachers union told lawmakers last month.

"We should not be allowing seniority to be the only factor," said Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton and ranking Republican on the Education Committee. "We have hundreds of teachers being laid off and we should require a more equitable measure."

A recent survey conducted by the education reform group ConnCAN shows 89 percent of the participants felt layoff decisions should not be only decided by the how many years a teacher has been in the classroom.

Last year, 1,500 teachers were laid off and education officials are expecting a similar number to be let go this year.

And while the American Federation of Teachers, Malloy and the co-chairs of the education committee acknowledge something needs to change so districts can retain great new teachers, all say it is too soon to make that shift this year.

As part of its Race to the Top bid last year, the state committed to creating a model evaluation system that will include student outcomes, but it will not be complete and ready for districts to consider using until July 2013.

Lawmakers are considering pushing up that deadline by a year -- to July 2012 -- and also requiring it include a 100-day dismissal process for teachers who fail the evaluation.

"The process can go on for a very long time and it's very expensive for the boards of education to dismiss a teacher," said Sharon Palmer, president of American Federation of Teachers-Connecticut. "If the teacher does not improve in one school year, then that's it, they will have 100 days' notice."

Malloy is in favor of the 100-day deadline and bumping up the deadline.

"I support tenure but I think the AFT recommendations are a good way to go at reforming it. It is taking into consideration not just how long someone has been teaching but what they've been teaching with excellence as well," he said. "I think it's a start. I think it's a very bold and brave move on their part."

But the proposal has its critics, including the state's other major teachers' union, the Connecticut Education Assoiation.

John Yrchik, CEA's executive director, said the proposal "would impose a one-size-fits-all approach to teacher evaluation. This is not necessary and not productive."

But Patrice McCarthy, general counsel of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, said it would just be an option for districts to use and not a requirement.

"We need a good evaluation system out there," she said. "Last in, first out is a major issue as teachers face layoffs."

Alex Johnston, leader of the New Haven school-reform group ConnCAN, said even absent a model evaluation being ready, he is disappointed districts won't have the ability to retain new teachers.

"Everyday we are seeing more and more news of more layoffs. The sooner we fix this the better," he said.



Bill to allow towns to cut school spending advances
Jacqueline Rabe, CT MIRROR
March 25, 2011

A bill to allow cities and towns to cut school budgets when enrollment declines--opposed by educators but backed by municipal leaders and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy--won key approval from the legislature's Education Committee Friday.  Local governments are currently barred by state law from cutting the amount they spend on education, even in towns were enrollment has dropped, such as Meriden, New Britain and Bridgeport, where numbers have fallen between 6 and 9 percent.

"We'll certainly address this," Sen. Andrea L. Stillman, co-chairwoman of the Education Committee, said before committee members unanimously voted in favor of a bill that would allow towns to cut $3,000 for every one-student drop in enrollment.  But education officials say allowing towns to cut based on enrollment declines would be disastrous, since many of the costs are fixed for schools.

"If you lose only one student you will have no savings. We have to hit that critical mass before savings are achieved," said Patrice McCarthy, general counsel for the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education. "You still have to pay for teachers... for just about everything."

She said a formula must first be developed to accurately  determine what a district saves as enrollment declines, and then school boards may be able to back a reduction in spending.  State funding does take student enrollment figures into account when allocating education aid to cities and towns, but towns are held to a different standard.

"That doesn't work," said Rep. Timothy J. Ackert, R-Coventry, of the prohibition towns' cutting spending. He also urged the committee to go one step further and allow towns to cut the "actual amount" towns realize in reduced costs, which he expects is more than $3,000 per student.

Current spending for public education statewide is about $10.4 billion this year and almost 70 percent of all municipal spending goes to pay for education, according to the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities.

"We are requiring towns to pay for students that aren't in their schools. That is taxpayers paying for that," said Stillman during an interview. She said last year a handful of towns brought up this problem, and lawmakers responded by carving out a one-time exception that allowed towns to reduce the amount they spend on education.  But lawmakers are considering making it the rule and not the exception, so towns don't have to plead their case in Hartford when they want to make cuts.

Malloy -- who proposed the change the committee unanimously approved - said last month he supports allowing towns to reduce their spending, but only when towns experience "a sizable reduction" in enrollment.  This proposal has no qualifying threshold in the amount of students that a district must shed before cutting $3,000 per student.  And even then, McCarthy said $3,000 is way too much to allow towns to cut.

Jim Finley, executive director of CCM, acknowledges if state lawmakers untie town officials hands and allow them to reduce education spending, tensions between school and town officials will undoubtedly arise.

But he says it's a battle that worth having.

"It's not cutting their budget. It's allowing towns to pay what it is realistically costing to educate a child," he said. "Why should the education side of their budget be immune from cuts?"

Bart Russell, executive director Connecticut Council of Small Towns, said he thinks towns will get through the tension.

"It will create some tensions... But there is an understanding that we are in it together. I think that conflict is going to be minimal," he said.

Finley and Russell also said only allowing towns to cut when enrollment declines doesn't go far enough -- they want towns to be able to cut whenever they find savings.

"We are blind to the opportunity to get some savings," Finley said.

But McCarthy said the impact of that would be harsh on schools.

"What you'll have is a smaller pool of resources for students," she said.



Windham Schools: Moving In The Wrong Direction
Ideas Abound For Turnaround, But Poverty, Language Barriers And Politics Stand In The Way
The Hartford Courant
By GRACE E. MERRITT, gmerritt@courant.coms
March 20, 2011

WINDHAM —Five years ago Windham had a blue-ribbon school.

The small, blue-collar community in eastern Connecticut, which includes the city of Willimantic, had a nationally recognized urban elementary school and Windham schools were considered to be among the best of the state's urban districts.

But since then poverty has soared there. The number of students who don't speak English fluently has nearly doubled. Town residents have balked at education budgets and whittled them down. And alienation has worsened between town officials and the school district and between the community's urban and rural taxpayers.

Now, by many measures, Windham schools are headed in the wrong direction.

Connecticut Mastery Test scores have declined in many areas. The dropout rate is twice the state average. Only half the students are proficient in reading. And the school district has the largest academic achievement gap — the persistent disparity in academic performance between poor students and their more affluent classmates — in the state.Teachers grumble that many students are disrespectful and roam the hallways during class. Not that many parents are involved with their children's schools. The number of special education students is unusually high.

The school system's problems became so severe last summer that then-state Education Commissioner Mark McQuillan stepped in and threatened to replace the school board, a move that has sparked resentment in this hilly town of 23,000.

Windham's problems came to a head in August when McQuillan saw the latest Connecticut Mastery Test scores, which showed that the town's 3,361 students lag far behind statewide averages. Among the trouble spots: Fifth-graders' scores had dropped, and eighth-graders' reading and writing scores had plunged. From fourth to fifth grade, academic growth in reading and math was slowing considerably and, in some cases, regressing.

McQuillan visited the Windham school board to discuss the "dire condition of education in Windham" and the need for strong, proven leadership. The superintendent position was vacant and McQuillan wanted the board to hire one of his associate commissioners, Marion Martinez.

But the board said the community felt more comfortable with Windham's assistant superintendent, Ana V. Ortiz, an experienced administrator who was serving as interim superintendent.

In September, McQuillan ordered a comprehensive audit of the school system and told the school board to take the Lighthouse Training Program, a leadership program for school boards that focuses in depth on student achievement.  He also threatened to replace the school board if the situation didn't improve by April. A school reform law enacted last May allows the state education commissioner to replace school board members.  This did not sit well in Windham.

"Who the hell is he to tell us what to do?" said Kenneth Folan, chairman of Windham's school board, recalling the standoff.

"Why us?" Ortiz recalled thinking. "Why is he picking on little Windham all of a sudden?"

The school board ignored McQuillan's recommended choice for superintendent and voted in December to make Ortiz the permanent superintendent. McQuillan, meanwhile, resigned for unrelated reasons, and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has not yet named a permanent replacement.

In the meantime, the state Department of Education recently conducted seven audits of the Windham district — which has four elementary schools, including blue-ribbon winner Windham Center School; a middle school and a high school — covering everything from student achievement and governance to finances. State education consultants have begun to share the findings with school administrators, the school board and teachers. Next, the state consultants plan to work closely with the board and administrators to develop a comprehensive set of recommendations that they hope the community will embrace.

This is not the first time the state has intervened in Windham. In 2008, the state forged a partnership with the school district to raise student achievement. The state also sent coaches to work with principals in each of Windham's schools.

McQuillan said in a phone interview after the standoff that he felt an increasing urgency to pull Windham out of its tailspin after seeing the test results and the widening academic gaps. Despite working on a district improvement plan, Windham was still going in the wrong direction, he said, and demoralized staff and disenfranchised families seemed to be giving up hope.

Hispanic Population Spikes

A demographic shift in Windham in the past decade has deeply affected the town's schools. More than 60 percent of the student body now is Hispanic — up from 50 percent 10 years ago, and from the mid-20 percent range about 15 years ago.The urban core of Puerto Rican residents has seen a major influx of Mexican immigrants in recent years. A third of Windham students now come from homes where English is not the primary language.

The state audits reveal that Windham's schools have been slow to adapt to the population change.

"What seems to come out of reports is that the instructional practices and strategies in schools haven't responded quickly enough to needs of those kids," said Lol Fearon, a state Department of Education bureau chief who has been working on the audits and assisting Windham.

"Teachers try to meet the needs, but they just don't have the resources and the background training," he said. "Also, it's almost impossible to find teachers for English language learners in the state."

The audits also found a serious paucity of language-based services for English language learners, particularly as they transitioned into mainstream classrooms or moved into middle school or high school.  In addition, only about 13 percent of the teachers and administrators are Latino. "With that kind of shift in population, you would want to reflect that in the adults available to the kids," Fearon said.

Despite the population shift, most decision-making power in town remains in the hands of white residents. The state's audits found the Hispanic population has little or no involvement in local politics and government.

"There is definitely a feeling of disenfranchisement," Fearon said.

Poverty And Budget Cuts

Poverty, not surprisingly, contributes to Windham's woes. In one barometer of poverty, 74 percent of students qualified for a free or reduced-price school lunch last year, a rate that shot up from 57 percent five years earlier.

"Everything that happens here is a struggle because there's never any money," said Daniel Chace, a member of the high school's Parent Advisory Committee. "It's always been a struggle here. We're not Fairfield County."

"There's no doubt that economic background is a factor in academic achievement," Fearon said. "But it's not something the school district can control.

Town council President N. Joseph Underwood said the school system has already made many budget cuts, including middle school sports, and he is frustrated that the state doesn't send more education funds to Windham.

"Give us more money so we can put it into education," Underwood said. "Maybe we can buy more books, buy more computers, put more bilingual individuals in our school system."

Besides struggling with poverty, the district has an unusually high percentage of special education students, with 18.6 percent of students classified as having special needs, compared to the state average of 11.6 percent. State education officials believe that figure may be inflated because some students who don't speak English as a first language may have been misdiagnosed.

Caring Teachers

Despite the school district's challenges, observers say Windham schools have many strong teachers, and most are dedicated and genuinely care about their students.

"Windham does have caring teachers," Fearon said. "That's a great start. But do they feel competent that they can reach these kids and meet the needs they have in front of them? That's where we hope to make a difference."

The school system also has made some headway in narrowing the achievement gap, according to recent Connecticut Mastery Test results, though the gains were smaller than those of similar school systems and the statewide average, the audits found.

Unruly Students, Uninvolved Parents

Teachers complain that some students at the middle school and high school are disrespectful and unruly. During a recent visit to both schools, some students were wandering in the hallways during class and had be told by their principal to return to class. A couple of students yelled and cursed loudly as they passed in the hallway.

Teachers also say students stroll into class late or simply disappear from school for weeks at a time. During class, students often text or talk on their phones and sometimes swear at teachers.

"They are disrespectful beyond belief," said one teacher, who asked not to be identified. "It's not the way I was brought up. They'll just turn away and say 'F-U.' "

Sometimes it gets physical. Two weeks ago a high school student whom Principal Steve Merlino was escorting to an in-school suspension knocked him to the ground.

"He was agitated," Merlino said. "I was pushed to the ground, but I consider that really more a part of my balance."

Four years ago, the town's alternative school closed, which meant those students entered the high school. Also, the high school lost an assistant principal position.  The state's audits also found limited parental involvement in the schools.  Many Hispanic parents interviewed by the state for its audit said they are restricted by job demands and can't leave small children at home to attend school events. Some also cited the language barrier and said they feel disconnected to the school system. Fearon said part of the reason could also be that some of the Mexican immigrants may be undocumented and trying to keep a low profile.

Chace, of the parents' committee, said he is frustrated that so few parents attend school plays and other events.

"You'll see kids who are not in school for weeks," Chace said. "That's a problem. I think the problem is parents have to be involved."

Another parent, Vicente Sanchez, said usually only a handful of people show up for PTO meetings.

Urban-Rural Frictions

The problems are further compounded by a deep divide between the city of Willimantic, where most of the Latino population lives, and the more rural town of Windham, where residents are more predominately white.

"It's the story of the two Connecticuts," Ortiz said. "Willimantic tends to fall into the same situation: the Hispanic vs. white population."

Until 1983 Windham and Willimantic were separate communities, and each still retains its own mill rate. Layered on top of this is friction and a lack of communication between town officials and the school board, the audits found.

"Without significant reform on [the communication] issue, the combination of insufficient public support, declining resources, and lack of cohesive leadership will inevitably result in the continuing decline of the school district," one of the audits concluded.

Last year, it took Windham five referendums to pass the school budget. Taxpayers kept rejecting the budget until the school board finally cut $1.1 million from it, coming in with a 1.87 percent increase over the previous year. Part of the resistance came from Windham voters who opposed plans for a new magnet school, Folan said.

"The community needs to be energized and engaged to support the schools," an audit concluded. "The overarching problems of school performance, community capacity and the will to create the conditions for improvement are of extreme urgency."

This year, Ortiz is trying more of a community-based approach to the education budget, by sharing and discussing it at a series of meetings.  The audits also concluded that the school board has had a history of micro-managing the superintendent and other administrators, which has undermined efforts to move forward with big-picture goals.

"They have not given responsibility to the superintendent to develop plans to meet the needs of the kids," Fearon said. At the same time, he added, school board members feel that the community doesn't support their needs, a problem compounded by the city's poverty.

Looking Forward

The state Department of Education is now boiling down the findings of the seven audits into a more managable overview. From there, state officials plan to share the findings with the school board and teachers and trim down the 60 recommendations in the audits to a focused action plan.  In the meantime, there is a renewed energy and will to improve Windham's schools, they said.

"The school board is really attentive. They really want to change the schools," said Robert Rader, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, which is running the school board training program. "It's sort of a paradigm shift, you might call it."

As for the former education commissioner's threat to replace the school board in April, it is still on the table, but the state seems unlikely to follow through because the school board training is helping.

"The threat is always present, but it's less likely now," said state Department of Education spokesman Tom Murphy. "Things have improved."

Ortiz said she understands the sense of urgency to improve the school system but wants to make sure the change is driven by Windham itself.

"We have got to move forward and we've got to do that collaboratively because no one is going to take us over," she said.



State Board of Ed concerned about plan to shift control of vo-tech schools
Jacqueline Rabe, CTMIRROR
March 2, 2011

The Malloy Administration wants to turn the first four of 17 state-run vocational-technical schools over to local control in the next school year--a move that has members of the State Board of Education concerned.

"That's insane," board Chairman Allan B. Taylor said Wednesday, reacting to the timeline.

Benjamin Barnes, budget chief for Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, announced last month that the administration wants to shift responsibility for the 10,600-student system from the state to municipal or regional control, but didn't disclose a timetable. News that the shift would begin in the 2011-2012 school year surprised many.

"You have a debacle on your hands," said interim Education Commissioner George A. Coleman, questioning whether the impacted districts could handle the added responsibility so soon. "We don't know what the local response will be... what they need to accept this."

The four vocational schools to be turned over during the 2011-12 school year are A.I. Prince in Hartford, E.C. Goodwin in New Britain, Howell Cheney in Manchester and Vinal in Middletown. The next school year four more schools will be turned over: Bullard Havens in Bridgeport, Windham in Willimantic, Eli Whitney in Hamden and Kaynor in Waterbury. By July 2015 the state will shed all management responsibility for the schools.

The state currently pays $134 million a year to run the schools, including about $5 million for the 66 full-time state employees in the central office in Hartford.

Malloy's budget director has said the administration does not intend to cut financial support from the state in the next two years, but State Board of Education members and vo-tech system Superintendent Patricia Ciccone worry that this new restructure will make the schools vulnerable to cuts down the road.

"Local boards of education are obviously limited just as the state is limited" Ciccone said. "There is a great potential for underfunding these schools."

During a town meeting on his proposed budget in Torrington, Malloy said his proposal is aimed at protecting the vo-tech schools. As mayor of Stamford, he said, he saw how J.M. Wright Technical High School declined under state oversight.

"I watched the state literally destroy one of those vocational schools," Malloy told the audience. "They literally ran it into the ground. And when they succeeded in running it into the ground they closed it,"

He said he was frustrated that even as mayor he was unable to do anything about the decision to close the school.

"I tried to help it," he said. "What I am trying to do is get more local input in the proper running of a school."

But State Board of Education members, many who were just nominated by Malloy for their positions last week, questioned the wisdom of such a change.

Patricia Keavney-Maruca, a newly nominated member who worked at Kaynor Tech for 33 years, said Malloy's proposal "just defies logic," because the system "was designed to be a regional school system for a reason.

Joseph J. Vrabely, Jr., who was reappointed by Malloy and is chair of the state board's Vocational-Technical School Committee, said he worries the plan sends the wrong message to businesses in the state reliant on graduates from vo-tech schools, including his small manufacturing company.

"I know we have to make cuts, I know we have to integrate things but you're taking away that feeder system from manufacturers," he said.

It's not clear how much of the system's operating costs the state would continue to pay down the road under Malloy's plan.

"Will the state's share be 20 percent, 30 percent, 40 percent? That has not been determined," Brian Mahoney, chief financial officer for the State Department of Education, told the board.

Taylor said Malloy's proposal deserves consideration, but his gut reaction is, "It's a mistake."

If the goal is to reduce state spending, he added, there are other ways to accomplish that without destroying the statewide infrastructure.

"It's hard to believe it's anything but the economic implications... on the face of it, none of us understand this," he said.



Malloy's budget would cut scholarships for private colleges
By Mary E. O’Leary, Register Topics Editor
moleary@nhregister.com
Published: Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Cutting state scholarships to Connecticut students at private colleges will mean thousands will not get the aid they need, forcing them to either leave school, take on more debt or shift a greater share of the burden to their families.

That’s the analysis of the 19 members of the Connecticut Conference of Independent Colleges that are facing 25 percent cuts next year and 50 percent in fiscal 2013 under Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s proposed biennial budget — cuts they say contradict promises Malloy made on the campaign trail.

Last year, 6,121 Connecticut students at private colleges received state-funded scholarships, with the highest amount, $2.85 million, distributed by the University of Hartford to 549 students; $2.84 million went to 424 students at the University of New Haven; and $2.57 million went to 548 students at Quinnipiac University.

The $23.4 million in scholarships in this year’s budget will be cut by $5.8 million next year and $11.7 million in fiscal 2013, if lawmakers agree with Malloy as he tries to close a $3.5 billion deficit.

Ben Barnes, the state’s new budget chief, said enough money was left to fund students who are already participating in the program, but beyond that, he questioned some aspects of the program.

“There is little ability for the state to determine how the schools make those awards, how effective they are with respect to student success and graduation, or whether they are having the effect of increasing funds available to Connecticut students overall,” Barnes said in an e-mail.

Barnes also questioned awarding state-funded scholarships to three for-profit schools — Briarwood College, Paier College and Post University — and those with high endowments — Yale University. “We need to be especially careful in how we ensure public accountability with these funds,” Barnes said.

Judith Greiman, president of the conference, said all students have to file a financial statement, and those whose families have a low ability to contribute get the aid. She said the income data and audits are sent to the state Department of Higher Education to ensure that only Connecticut residents benefit.  Nick Yoia, financial aid officer at Quinnipiac, said there are attempts every year to cancel the funds, and every year the school has to explain to critics that their questions can be answered with data already filed with the state.

“Why are the private college students selected as the sacrificial lambs and no one else?” Yoia asked of the lack of cuts to the public programs in Malloy’s budget. The combination of state cuts and the proposed elimination of federal scholarships will severely impact students, he added.  As a gubernatorial candidate, Malloy, in a position paper, spoke of the importance of supporting scholarships.

“Our state budget includes a major commitment to scholarships for students in public and private Connecticut colleges who cannot afford full tuition. ... If higher education success is a fundamental plank in our state’s economic development strategy, we must maintain this commitment even in difficult budget times or we run the risk of eating away at our long-term economic and fiscal strength,” Malloy had said.

Greiman said the private colleges enroll and graduate more minority students than the public colleges, and the investment by the state in the scholarships “is the best bang for the buck that Connecticut has.”

Yale University, which gave out 16 awards for a total of $128,973 in state money this year, should not be used as a reason to drastically cut the scholarship program, Greiman said.

“Most of my schools get their financial aid funds from their operating budgets and have had to increase this significantly in the past three academic years as the economy tanked and students came with increased need,” Greiman said. In 2009-2010, the endowments dropped 28 percent and financial aid at private colleges jumped 15 percent, with the institutions awarding more than $558 million annually in private and institutional aid to undergraduates.

“Providing access is the passion of the people I represent,” Greiman said.


State panel rejects Hartford's attempt to skirt teacher seniority
Robert A. Frahm and Jacqueline Rabe, CT MIRROR
February 22, 2011

Days after Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said he wants to provide school districts with the opportunity to retain new and talented teachers over more senior staff, an arbitration panel rejected Hartford Public School officials request to do just that.

Hartford Public Schools, like many districts across the state, is facing potential layoffs under a deepening budget crisis, but the district will not be allowed to loosen seniority rules in laying off teachers, a state arbitration panel has decided.

The panel's ruling touches on an issue that is part of a volatile debate over school quality across the nation.

In Connecticut, schools have shed 2,700 teaching positions in the last two years, said Joe Cirasuolo, head of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents. Most of those who lost their jobs were teachers who had worked in the system the shortest amount of time, he said.

Malloy raised the issue in his budget address last week, proposing a reform of teacher tenure rules "to give local school districts the flexibility they need to retain new, talented teachers."

However, Malloy's proposal will not come in time to affect potential layoffs this year. A spokeswoman for Malloy said Tuesday the governor is not proposing an immediate change in the law but rather hopes his comments launch the conversation.

"The Governor has a very large, visible role in the dialogue of our state and he plans to use that role to get people to the table to talk about ways to close [the] achievement gap. One of the things to discuss is tenure," said Colleen Flanagan. "Gov. Malloy believes in the concept of tenure but in tough economic times, he believes schools should have the ability to retain new, talented teachers who otherwise might lose their job."

Cirasuolo said he welcomes the governors' comment but is disappointed to hear it will not be coupled with a legislative proposal to change the law.

"It's not enough for him to just appeal to their altruism. We need legislative action to release us from the current reality," he said.

"Something has to change," he said, warning that districts will begin making their layoff decisions in April, so that a change of heart by the teachers' unions, or a law requiring it, needs to take place soon.

In Hartford, which has laid off 350 employees in the last two years, school officials contended that strict system-wide seniority provisions inhibit the district's ability to staff specialized schools that are at the heart of the city's school reform efforts. However, a State Department of Education arbitration panel rejected that argument.

Under existing seniority rules, the least experienced teachers are the first to be laid off and can be replaced by more experienced teachers from any school in the district, resulting in a shuffling of teachers among different schools. School officials, including Superintendent Steven Adamowski, contend that policy undermines stability at magnet schools, where special themes such as science, technology or the arts require teachers to have special qualifications or training.

Many of those schools are part of a school reform program that has been credited with improving performance across the district.

The district had proposed a system that would allow a principal to override system-wide seniority rules by rejecting prospective transfers from other schools if the principal decided the candidates were not a good fit.

However, the arbitrators ruled in favor of the teachers' union, saying the district's proposal "is overly broad and may be inconsistently applied across the district in such a manner as to deprive teachers of their right to a vacant position or a position held by an untenured teacher without due process."

Allowing school principals to make decisions on which teachers will be hired does not comply with state law granting that authority only to school boards, the panel said.

"Obviously we're thrilled," said Andrea Johnson, president of the Hartford Federation of Teachers. "Seniority within the district is a very good thing and has worked very well."

Johnson disputed the district's argument that the specialty schools required an unusual level of training. "You still have to teach history...no matter what kind of school you're in," she said. "They'd like the public to believe somehow you have to have very specialized training. It doesn't mean you as a teacher, especially an experienced teacher, can't go in and learn that process."

The three-member panel's ruling was a split decision, with panelist John M. Romanow dissenting. The last-hired, first-fired approach fails to take into account teacher quality and "will result in many teachers being forced into position that are not suitable for them," Romanow wrote.

The result, he said, "will do irreparable harm to the school system and clearly make it less likely that the Hartford Board of Education will be able to continue to make great strides in closing the achievement gap."

The district last year had sought to change seniority rules by asking the State Board of Education to override the provisions in the teachers' union contract, but the board took no action.

After losing the arbitration ruling, Hartford officials said they will ask the State Board again to rule on the matter.

"A portfolio district such as ours, with a wide variety of schools that require specialized training, cannot function properly under a one-size-fits-all, quality-blind approach to seniority," the district said in a prepared statement.

Connecticut one of many states debating seniority-based layoffs and tenure, says Kathy Christie, the chief of staff for the Education Commission of the States.

"The conversation is changing all over the country on whether to look at the quality of the teacher versus the amount of time spent in the classroom. That push lately has been much stronger to go back and revise those laws," she said.

The reaction is different state-by-state. In Oregon, voters rejected in 2008 an initiative that would allow districts to "retain teachers who are most qualified" regardless of their seniority.  In Arizona, the governor signed in 2009 a law that forbids districts from adopting policies that provide employment retention priority for teachers based on tenure or seniority. In California, lawmakers are also considering a proposal to overhaul these laws
.




Ads urging parents to keep children in Hartford schools anger Sheff lawyer
Robert A. Frahm, CT MIRROR
April 29, 2011

Hartford educators say an ad campaign discouraging parents from sending their children to suburban schools reflects success of the city's education reforms, but a lawyer for plaintiffs in the Sheff vs. O'Neill desegregation case says it threatens to undermine a court-ordered plan to reduce the racial isolation of city students.  Hartford Public School officials launched the campaign with television, radio and print advertisements urging parents not to gamble on a lottery for seats in suburban or regional magnet schools that are key elements of the desegregation effort.

Instead, the ads advise families to choose among several career-oriented high schools and various restructured elementary and middle schools that are part of the city school system's school reform program.

The ads drew the ire of Martha Stone, a lawyer for plaintiffs in the long-running Sheff vs. O'Neill school desegregation case.

"It's really, from our perspective, just outrageous," she said.

The ads are airing as parents receive letters this month announcing results of the annual lottery for seats in suburban or magnet schools. Although many children were placed on waiting lists for those schools, Hartford can guarantee parents a spot at one of their top four choices of city schools, the ad campaign said.

"Why risk [your children's] future on a lottery and then a waiting list?...They don't need to go anywhere else," the ads say.

Regional magnet schools and suburban schools are the central elements of the state's effort to comply with a 1996 state Supreme Court order in the Sheff case seeking to reduce racial segregation among Hartford's mostly black and Hispanic student population. Since then, the state has spent hundreds of millions of dollars building and operating racially integrated magnet schools in the greater Hartford region. In addition, state officials are encouraging predominantly white suburban schools to accept more Hartford minority students under a transfer program known as Open Choice.

In a press release this week, Hartford school officials cited the city's own school reform efforts, including the redesign of previously struggling schools to emphasize specialized themes and college-bound curriculum.

"All of these schools are staffed with dedicated teachers who will prepare their children for college studies," said Christina M. Kishimoto, who was recently named to succeed Superintendent Steven J. Adamowski, when he retires in July. "There is no need to travel outside of Hartford to get a superior education."

The Sheff plaintiffs take a different view, Stone said.

"It's really disturbing to see the Hartford school system try to discourage parents and kids from exercising their constitutional right to an equal educational opportunity," said Stone. "This is about having parents be able to choose the best possible schools for their children."

Under Adamowski's reform program, Hartford schools have shown improvement, but the school system still ranks among the state's lowest-performing districts on statewide achievement tests.  Last year, for example, just 43 percent of the city's elementary and middle school students reached the proficiency level in reading on the Connecticut Mastery Test, and 57 percent met the proficiency standard in mathematics.

Nevertheless, Adamowski said Thursday that parents can find high quality choices within the system.

"Five years ago, we had 28 schools that were low-performing. Today we're down to five," he said. "Our Hartford parents will choose for quality. What they really want is what every parent in America wants, which is a good school in their own neighborhood."

Adamowski also said that the district's effort to keep families in city schools is not in conflict with the Sheff goals.

"We support Sheff, but we see a different path to meeting the goals than the plaintiffs do," he said.

About 28 percent of Hartford's minority schoolchildren now attend integrated magnet schools, charter schools, regional technical and agricultural high schools or suburban schools. However, under terms of a court-approved agreement with the Sheff plaintiffs, the state must increase that number to 41 percent by the 2012-2013 school year or meet at least 80 percent of the demand for seats.  As more parents choose city schools, the level of demand for seats in magnet and suburban schools will decline, making it easier to meet the state's 80 percent threshold, Adamowski said. He predicted that the goal could be met as early as next year.

George Coleman, acting state commissioner of education, said he does not view Hartford's ad campaign as a competition with other districts. "It's ultimately controlled by the families. The evidence of performance is available to parents to assess and make decisions for themselves," he said.

Meanwhile, the level of demand for magnet schools remains high. "We had over 8,000 applications for seats," said Bruce Douglas, executive director of the Capitol Region Education Council (CREC), which runs 15 magnet schools in the Greater Hartford region.

Douglas said he is not surprised by Hartford's advertising campaign. "It's a sign of the times because of the proliferation of school choice," he said.

He said CREC doesn't market its schools against other schools but added that the agency has not felt the impact of Hartford's pitch to attract more students.

"My attitude is education is so important, I don't care what school they go to," he said. "If it's a good school, go there."


Malloy taking another route to reach desegregation goal
Jacqueline Rabe, CT MIRROR
February 17, 2011

Up against a looming court-ordered deadline to reduce the racial isolation of Hartford's largely black and Hispanic school population, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has opted to take a less expensive--and arguably more effective--approach to integration.

Since the 1996 state Supreme Court's Scheff v. O'Neill desegregation order in 1996, the state's emphasis has been on creation of magnet schools with specialty themes in hopes of attracting a racially-diverse student population. Nearly $1 billion has been spent to build the schools in and around Hartford and billions more reimbursing the schools $13,000 per student a year.

But Malloy seems to be taking the advice of education officials and is changing course: He's proposing significantly reducing the state's reimbursement for construction of new magnet schools, and expanding funding for school choice programs that encourage suburban districts to accept Hartford students.

Although many suburban districts around Hartford have empty desks, they have been slow to accept city students in what's called Open Choice, often blaming the level of state reimbursement--$2,500.

Malloy is proposing that the state's next education commissioner--who Malloy will select--be allowed to significantly increase reimbursements to suburban public schools that take Hartford students, and he wants to allocate another $7.2 million to do it.

"We expect by increasing the reimbursement the commissioner will be able to find a sweet spot that will be able to get significant participation in the program and get to the [court-ordered] goal," Malloy budget director Ben Barnes said.

To comply with the court order, the state must find an additional 3,500 seats in an integrated magnet, charter, technical, agricultural or suburban school by October 2012. There are currently 1,300 Hartford students attending districts other than their own, so reaching the goal through the choice program is a tall order.

Education leaders and advocates both agree the state will not meet that deadline if the state's approach remains the same and welcome the increase reimbursements for the Open Choice program.

"The Open Choice program is by far the most cost-effective option for us," said Brian Mahoney, the State Department of Education's chief financial officer.

"This is surely more of an incentive to suburban districts to participate," said Alex Johnston, leader of the New Haven school-reform group ConnCAN. "It's certainly a positive step but we are going to need a system where schools are funded fully and not partially for the students they have."

Martha Stone, a lawyer for the Sheff plaintiffs, said Wednesday she is "heartened" by the increase and believes it will help get the state closer to reaching the required 41 percent of Hartford's 21,713 minority students attending integrated schools by November 2012. They're at 25 percent now.

Malloy's proposal coincides with a State Board of Education recommendation made in November that would put more focus and money on sending students to suburban schools than on magnet schools.

"I imagine a court mandate will look very similar to what I am proposing," former education commissioner Mark McQuillan said at the time.

But the SBOE's proposal went one step further than Malloy's in suggesting the education commissioner have the authority to require suburban districts enroll a certain number of Hartford students.

There are currently 27,000 students attending magnet schools across the state and 5,700 attending charter schools. Malloy's budget proposal does increase state spending for magnet and charter schools for seats that were already approved long before he became governor.

The legislature's Education Committee will hear public testimony Wednesday on the governor's proposed changes to education and also on a separate proposed change in the kindergarten entrance age.



Can a private firm and federal funds fix this public school?
Robert A. Frahm, CT MIRROR
February 12, 2011

BRIDGEPORT--Long before lunch hour begins, the cafeteria at Harding High School fills with students sitting idly around tables. Some chat on cell phones. Others slump in chairs. Not a book in sight.

Most are chronic class-skippers, rounded up by hallway monitors working for a private New York City-based consulting firm charged with trying to turn around one of Connecticut's worst high schools.

Whether a private company can do what local officials have failed to do is uncertain, but the experiment to rescue Harding - backed by $2.2 million in federal stimulus money - will be watched closely by officials from Hartford to Washington, D.C.

Harding--plagued by high dropout rates, disciplinary problems and academic failure--is one of 14 struggling Connecticut schools to receive U.S. Department of Education School Improvement Grants.

It is the only one of the 14 to choose the "restart" method, one of four models prescribed by the U.S. Department of Education to turn around failing schools. "Restart" requires the hiring of an outside contractor to restructure the school. At Harding, officials turned to Global Partnership Schools, a company run by former New York City schools Chancellor Rudy Crew and former Rochester, N.Y., school Superintendent Manny Rivera.

The scene in the lunchroom is a stark reminder of the daunting task facing Global. Officials estimate about 180 students are rounded up each morning--more than 10 percent of the student body. If Global is to succeed, it will have to reach students like 16-year-old Jeffrey Roscoe, who was ushered to the cafeteria one recent morning while skipping Spanish class.

"I didn't feel like going," Roscoe said. "It doesn't interest me." He said he is failing all his classes.

Officials say their first task is to change a culture in which too many students skip classes, ignore homework, and feel disconnected from Harding.

"It's had such a long history of failure that it doesn't believe in itself," said Crew, Global's president. "It believes itself to be what the papers have said about it, what the culture around it says... People who don't think of themselves as graduating don't act like graduates."

Until now, not much has worked at Harding, where principals have come and gone with alarming frequency, trying various strategies to rescue the troubled school. Harding has had nine different principals in the past decade.

"Too many to count," says veteran history teacher Leslie Waller. "We've seen so many initiatives start and then just stop."

Waller and her colleagues are looking for better results from the latest initiative, including a shakeup of leadership and a fundamental restructuring of the school under the federal stimulus project.

The decision to turn to a private firm "was based primarily on the lack of success over time we've had in trying to turn the school around... Traditional methods did not work," said Robert Henry, associate superintendent for the Bridgeport public school system and the former superintendent of Hartford's schools.

A hulking brick fortress, Warren Harding High School once was the pride of Bridgeport. Named after the nation's 29th President, the school opened in 1925 and produced graduates who became mayors, judges and prominent business and civic leaders. Today, however, it is a victim of urban decay, part of an impoverished East Side neighborhood of aging houses and an abandoned industrial complex that once housed bustling Remington Arms and General Electric plants.

It is exactly the kind of school the Obama administration targeted with the School Improvement Grants. According to a 2009 study by New York University, more than half of Harding's students miss 19 days of school or more each year, and one out of five is absent on an average day,

The five-month study reported more than 2,000 disciplinary offenses committed by about 40 percent of the school's 1,500 students. Nearly one-third of the grades in core subjects were Fs, and about two out of five students were lacking enough credits for their grade level.

Less than 5 percent of students met the goal on reading and math on the statewide 10th-grade performance test last year.

The $2.2 million that Harding will receive in stimulus funds "is enough money to really change the school," said Joseph Garcia, a senior vice president at Global who remains upbeat about the prospects for change.

"There's a lot of talent among the leadership team and in the faculty," he said. "There's a real chance here for this to succeed."

The restart is under a tight timeline. Global signed a contract with Bridgeport in September, and the formal kickoff for the restructuring took place Jan. 31. Nevertheless, the company has already made some basic changes, starting with efforts to improve attendance, reduce tardiness and improve the school climate.

"A lot of this really is just blocking and tackling," said Garcia, who early in the school year walked the hallways himself with a walkie-talkie, ushering students to classes. Since then, the company has hired "climate specialists" to clear the halls of loitering students. The school, under a new state law, also set up an in-school suspension program and began seeking alternative placements for overage students who roamed the hallways, skipped classes and had too few credits to graduate on time.

Working alongside the school's regular security guards, the school's new "climate specialists" patrol all corners of the aging building.

"Ladies, do you have gym?" Aaron Stroud said as he found three girls huddled in a stairwell and ushered them to gym class one recent morning. The hiring of specialists such as Stroud, who previously worked with troubled young people at a child care agency in New York City, is the most visible sign of change so far.

In addition, the company plans to require school uniforms as early as this semester and is considering acquiring technology to block the use of cell phones, a frequent distraction among students.

The first major step in Global's effort was the hiring of an "educational change agent" to oversee the three-year process of change at Harding. The company picked Eleanor Osborne, a respected former reading supervisor and associate superintendent for New Haven's public schools and a professor at Sacred Heart University.

Officials also decided to replace Harding's principal, Carol Birks, saying in the district's grant application that there was "not enough cohesiveness in her action plans to improve student achievement." To replace her, Global recruited Kevin Walston, a promising public school administrator in nearby Norwalk who had also worked as an assistant high school principal in the Bronx in New York City.

"In Norwalk, there was that sense of community, sense of belonging. With the kids, the staff, you felt that connectedness to the school," Walston said. "Here, in the majority of the school, you don't get that sense."

"Our job," he said, "is to create a sense of urgency among the staff."

A key part of Global's strategy is the refinement of a longstanding plan to break up the school into smaller units or academies, known as small learning communities. Harding has tried the idea for nearly a decade, but some of the smaller academies were only loosely defined and poorly understood by students.

"Some students we asked what small learning community they belonged to, and they didn't know," said Osborne.

Under the old arrangement, the school had seven academies enrolling students throughout the building, but the new plan calls for four academies located in separate parts of the school, each with its own group of students and teachers. One of the academies, known as "New Scholars," is reserved exclusively for freshmen while others will focus on health and environmental science, communications and technology, and law and international studies. In theory, the small academies will allow students to form stronger bonds with the same classmates and teachers.

"Research says the more engaged students are with their school and school community, the more successful they'll be," said Walston.

Global also altered the school schedule, shortening 100-minute teaching periods and providing additional advisory time for teachers and students to meet. The company created a regular testing schedule to monitor student progress. It hired a reading specialist and began a significant expansion of professional coaching in reading and mathematics teaching methods. It also upgraded the school's computers and acquired other new technology.

"I think it's exciting. We're going to get a new math lab, and we're getting some new online programs," said Mary Liggins, coordinator of Harding's math department. Liggins said she is encouraged so far by the changes, including the hiring of Osborne.

"She advocates for teachers," Liggins said. "She looks through teachers' eyes."

Much remains to be done, but Osborne is encouraged by the changes she has seen so far. "It's like a night and day experience," she said. "There's a whole different feel to the building."

Not everyone is convinced that the latest effort will work. Global has run into some resistance, including objections from some teachers who did not want to switch classrooms under the reorganization.

Gary Peluchette, president of the Bridgeport Education Association teachers' union, said he would prefer a turnaround approach that gives teachers more of a voice.

"Quite frankly, the suggestions [that GPS officials] are coming up with are nothing different than what teachers have been suggesting for years," he said. "You have to empower teachers. It can't be this top-down approach."

Garcia, the Global senior vice president, said, "The union has been a good partner" in the effort so far. "The faculty's professionalism has been high."

Some had hoped for a more aggressive start.

"It's premature for me to say it's not going to work, but the company that got the contract to take over the school should have hit the ground running. We should not have had to wait so long to see what's going to happen," said Linette Jones, president of the school's Parent Teacher Student Organization.

Jones' oldest daughter graduated from Harding last year. Another daughter is a sophomore in Harding's International Baccalaureate program, but Jones remains skeptical about the school. "If I were independently wealthy, I would take my daughter out," Jones said.

Although much of the reorganization has barely gotten under way, the most obvious change so far has been the crackdown on hallway loiterers.

Corey Baldwin, a lanky senior, said the problem has eased but was a serious distraction a year ago.

"Chaos," he said. "During class, everybody was making noise in the hallway."

Now, a few stragglers still try to evade security workers during classes, but most are caught and sent to the cafeteria.

Walston, the new principal, said the school is designing alternatives, including a staggered schedule and online study programs, for those who skip classes. Still, dozens are rounded up daily. "I was hoping the numbers would decrease by now," he said. "They have not."

Nevertheless, he remains optimistic that Harding is making progress.

"I certainly understand that change takes time," he said. "When you're living through it, you'd like it to go faster."

Private companies have had mixed results intervening in public schools. In Connecticut, the most prominent experiment in privatization was the hiring of a Minnesota firm, Education Alternatives Inc., to run Hartford's public schools in the mid-1990s. That experiment collapsed, leading to a state takeover of schools in the state capital.

In addition to Bridgeport, Global is working under federal School Improvement Grants with schools in Pueblo, Colorado and Baltimore, Maryland.

According to Crew, Global's president, one advantage of the private management model is that "outside organizations sometimes can be more nimble." An outside firm, he said, can operate "at a faster pace than going through school board meetings and all the other apparatus common to big city schools."

Crew, who also works as a professor at the University of Southern California's Rossier School of Education, gained a reputation as a reformer running giant public school systems in New York and Miami. Rivera, the company's CEO, is a former national superintendent of the year credited with making significant improvements in Rochester's schools.

"One advantage," said Crew, "is, frankly, that we are all public school educators who have done this work in successful organizations."

Most experiments with privatization have involved public charter schools rather than traditional public schools such as Harding.  There is relatively little good research on the track record of private companies in public schools, says Henry M. Levin, director of the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education at Teachers College at Columbia University.

"The one thing we've learned over the years is there are no miracles," Levin said. "Often these companies come in and promise something that's never been demonstrated before."

At Harding, computer graphics teacher Irwin "Doc" Coombs, a former union president, said he is hopeful the latest effort will work, "but I'm very wary of it right now... I have been forever opposed to public money going to private organizations."

Educators and others will be watching closely to see the impact of the federal grants on Harding and the state's other 13 turnaround schools. The School Improvement Grants, totaling about $23 million in Connecticut, are only a fraction of the $889 million in stimulus money received by the state for elementary and secondary education. The bulk of stimulus funding has been used to fill gaps in the state's education budget and save jobs, but the improvement grants go to the heart of the Obama administration's agenda to turn around struggling schools.

Many are taking a wait-and-see approach on the proposed shakeup.

"I haven't seen evidence of it yet," said Michael Brosnan, a history teacher at Harding. He said the restart plan "is extremely vague" and hasn't been explained clearly to students or teachers. He also said teachers were not involved in making the original application for the federal grant.

But, he added, "If the end result is a more successful school, that's hard to argue with."



Consultants: Washington's billions spawn an industry
CT MIRROR
Andrew Brownstein (Hechinger Report/EWA)
February 12, 2011

The flood of federal stimulus money into the nation's public schools has dramatically increased the demand for education consultants, leaving some stimulus recipients struggling to find seasoned advisors and others uneasy about the pitches they are getting.

The frenzy was caused by the unprecedented size and scope of the nearly $100 billion federal effort, which began two years ago. That has stirred up great expectations among policymakers and the public. Faced with nerve-wracking timelines, their own bold promises and a dearth of in-house expertise, states and school districts have anxiously sought advice on how to demonstrate progress and avoid missteps. "Some are calling it 'No Consultant Left Behind,' " says Frederick M. Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank based in Washington, D.C.

There are consultants who know data, consultants who say they can revitalize struggling schools and consultants who write grants that lead winning states and school districts to hire other consultants. They work at nonprofits, universities and textbook giants like the British-based Pearson PLC, a huge educational publishing concern. A good many are former state commissioners or district superintendents who have parlayed their expertise into lucrative jobs as education experts.

Many of them were present at a downtown Washington, D.C., hotel conference room in December to assist state education officials who won grants in the $4.3 billion Race to the Top competition, or RttT, the best-known element of the stimulus effort. The officials had come to learn about state-of-the-art reform strategies for using sophisticated data-tracking to link teacher evaluations to student achievement. Most of the recognized experts in the field were there--all half-dozen of them.

"There's a sense of confusion and anxiety," says Scott Joftus, director of the Race to the Top Technical Assistance Network, a stimulus-funded contractor tasked with aiding states and districts in implementing their bold plans. "There's a general acknowledgement that there are a handful of people with the expertise to implement assessments related to teacher evaluation-maybe seven or eight people in the country."

The scramble reflects the scope of the states' ambitions. "There's a lot of money being thrown into the system at the same time to create changes that have never been done before," Mr. Joftus says. "States have promised a ridiculous amount of change."

Many states are just beginning to sign contracts for outside help. Those that have made consulting deals seldom have guarantees. It is the rare contract that comes with a promise of increased student achievement in exchange for services.

And lately some state education officials have grown skeptical of some of the proposals they are fielding.

Leslie Wilson, assistant state superintendent for assessment in Maryland, estimates about 38 percent of the $125 million in RttT funds that her state received will flow through her office, with much of it going to build a new system for collecting student data. She says representatives of nonprofits, for-profit companies, colleges and universities have gone to great lengths to try to talk to her about related contracts. They have called her, emailed her and approached her at conferences. Some have enlisted mutual friends to intervene. One vendor asked the state superintendent of education to persuade Ms. Wilson to schedule a meeting.

She says she has warned them all to stay away because she believes such conversations will disqualify consultants from bidding on stimulus-funded technology contracts. "They understand, but they don't want to abide by it," adds Ms. Wilson, who describes the parties involved as "people who you have never heard of and people who should know better."

The phenomenon may be even more pervasive in the market for turning around failing schools, which received a $3.5 billion jolt from the stimulus program known as the School Improvement Grant fund. Just a few years ago, there were few consultants even marketing themselves as turnaround experts.

With the stimulus, U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan has said he wants to transform thousands of schools in the bottom five percent in performance over the next few years. That's a tall order. Schools in the bottom five percent are places where fewer than one in three students read at grade level, the dropout rate is over 50 percent and there are enough disciplinary issues to make them feel like armed fortresses. In the landscape of school reform, they are like the Middle East: constantly fought-over, subject to countless "solutions" that come and go and, in the end, stubbornly resistant to change.

That metaphor is an apt one for the market as well. In the fall of 2009, Mr. Joftus was contacted by a former contractor who was working for Global Partnership Schools, a new school turnaround venture funded by GEMS Education, a Dubai-based company founded by entrepreneur Sunny Varkey. The caller was hoping to obtain copies of Mr. Joftus' contract for school improvement services in Kansas.

"You know we're in a new era when school turnaround firms in the U.S. are being funded out of the Middle East," Joftus said. "To me, that says there's money to be made. I call this period the Wild West in education."

Mr. Joftus is not questioning the organization's credentials or quality. By all accounts, Global Partnership has experience on its side. It is run by Rudy Crew, a former chancellor of the New York City schools, and Manny Rivera, a former superintendent in Rochester, NY. Also, it backs its promises with a rare performance guarantee: Its contract with Pueblo, Colo., states that the partnership will only be fully paid if it succeeds in significantly boosting student achievement. Up to 20 percent of its $1.5 million fee is linked to a series of benchmarks geared at overhauling Pueblo's schools.

"Within 12 to 18 months, there'd better be gains, or if I were a district I'd raise some serious questions," Mr. Rivera said. "There traditionally hasn't been that kind of accountability in the field."

The aggressive competition and hoopla behind the big grant competitions make some in the field uncomfortable. School turnarounds are notoriously hard to accomplish and harder still to maintain. Revitalizing schools that have become dropout factories typically means replacing the principal and a large number of staff, as well as installing tough discipline and a new curriculum. Such efforts also require creating a new culture where high expectations are the norm.

"Very few people understand what a turnaround takes," said Josh Edelman, deputy chief of innovation for the Washington, D.C. schools. "What people expect is that you're going to see magic. Most of these schools have been failing for years. They're not going to turn around on a dime."

Sandra Abrevaya, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Education, said the department is hopeful that its investment will help build expertise in turnarounds and other tricky areas, adding she is "encouraged" that states and districts are beginning to share their knowledge. "While there is a need for more experts in the field, we're very optimistic that states will build this capacity and that more high-quality organizations will emerge to assist them," she said.

The difficultly of the tasks at hand and the relative lack of supply make education-consulting a lucrative enterprise. Those in the field say it is typical for an individual expert to make between $1,500 and $5,000 a day, depending on one's level of expertise. In Ohio, more than half of the state department of education's $194 million share of RttT funds will be awarded to "external providers," according to state documents.

The money has attracted big names and powerful organizations that typically haven't played in the education sphere. Sir Michael Barber, education advisor to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, heads the global education practice of McKinsey & Company, a consulting giant that helped several states write RttT applications.

In November, Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation paid $360 million for a 90 percent share in another company that helped consult for the RttT competition, Wireless Generation, a Brooklyn-based education technology firm. Wireless Generation's involvement in the competition was not without controversy. Despite being paid more than $500,000 by New Jersey, the company failed to catch an erroneous last-minute change to the application. That cost New Jersey crucial points in the competition, leading to an 11th-place finish-just out of the money. Bret Schundler, New Jersey's state education commissioner at the time, took responsibility for the error and was fired. Wireless Generation officials have not commented publicly on the error, which is the subject of several state investigations. Some legislators have blamed Wireless Generation for not noticing the error, and have asked the company to return its fee.

Just how important is a good consultant? Ask Jennifer Vranek, founding partner of Education First, a Seattle-based consulting firm. Her company was behind the successful RttT applications for Hawaii, Maryland, Ohio and Tennessee-one-third of the winners.

"If nothing else, a consultant has the ability to focus exclusively on the application, unlike the typical state education official, who has 75 other things to focus on," she says. "A good consultant makes a difference."

She insists the job involves more than spin. In RttT, states were pushed to make bold promises in their grant applications. Part of the job of the consultant, she says, is to ensure they deliver. Education First cajoled the state leadership in Maryland to commit to overhaul its longitudinal data system, which cannot currently link student test data to individual teachers or track the learning growth of an individual student over time.

The federal government's stimulus effort was designed to persuade states to take on such complex improvements. Convinced they have an important role to play, many consultants fear that in a time of severe economic distress, there will be less patience than usual for the missteps that inevitably accompany innovation.

"If we get 50 percent of this right, I think that's a success," says Mr. Joftus, the RttT technical assistance director. "My concern is that the public will see this as a 50 percent failure rate. If that happens, there's going to be a huge backlash."




LINK TO FULL ARTICLE. (BELOW IS A SMALL SECTION)

...Funding Search

Connecticut, which has one of the largest achievement gaps in the country, is on the hook for a $300 million reform agenda, which was created when state lawmakers passed a sweeping new law.

Now, with the state facing a $3.5 billion budget deficit, school districts still reeling from painful budget cuts last summer will have to figure out how to pay for the online and Advanced Placement courses the law mandates. They will also have to track student data, create new tests and provide remedial help to struggling students. In addition, they must hire additional math, science and language teachers-and possibly build science labs-to implement a more rigorous high school curriculum set to launch in 2014.

"Talk about unfunded mandates," said Elin Katz, a school board member in suburban West Hartford. "I don't know how we're going to do this..."  Full article here.




On their way out the door, state ed board members pass on school financing decision
Jacqueline Rabe, CT MIRROR
February 9, 2011

At the State Board of Education's last meeting before Gov. Dannel Malloy makes his appointments, members decided not to vote on a proposal to overhaul how magnet, charter and public schools in the state are financed.

"So, we will leave that to the next board," said chairman Allan Taylor, who was visibly irritated that the proposal was tabled.

The recommendation would have state funding reallocated on the basis of how much a local school district's costs are actually reduced when a student leaves the system for an alternative program--a partial "money follows the child" approach.  It was a compromise reached after months of work by a broad coalition, including the Connecticut Association of School Superintendents, the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education and the New Haven-based reform group ConnCAN.

But that coalition began to fracture Wednesday at the state education board meeting.

"I am not sure these recommendations will do anything to improve education," said Joshua Starr, the superintendent of Stamford Public Schools and the head of the Connecticut Association of Urban Superintendents representing 19 school districts.

"Our urban students need more, not less," said Sharon Beloin-Saavedra, president of the New Britain Board of Education.

The leader of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents, Joe Cirasuolo, a member of the special committee that drafter the plan, continued to maintain his support. But James Finley, head of CCM who also helped draft the recommendations, stepped back Wednesday.

"CCM does not support money follows the child," he told the board. Last month when approving the recommendations he voiced support because it would only have the money that is actually saved by the district follow the child to their new school.

Speakers also said it would be near impossible to come up with a formula to identify the actual savings for a district when a student leaves, if they save at all.  But Brian Mahoney, the chief financial officer for the SDOE, said during an interview he is confident such a formula could be accurately made.  After 90 minutes of testimony from public education leaders from across the state -- mostly critical of the proposal -- state board members decided to pass on taking a stand in what will be their last meeting together. The terms of eight of the 11 board members expire before the next meeting, and Malloy will get to choose their replacements.

During a 10-minute discussion, board members said they need more information and more in-depth recommendations on other issues facing education financing.

"It's very disappointing what's been produced by this committee," said Janet Finneran of Bethany, the board's vice-chair.

"There needs to be a lot more work," said Beverly Bobrosk, a member from Bristol. "Let's stop being afraid to talk about it."

But Taylor said after the meeting that by deciding to table proposal, board members showed they were afraid of it.

"I am sorry to have the discussion dominated by fear. Which is what just happened," he said.

Alex Johnston of ConnCAN said he doesn't buy the argument board members didn't have enough information to make an informed decision.

"We went through very vigorous debate and it was a lot of work," said Johnston, referring to the special committee's weekly meetings. Board members were invited to attend the meetings, many of which also were broadcast on the state's public affairs television network, CT-N. "They found themselves unable to take a position. This underscores why we need strong leadership to move forward on school finance reform."

Taylor said for 25 years education advocates and leaders have been calling on reforming how schools are financed, and the state board opting to pass on taking a stand is detrimental.

"We have to figure out recommendations and move this debate forward," he said.

Malloy, who has been highly critical of the way the state finances schools, said at a press conference Wednesday that the funding formula does need an overhaul, but said it is not likely that will happen this year.



Detroit plan would slash schools, cram classrooms
The Washington Times Online Edition
By Andrea Billups
7:56 p.m., Wednesday, January 26, 2011


DETROIT | Think wrangling one or two teenagers at home is tough? Some high school teachers in Detroit could end up with as many as 62 students per classroom under a proposal geared at helping balance the district's budget, which is $327 million in the red.

The class-size increases come along with a recommendation to close nearly half of the struggling city's schools over the next two years, from 142 to 72, in a money-saving effort that would shutter empty buildings, lay off staff, force parents to pay fees for sports and consolidate some departments.

The plan also calls for cutting vocational and alternative schools, JROTC, truant officers and busing for students seeking GEDs.

The hard-times proposal was released last week as a part of a monthly recommendation made to the Michigan Department of Education by Robert Bobb, a former D.C. school board president and deputy mayor who was appointed in January 2009 by Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm as the district's emergency financial manager.

It is the latest of his stark yet determined efforts to get the failing school system on track after years of financial woes and mismanagement.

Mr. Bobb's efforts, while lauded by some on the national education reform scene, have not made him a popular figure among some teachers, school officials and parents, but his path toward overhaul is necessary, said Michael Petrilli, vice president for national programs and policy at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute in Washington.

"I think it's definitely appropriate … but he's not going to win a popularity contest," Mr. Petrilli said of Mr. Bobb's massive fixes.

"He's like an emergency-room doctor up there, trying to stop the bleeding and he's doing some tough work that had to be done — laying off teachers, cutting costs, trying to find a way for this school district to be sustainable," Mr. Petrilli added of the tough choices ahead for the Motor City schools.

Over the past several decades, as the city's population has diminished along with property tax revenues and state aid, the system has struggled with its finances and its record of achievement. On the U.S. Department of Education's National Report card, the district's fourth- and eighth-graders posted the lowest reading rates of any urban school district. The district's high school graduation rate was 24.9 percent in 2008.

The dismal academic outlook in Detroit prompted Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in 2009 to call it "arguably the worst urban school district in the country."

School finances have been in a deficit for the past four years, forcing the Democratic governor, who left office this month, to hire Mr. Bobb as a turnaround specialist. As he strives to cut the budget deficit and return the schools to fiscal solvency, he also must now work with a Republican governor and legislature as he negotiates the return of academic control back to the Detroit Board of Education, which eventually will hire a new superintendent.

The city itself is plotting a rebound strategy after the Kwame Kilpatrick scandal and the ongoing rebirth of General Motors, Chrysler and Ford, which has energized those invested in the city's fledgling renaissance.

Mr. Petrilli said it is not the first time that a struggling urban district has turned to massive overhaul, including shuttering many schools to make ends meet. He pointed to massive cuts in the Kansas City, Mo., district, which closed 26 of its 61 schools in August amid a $50 million budget shortfall. Like Detroit, Kansas City had drastic reductions in enrollment — from a peak of 79,000 students in 1979 to fewer than 17,000 today.

"This takes a lot of energy and leadership and stamina. It's not a lot of fun," Mr. Petrilli said. "But Detroit public schools were in such dire shape that the only path was dramatic overall. They were not on a sustainable path — financially and academically. He's trying to get the house in order up there."

The proposed plan calls for class-size increases in grades four to 12 starting this fall, and then all grades in fiscal year 2012. Kindergarten through third grade would rise from 17 to 25 now to 31 by the 2013-14 school year.

Class sizes in fourth and fifth grades would increase from 30 now to 39 in 2013-14. Sixth and eighth grades would increase from 35 to 47 in the 2013-14 school year. High school class sizes would rise the most — from 35 students now to 62 in 2013-14.

Whether the plan comes to fruition is another matter. District spokesman Steven Wasko said officials are working on but have not released details of alternative plans to the latest proposal, under which the large class sizes and school closures were suggested. The emergency financial manager updates the state education department monthly of his progress.

Even as ideas are being formulated, the head of Detroit's teachers union said the proposal on the table will never happen.

"It is the union's contention that the district's deficit can be resolved without the dismantling of the Detroit Public Schools and our contract," Detroit Federation of Teachers President Keith Johnson said in a statement published last week.

The union's contract with the district said teachers receive more payments when class sizes exceed a certain benchmark. It filed a charge of unfair labor practices in July in an attempt to make sure class sizes were not increased.

© Copyright 2011 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.




JAN. 2013 FULL OFFICIAL REPORT OF DRAFT ECS TASKFORCE RECOMMENDATIONS:
http://www.cga.ct.gov/ed/CostSharing/Documents/2013/ECS%20TASK%20FORCE%20Final%20Report%201-23-13.pdf



Speakers tell school funding panel the answer is more money
Jacqueline Rabe Thomas, CT MIRROR
October 25, 2011

WATERFORD--Parents, school officials and teacher unions had one message for the panel responsible for resolving the highly-criticized formula used for financing schools across the state: Increase funding.

"I'm sure you've heard what I'm going to say from a lot of people. [State funding] is not hitting anywhere near an actual reflection of what the actual costs are," Donald Blevins, chairman of the Waterford Board of Education and president of the state's school board association, told the panel.

The state's largest teachers union says the poorest districts are underfunded $5,300 per student and statewide the shortfall is $1.5 billion a year.

But top officials say the reality is the state is strapped financially and the chances of a wave of additional money being approved for schools is nil.

"I'm not going to deny that more money is an advantageous goal," said Benjamin Barnes, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's budget chief, shocked by the $1.5 billion shortfall in state funding cited by the Connecticut Education Association. "I flinched."

A parent of three children at the last public hearing in New Haven brought an tiny apple pie to convey the same message of state underfunding education.

"The pie is too small," Ester Santana told the panel, which is co-chaired by Barnes and Rep. Andrea Stillman, House chair of the legislature's Education Committee.

Three out of every ten dollars spent on education in Connecticut comes from the state, which is comparable to other Northeast states, according to the State Department of Education in its annual report released earlier this month.

But parents and education officials at Tuesdays meeting said the state has a more severe achievement gap between low-income students and their peers than the surrounding states.

"It's simply unacceptable to underfund education," said Erika Haynes, a parent of four children in Windham, a district that the state recently intervene in for failing too many children. "We are where we are because of money."

No one on the financing panel disagreed during the three-hour barrage of requests for more funding that additional money wouldn't help, but they aren't expecting to find a pot of money. Rather, the panel intends to figure out how to more fairly disperse the $1.9 billion the state is providing.

"We all have the recognition that there is a bottom line... What would you do if we didn't have another dollar?" asked Sen. Toni N. Harp, D-New Haven and the co-chair of the legislature's Appropriations Committee.

That comment solicited whispers from the packed school cafeteria that a formula with no additional funding would be horrible, but not a surprise.

"It's a shame. I don't know about formulas. I don't know about percentages. I know that more money needs to go to education," said Susy Reyes, a parent with one child in Bridgeport Public Schools, another district the state recently intervened in and replaced their board of education.

Rep. J. Brendan Sharkey of Hamden, the House Majority Leader, said earlier in the day he is expecting the panel to provide lawmakers a realistic path to better funding schools, which does not include a request for additional funding.

"I don't envision that we are going to have more funding," he said. "You can't solve the formula by adding more money, they need to make sure we have an equitable system."

The task force has set a goal of releasing a proposed overhaul to the school financing formula by next fall.





There was more to this Pelto letter.  He added a list of other State of CT funding programs "on the chopping block" as well as another letter to the editor regarding how little performance improvement CT gets from its highest cost for public education.  NOTE:  We do not say any of these "facts" from letters to the editor are accurate...



State may change education aid
Connecticut funding formula may be overhauled
New London DAY
By STEPHANIE REITZ Associated Press
Article published Jan 2, 2011

Hartford - Connecticut's formula to determine state aid for local schools could be on the verge of a major overhaul after decades of criticism that it hasn't helped close achievement gaps between poor and rich towns.
A coalition of lawmakers and education advocates is urging incoming Gov. Dan Malloy to settle a 2005 lawsuit against the state over alleged inequities in the state's Education Cost Sharing formula.  As mayor of Stamford, Malloy was among the original plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which calls for major changes in the ECS formula.

"It's time now for people of good will to sit down and resolve this issue. We can't lose another generation of young people to an unequal and, in some cases, an inadequate education system," said state Rep. Christopher Caruso, D-Bridgeport.

The ECS formula has been tweaked regularly since it went into effect in 1988, a hybrid of two earlier plans intended to ensure more funding equity between wealthy and poor communities. It uses a complicated equation that considers the number of students, a town's wealth or poverty and other factors.  Its intention is to split school costs 50-50 between the state and municipalities, a goal that's never been reached. The closest the state got was 45 percent in 1989, and it's around 42 percent now.

It's also spawned a few lawsuits, including a 1998 case in which 9-year-old Jedidiah Roesler of Meriden and his mother, Karen, were among more than a dozen plaintiffs on behalf of municipalities that believed they were shortchanged.  Jedidiah, now a 22-year-old college student, is among thousands of youths whose school careers mostly or completely coincided with the ECS formula's life span.  Karen Roesler said she joined the lawsuit hoping it could help students whose families did not have the time and educational background to be as involved as her family was, and who might lose out on the best possible education of the funding issue.

"It's been so many years now and yet here we are in Connecticut, still struggling with the same issues of equity in education," Karen Roesler said.

"What I did learn from being involved in that suit with Jed was how complicated that (ECS) formula was and that in the end, it wasn't really followed anyway."

That lawsuit eventually was dropped, with many of its claims over the ECS formula absorbed into larger cases, including the 2005 one that's currently pending.  The plaintiffs, the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding, are a group of officials and parents from more than a dozen cities and towns, including Hartford, New Haven and Bridgeport.  Their lawsuit says the vast differences in test results, graduation rates and other factors between many rich and poor towns show that some of Connecticut's nearly 500,000 students are not receiving an adequate education.

The coalition says the way to close that gap is to overhaul the ECS formula. Dianne Kaplan deVries, the coalition's project director, said members are confident that Malloy understands their concerns and the complexity of the case.

"The primary backbone of the ECS formula is fine, but so many of its elements were not based on reality," deVries said.

A Superior Court judge had dismissed part of the coalition's case regarding funding in 2007. The Connecticut Supreme Court revived the case last spring, saying the constitution promises an education that is good enough to prepare students for a job or college. It's tentatively set for trial in 2014.  The push to fix the ECS formula comes as Connecticut faces a $270 million shortfall in that school funding budget starting July 1. That's because federal stimulus money, used to cover an ECS gap last year, will run out.

The $270 million is part of a $3.67 billion budget shortfall that Malloy will be forced to address in the 2011 budget year.  Malloy said this week that although resolving problems with the ECS formula is a high priority during his administration, his most immediate concern is ensuring the budget shortfall is covered and public schools don't face major cuts this fall.

The formula is being closely watched in Connecticut municipalities, where local officials would have to raise taxes or slash spending if the ECS money shrinks.

"At least in the short term, our focus is going to be on seeing that ECS is stable," said Robert Rader, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education. "We have felt for years that if (ECS) was fully funded, it would do what people wanted. But people are finding the more they delve into it, the more complicated it seems."



State colleges and universities bracing for budget storm
Jacqueline Rabe, CT MIROR
December 29, 2010

Officials at Connecticut's public colleges and universities are bracing for another tough budget year as the legislature and new governor grapple with next year's $3.67 billion deficit.

"Public universities are definitely on the firing line," said Higher Education Commissioner Michael Meotti. "The next several years are going to be the toughest budget years higher education has faced in the last 50 or 60 years."

"We all know cuts are coming. It's just a matter of how much," Connecticut State University System Chancellor David G. Carter told a student member of the Board of Trustees at a recent meeting.

And legislators are not trying to allay those concerns.

"Public universities are preparing for what they expect to come, and that's cuts from the state," said Rep. Roberta B. Willis, co-chairwoman of the legislature's Higher Education Committee and a Democrat from Salisbury. "Universities have to control their costs and find savings."

Gov.-elect Dan Malloy also has warned that state institutions will have to tighten their budgets. Even at the upbeat announcement of a new president for the University of Connecticut last week, he would only commit to funding the school "at a level that is appropriate," without promising there would be no cuts.

The dire budget predictions come against the backdrop of a new report by the legislature's research office saying that the growth in higher education budgets has far outstripped the level of state General Fund support for the institutions.

While combined spending by the state's three higher education systems -- UConn, CSUS and the Connecticut Community Colleges -- grew by nearly 230 percent over two decades, to $1.94 billion in fiscal 2009, the General Fund contribution increased by less than 83 percent, to $556 million, according to the Office of Legislative Research.

Meanwhile, in-state tuition and fees increased by 239 percent at the community colleges, 284 percent at UConn and nearly 353 percent at CSUS.

The rising cost of higher education has caused concern and prompted several reviews, including one by the legislature's bipartisan Program Review and Investigations Committee into how colleges and universities are governed.

"The public in general has expressed discontent with the rises in higher education costs and spending," says a staff report approved unanimously by the committee. "UConn and CSUS have been consistently ranked among the most expensive public university systems in the nation (numbers 9 and 11, respectively, in 2009 among peer institutions)."

But higher education officials warn cuts in state support would likely lead to even higher tuitions.

"We are left with no choice but to increase tuition so we can provide the same level of education... We are beginning to price people out of education," said Mary Anne Cox, assistant chancellor for Connecticut's dozen community colleges.

Last week, the board of the community colleges approved increasing tuition by almost 3 percent -- to almost $3,500 a semester for in-state students. And if state funding is cut in the coming months to help close the state's deficit, Cox said the board would surely have to revisit tuition levels.

"There aren't very many options" for cutting costs, she said, saying most spending increases are for personnel. The college system's contract with unionized employees provides for 5 percent raises in the coming year, she said.

UConn will likely determine how much tuition will be for next school year in February.

"We've known for some time that (the upcoming year) is going to be a very difficult budget year. Just how rough it will be for UConn depends on what our state appropriation looks like," UConn's budget director Richard Gray wrote in a statement.

But things could have been worse for Connecticut's public colleges over the last few years, said Bruce Vandal, director of postsecondary education for Education Commission of the States.

"There are states that are abandoning or retrenching their expenditures for universities... Connecticut has not begun to do that, so that's good," he said.

Six states -- including Rhode Island, South Carolina and California -- have reduced the actual amount they spend on higher education by five percent or more in recent years, reports the National Conference of State Legislators.

But with the recent signals from Connecticut lawmakers, university leaders are beginning to worry their state funding levels are in jeopardy.



School Board Considers Social Media Rules for Employees
WestportNow
By James Lomuscio
Tuesday, December 21, 2010

With the popularity of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn and MySpace, Westport Schools Superintendent Elliott Landon asked the Board of Education Monday night to consider a policy regulating employees’ use of social media, even for personal use.

The board, which only had four of its seven members present, will vote on the action at its Jan. 4 meeting.

Landon said that the proposed policy is an extension of the Acceptable Computer Network Use policy requiring all faculty, staff and school board employees to use the school network for emails so that all communication is archived.

He said the policy is designed to protect employees against claims of inappropriate conversations.

“We’ve asked teachers not to use Facebook because there is no way to archive this,” said Landon.

Donald O’Day, school board chairman, questioned whether the policy should be extended to school volunteers who use social media to communicate about school functions. Landon said he would seek legal opinions.

The policy states that while the school board recognizes the importance of social media and acknowledges employees’ First Amendment rights, the board will regulate social media use, even personal use, under certain circumstances.

They include: it interfering with the school district’s work; being used to harass co-workers and others in the school community; creating a hostile work environment; breaching confidentiality obligations; disrupting work of the school district; if it “harms the goodwill and reputation of the school district;” and if it “violates the law, board policies and/or other school rules and regulations.”

Regarding personal use, employees were asked to refrain from inappropriate speech and postings that could reflect poorly on the school district and to maintain “appropriate professional boundaries with students parents and colleagues.”

For example, the proposed policy states that it is inappropriate for a teacher “to friend” a student or his or her parent to establish a special relationship.

It also states it is not appropriate for an employee to give students or parents access to personal postings unrelated to school.
Posted 12/21 at 09:03 AM



Weston's new school buses are safer in more ways than one
Weston FORUM
Written by Kimberly Donnelly
Thursday, 16 December 2010 00:00

Over the past several weeks, many Westonites noticed an overabundance of school buses filling the parking lot of the bus depot on the corner of Weston Road and School Road — and spilling over onto the lawn, the side lot, and even in the elementary school parking lot.

This week, passersby should notice that the bus depot looks back to normal. But, actually, a big change has taken place.

Not only are Weston’s 20 school buses (plus two spare ones), provided by First Student, brand new, but they are also now all equipped with active audio and video recording devices.

When the school district renewed its contract with First Student last year, the bus company agreed to replace the district’s buses with brand new ones for the same cost per bus it had charged the previous year, said David Lustberg, the district’s transportation coordinator.

For an additional $1.20 per bus per day, the school board decided to authorize the installation and use of cameras on the buses.

The new buses with cameras began to roll out at the beginning of the month. Each bus had to go through an inspection, however, and so, Mr. Lustberg said, there were several weeks when both the old and new buses were parked at the bus depot.

This week, the last of the old buses were scheduled to be replaced with the newer ones.

According to school board member Dick Bochinski, who was among the board members to take a “test ride” recently, “They’re quieter, more fuel efficient, safer with higher padded seats, and the recording devices will help deter any potential misconduct.”

With winter knocking on the door, Mr. Lustberg pointed out that another advantage is all the buses have new batteries, heaters, and engine systems, making cold mornings much less problematic.

“We had our first good test a few days ago when it was 10 degrees at start-up time, and all the buses started immediately and the heat kicked right on,” Mr. Lustberg said. “We’re looking forward to less bus trouble and having to use fewer spares, and having fewer breakdowns.”

It’s the cameras that have been the focus of most of the attention given to the new buses, though.

At its September meeting, the school board adopted a new policy to address the use of the cameras and recording devices on the buses “as an aid in monitoring student and adult behavior. The recordings from these cameras will be used to assist school administrators in deciding upon appropriate disciplinary action.”

Mr. Lustberg said he has not heard any negative response about the cameras and audio recorders. Drivers like having them, he said, because it means they can concentrate on driving; parents like it because it’s a way of seeing what’s going on; and administrators like it because it should be a deterrent that helps to maintain appropriate conduct on buses.

“Everyone thinks it will lead to better behavior by the kids,” Mr. Lustberg said.

First Selectman Gayle Weinstein agreed. “Given the number of bullying incidents we’ve had, at least the cameras provide another set of eyes. I’m all for it. And as a parent, I think it’s a great idea,” she said.

Staff and students, including contracted drivers, are prohibited from tampering with the recording devices for any reason.

Mr. Lustberg said the video, recorded from both the front and the back of the buses during the morning and afternoon trips, runs on a 30-day loop. After 30 days, the recordings “drop off,” so any incidents need to be reviewed within the 30-day window. However, when an incident is reviewed, it may be downloaded to a computer and saved indefinitely if needed, Mr. Lustberg said.

According to the school board’s policy, “Recordings considered for retention as a part of a student’s behavioral record will be maintained in accordance with established procedures governing access, review and release of student records.”

Recordings also may become a part of employee records. “This provision applies to all employees of the district as well as all contractors, agents and their employees,” the policy states.

The policy, which is available in its entirety on the school district’s Web site, www.westonK12-ct.org, spells out who may request to review recordings and how those requests are to be made and considered.

There is a relatively small window of time to request viewing: Requests must be made in writing to the appropriate school principal within seven school days of the date of recording one wishes to review.



Cromwell Must Give $1.3 Million Back To State For Woodside School
By MELISSA PIONZIO, mpionzio@courant.com
The Hartford Courant
5:00 PM EST, December 10, 2010

CROMWELL —


Enrollment at Woodside Intermediate School is lower than projected, a state audit has found, prompting the state to ask the town to return of $1.3 million used to build the school.

There are 494 students enrolled at the school, 105 fewer than predicted by the school building committee when the school was in the planning stages in 2001.

"We have a formula that authorizes payments per square foot per student," said Tom Murphy, spokesman for the state Department of Education. "With this school, there is a square footage allotment per pupil that the state will reimburse or cost share. But if you build a school that is too large, then the state will only pay up to the authorized square footages."

The state initially sought $1.6 million from the town, but reduced the amount by $377,000 by decreasing the square footage used in the grant calculation, Murphy said. The 84,000-square-foot school was completed in 2006 at a cost of $27.4 million.

Superintendent Matthew Bisceglia said the town got the data to support its enrollment projections through studies conducted by a state education consultant and an educational consulting agency. Bisceglia, who was not superintendent when the school was built, said he questions the validity of such projections, pointing out that the consultant's study projected that Cromwell's overall student enrollment for 2010-2011 would be lower than it actually is.

"They projected for the 2010-2011 school year we'd have 1,717 students for the district; we have 2,040," he said. "Additionally, they said we'd have 485 students at the high school; we actually have 603."

Bisceglia said Mark Cohan, who was the superintendant at the time, hired Education Leadership Services LLC to help plan the type of intermediate school the town would need. That information was provided to the state, he said.

"Based on data they reviewed, such as enrollment dynamics and building permits, the company suggested that Cromwell plan for 600 students at the intermediate level by the end of the decade," said Bisceglia.

Although Woodside's enrollment is lower than projected, Bisceglia said he is confident that the school will serve 600 students by 2020.

"You have the enrollment projection done by the state and the educational leadership services coming up with a very strong projection and you have the unique characteristics of Cromwell, which included an incredible amount of open space," he said. "Even today as you drive by Woodside Intermediate School, there are two new housing developments going up. Had the economic downturn not taken place, we would see many more of those homes being purchased, being built and many of the building permits that were projected not being scrapped."

Murphy said the state will work with Cromwell to determine how it can repay the $1.3 million. The town can also ask the General Assembly to review the matter, or try to increase enrollment at Woodside.

Murphy said ways to do that include encouraging "public school choice, students coming from other districts. If they do have that in place and those students do attend that school, it does offer some opportunities for discussion and those numbers would need to be looked at. We want to work with the school district to resolve these issues, but these are significant dollars and there is a school with 100 open seats."

Bisceglia, who has requested a meeting with state Department of Education officials, said 73 students from other districts attend Cromwell schools through the Open Choice program. He asked why state officials accepted the town's application in the first place, since the state audit also found that the town didn't supply sufficient data with its application.

"Because this is an independent committee, why didn't the state write to them and tell them they need more documentation?" Bisceglia. asked "Why didn't they give them some guidance as to what they were really looking for?"



Education panel rejects proposal to change school funding rules

Jacqueline Rabe, CT MIRROR
December 6, 2010

A panel of municipal, education and business leaders Monday failed to reach agreement on a proposal to require that state funds for education follow students who leave their local public schools for alternative institutions.

The business and education reform leaders on the panel backed the proposal, but representatives of towns, local schools and unions defeated their efforts.  Alex Johnston, head of the New Haven-based school reform group ConnCAN, called the proposal a "policy answer" to improving public education in the state.

"We are not funding school choice in a way that makes sense right now," he said.

About 27,000 students in the state attend magnet schools and another 1,300 students attend public schools outside their home districts through a choice program. Although the state provides some funding for the alternative schools, it also continues to fund the local school after the student is gone.

"The way we fund magnets and school choice programs is not fair. When a student leaves a school, so should the money. The school responsible for that student deserves that money," said Dudley Williams, an executive at GE Asset Management who was named co-chair of Gov.-elect Dan Malloy's education policy advisory group Monday.

"money follow the child"

CCM's Jim Finley (r): 'This would cause a lot of pain for schools'

But local officials and union leaders said Monday it would be unfair to take money from an already cash-strapped school and send it to another.

"We are concerned about the impact on the individual districts," said John Yrchik, head of the Connecticut Education Association, the state's largest teachers' union. "You would be making it more difficult for districts to function."

Jim Finley, executive director of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, agreed.

"This would cause a lot of pain for schools," he said after the meeting. "Maybe we can consider this when schools begin to be adequately funded by the state. Right now they are not."

The panel, which was created by the State Board of Education to make recommendations on school finance issues, did forward other proposals to the board, including:

    * Allowing parents to enroll their children in any charter, magnet or school choice program
    * Having the state fully fund its 50 percent share of education
    * Reorganizing the funding formula for schools because it is not functioning effectively

Education Commissioner Mark McQuillan said he hopes whatever changes are made to how schools are funded, it is fixed once and for all.

"There needs to be dependability and stability of school funding," he said. "We cannot continue with this uncertainty."



Freund answers questions on 'stay-the-course budget'
MJ Mercanti-Anthony, Special To Greenwich Time
Published: 10:43 p.m., Tuesday, November 30, 2010
  
Superintendent of Schools Sidney Freund had a lot to answer for at Tuesday night's public hearing on his proposed budget.

After soliciting input on his initial 2011-12 budget proposal presented in early November, 144 questions came into the board office, including ones from school board and PTA members and the public, as well as town agencies like the Board of Estimate and Taxation and the Representative Town Meeting.  In front of the school board and a crowded audience Tuesday night at Cos Cob School, Freund applauded the board and the public for its analysis of the budget.

Coming in the second year of the district's strategic plan, he stated this was a "stay-the-course budget, but not a business-as-usual budget." As such, he argued the budget reflects the ongoing effort to clarify and increase the focus on improving classroom instruction through data-driven decision making.  Most questions and comments at the hearing from both board members and the public centered on staffing concerns. Eighty-five percent of the budget consists of staffing costs, while staffing additions account for 75 percent of the increase in the proposed $135.6 million budget over the 2010-11 spending package. The overall year-to-year increase is 3.4 percent.

Freund clarified his initial proposal, saying that the budget calls for an increase of 10.75 positions, not the 14.1 originally projected. The error stemmed from a failure to account for building-based administrators who teach part of the day. The new figure allows the budget to meet the BET-set staffing guidelines of 10.2 students per staff member.  In total, the budget calls for the creation of seven new elementary classes to maintain class-size guidelines enacted by the board.

On the issue of resources, Freund explained that due to the diffuse nature of schooling, precisely attributing student gains to specific resource allocations was not possible. Long term, he argued the best allocations are those that build the capacity of the instructional staff.  Board member Leslie Moriarty, conscious of the lack of student-performance growth in some areas, worried if the current staffing guidelines, particularly in regards to class size, were appropriate for furthering the board's initiatives.

In response, Freund argued that class-size research is inconclusive.

"The strongest predicator of student success is not class size, but quality of instruction," he said.

If given the option, Freund said he would rather increase the number of instructional coaches to train teachers in new instructional strategies. However, he reiterated that the current proposal follows board guidelines on class size.  Board member Peter Sherr challenged the superintendent, arguing that anyone could Google class size and see that is does make a difference, particularly in grades 3 and below. "Part of the reason our scores are declining are because bright kids are leaving the district," Sherr said.

He continued, "I've heard from lots of groups of parents that we want a hard cap (on class size). It sounds like we are not committed to that issue."

Freund reiterated that the proposal meets current guidelines as stipulated by the board.  A 72-page booklet answering all of the collected questions is available on the district's website at greenwichschools.org. Anyone with questions not covered on the website is asked to submit them to board President Steven Anderson by noon Thursday.  The board will hold another public hearing on Dec. 9 before voting on the budget at its Dec. 16 meeting.

"At that point it becomes the board's budget and we further it along to other groups by statute," Anderson said.  The board would submit the spending plan to the town by Dec. 30. The BET will take up the proposal before the Representative Town Meeting adopts the budget in May.



Lady Trojan swimmers splash their way to Class S title
Westport NEWS
By Eliot Schickler, eschickler@bcnnew.com
Published: 06:08 a.m., Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Miracles happen in sports from time to time and underdogs go on to win championships. In the fashion of David slaying Goliath with a slingshot, the underdog prevailed in the Class S swimming championships at Southern Connecticut State University on Tuesday when the Weston girls swimming team dethroned three-time defending Class S champion East Catholic, 568.5-561.5 points in the 26-team field.

Weston's slingshot struck the bullseye square in the face because of its depth. Although the Lady Trojans won only one event, taking the 200-yard freestyle relay with a time of 1:42.80 behind freshman Dacia Gross, junior Catie Ledwick, senior co-captain Karen Bottger and freshman Katie Johnson, they won because they had many other All-State performances.

Bottger took second in the 200-yarrd freestyle (1:55.84) and third in the 500-yard freestyle (5:17.95). Sophomore Olivia Clark almost made All-State in the 500-free but settled for fourth (5:19.43) and was an All-Stater in the 100-yard breatstroke (1:09.09). Johnson was an All-Stater in the 100-yard freestyle (55.58) by placing third and sophomore Alex Edgar earned All-State in the 50-yard freestyle (25.75) by taking third place. Bottger, Edgar, Clark and Johnson earned All-State in the 400-yard freestyle relay (3:43.02) by placing second.



School's out for Klein
NYPOST
By SALLY GOLDENBERG and YOAV GONEN
Last Updated: 5:50 AM, November 10, 2010
Posted: 2:45 AM, November 10, 2010

Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, a hard-charging innovator who brought unprecedented national attention to the city as a model for urban public-school reform, shocked the education world yesterday by announcing his resignation.  He will be replaced by Cathie Black, a publishing-world powerhouse who has headed Hearst Magazines for the past 15 years and who Mayor Bloomberg said was selected largely for her managerial skills.

Like Klein when he was appointed to run the country's largest schools system back in 2002, Black will take the helm of an operation with a $23 billion budget, 1.1 million students and 135,000 employees having had almost no experience in education.  She will become the city's first female schools chancellor when she takes over sometime around the new year.  Klein, who has been heralded as an educational reformer, said he is taking a position as an executive vice president at News Corp., the parent company of The Post.

"Thank you for giving me the best job I've ever had," Klein told Bloomberg at a press conference at City Hall yesterday.

To the city's public-school parents, Klein added, "Being responsible for educating your children has been both daunting and humbling. I want you to know, I gave it my all."

Klein, 64, took over a schools system that was by all accounts dysfunctional and that had seen a revolving door of chancellors attempt, and for the most part fail, to make lasting improvements.  Hand-in-hand with Bloomberg -- the first mayor to have direct control over the city's public schools -- Klein set about restructuring not just the chaotic organization of the system but also its defeatist culture.  Among the initiatives with which he targeted his so-called three pillars of school reform -- leadership, empowerment and accountability -- Klein:

* Assigned schools A through F letter grades and closed schools that had consistently received poor grades.

* Created a hospitable environment in which more than 125 charter schools could flourish, including by providing them with free public building space.

* Battled to eradicate longstanding teachers-union protections, such as tenure, seniority rights and lockstep pay, which he believed benefited educators, but not students.

* Handed much of the budget and educational decision-making power to schools, rather than ruling from a central bureaucracy.

During his tenure, Klein oversaw a 15-percentage-point increase in graduation rates, according to the city's calculations. It now stands at 63 percent, according to a new methodology.  Klein also oversaw steady gains in elementary- and middle-school math and reading test scores.

"He really was and is a transformative leader," said Sy Fliegel, a former educator and current director of the Center for Educational Innovation-Public Education Association.

"His reorganization and what he's doing now is a major innovative change, because I always thought schools were the center of change -- and that's where he's putting the power."

But Klein also took his fair share of punches throughout his tenure -- often after alienating parents and when butting heads with the leaders of the powerful teachers union.  Many parents and teachers have been fuming for years over what they see as Klein's reliance on test scores -- which are used to decide which students to hold back, which teachers to give tenure to, and which schools to close.

"Chancellor Klein's tenure has been controversial, and even divisive, in part because he never figured out how to work effectively with parents," said Zakiyah Ansari, a parent organizer for the Alliance for Quality Education.

But others say that Klein brought a tidal wave of positive change to the city -- and that he was particularly effective at recruiting talented teachers and principals.

"Joel Klein built an incredible base in his term, and now it is up to the rest of us to build on that base and continue the push to save public education from itself," said Joe Williams, director of Democrats for Education Reform.



Education officials propose a plan to expand school choice--at a cost

CT MIRROR
Jacqueline Rabe
November 8, 2010

State education officials are proposing a series of measures to expand opportunities for Hartford schoolchildren to attend suburban schools--but the multi-million-dollar plan will be a tough sell with the state facing a massive budget deficit.

The plan would provide money to reopen suburban schools that have been closed, with the requirement that 25 percent of their enrollment be Hartford students. It also would more than double current reimbursements for districts that enroll a certain threshold of Hartford students, increase transportation grants to get students to alternative schools and give the state education commissioner authority to require suburban districts to enroll Hartford students.

The state is under court order in the Sheff vs. O'Neill school desegregation case to reduce the racial isolation of Hartford's largely black and Hispanic school population. In an interview last week, Education Commissioner Mark K. McQuillan said the alternative to the state's taking action on its own is to face another court mandate.

"We have to do more. We can make the investment now, or we can go back to court and they can make us meet our objectives," he said. "I imagine a court mandate will look very similar to what I am proposing."

The plan would cost $2 million a year for a pilot program to reopen four closed schools; $5.9 million a year to increase the reimbursement to suburban districts for enrolling Hartford students; and an additional $7 million a year to increase transportation grants.

McQuillan said the costs could prove to be a major problem, considering the state is facing a $3.3 billion deficit the coming year.

"We need to get people to make this commitment," he told State Board of Education members during a meeting Thursday.

McQuillan said reopening closed schools is less expensive that building new magnet schools, which has been the principal strategy for complying with Sheff so far.

The state has spend more than $1 billon on magnet schools since the 1996 order; they currently enroll about 5,200 students.

State Department of Education officials say a less expensive alternative is to increase enrollment in the state's Open Choice Program, which has about 1,300 student attending public schools in a district outside their own, well short of the SDE goal of 3,000 students.

Martha Stone, a lawyer for the Sheff plaintiffs, said the state is still falling "significantly short" of its obligation to provide alternative schools -- whether it's charter, magnet or enrollment in a suburban schools.

"There's a huge demand of students wanting to leave their current school. The problem is there are not thousands of seats at suburban schools. The suburban districts aren't offering the spots," she said.

McQuillan said part of the problem is that there are not adequate incentives for suburban districts to accept Hartford students.

James Caradonio, who heads the Greater Hartford Regional School Choice Office, said some superintendents and principals tell him they would loose money by taking students from the city.

"It's absolutely not enough money. It's common sense why we still have a shortage of spots," he said.

Districts are currently reimbursed $2,500 for each student they enroll. McQuillan plans to ask state lawmakers to increase that to $6,000 for districts that offer 3 percent of their seats to Hartford students.

The proposal to reopen closed schools would start as a pilot program and would provide $250,000 a year for each participating school for renovations, computers, lab equipment or other instructional materials if 25 percent of the school's students are from Hartford.

McQuillan is also proposing that he be allow to require suburban schools accept more Hartford students, a proposal he admits is a long shot and will face a lot of resistance if the appropriate funding does not accompany such a mandate.

Stone said requiring suburban districts accept Hartford students, increasing the funding for each student they enroll and reopening closed schools to provide more options are good steps toward the state's meeting its obligations.

"We would support this," she said. "The goal is to offer more seats in schools for Hartford students."



Education commissioner proposes increasing kindergarten enrollment age
Jacqueline Rabe, CT MIRROR
November 4, 2010

Education Commissioner Mark McQuillan is proposing an increase in the minimum age for students to enter kindergarten--a move that could delay the start of public school for 10,000 students a year.  McQuillan told members of the State Board of Education Wednesday the proposal will narrow the age range for students in kindergarten, which now includes children from 4 to almost 7 years old. Such a wide developmental range makes it difficult to meet the needs of all the children in the class, he said.

Connecticut currently allows students to be enrolled in kindergarten if they will turn 5 by Jan. 1 of that school year. Most states have cut-off dates sometime between Aug. 31 and Oct. 16, according to the State Department of Education.  McQuillan's proposal would push the cut-off date back a month at a time, until by the 2014-15 school year, children would have to turn 5 by Sept. 1 in order to enroll in kindergarten. Ultimately, the change would affect about a quarter of some 40,000 kindergarten students in the state.

"No one would be disadvantaged," McQuillan said.

But not everyone agrees, including State Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, D-West Hartford, co-chairman of the legislature's education committee. McQuillan's proposal would likely need to be approved by his committee.

"It's sounds to me a bit divorced from reality. Having access to kindergarten or education for everyone is important," he said.

Sherry Linton-Massiah, an early-education advocate for the Connecticut Association of Human Services, said it's true that not all children are ready for kindergarten before age 5, noting that she chose to pay "a small fortune" to send her son to preschool for an extra year. But not everyone can afford that.

"Do some children start kindergarten too early? Yes, absolutely," she said. "But we can't leave these children with no learning environment."

Fleischmann agreed. "It just sounds problematic to stop providing kindergarten to some families in the middle of a fiscal crisis."

McQuillan's proposal also includes state funding of preschool for an estimated 4,700 children from low-income families. Officials at the SDE estimate that would cost almost $37 million every year, some of which would be offset by the state not having to pay for a portion of kindergarten for those students.

"This is not about the costs. This is an education matter and providing education in a more effective way," said Brian Mahoney, the chief financial officer at the SDE.

Fleischmann said picking up the cost of preschool for only some of the 10,000 children affected by the age change would be unfair to families who don't get the benefit.

"Those parents would be screaming," he said.

Linton said she could support the commissioner's proposal if preschool was paid for all 10,000 students that would now be deemed too young for kindergarten. But with the state facing multi-billion dollar deficits, that's unlikely to happen.  Shifting all these students from kindergarten to preschool programs worries Mary Loftus Levine, Connecticut Education Association's director of public policy.

"We prefer teachers who are certified working with these children. Some preschools pay so poorly and their requirements are not as strict; it's hard to attract good teachers. You need more than just a babysitter," she said.

Current law does require by 2015 every preschool classroom funded by the state be staffed with a teacher with a degree or certificate in early childhood education, child development or related field.



Rising enrollment strains community colleges
Jacqueline Rabe, CT MIRROR
October 5, 2010

The state's community colleges are once again experiencing record enrollment growth, an expansion that college officials say could force them to stop accepting all applicants.

"We can't continue at this pace," said Anita T. Gliniecki, president of Housatonic Community College, adding the almost 50 percent enrollment increase in the last five years has her campus at capacity. "We cannot continue to grow without additional staff and additional funds."

This is the twelfth consecutive year the state's dozen community colleges experienced a surge in enrollment, from about 39,000 during the 1998 fall semester to a preliminary count of more than 58,000 this semester, the Connecticut State Department of Education reported Monday.

"We have lived with this philosophy of open enrollment at these colleges for decades. We can't afford to fund this open enrollment model indefinitely," said State Higher Education Commissioner Michael P. Meotti. "Enrollment is outstripping capacity. People can't get into classes and programs."

Vanessa Morest, dean of institutional effectiveness at Norwalk Community College, said 90 percent of the classes at NCC had more students trying to enroll than spaces available at the start of this semester. A few years ago, she estimates students were shut out of just over half the classes.

"We're an open admission college. But that doesn't mean people will be able to get into their classes. That's a major problem," said Kim Ebert, director of enrollment at NCC.

Community college leaders say this enrollment increase comes at the worst possible time, since it is unlikely state lawmakers, facing huge budget deficits, will find more money for community colleges.

"Increased costs are inevitable when you have this big of an increase in the number of students. We are looking at a very, very grim picture," said Mary Anne Cox, assistant chancellor of Connecticut Community Colleges

Community colleges have been level-funded at about $158 million since the 2008-09 school year. In that time, enrollment increased 14 percent.  But Rep. Roberta B. Willis, co-chairwoman of the legislature's Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee and graduate of Northwestern Community College, said she is not ready to consider requiring that the state's community colleges start turning people away.

"I will not consider that until it's the last resort," she said. "You would be closing the door on a lot of people that are asking for an education. ... I don't want to leave people behind."

With or without legislative action, Cox said the record enrollment growth already has community colleges headed down this path.

"We'll soon have to turn students away, there is no question about it," Cox said. "This comes at the worst possible time. There may be no where else for these students to go."

Community colleges have long served as an inexpensive alternative for those to whom other higher education choices are a financial or academic stretch.  Katherine Monsalve, a 21-year-old single mother from Fairfield, said she couldn't afford to go anywhere but Housantonic Community College.

"When I heard Sacred Heart was in the $30,000 a year price range, that's when I looked at this school. That's a lot of money," she said. "This school is a lot cheaper. That helps."

Meotti calls community colleges a "bargain" for students, as tuition and fees are just $3,400 for a full-time in-state student this semester. Tuition and fees at the University of Connecticut this fall is $10,416.

"People see going to these colleges as a smart investment," he said, noting that more students go to the state's community colleges than Connecticut State University System or UConn. "The limited amount of space [at community colleges] is something we must talk about."

He said it makes no sense to accept someone into a class that there is no chance they are going to pass, while shutting out another student that has a good chance of passing the class.

"It's not really doing you any favors to let you in a class that you are doomed to fail," he said.

Willis does not see the 80 percent of students needing remedial classes as a problem for the community colleges, rather an opportunity to get them academically where they should be.

"Yes, that's a huge, huge burden on community colleges. But where else are they going to learn?" she asked. "In order to turn this economy around, they have to be able to work. ... This would be closing the door on a lot of people before they even have a shot."

But Meotti is focusing on the likelihood being that state funding will decrease, so community colleges will soon only be able to afford a limited number of students. "You have to be a realist. ... We are going to accept the budgetary reality that the odds are funding is going to decrease."

And with that decrease, he believes the decade-old policy of accepting everyone that applies to community colleges needs to be reconsidered.




Does performance on SAT 2010 relate to per pupil cost? 

Town-By-Town SAT Scores
By GRACE E. MERRITT, gmerritt@courant.com
2:08 PM EDT, September 27, 2010

HARTFORD —

Students in Connecticut's wealthy southwestern towns, particularly Weston, had the best scores overall on the 2010 SAT test while some of the state's larger cities fared the worst, according to town-by-town results released by the state Department of Education.

Weston High School had two of the highest mean scores in the state, 587 on the reading portion of the test and 610 on the writing portion. Darien High School had a mean score of 611 on the mathematics test. A perfect score on the individual subject tests is 800.

Closer to the Hartford region, Avon, Farmington, Glastonbury, Simsbury and EO. Smith High School in Regional District 19 in Mansfield did well on the college entrance exam, Department of Education spokesman Tom Murphy said Monday. Simsbury ranked fifth best in the state for reading with a school of 575.

Statewide, the average math score was 510, reading was 505 and writing was 510. Though the scores were up slightly overall, they really just regained ground lost over the past five years. State education officials said they were not satisfied with student progress and intend to take steps to improve student performance overall.

Murphy said the trend underscores the correlation between wealthy school systems and student achievement.

"It's clear that students in the towns with high scores, parents do have resources for SAT prep courses, additional tutoring and exploration of the PSAT and the ability to take the SAT multiple times," Murphy said.

"In addition to that, these students are more likely to have the highest percentage of parents with dual college degrees and an appreciation for the educational enterprise. So there's a lot of support for each student to succeed."

Some urban districts did not fare well, with schools such as Bulkeley High School in Hartford and Bassick High School in Bridgeport and James Hillhouse High School in New Haven scoring in the upper 300s all three subject areas.

The Hartford Culinary Arts Academy, a school within Weaver High School, had the worst reading score and second worst math score in the state. Stamford Academy, an alternative high school for students who have not succeeded in a traditional high school setting, posted the worst math and second worst reading scores. Eli Whitney Technical High School, a state-run technical school in Hamden, also fared poorly across the board and posted the worst writing scores in Connecticut.

Besides struggling with poverty at home, some students in urban schools are not native English speakers and many of the high schools do not offer rigorous college prep courses, Murphy said. New legislation passed this May should help address the coursework disparity because it requires all students to take more rigorous courses and requires high schools to offer Advanced Placement courses, Murphy said.








Links to Gallis Report and METROPATERNS...
From "Casablanca" -
I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!  [a croupier hands Renault a pile of money] :Guess what - they discovered...The Two Connecticuts

Conn. has worst achieve
ment gap between low-income, nonlow-income students
New London DAY
Article published Aug 31, 2010

Hartford - A Connecticut education group says the state has the worst performance gap between low-income and non-low-income students in the country. The Connecticut Commission on Educational Achievement announced Monday that it has found 4th- and 8th-grade low-income students are on average about three grade levels behind their peers in reading and math. It also said 60 percent of low-income students graduated from high school in 2009 compared with 86 percent of more affluent students.

The group says it plans to release a report Oct. 20 with suggestions on how to close the gap.

Connecticut was not a finalist in the Obama administration's Race to the Top education grant program.

The state was seeking $175 million in federal funding to help jump-start a series of education reforms passed by the legislature this year.




Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy:  4th grade class in Las Vegas, Nevada - not in Weston, CT!

At one school, new technology means blackboard is a relic
LAS VEGAS SUN
By Rick Lax
Monday, Aug. 30, 2010 | 2:01 a.m.

T
he old classroom blackboard is dust.

Every classroom in the K-12 Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy is equipped with a SMART Board Interactive Whiteboard. The boards are also being used in other Clark County schools.

The SMART Whiteboard is a multitasking every-tool that functions as a traditional blackboard, an overhead projector, a video player and tablet computer.

You can write on the SMART Whiteboard with your finger and erase it with your palm, or you can use a digital pen and eraser.

Teachers can make printouts of material that appears on the SMART Whiteboard, and then distribute the printouts to students who missed class or have trouble taking notes because of learning disabilities.

The SMART Whiteboard is equipped with an audio recorder, so teachers can upload the whole day’s lesson onto the Web. Students can then access the lessons from home. No more excuses for forgetting who got what in the Louisiana Purchase.




COST REDUCTION PROGRAM (Heating-Cooling), WESTON PUBLIC SCHOOLS, NOV. 9, 2009 - JULY 10, 2010



JONES: Lawsuit taxes go public
They're not hidden anymore - they're on your tax bill

The Washington Times
By Bob Dorigo Jones
6:08 p.m., Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The "hidden" lawsuit tax that all Americans pay because we live in the most lawsuit-happy society on earth isn't hiding in Detroit anymore. Beware - it may come out of hiding soon in your city, too.

Because of mounting lawsuits against public schools in the Motor City, taxpayers there have been forced to pay a new special levy over and above the other taxes. It's an alarming development and should be a warning sign to residents of other cities across the nation of what will happen if courts and policymakers fail to address the growing problem of excessive litigation in our country.

In July, the Detroit Free Press reported that property owners there are getting socked with a new markup on their summer property tax bills to pay off lawsuits against the schools. Like most school districts and cities in the United States, the Detroit Public School District is facing a financial emergency brought on by, among other things, the struggling national economy.

Rather than roll the costs of the lawsuits into the general-fund budget as they try to pay other bills, officials chose to use a little-known law that allows them to charge a "judgment tax levy." Worse yet, this lawsuit tax doesn't require voter approval.

For years, consumer advocates like myself have been sounding an alarm about the hidden lawsuit tax built into everything we buy. All of the lawsuits against doctors, job providers and even charities add a staggering amount to the cost of the things we buy every day - not to mention the quality of life in our communities.

According to the most thorough analysis of the total legal costs in America conducted to date, an American family of four pays an "excessive tort tax" of about $7,800 a year in higher prices, fewer new products and reduced access to health care. This study was conducted by the Pacific Research Institute and is the most realistic look at how much we pay for excessive litigation.

Although the lawsuit tax hasn't appeared on the receipts we get when we buy a car or go to the doctor, the costs are there nonetheless. Now, with Detroit's schools adding a special levy for the lawsuits, one portion of the tax is out in the open.

With other cities and school districts facing financial crises of their own, how much longer will you be able to avoid a special levy on your tax bill? Just this week, an advocacy group in California called Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse released a study revealing that 12 school districts in the Golden State have had to pay $98.7 million in litigation costs over the past three fiscal years. That's troubling, for sure, but it's only a fraction of the total cost of lawsuits because there are nearly 1,000 school districts in California.

School districts aren't the only governmental units being crippled by the cost of litigation. In 2008, it cost New York City $554 million to pay off lawsuits. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg was quoted as saying, "Court settlements are killing us," and one major newspaper said the city should be known as "Sue York."

Taxpayers should wake up to the hidden - and not-so-hidden-anymore - tax that's piling up because of the proliferation of lawsuits. Because we're in election season, voters should ask candidates where they stand on this issue. It's time for policymakers to tackle the problem of lawsuit abuse because the true costs are coming out of hiding. Your city might be next.
-----
Bob Dorigo Jones is senior fellow at Foundation for Fair Civil Justice.



Applications, enrollment up at private schools
Stamford ADVOCATE
Maggie Gordon, Staff Writer
Published: 09:52 p.m., Sunday, August 22, 2010

STAMFORD -- Many local private schools are experiencing increased enrollment for the new academic year after struggling in recent years.

King, a private school on Newfield Avenue, is seeing record high enrollment for the upcoming school year, according to Director of Admissions Carrie Salvatore. King recently raised its enrollment cap to 685 students, and each available seat will be filled in September, Salvatore said.  The school, which costs $32,500 annually for high school students, also received an increased number of applications this year -- both for admission and financial assistance, she said.

"There was a slight increase in applications for financial assistance this year, and an uptick in current families who had never required assistance in previous years needing it for a one- or two-year help with tuition," Salvatore said.

But the majority of requests for assistance occurred two years ago, she said.

"This year, I think we saw a lot of that start to settle," she said.

The unemployment rate in Fairfield County was 8 percent in June, according to the Connecticut Department of Labor. It was 5.1 percent in June 2008 before jumping to 8.1 percent in June 2009.  About 12 percent of families who send students to King receive financial aid, according to Salvatore. The packages range from $3,000 to $32,000, and the average grant hovers near $15,000, she said.  King's ninth-grade class will have 88 members this fall, making it the upper school's largest incoming class yet, she said. In total, the school system, which serves students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, will host 130 new students this year.

"I think we've been really lucky. We really weathered the financial storm last year quite well. Even though we saw slightly higher attrition, we had more applications coming in," she said.

King was not the only independent school to experience higher rates of attrition in recent years.

"It has happened that families have not come back because of financial reasons -- we've felt it as other schools have," said Nancy Hayes, director of admissions at New Canaan Country School, which serves about 615 students in pre-kindergarten through ninth grades. The school's annual price tag ranges from $23,500 to $30,000 plus fees, increasing as children grow older.

"I think the impact was greater last year in the 2009-10 admission season," she said. "There's always a normal amount of attrition anyway. I would say our attrition has been less this year than it was last year, and retention was stronger."

In fact, retention rates for students entering ninth grade increased 20 percent over last year, she said.  The eighth-to-ninth-grade transition typically comes with attrition as families make decisions about a student's high school years, said Sam Gaudet, director of admissions at St. Luke's School, also located in New Canaan, which serves students in fifth through 12th grade.

"Our retention for eighth to ninth has been pretty good," Gaudet said.

The preparatory school, which costs about $32,000 a year, has received 20 percent more applications for the upcoming year than last year, he said.

"Certainly last year, you saw more families applying for financial aid, but when we compare this year to last year, it's been pretty flat," he said.

Last year, some of the area's Catholic schools, run by the Diocese of Bridgeport, took on new students who had previously attended more expensive private schools, according to Joann Borchetta, principal of St. Cecilia Elementary School, located on Newfield Avenue.

"This year, we're seeing less of the kids coming from other private schools," she said. "Last year, I wouldn't call it significant, but it certainly let us know that something was different."

The number of Stamford children attending St. Cecilia's in the 2010 academic year increased by 5 percent over the 2008 academic year, while the percentage of Stamford children attending King decreased by 6 percent, according to data from the state Department of Education.

The diocese's schools charge $5,500 per "certified" pupil, and an additional $2,000 if the students are not certified. Students are certified by a pastor based on attendance at church and whether they are "living the faith," Borchetta said.

Administrators at the elementary school projected they would teach 276 students in the 2010 academic year, but they ended up hosting 302 students, she said. The projection for this year was 275 students; administrators are now expecting about 300 students again, according to Borchetta.

"Tough times make people make honest decisions, and we're seeing parents who are totally committed to the education and the future of their children," Borchetta said. But while several local administrators say parents are choosing to invest in their children's future by choosing private schools, Borchetta noted that the choice and the sacrifices involved aren't always easy.

"We do offer a very minimal amount of tuition assistance," she said. "Earlier, I was on the phone with a mother, and she said that if she could just get some financial aid instead of working her day job and six nights a week, she would work her day job and three nights a week to keep her kids in Catholic schools."



Weston schools have applications for free/reduced lunches
Weston FORUM
Written by Kimberly Donnelly
Sunday, 22 August 2010 00:00

Weston Public Schools has adopted the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Income Eligibility Guidelines for determining eligibility of children who may receive free or reduced price meals served under the National School Lunch Program.  The income guidelines that will be used from July 1, 2010, to June 30, 2011 (or until new income guidelines are issued by USDA) are avialable on the school’s Web site, www.westonK12.org.

Application forms may be obtained by calling the Weston Public Schools Business Office at 203-291-1407 or by accessing the form at www.westonk12-ct.org. Click on the “Free & Reduced Priced Lunch” link on the homepage.  Copies are also available at the principal’s office at each school. Questions should be directed to the appropriate principal’s office: Hurlbutt Elementary School (203-291-1444), Weston Intermediate School (203-291-2700), Weston Middle School (203-291-1500), or Weston High School (203-291-1600).

The information provided on the application is confidential and will be used only for the purposes of determining eligibility, and may be verified at any time during the school year by school or other program officials. Applications may be submitted at any time during the year.

Application forms for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) —formerly known as Food Stamps — or Temporary Family Assistance (TFA) households require the child’s name, the child’s SNAP/TFA case number and the signature of an adult household member.  Households receiving assistance under the SNAP/TFA programs will be notified of their eligibility and their children will be provided free benefits unless the household notifies the school that it chooses to decline benefits. Households receiving SNAP benefits or TFA for their children should only submit an application if they are not notified of their eligibility by Sept. 2, 2010.

Households receiving SNAP benefits or TFA for their children may receive a direct certification letter from the Department of Social Services. These letters will automatically qualify a child for free meals or milk and may be submitted instead of an application to the school.  Application forms for all other households require a statement of total household income, household size and names of all household members.

Under the provisions of the policy for determining eligibility for free and reduced price meals, the principals will review applications and determine eligibility. If a parent is dissatisfied with the ruling of the determining official, he/she may wish to discuss the decision with the determining official on an informal basis.  If he/she wishes to make a formal appeal, a request either orally or in writing may be made to Dr. Jo-Ann Keating, Director of Finance and Operations, Weston Public Schools, 24 School Road, Weston, CT 06883; 203-291-1407.

If a household member becomes unemployed or if household size changes at any time, the family should contact the school to file a new application.




Video cameras a fixture on many school buses in the region
Greenwwich TIME
Amanda Cuda, Staff Writer
Published: 09:21 p.m., Saturday, August 21, 2010

When a child shoves a classmate, they see it. If a bus driver isn't following the rules, they're there. They're witnesses to unruly behavior, vandalism, traffic violations and countless other, less exciting instances taking place on school buses throughout the region. They're video cameras, and many school buses are equipped with them as a security measure.

About half the school districts in the state have the equipment on at least some of their buses, said Jim Salter, president of the Connecticut School Transportation Association, a nonprofit organization that represents nearly all the public and private owners of school buses in the state. There are a variety of reasons a district might choose to equip its buses with cameras, but Salter said the devices are mainly seen by school officials as a way to help protect students, even when they're not in the school building. "Most of these districts consider the school bus an extension of the classroom," Salter said. "I think the cameras are just another tool."

Shocking Behavior

Most school districts that employ the cameras mainly use them to identify and prevent relatively routine problems, such as fights among kids or other disorderly behavior. But, sometimes, what the cameras see is shocking.

That was the case earlier this year in Trumbull, when the parents of a 9-year-old autistic girl asked to review video footage from their daughter's bus. The child, who doesn't speak, had come home from school several times with bruises and sprained fingers. Upon reviewing the footage from the bus, the parents -- and later police -- reportedly saw evidence that school bus monitor Jennifer Davila, 24, repeatedly hurt the child while the girl was a passenger on the bus, driven by Davila's mother. Davila was arrested Aug. 10 and charged with three counts of risk of injury to a child and three counts of third-degree assault on a disabled person. The videos also allegedly revealed that the bus driver was text-messaging while operating the vehicle. That incident is under investigation by police.

Trumbull has had cameras on its school buses for about 10 years, said Dawn Perkins, transportation coordinator for the Trumbull Public School system. She said the cameras are intended to catch, and prevent, a variety of problems, including conflicts among students and vandalism. About 90 buses serve the district, all of which have four cameras aboard. The cameras are owned by First Student, the bus company the school district contracts with to provide transportation. However, the footage is owned by the district, meaning all requests to view the footage must go through school officials.

Typically, Perkins said, footage is only reviewed if there is a request from a parent, administrator or someone else, though she does do periodic random checks of the footage. The hard drive with the footage on it is reset after about 30 days. Prior to the incident with Davila, Perkins said the district has been asked to review the video footage on occasion, including at least one request that involved a bullying incident. "We've had some people come to us with concerns," she said.

An eye on Safety

Aside from Trumbull, districts in the region that have cameras on at least some of their buses include Fairfield, Bridgeport, Stratford and Milford. Most school officials from districts that employ cameras said they, like Perkins, typically just review footage when there's some sort of complaint. In Bridgeport, Raul Laffitte, director of transportation for the school system, said there were about a dozen such complaints last year, mostly regarding behavior issues among students.

Laffitte said the Long Island, N.Y.-based bus company We Transport provides the majority of the district's buses -- 114 large buses and 59 smaller ones -- and all those vehicles are equipped with cameras. However, the city owns and operates 18 buses, which are used by special education students, and only three of those have cameras. Laffitte said the absence of cameras on those vehicles is mainly due to budgetary concerns, and the district is trying to find the funds to add the equipment.

Salter said, depending on type and number of cameras, outfitting a bus with the equipment can cost from $800 to $4,000 a bus. There can be as many as four cameras on a bus "depending on what the district is looking for," said Salter, also vice president of the Simsbury-based school bus company Salter's Express.

Fairfield's 31 buses that serve special education students don't have cameras, though the other 95 buses do. Fairfield transportation supervisor John Ficke said that in the negotiating stages of the bus contracts there were confidentiality concerns about having cameras on the special education buses. Meanwhile, Stratford Superintendent of Schools Irene Cornish said four vans used by the district for transportation of special needs students are without cameras, but all the vehicles owned and operated by the district transportation provider, Durham School Services, have cameras aboard. Durham provides 39 buses and 26 vans to the district.

The cameras do offer an extra level of security, school officials said. Cornish said she used to work in a district in Massachusetts, and "we insisted on having monitors on the buses" to watch the children. But finding, and paying for, monitors for all the buses was difficult. Cameras are a viable alternative.

Like Laffitte, Cornish said most of the requests her district gets to review footage involve issues among students, though she does recall at least one complaint about a driver. "There was one instance where there was an accusation that bus driver had grabbed a student's arm," Cornish said. Upon reviewing the tapes, officials found no evidence of the alleged incident.

Despite that incident and the one in Trumbull, most officials said the cameras mainly serve to keep students from acting out. As a confined space in which a variety of kids are in close contact, buses can be a tense place, Cornish said. That's particularly true of the rides home in the afternoon, when the students are energized by the freedom that comes with the end of the school day.

"They're excited," she said. "They're wide awake and there's potential for things to get out of hand."

But, Salter said, the cameras can serve to keep them in line. "The kids know they're there, so that should be a deterrent to some bad behavior," he said.




RACE TO THE TOP OF THE NOVEMBER 2, 2010 ELECTION?
The only winner NOT on or near the East Coast was Ohio - that's where people from Weston moved when the economy tanked in the earlier part of this country's history.  Oh - and Hawaii. 

Governor: Connecticut denied grant in federal 'Race to the Top' program
DAY
By STEPHANIE REITZ Associated Press
Article published Dec 16, 2011

Hartford - The U.S. Department of Education has denied Connecticut's application for up to $50 million in grants to boost its early childhood education programs, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced Thursday.

Connecticut officials were notified that the state is not among the winners in the latest round of federal "Race to the Top" grants, Malloy said. A formal announcement is expected today.  It was the second year in a row Connecticut was rejected by the highly competitive grant program, which calls on states to coordinate and improve education for children in the critical time before kindergarten.  It places special focus on reaching poor children who need the services the most, but whose families can least afford them.

Connecticut was competing with 34 other states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

Connecticut's application promised to cut in half the percentage of its students who enter kindergarten unprepared, and also said the state will add 1,000 new state-funded preschool seats for needy children starting in July 2013 - whether or not it won the federal grant.  It's also making a push to reach more young children whose caregivers are family members and friends, and who might otherwise not get the benefit of early learning programs in more formal settings.

"High-quality education for all of Connecticut's children is a top priority for my administration, and we should be pleased with the strong application that we submitted; it will serve as a roadmap as we move forward on education reform," Malloy said in a statement.

"However, we were aware going in that we were at a disadvantage - a lack of investment over the past decade meant that we did not have the infrastructure in place, or have a well-developed or coordinated early learning system."

'Determined to move forward'

"That will change," Malloy said. "This federal funding would have accelerated our efforts, but we are determined to move forward to improve early learning in Connecticut and keep our commitment that all of Connecticut's students receive a high-quality education."

Officials who worked on Connecticut's application and its supporters said boosting early learning programs and preparing more students for kindergarten was within the state's grasp if it won the money to coordinate current programs, fill gaps where others are needed, and get the best teachers in place.  State officials said that what set Connecticut's application apart from other states was its push to reach more children whose caretakers are neighbors, relatives and family friends, and who might otherwise have little exposure to education programs before kindergarten.

Officials estimate at least 40,000 of Connecticut's most high-need young children are in that situation. Several programs are already in place to train those caregivers to prepare the children before kindergarten, but state and local officials say they know thousands of other children could be helped if they could reach them.

The state hopes to identify the youngsters through their families' participation in other state and federal programs, such as HUSKY health care; the Care 4 Kids childcare credit program; welfare and food stamp assistance; Birth to Three early intervention services and other programs.

At least 80,000 of Connecticut's 210,500 children ages 5 and younger are considered to have "high needs."

That means they are living in poverty, have a learning or developmental disability, come from homes in which English is not the primary language, or a combination. Many are in the state's poorest cities.  Although the state's investment in early learning programs has been climbing steadily over the last four years, the wide achievement gap between its wealthy and poor children is obvious, even in kindergarten - something the Race to the Top grant application was intended to address.

State-mandated assessments of young children show that in wealthy communities, about 95 percent of children are well-prepared when they enter kindergarten. In poor communities, it's 70 percent.  Malloy has said that the next legislative session will be focused on education.

"Over the past 11 months we've been aggressive about bring federal dollars back to Connecticut," Malloy said, noting that the state has received hundreds of millions of dollars for transportation projects.

"We will go back to Washington for education funding at every opportunity," he said.



State's teacher evaluation plans too weak, federal reviewers say

Robert A. Frahm, CT MIRROR
August 25, 2010

The weakness of a plan to link teacher evaluations to student performance was a key factor in Connecticut's failure to qualify for millions of dollars in federal school aid, according to a government report released Wednesday.

The proposed evaluation system lacks detail, won't be ready for years, and fails to include adequate provisions for rewarding successful teachers or removing ineffective ones, said reviewers for the U.S. Department of Education's Race to the Top school reform competition.

"They were not satisfied [the plan] was aggressive enough," said state Education Commissioner Mark McQuillan.

Race to the Top

The plan for revamping teacher and principal evaluations was one of several areas where McQuillan believes Connecticut's approach differed sharply from the strategies espoused by Race to the Top, the Obama administration's $4.3 billion effort to spur school reform.

Those differences, including a divergence of views on how to turn around low-performing schools, hurt Connecticut's chances in the high-stakes competition, McQuillan said.

While neighboring states of Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island were among 10 winners named this week in the competition, Connecticut's application had already been eliminated, failing to qualify as a finalist last month.

Connecticut won praise from reviewers in some areas, including its emphasis on math and science education, but lost ground for failing to turn around low-performing schools and for making only slow progress on data systems to measure student performance.

A major shortcoming, according to reviewers, was the weakness of the state's proposal to link teacher evaluations with student progress - a central goal in the Obama administration's education strategy.

One reviewer described Connecticut's plan as "very weak," saying it contains "no real commitments . . . to using the new evaluation system data for making compensation, tenure or removal decisions." Another said the proposal to create "a collaborative framework" for designing pay and evaluation systems through union bargaining had little substance. "This is a very weak statement of commitment for recognizing the successes of highly effective teachers," the reviewer wrote.

McQuillan said, "You have this push by the federal government to create measures of teacher effectiveness that are very aggressive." However, he said the matter is complicated, with experts disagreeing on strategies such as using student test scores in reading and mathematics as a factor in evaluations.

"That sounds very seductive," McQuillan said, "but when you think about it, how many teachers do we have that don't teach reading and math, per se?"

Under legislation passed earlier this year, the state will help schools develop an evaluation system that links teacher performance more directly with student progress but also takes into account a range of other factors, including class size and student characteristics such as socioeconomic status and English language proficiency.

"We felt we needed to take a very careful approach, field test it, and come forward with a plan," McQuillan said.

Connecticut failed to qualify for up to $175 million in Race to the Top funds despite a sweeping school reform package passed by the state legislature in May. It was the second time Connecticut failed to make the cut. An earlier application also was rejected in March.

Connecticut's latest application received a score of 379 points of a possible 500 - an improvement of 34 points over the score on its earlier application. Nevertheless, out of 36 applicants, Connecticut ranked 25th - the same rank it held in the first round of competition.

The teacher evaluation plan was "probably the single greatest area [of weakness] the reviewers singled out," said Alex Johnston, CEO of the New Haven-based school reform group ConnCAN.

States such as New York and Rhode Island made student performance a substantial element of teacher evaluations and pledged to use those evaluations in making decisions on staffing, including removal of ineffective teachers, Johnston said.

"They did create consequences based on the evaluations," he said. "Clearly, that's an area where Connecticut didn't go."

One leading teachers' union official questioned whether some of the systems in other states go too far in imposing consequences.

"That may have won them points. It may have won them money, but I don't think it's a good way to go," said Sharon Palmer, president of the American Federation of Teachers - Connecticut.

"I think we have significant work to do in that area, but honestly I'm glad Connecticut didn't rush to some draconian system," she said.

"Before we jump to a punitive plan, we have to have development of a system that works well. . . . What we've always advocated as a union is more mentoring and professional development for teachers so they are getting a chance for success."

Another factor that may have hurt Connecticut's application is that its key strategy for improving low-performing schools - known as the Connecticut Accountability for Learning Initiative (CALI) - does not match up directly with the school turnaround models outlined in the Race to the Top guidelines, according to McQuillan.

Those models include replacing most or all of the teaching staff at low-performing schools, converting schools to a charter model or even closing failing schools, but McQuillan said there is little scientific research to support those strategies.

The state's CALI model requires schools to revise classroom strategies, create new tests and adjust curriculum based on a thorough review of student performance data.

In the Race to the Top report, one reviewer said Connecticut's application provided little evidence to suggest that CALI has helped to improve learning or close the achievement gap that finds many low-income and minority students lagging behind white and more affluent students.

McQuillan, however, said the most recent results of statewide testing show encouraging progress at schools using the CALI program, but those results were not available until July - long after the Race to the Top application was filed.


Connecticut Out of Running for Key Education Grant
Deirdre Shesgreen, CT MIRROR
July 27, 2010

WASHINGTON-Connecticut is out of the running for a coveted federal education grant that state officials had said was vital to implementing the sweeping new school reforms passed in May.

At the end of the legislative session, Gov. M. Jodi Rell signed a landmark education reform package into law that was aimed at bolstering Connecticut's efforts to win $175 million in federal funding under President Obama's Race to the Top education initiative.

To make the state more competitive, the legislature created a new teacher evaluation system, increased high school graduation requirements, and strengthened charter schools, among other steps. That law, state officials said, would give the state a stronger hand as it applied for a share of $4.3 billion pot of federal Race to the Top funds.

Education advocates and state leaders hailed the new law but said federal funding would be necessary to help put these new measures into place...Sorry about that



Read exerpt here.
Money's an old issue in state's schools, new book says

Robert A. Frahm, CT MIRROR
July 26, 2010

Throughout its history, public education in Connecticut has enjoyed a flattering - though often misleading - reputation among citizens who wanted excellent schools but were reluctant to pay for them.

That blunt assessment comes from a new book by one of the state's most noted authorities on education, former state historian Christopher Collier.

The ongoing struggle over school finance, from the 18th century School Fund to the 20th century legal battles over school equality, is one of many topics in Collier's ambitious, meticulously researched history of public elementary and secondary schools.

From the description of crowded, ramshackle 19th century rural schoolhouses to the weighty battles over education finance, academic standards and school desegregation, Collier traces the development of public education in Connecticut from the Colonial era to modern times.

"I knew that we needed a history of the public schools," said Collier, 80, who wrote the 893-page book after retiring as a University of Connecticut professor in 2000 and as state historian in 2004.  "I think of it as a gift to the public. . . . It was a retirement project that was fun to do."

The product of six years of research, "Connecticut's Public Schools: A History, 1650-2000," is designed chiefly as a reference work for libraries and schools, but casual readers, too, can glean insights about how the state's schools took shape. How did kindergartens start in Connecticut? When did graded schools develop? Which of two rival statewide teachers' organizations opposed the right to strike?

"The book . . . has a lot of emphasis on pedagogy, how were things taught," said Collier, a former junior high and high school teacher and longtime professor at the University of Bridgeport and UConn.

Collier explores matters such as the development of curriculum, the rise of the common school, the creation of comprehensive high schools, the origin of town control of schools, the focus on citizenship education, and the changes in teaching methods.

"It's just an encyclopedic work. . . .It's just amazing," said Wesley Horton, the Hartford lawyer who is featured in the book at the center of two of the state's most significant education lawsuits dealing with school finance and school desegregation.

The book, said, Horton, "points out a lot of the warts in Connecticut. I've always thought of Connecticut as being way ahead of the rest of the country . . . I didn't know how cheap our Yankee forefathers were."

Readers will find that today's battles over matters such as school finance, curriculum reform and teacher pay are echoes of earlier struggles.

For example, the book describes Connecticut's initial school law, the Code of 1650, as "an unfunded mandate," a phrase often heard today in complaints by town officials about state-ordered school expenses. In 1795, the creation of a state fund earmarked for schools was envied elsewhere in the United States, but the fund failed to provide even minimal support. "Connecticut taxpayers were profoundly reluctant to actually give up any money to support the public schools, particularly when they had no children of school age of their own," Collier writes.

The book profiles prominent figures in Connecticut education such as Henry Barnard, the 19th century legislator and educator who campaigned tirelessly, though not always successfully, to reform education in an era when many schools suffered from neglect and poor teaching.

Collier also features more obscure figures, people he refers to as "unsung heroes," including Charles D. Hine, secretary of education in the late 19th and early 20th century. Hine brought Connecticut's educational system into the modern era with reforms such as state teacher certification, compulsory attendance laws and a system of state-operated trade schools.

Hine was "a giant in the history of Connecticut education . . . [yet] nobody had ever heard of him," Collier said in a recent interview.

Collier, a veteran of nearly a half century of teaching experience, said he wrote the book from his perspective as a teacher, providing detailed descriptions of how teachers of different eras taught subjects such as reading, spelling, penmanship and arithmetic.

"Throughout the book, one of the themes is what really counts is the teacher in the classroom," he said.



From elsewhere in CT...  
For region's school systems, time may be money
Towns consider adopting single calendar with shared vacations for budget savings

By Claire Bessette, New London Day Staff Writer
Article published Jul 23, 2010
   
A regional calendar, where schools from town to town have the same vacations, could save local school districts significant dollars.

The Southeastern Connecticut Association of School Superintendents met at the LEARN regional office in East Lyme last week to iron out a proposed school calendar for the 2011-12 school year with uniform vacations, start dates and some shared professional development days.

The proposed calendar will be presented to boards of education in the hopes that all - or at least most - adopt it in the coming months. Superintendents also were asked to calculate savings for their specific towns.

"I'm very pleased with the superintendents who really tried to craft a calendar that makes sense," said Montville Superintendent Pamela Aubin, association chairwoman. "Part of the idea of regionalizing is giving up local control."

The proposed calendar would have students starting school the Wednesday before Labor Day. Each town would decide when teachers would return for preparation. Two uniform professional development days are scheduled - the day after Columbus Day and on Veterans Day. The idea is to bring teachers from different towns together for specified professional training on those days.
The calendar calls for a four-day February break - a possible point of contention for towns that still have a full week of February vacation - and an April vacation starting on Good Friday and running through the following week.

The calendar has 180 school days, the state minimum, ending June 8. Towns could tack on extra days or snow days at the end and set their own graduation dates, Aubin said.

Savings could be high

School districts provide bus transportation to students who go to school in other towns. Eight towns send buses to Norwich Free Academy, and most local towns send some students to Norwich Technical School, Ella T. Grasso Southeastern Technical School, Ledyard High School vocational-agricultural program and various magnet and charter schools.

A lack of a regional calendar means some districts are busing students to out-of-town schools even on days when the district's schools are closed.

Norwich Board of Education Chairman Charles Jaskiewicz said the city would save $330 per bus per day by not running buses on days when Norwich schools are closed.
Preston Superintendent John Welch said conservatively Preston could save about $50,000 per year with the uniform calendar.

Shared professional development would also produce some savings. The state requires continued training for teachers, and it can be expensive for small towns to bring in experts for a few staff members, such as physical education, music or art teachers, Aubin said.

Aubin said superintendents also would reach out to the parochial schools, including St. Bernard High School in Montville.

Thomas Murphy, spokesman for the state Department of Education, said the technical high schools would be limited in their participation. The 17 state technical schools must work together on professional development because of their specialized fields, for example. Tech schools have 183 school days, rather than 180. Tech school teachers also have to take state employee furlough days.

"The tech schools are willing to work to work with them, but there are some limitations," Murphy said.

New London Superintendent Nicholas A. Fischer said his board probably would review the proposed uniform calendar in September. New London is one of the towns that still have a full-week February vacation, so the board would have to weigh the benefits of having a regional calendar against that tradition. Fischer has not yet calculated potential savings from the proposed uniform calendar.

Norwich Free Academy representative Kristin Peckrul, who works on the school calendar, said the proposed calendar appears to present no major conflicts for NFA, the region's largest high school. NFA does have school on Election Day, but Peckrul said school officials would consider the proposal to make that a professional development day.

The start date and the proposed four-day February vacation could cause the most debate. At the meeting, shoreline town representatives in particular like starting after Labor Day to avoid summer tourism season, Aubin said. About one-third of the towns still have a full-week February vacation.

"We're never going to please everyone," Aubin said. "It's going to depend on how committed the various boards are to the regional calendar."



Malloy outlines education plans--but where's the money?
Robert A. Frahm, CT MIRROR
June 29, 2010

If Dan Malloy is to win support for his ambitious plan to revitalize Connecticut's education system, he will have to persuade some doubters.

The Democratic candidate for governor outlined ideas such as expanding preschool classes, promoting innovation and increasing college graduation rates, but the 15-page education plan released Monday is likely to face steep challenges.

The biggest challenge is how to pay for it.

Despite the ambitious education plan, Malloy did not win the endorsement of the Connecticut Education Association, the state's largest teachers' union. The 40,000-member CEA endorsed Ned Lamont, Malloy's opponent in the Democratic primary election Aug. 10.

Nevertheless, Malloy said Monday, "What I believe is, if you showed our plan to most teachers, most administrators . . . they would be supportive of it."



Subprime goes to college
NYPOST
By STEVE EISMAN
Last Updated: 4:54 AM, June 6, 2010
Posted: 12:28 AM, June 6, 2010

Until recently, I thought that there would never again be an opportunity to be involved with an industry as socially destructive and morally bankrupt as the subprime mortgage industry. I was wrong. The for-profit education industry has proven equal to the task.

The for-profit industry has grown at an extreme and unusual rate, driven by easy access to government sponsored debt in the form of Title IV student loans, where the credit is guaranteed by the government. Thus, the government, the students and the taxpayer bear all the risk, and the for-profit industry reaps all the rewards. This is similar to the subprime mortgage sector in that the subprime originators bore far less risk than the investors in their mortgage paper.

In the past 10 years, the for-profit education industry has grown 5-10 times the historical rate of traditional post secondary education. As of 2009, the industry had almost 10% of enrolled students but claimed nearly 25% of the $89 billion of federal Title IV student loans and grant disbursements. At the current pace of growth, for-profit schools will draw 40% of all Title IV aid in 10 years.

How has this been allowed to happen?

The simple answer is that they’ve hired every lobbyist in Washington, DC. There has been a revolving door between the people who work for this industry and the halls of government. One example is Sally Stroup. In 2001-2002, she was the head lobbyist for the Apollo Group — the company behind the University of Phoenix and the largest for-profit educator. But from 2002-2006 she became assistant secretary of post-secondary education for the Department of Education under President Bush. In other words, she was directly in charge of regulating the industry she had previously lobbied for.

From 1987 through 2000, the amount of total Title IV dollars received by students of for-profit schools fluctuated between $2 billion and $4 billion per annum. But when the Bush administration took over, the DOE gutted many of the rules that governed the conduct of this industry. Once the floodgates were opened, the industry embarked on 10 years of unrestricted massive growth. Federal dollars flowing to the industry exploded to over $21 billion, a 450% increase.

At many major-for profit institutions, federal Title IV loan and grant dollars now comprise close to 90% of total revenues. And this growth has resulted in spectacular profits and executive salaries. For example, ITT Educational Services, or ESI, has a roughly 40% operating margin vs. the 7%-12% margins of other companies that receive major government contracts. ESI is more profitable on a margin basis than even Apple.

This growth is purely a function of government largesse, as Title IV has accounted for more than 100% of revenue growth.

Here is one of the more upsetting statistics. In fiscal 2009, Apollo increased total revenues by $833 million. Of that amount, $1.1 billion came from Title IV federally funded student loans and grants. More than 100% of the revenue growth came from the federal government. But of this incremental $1.1 billion in federal loan and grant dollars, the company only spent an incremental $99 million on faculty compensation and instructional costs — that’s 9 cents on every dollar received from the government going toward actual education. The rest went to marketing and paying executives.

Leaving politics aside for a moment, the other major reason why the industry has taken an ever increasing share of government dollars is that it has turned the typical education model on its head. And here is where the subprime analogy becomes very clear.

There is a traditional relationship between matching means and cost in education. Typically, families of lesser financial means seek lower cost colleges in order to maximize the available Title IV loans and grants — thereby getting the most out of every dollar and minimizing debt burdens.

The for-profit model seeks to recruit those with the greatest financial need and put them in high cost institutions. This formula maximizes the amount of Title IV loans and grants that these students receive.

With billboards lining the poorest neighborhoods in America and recruiters trolling casinos and homeless shelters (and I mean that literally), the for-profits have become increasingly adept at pitching the dream of a better life and higher earnings to the most vulnerable of society.

If the industry in fact educated its students and got them good jobs that enabled them to receive higher incomes and to pay off their student loans, everything I’ve just said would be irrelevant.

So the key question to ask is — what do these students get for their education? In many cases, NOT much, not much at all.

At one Corinthian Colleges-owned Everest College campus in California, students paid $16,000 for an eight-month course in medical assisting. Upon nearing completion, the students learned that not only would their credits not transfer to any community or four-year college, but also that their degree is not recognized by the American Association for Medical Assistants. Hospitals refuse to even interview graduates.

And look at drop-out rates. Companies don’t fully disclose graduation rates, but using both DOE data and company-provided information, I calculate drop out rates of most schools are 50%-plus per year.

Default rates on student loans are already starting to skyrocket. It’s just like subprime — which grew at any cost and kept weakening its underwriting standards to grow.

The bottom line is that as long as the government continues to flood the for-profit education industry with loan dollars and the risk for these loans is borne solely by the students and the government, then the industry has every incentive to grow at all costs, compensate employees based on enrollment, influence key regulatory bodies and manipulate reported statistics — all to maintain access to the government’s money.

In a sense, these companies are marketing machines masquerading as universities. Let me quote a bit from a former employee of Bridgepoint Education, operators of Ashford University:

“Ashford is a for-profit school and makes a majority of its money on federal loans students take out. They conveniently price tuition at the exact amount that a student can qualify for in federal loan money. There is no regard to whether a student really belongs in school, the goal is to enroll as many as possible. They also go after GI Bill money and currently have separate teams set up to specifically target military students. If a person has money available for school Ashford finds a way to go after them. Ashford is just the middle man, profiting off this money, like milking a cow and working the system within the limits of what’s technically legal, and paying huge salaries while the student suffers with debt that can’t even be forgiven by bankruptcy. We mention tuition prices as little as possible . . . this may cause the student to change their mind.

“It’s a boiler room — selling education to people who really don’t want it.”

How do such schools stay in business? The answer is to control the accreditation process. The scandal here is exactly akin to the rating agency role in subprime securitizations.

In order to be eligible for Title IV programs, the universities must be accredited. But accreditation bodies are non-governmental, non-profit peer-reviewing groups. In many instances, the for-profit institutions sit on the boards of the accrediting body. The inmates run the asylum.

The latest trend of for-profit institutions, meanwhile, is to acquire accreditation through the outright purchase of small, financially distressed non-profit institutions. In March 2005, Bridgepoint acquired the regionally accredited Franciscan University of the Prairies and renamed it Ashford University. On the date of purchase, Franciscan (now Ashford) had 312 students. Bridgepoint took that school online and at the end of 2009 it had 54,000 students.

So what is the government going to do?

Most importantly, the DOE has proposed a rule known as “Gainful Employment.” The idea behind the rule is to limit student debt to a certain level. Specifically, the suggested rule is that the debt service-to-income-ratio not exceed 8%. The industry has gotten hysterical over this rule because it knows that to comply, it will probably have to reduce tuition.

I cannot emphasize enough that gainful employment changes the business model. Gainful employment will cause enrollment levels to grow less quickly. And the days of raising tuition would be over; in many cases, tuition will go down.

By late 2004, it was clear to me and my partners that the mortgage industry had lost its mind and a society-wide calamity was going to occur. It was like watching a train wreck with no ability to stop it. Who could you complain to? The rating agencies? They were part of the machine. Alan Greenspan? He was busy making speeches that every American should take out an ARM mortgage loan.

Are we going to do this all over again? We just loaded up one generation of Americans with mortgage debt they can’t afford to pay back. Are we going to load up a new generation with student loan debt they can never afford to pay back?

If nothing is done, then we are on the cusp of a new social disaster. If present trends continue, over the next 10 years almost $500 billion of Title IV loans will have been funneled to this industry. We estimate total defaults of $275 billion, and because of fees associated with defaults, for-profit students will owe $330 billion on defaulted loans over the next 10 years.

Steven Eisman is the portfolio manager of the FrontPoint Financial Services Fund, and one of the first people to predict the subprime mortgage crisis. Adapted from a speech he gave to the Ira Sohn Investment Conference.

BIG BUSINESS OF COLLEGE

In 2002, the government changed regulations banning colleges from providing “any commission, bonus or other incentive payment based directly or indirectly on success in securing enrollments or financial aid.” Since then, there has been an explosion of advertising for ITT, DeVry, Phoenix University and other for-profit universities, which aggressively recruit students and help guide them to federal student aid. Investing expert Steve Eisman estimates that for-profit students will default on $275 billion in taxpayer-backed, federal student loans.

* Tuition and fees at private for-profit institutions averages $14,174, $859 (6.5%) higher than in 2008-09. Though average federal aid isn’t available, 80%-90% of funding for many for-profit companies comes from federal aid.

* At for-profit institutions, 96% of bachelor’s degree recipients had student loans in 2008, and their average debt was $33,050. At public and non-profit colleges, 65% of bachelor’s degree recipients had loans, and their average debt was $22,750.

* Nearly one in four Pell Grant dollars went to students attending for-profit schools in 2008-09 (24%, or $4.3 billion), almost double the share a decade earlier, according to the National Consumer Law Center.

* Though for-profit students account for 10% of all college students, they represent 44% of all loan defaults, according to the Department of Education.

Major for-profit educators include . . .

Apollo

Schools include.................... The University of Phoenix

Enrollment............................. 320,000-plus

Revenue................................ $2.7 billion

Profit margin........................... 28%

ITT Educational Services

Schools include....................... ITT Technical Institute

Enrollment................................ 70,000-plus

Revenue....................................$1.32 billion

Profit margin............................. 37%

Strayer Education, Inc.

Schools include......................... Strayer University

Enrollment................................. 55,000-plus

Revenue.................................... $512 million

Profit margin.............................. 34%

*Profit margins based on an UBS analysis

What the Obama administration is considering . . .

* The Department of Education is mulling a “Gainful Employment” rule that would limit student debt. A proposed limit would be a debt service-to-income ratio of no more than 8%. This would force universities to lower their tuition, or face declining enrollment because fewer students could afford school. After a discussion period, the rules will be issued in November and go into effect summer 2011.




JOINT MEETING SELECTMEN, FINANCE AND EDUCATION 6-14-10
One idea for educational change...think it would have legs in Weston?


4-day school weeks gain popularity across US
YAHOO
By DORIE TURNER, Associated Press Writer
4 June 2010

FORT VALLEY, Ga. – During the school year, Mondays in this rural Georgia community are for video games, trips to grandma's house and hanging out at the neighborhood community center.

Don't bother showing up for school. The doors are locked and the lights are off.

Peach County is one of more than 120 school districts across the country where students attend school just four days a week, a cost-saving tactic gaining popularity among cash-strapped districts struggling to make ends meet. The 4,000-student district started shaving a day off its weekly school calendar last year to help fill a $1 million budget shortfall.

It was that or lay off 39 teachers the week before school started, said Superintendent Susan Clark.

"We're treading water," Clark said as she stood outside the headquarters of her seven-school district. "There was nothing else for us to do."

The results? Test scores went up.

So did attendance — for both students and teachers. The district is spending one-third of what it once did on substitute teachers, Clark said.

And the graduation rate likely will be more than 80 percent for the first time in years, Clark said.

The four days that students are in school are slightly longer and more crowded with classes and activities. After school, students can get tutoring in subjects where they're struggling.

On their off day, students who don't have other options attend "Monday care" at area churches and the local Boys & Girls Club, where tutors are also available to help with homework. The programs generally cost a few dollars a day per student.

Experts say research is scant on the effect of a four-day school week on student performance. In fact, there is mostly just anecdotal evidence in reports on the trend with little scientific data to back up what many districts say, said University of Southern Maine researcher Christine Donis-Keller.

"The broadest conclusion you can draw is that it doesn't hurt academics," said Donis-Keller, who is with the university's Center for Education Policy, Applied Research and Evaluation.

Many districts that have the shortened schedule say they've seen students who are less tired and more focused, which has helped raise test scores and attendance. But others say that not only did they not save a substantial amount of money by being off an extra day, they also saw students struggle because they weren't in class enough and didn't have enough contact with teachers.

The school district in Marlow, Okla., is switching back to a five-day week after administrators decided students were not being served well by attending school only four days. The 440-student district tried the shorter week the spring semester this year to save $25,000 in operation costs.

"It was harder on the teachers. We were asking the kids to move at a quicker pace," said district Superintendent Bennie Newton. "We're hoping the four-day week won't come into play next year."

The move by Peach County in Georgia gets mixed reviews.

Parents like Heather Bradshaw worry that their children are getting shortchanged on time with teachers.

"I don't feel like they're having the necessary time in the classroom," said Bradshaw, a single mother with a fourth-grade son at one of the county's three elementary schools. "The schedule has slowed him down."

Other parents prefer the shorter schedule and don't mind the hassle of finding a babysitter one day a week.

"It makes the children's weekend a little better, so they get more rest," said LaKeisha Johnson, who sends her fourth-grade daughter to the Boys & Girls Club on Mondays.

The trend of four-day school weeks started in New Mexico during the oil crisis of the 1970s and has been popular in rural states where students have to commute a long way. Other districts have used it as a way to try to fix schools with a long history of poor student performance by shaking up the schedule and giving children more time to study outside of school.

Georgia, Oklahoma and Maine have changed their laws in the last couple of years to allow districts to count their school year by hours rather than days, allowing for a four-day week if needed. Hawaii schools were off every other Friday this year for schools to save money, giving them the state with the shortest school year in the country.

From California to Minnesota to New York, districts — mostly small, rural ones with less than 5,000 students — are following the trend, hoping to rescue their bleeding budgets.

For Peach County, the four-day week was enough of a success that the school district is trying it again next year, Clark said. The move saves $400,000 annually and is popular among teachers and students because they get extra rest, she said

"Teachers tell me they are much more focused because they've had time to prepare. They don't have kids sleeping in class on Tuesday," she said. "Everything has taken on a laser-light focus."



Judge: Connecticut town can't hold graduations in church
The Associated Press
Article published May 31, 2010

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (AP) _ A federal court judge has ruled two Connecticut public high schools can't hold their graduations inside a local church, saying it's an unconstitutional endorsement of religion.

U.S. District Court Judge Janet Hall made the ruling Monday in the case of Enfield High School and Enrico Fermi High School, also in Enfield.

The Enfield school board said they voted to hold services at The First Cathedral in Bloomfield because it had enough space at the right price.  But two students and three of their parents sued.

Hall said Enfield had unconstitutionally entangled itself with religion by agreeing to cover up much of the church's religious imagery.  She also said the town had coerced the plaintiffs to support religion by forcing them to enter the church for graduation.





19 States Named as Finalists for Race to the Top
Duncan Salutes State and Local Leaders for Leading "Quiet Revolution" for School Reform
U.S. Department of Education Dept. Press Release
July 27, 2010

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan today announced that 19 states are the finalists for more than $3 billion available in the second round of funding in the Race to the Top program.

"Thirty-five states and the District of Columbia submitted bold blueprints for reform that bear the signatures of many key players at the state and local level who drive change in our schools," Duncan said.

"Peer reviewers identified these 19 finalists as having the boldest plans, but every state that applied will benefit from this process of collaboratively creating a comprehensive education reform agenda," Duncan added. "Much of the federal dollars we distribute though other channels can support their plan to raise standards, improve teaching, use data more effectively to support student learning, and turn around underperforming schools."

Thirty-five states and the District of Columbia applied for the second round of Race to the Top. Including the 36 applications for the second round of Race to the Top, a total of 46 states and the District of Columbia applied for either the first or second rounds – or both.

The 19 finalists are: Arizona, California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and South Carolina.

Duncan named the finalists at the end of a major speech at the National Press Club. In the speech, Duncan saluted educators, elected officials, and private sector leaders for leading a "quiet revolution" of the education reform across the country.

"From educators to parents and political leaders to journalists -- there is a growing sense that a quiet revolution is underway in our homes and schools, classrooms, and communities," Duncan said. "This quiet revolution is driven by motivated parents who want better educational options for their children. It's being driven by great educators and administrators who are challenging the defeatism and inertia that has trapped generations of children in second-rate schools."

He highlighted the momentum for adopting rigorous standards, elevating the teaching profession to reward excellence, turning around low-performing schools, and building better data systems to inform reform.

While the work is being done by governors, superintendents, and teachers at the state and local levels, the federal government is supporting their work through Race to the Top and other reform programs, including the Investing in Innovation Fund, the Teacher Incentive Fund, the School Improvement Grants under Title I, and the federal charter school program.

Through all of these programs, the Department of Education will be distributing almost $10 billion to support reform in states and local communities.

"As we look at the last 18 months, it is absolutely stunning to see how much change has happened at the state and local levels, unleashed in part by these incentive programs," Duncan said.

Race to the Top's Next Steps

Race to the Top is an historic federal investment in education reform, with $4.35 billion available to support states in their comprehensive reforms. The Department is reserving $350 million for a separate competition to support consortia of states that are creating the next generation of assessments that will support reform.

In the first round of competition supporting state-based reforms, Delaware and Tennessee won grants based on their comprehensive plans to reform their schools and the statewide support for those plans. Almost $3.4 billion remains to award grants to winners in the second round.

The finalists chosen today will travel to Washington during the week of Aug. 9 to present their plans to the peer reviewers who scored their applications. After the state's presentations and an extended question-and-answer period, the peer reviewers will finalize their scores and comments.

The Department intends to announce the winners of the competition in September.

"Just as in the first round, we're going to set a very high bar because we know that real and meaningful change will only come from doing hard work and setting high expectations," Duncan said.

Duncan acknowledged that not all of the finalists would be awarded grants from the almost $3.4 billion remaining in Race to the Top. President Obama has requested $1.35 billion for the program in the administration's fiscal 2011 budget.




Will towns get stuck with the school reform bill?
CT MIRROR
James J. Finley Jr.
June 1, 2010

Governor Rell has signed the highly touted 'school reform' bill, a bill that passed both chambers of the General Assembly overwhelmingly, garnering 31 votes in the Senate and 106 in the House. The Mirror describes the bill as the product of an "unlikely coalition" and the Governor's press statement says "all of the interested parties - educators, unions, parents, students, legislators and others - [were] together at the table".

Nobody questions the need for school reform - the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities has been in the forefront calling for an increased state role in closing the "achievement gap." But one group was not invited to the table when it was being discussed: Chief elected municipal officials - those with the ultimate responsibility for paying for any new unfunded state mandate - were left out of the discussion.

The siren call of $195 million over four years in new, temporary federal funds for new programs is alluring, but let's look at the abysmal job the state is doing in meeting its existing education finance responsibilities.

In each year of the current biennium, Connecticut's Education Cost Sharing program was kept level-funded to FY 08-09 only by use of $271 million in federal budget stabilization funds -- money that will likely be gone in FY 11-12. Further, the reform legislation imposes new costs estimated to be between $21 and $28 million. Adding together the loss of ECS funds and the new costs, and subtracting the Race To The Top grants, it is possible that by the time the new law takes effect, property taxpayers could be hit with almost $250 million per year in new education costs.

The state's history of fulfilling financial commitments to towns and cities is sketchy at best. The state's share of K-12 public education costs next year will be 32.7%, the lowest in over a quarter-century. For example, special education "excess cost" grants were funded at $120 million, but applications for reimbursements will be about $145 million - so municipalities and property taxpayers will be forced to eat the $25 million difference. Altogether, towns and cities have suffered cuts in state aid in this biennium of over $100 million.

On top of that, the state's ability to fulfill its commitment is questionable - it faces a structural deficit of about $3.5 billion for FY 11-12. Is it any wonder local officials wonder whether sufficient state funding will be forthcoming and, if not, who will pay for the reform bill's new costs?

Few dispute the potential benefits from the school reform legislation. It's no fun being the wet blanket who has to talk about its price tag. But today's school closings, teacher layoffs and program cuts are just the beginning. Is the state going to be willing to "increase" ECS funding by $271 million in FY 11-12 to keep it "level-funded" to FY 08-09 and appropriate additional funding for unreimbursed school-reform mandates on local school districts?

It's an old story in Connecticut - the state buys into new programs with high-sounding rhetoric and then refuses to fund them, forcing municipalities and property taxpayers to pick up the tab.

Let's not let that happen - again. Improving school performance is important to Connecticut's future. CCM urges every citizen - local officials, homeowners and business leaders - to press state candidates for a commitment to adequately fund K-12 public education, including newly mandated costs for school reform.

James J. Finley Jr. is executive director & CEO of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities. CCM is the statewide association of towns and cities.


Hoping for federal aid, Rell signs sweeping education reform bill
CT MIRROR
Jacqueline Rabe and Robert A. Frahm
May 26, 2010

Hoping for a second chance at millions of dollars in federal stimulus money for school reform, Gov. M. Jodi Rell signed into law today a massive education bill...full story here.



Stacy A. Lore/Spectrum Kids: Amount to ‘counselor’ may exceed $300,000
Weston FORUM
Written by Patricia Gay
Thursday, 15 April 2010 00:00

The dollar amount the Weston school district paid to an ex-autism counselor who allegedly faked her credentials may be higher than initially anticipated.

According to Weston Police Detective Carl Filsinger, Stacy Lore and her company, Spectrum Kids, LLC, may have racked up more than $300,000 for services provided to Weston special needs students from 2005 to 2007.

“Our investigation is still ongoing, but it looks like the numbers will be up in the $300,000 range,” he said.

The initial estimate was between $100,000 and $200,000, but is being adjusted as bills and tax forms are reviewed and tallied.

Ms. Lore was arrested by Norwalk Police on Sunday, March 28, and charged with first-degree larceny, second-degree forgery, and criminal impersonation for allegedly providing services to children with autism in the Norwalk school district, while claiming to possess certifications and degrees she didn’t have.

Although Norwalk is the only department to file charges against Ms. Lore so far, the department issued a statement saying she provided services to other towns in Westchester and Fairfield counties.

Weston police were notified last summer about the investigation into Ms. Lore. At that time, Superintendent Jerry Belair contacted the families involved, and turned over to police all information the school had on Ms. Lore.

“The schools and their attorney acted quickly and have fully cooperated with our investigation,” Det. Filsinger said.

In 2005, when Ms. Lore was retained as an independent contractor to provide special education services, Janet Rosenbaum was director of pupil personnel services for Weston schools and would have had the responsibility of checking Ms. Lore’s credentials, Mr. Belair said. Ms. Rosenbaum retired from the district in 2007.

Mr. Belair said it is the schools’ intent to recover any monies if the allegations aganst Ms. Lore are true.




An economist offers ideas for tracking academic achievement

Robert A. Frahm
April 6, 2010

Despite the reams of test scores, enrollment figures, attendance records and other data it collects on public schools, Connecticut falls woefully short in trying to make sense of it all, a noted state economist says.

Lawmakers are writing legislation to design a new statewide data collection system to meet requirements of the federal Race to the Top school reform program, but Fred Carstensen said they are overlooking a solution that already exists.

"It's on a state computer" at the Department of Labor, the University of Connecticut professor said.

Carstensen, head of the Connecticut Center for Economic Analysis, was referring to a research model developed as part of a groundbreaking study published by the center two years ago.

The study, "Next Steps: Preparing a Quality Workforce," tracked about 170,000 high school sophomores from Connecticut for more than eight years as they entered college and the workforce. The study, which focused on students who took a statewide 10th-grade test between 1996 and 2000, could easily be adapted to build a system to analyze the long-term performance of students, teachers and schools, according to Carstensen.

"Simply a remarkable study of immense potential," he said.

Connecticut officials are revamping the state's education data system as they gear up to compete for a second round of awards in Race to the Top, the Obama administration's $4.3 billion incentive program to spur innovation in America's schools. Only two states - Tennessee and Delaware - were named last week as winners of the first round.

Connecticut began building a new education data system five years ago, assigning each student a unique identifying number, making it easier to track student progress from year to year. However, the system still lacks several crucial elements, according to federal reviewers who examined the state's initial Race to the Top application.  The state, for example, has not yet completed procedures for matching student data to individual teachers or for linking data from elementary and secondary schools to higher education, reviewers said.

The reviewers gave Connecticut only 10 of a possible 24 points on a rating of its data system. Tennessee and Delaware each received the maximum 24 points.

Carstensen singled out Tennessee as a model, saying the state has gathered nearly two decades of detailed information to monitor long-term student progress and other factors related to school performance.

"The gap between Tennessee and Connecticut is just enormous," he said.

One of the most difficult problems confronting educators is the challenge of linking student progress to teacher and principal evaluations - a key goal of the Race to the Top guidelines.

Although lawmakers continue to revise the proposed legislation, Carstensen said the initial bill under consideration in Connecticut failed to take into account the complexity of the issue.

"There are an awful lot of things about school organization and the context in which teachers function to know you can't just look at student progress and say the teacher is at fault or the teacher deserves credit," he said. "That's just ridiculous."

He added, "How do you measure a teacher when 50 percent of the students change during the year?"

He said a meaningful system ought to include a wide array of data, "beginning with the [student's] earliest contact with the educational system," including pre-kindergarten programs, and continuing through college. He said it should cover factors such as class size, absenteeism, disciplinary issues, family characteristics, turnover of teachers and students, physical facilities, access to computers, school size, graduation rates and the presence of support personnel such as social workers.

Some local teacher unions have refused to support Connecticut's Race to the Top application because they object to the effort to link teacher evaluation to student performance.

"I have a huge problem with that," said Gary Peluchette, president of the Bridgeport Education Association, the local teachers' union in Bridgeport, one of the state's poorest cities. "Our kids come to school with a lot more issues than suburban kids do," he said. "Now you want to evaluate us based on test scores when the playing field is not level?"

Developing an evaluation system based on student data is tricky, but possible, said Stephen Coelen, author of the Next Steps study and senior research fellow at the Connecticut Center for Economic Analysis.

Coelen, who once worked at Tennessee's Center for Business and Economic Research, said Connecticut should build partnerships with universities and other research institutions to develop its data system. A strong system should collect data even when students move across state lines, he said. "States that take it seriously and have multiple [data] measures are going to be performing better in the long run," he said.

In New Haven, a recently approved teachers' contract won praise from the Obama administration because it provides for development of a system to link student and teacher performance.

Alex Johnston, head of the New Haven-based school reform group ConnCAN, has lobbied aggressively for legislation to bolster the state's data system. He disagrees with critics who say the proposed legislation is unfair to teachers or too simplistic.

"It's nobody's intention that the only pieces of data we'd be using [for teacher evaluation] are the [state] test scores," he said.  The proposed legislation "leaves a lot of room for districts to define student achievement growth," he said.

Johnston is a member of a working group of educators and others that is advising lawmakers on legislation related to the state's Race to the Top application, including the data collection proposal. The group was convened by Sen. Thomas Gaffey, D-Meriden, and Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, D-West Hartford, the co-chairmen of the legislature's Education Committee.

Gaffey has not talked to Carstensen about the legislation but said the working group shares the belief that the new data and evaluation system should not be oversimplified. "It sounds like we're on the same track," he said. "There has to be context beyond just what the numbers say."



Education falls into a judicial rabbit hole
DAY editorial
Paul Choiniere
Article published Mar 28, 2010

This is what the Connecticut Constitution has to say about the state's obligation to provide its children an education.

"There shall always be free public elementary and secondary schools in the state. The General Assembly shall implement this principle by appropriate legislation."

This week the Connecticut Supreme Court, in a 4-3 decision, determined that simple phrase requires "that the public schools provide their students with an education suitable to give them the opportunity to be responsible citizens able to participate fully in democratic institutions, such as jury service and voting, and to prepare them to progress to institutions of higher education, or to obtain productive employment and otherwise contribute to the state's economy."

So states the plurality opinion written by Justice Flemming L. Norcott Jr.

A few observations:

If the framers of the constitution intended that to be the required standard, they could have said it.  The court's majority ignored the plain fact that the constitution quite explicitly states that implementing the "principle" of a free education is the job of the elected General Assembly.  Finally, I would contend that the state's public schools already meet the standard cited by the court. Even in Connecticut's poorest schools a student who studies hard and does his or her homework should graduate with the ability to participate in our democracy, to serve on a jury or vote, and to obtain a trade or go to college.

Is the majority instead suggesting there is a constitutional requirement to assure that every student graduate with these abilities? Nice goal perhaps, but it is unrealistic, because achievement is ultimately up to the will of the individual student and the family commitment to education.

Is the court saying that every student, no matter where they live, should have the same opportunity to obtain an education that prepares them for a productive life? That is certainly a more valid goal, but there is no way of magically mandating it. The quality of teachers, of equipment, buildings and textbooks, and the ability to pay for all that, are significant factors in educational outcomes. But so too is the economic standing of a community, the level of education of the parents, and the level of poverty or affluence.

Connecticut has a serious problem with educational disparity between its urban centers and its affluent suburbs, its rural towns and its toady communities. In 2009 high school graduation rates for Hispanic students were 58 percent, 66 percent for blacks and 87 percent for whites, and not coincidentally these minority groups populate its distressed cities, while suburbia remains predominately white.

Addressing this problem, creating an environment in which all students have the best opportunity to succeed, must be a product of the political, not judicial process. It involves ending the overreliance on the property tax to fund education, increasing access to early childhood education and replacing or repairing crumbling inner city schools. But it also involves reviving the economic vitality of the state's cities, reversing the flight to the suburbs and rebuilding pride in education.

In 2007 Hartford Superior Court Judge Joseph Shortall recognized the court's limitations, ruling, quite correctly, that the state constitution does not guarantee an educational standard and it was not the role of the judiciary to supply one.

Filed in 2005, the lawsuit that Shortall dismissed argued that Connecticut's failure to maintain a suitable and substantially equal education system was a constitutional violation. The lead plaintiff in the lawsuit is the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding, a group of municipal and educational organizations. Parents of students in New London, Plainfield, Windham, Hartford, East Hartford, New Britain, New Haven, Bridgeport and Danbury joined in the lawsuit.

It is Shortall's decision the Supreme Court has overruled. So back to Superior Court goes the case. But what does a judge do to correct the alleged constitutional violation? Does he or she order more education spending, with no responsibility for figuring out where it will come from? When filing the lawsuit, the coalition issued a study projecting $2 billion more a year is necessary to assure all schoolchildren get a good education.

But is more money really the solution? Hartford and New Haven have among the highest per pupil expenditure rates in the state, surpassed only by the most affluent towns, yet educational outcomes remain deplorable.

Does the judge become an education czar, outlining what classroom sizes, early childhood opportunities and classroom laboratories pass constitutional muster? Or does the judge simply make note that there is a problem - something lawmakers already recognize - and order it corrected without saying how?

In his dissent, Justice Peter T. Zarella issued a warning the majority should have listened to.

"Judges will become legislators because the courts will now be allowed, and very likely required, to define minimum educational 'inputs' and 'outputs' in order to determine whether the state has satisfied its purported constitutional mandate to provide Connecticut schoolchildren with a 'suitable' education," wrote Zarella.

The result, he said, will be "decades of confusion (that) produce a trail of wasteful litigation."

It is hard to imagine how that will benefit Connecticut's students.


UPDATED: Conn. high court sets minimum education standard
DAY
Associated Press
Article published Mar 22, 2010

HARTFORD (AP) - Connecticut's Supreme Court on Monday revived a lawsuit that challenges the state's method of funding public schools, saying the state constitution promises an education that is good enough to prepare students for a job or college.The 4-3 ruling means the lawsuit, brought against the state by the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding in 2005, may go back to the Superior Court. The coalition argues that achievement gaps between rich and poor towns show some students are not receiving an adequate education.

The group, made up of officials and parents from several municipalities, says the way to close that gap is to overhaul the 22-year-old funding formula that determines how much state money the schools receive.

"The decision means that the state can no longer pay lip service to the notion of putting up a building and putting in a teacher and saying that's a meaningful education," said Robert Solomon, a Yale professor and attorney who supervised law students who argued the case for the coalition.

A spokesman for Attorney General Richard Blumenthal did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

A Superior Court judge had dismissed that portion of the coalition's case in 2007, agreeing with the state's argument that the constitution guaranteed access to education, but did not guarantee a standard of quality.

The current state education funding formula created in 1988, the Education Cost Sharing grant, distributes state education funds to municipalities using a complicated equation that takes into account poverty, tax bases and other factors.

Some local officials, particularly in struggling large cities, have said the system has failed and arbitrarily allocates funds for regular and special education.

Many of those officials involved in the case said they would like to scrap the formula and start over. Some suggested requiring the state to pay all education costs.

The coalition said schools across Connecticut are underfunded by $1 billion to $2 billion a year, and that legislators and Gov. M. Jodi Rell haven't done enough to address the inequities.




Community group scoffs at fees for community room
By Colin Gustafson, Greenwich TIME STAFF WRITER
Published: 09:50 p.m., Sunday, February 28, 2010 (we only saw this today, March 1)

If it was built as a community room, it should be open to the community.

That's the sentiment of members of a western Greenwich neighborhood group who say they have been unfairly denied free access to a "community room" at the rebuilt Hamilton Avenue School since it reopened a year ago.

District officials have asked the group to pay fees associated with custodial work and liability insurance to use the space.

Sylvester Pecora, co-chairman of the Chickahominy Neighborhood Association, is outraged by the idea of having to pay to use a room that he believes was built for groups like his in the first place. His group has not held any meetings in the room since it opened.

"This is a slap in the face," Pecora said. "It aggravates the hell out of me that they built this room primarily for the community, and now they tell us we can't use it without (paying)." The cost of using the room is unclear.

The schools chief recently said he's sympathetic to these concerns and would be willing to take another look at the practice of charging outside groups to use the space.

Closed in 2005 because of mold and structural issues, Hamilton Avenue School was supposed to have been rebuilt in 18 months. Instead the project took more than three years to complete, causing overall costs to swell by $2.2 million.

A former member of the building committee that oversaw the reconstruction, Pecora said he had always been under the impression during the planning and rebuilding of the school that access to its community room would be free for neighborhood groups.

Back when the reconstruction was first being planned more than five years ago, he said then-schools chief Larry Leverett billed the new Hamilton Avenue School as a "community school" that would serve as a center for education and, secondarily, for community activity as well.

Pecora said he was shocked to learn after the school reopened last February that his group would have to pay to use the room.

As recently as December, former Assistant Superintendent Sue Wallerstein told Pecora that the district could not make an exception to its facility-use policies by waiving the fees for his neighborhood association.

Pecora believes community members, after investing so much into pushing the delay-plagued project forward, have already paid for the school with their blood, sweat and tears -- not to mention their taxpayer dollars.

"I have been a taxpayer for more than 40 years. My children and wife went to the school," he said. "I don't like it when somebody ... tells me I cannot use it."

Not only that, but many have continued to invest their time and energy into improving the school environment, Pecora said. He pointed to his neighborhood association's recent efforts to ease vehicle congestion near the parking lot and reduce truck traffic on nearby roadways.

The school's PTA currently uses the space, free of charge for a certain number of hours, to hold some of its meetings. And just recently, the District 3 delegation to the Representative Town Meeting began holding meetings there at no cost, after seeking access from the town clerk.

The Chickahominy Neighborhood Association continues to hold its meetings in the basement of St. Roch's Church, just across the street from the rebuilt school.

Thomas Conelias, the neighborhood association's other co-chairman and a member of the local RTM delegation, bemoaned the district's decision to charge some groups for access to the community room.

"It's a shame that we cannot use our own building without paying for it," said Conelias, who serves on the District 3 RTM delegation.

Terry Moore, a mother of two Hamilton Avenue School students and a member of both the PTA and the neighborhood association, feels likewise.

"I think the administration should be working with the community to make sure that there are not too many hoops to go through, given the understanding that there was a commitment," Moore said.

Superintendent of Schools Sidney Freund on Friday said that he would be willing to reconsider the practice of charging groups to use the space.

"I do understand their perspective and why they are upset," he said. "I'm not making any promises, but I am certainly willing to take a look and see what can be done."

Wallerstein, who retired at the end of last year, could not be reached for comment.



Page last updated at 12:18 GMT, Friday, 19 February 2010
boy on laptop
The school district says the laptops had a "security device" - US reaction by education establishment to counter effects of fine film at right above?

US school accused of web spying
By Angela Harrison, BBC News education reporter

Parents in the US have accused a school of spying on children by remotely activating webcams on laptops.

A couple from Pennsylvania have filed a lawsuit against a school district which gave laptops to its high school pupils.

They say their son was told off by teachers for "engaging in improper behaviour in his home" and that the evidence was an image from his webcam.

Lower Merion School District says it has now deactivated a tracking device installed on the laptops.

It says the security feature was only used to track lost, stolen and missing laptops.

But it was deactivated on Thursday and would not be re-instated without informing students and families, the district said.

'Stages of undress'

The Lower Merion School District gave the laptops to all 1,800 students at its two high schools with the aim of giving them access to school resources around the clock, according to its website.

Michael and Holly Robbins are suing the district on behalf of their child and all the children in the district issued with the laptops.

They allege the school district invaded their privacy and are guilty of "wiretapping" by putting children under covert surveillance.

Images captured may consist of minors and their parents or friends in compromising or embarrassing positions, including in various stages of dress or undress
Lawsuit claims

In their lawsuit, they claim the webcams were activated remotely and images were taken which could have included anything going on in a room where the laptop was placed.

The legal papers say: "As the laptops were routinely used by students and family members at home, it is believed that many of the images captured and intercepted may consist of images of minors and their parents or friends in compromising or embarrassing positions, including in various stages of dress or undress".

On Thursday, the Lower Merion School District posted a letter to parents on its website saying it had always "gone to great lengths" to protect the privacy of its students.

In it, the Schools Superintendent Christopher McGinley gives details of the security feature, which he said was activated only if a laptop was reported lost, stolen or missing.

"The security feature's capabilities were limited to taking a still image of the operator and the operator's screen," he wrote.

"This feature was only used for the narrow purpose of locating a lost, stolen or missing laptop. The District never activated the security feature for any other purpose or in any other manner whatsoever."

However, the district had carried out a preliminary review of security procedures and had disabled the security-tracking program, he added.

The district would now conduct a thorough review of the existing policies for student laptop use and look at any other "technology areas in which the intersection of privacy and security may come into play".

"We regret if this situation has caused any concern or inconvenience among our students and families, " he said.



Connecticut part of project to reinvent high school
Robert A. Frahm, CT MIRROR
February 18, 2010

Just 16, and off to college?

That could become an option for high school sophomores in Connecticut, one of eight states named Wednesday to pilot test a rigorous new system, including board examinations, that would mark a dramatic shift in the traditional notion of high school education.

By fall of 2011, those states will begin testing a system of coursework and tests that has been widely used in other nations to bolster academic standards and prepare students for college, the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE) announced.

The Board Examination system has been used in places such as Australia, Denmark, England, Finland, France, Ireland, the Netherlands, Scotland, Singapore, and parts of Canada and Germany but has been missing from U.S. schools, the NCEE said.

"This is about implementing the best the world has to offer," said Marc Tucker, president of NCEE, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that has pushed for higher academic standards.

Under the proposed system, students who volunteer to take the exam and pass it at the end of 10th grade would be eligible to enroll at any open admissions two-year or four-year college in their state. In Connecticut, that would be the two-year Community College System.

"It would be a significant change. As a culture, we're geared toward thinking of four years of high school," said Everett Lyons, principal of Bristol Eastern High School and one of several educators who attended a recent briefing on the proposal. He said some students are ready for college or employment early while others are tempted to slack off, especially during their senior year.

If they are ready, he said, "Why hold them for two more years in this holding pattern? I think it has a great deal of merit."

Those who do not pass the lower division high school exams will be offered a customized program designed to help them succeed on their next attempt.  Students who pass the exams also could choose to remain in school and take an advanced upper division program preparing them for admission to selective colleges.

Tucker said NCEE hopes to sharply increase the number of students ready to succeed in college without having to take remedial courses. Nationwide, many high school graduates are unprepared for college work. In Connecticut, officials at the state's two-year community colleges estimate 60 to 70 percent of students signing up for degree programs are in need of remedial work.

At the Connecticut State University System, more than half of new students are enrolled in developmental or remedial math courses, according to the State Department of Higher Education.

The NCEE first proposed the Board Examination system in 2006, as part of a package of school reforms aimed at improving workforce competitiveness. The reform package has since been endorsed by the National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers' union, and by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers.

The proposed Board Examination system includes a core program of courses, teaching materials matched to a well-designed syllabus, high-quality exams and professional training for teachers.

The system most likely would require states to pass legislation allowing a new path to a diploma, Tucker said. It is designed to encourage students to take tougher courses and work harder in order to be ready for college or the workforce, he said.

"For the first time in the United States, kids will know what they have to do, whether they want to be a carpenter, a plumber or a brain surgeon," he said.

Connecticut, Kentucky, Maine, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont will work with NCEE through a $1.5 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to pilot test the new curriculum, teacher training and exams.

Each state will select between 10 and 20 schools to pilot test the system beginning with the 2011-12 school year.

The board exams and curriculum will be aligned with a series of new voluntary national standards under development by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. Participating states will approve up to five Board Examination programs and invite high schools to pilot one or more of those programs for freshmen and sophomores and one or more for juniors and seniors.

The performance-based approach marks a shift from the traditional system requiring students to put in their time and accumulate credits.

"It is consistent with what we've wanted to do with secondary school reform," said Connecticut Education Commissioner Mark McQullan. For some students, the new tests could be an alternative to the Connecticut Academic Performance Test now required of all 10th-graders, he said.

McQuillan has been an advocate for high school reform and has proposed plans that include performance exams for key subjects and provisions allowing early admission to college. "We wanted to get kids through faster and hook them up to college faster," he said. If the proposed system proves to be successful, "it could be quite transformative," he said.

Calvin Brown, 17, a junior at Bristol Eastern High School, said such an approach would  appeal to "students who are willing and ready to get out there and take hold of their future and not waste time. There are a lot of kids who definitely could go off to college now, a lot of people better off out there working. It's good to have those options open."

The idea "sounds great to me," said 17-year-old Hunter Kodama, a senior at Norwich Free Academy.  "Not every student is bound for college, but some students are ready for college before others."

Kodama, a student representative on the State Board of Education, said the idea of testing for college readiness as a sophomore "sounds intriguing. . . . I'm sure I would have attempted it at least."

Wednesday's announcement also drew praise from David Carter, chancellor of the Connecticut State University System. "There are a number of students who right now are capable of completing high school [early]," he said. "If you're capable, why not go ahead and challenge yourself?

"I'm excited by it," he said. "I think it could end up motivating other students who might not be thinking of college."

However, state Higher Education Commissioner Michael Meotti said he's not convinced of the value of the program. Even if they pass the exams as sophomores, most high-performing students will opt to remain in high school to prepare for selective colleges, he said, and he questioned whether the system would help low-performing students.

The Board Examination system uses a series of existing tests and provides a faster, cheaper and surer way to catch the United States up to the best performing countries than by developing new tests and teaching systems, according to the NCEE.

"Students who pass these exams will meet international standards, not just national standards," the NCEE said. "The examinations these programs use are much better at measuring the kinds of analytical skills that will make America competitive than the kinds of tests most states now use."




State Educators Hail Obama's Budget Proposals
Hartford Courant
By GRACE E. MERRITT
February 4, 2010

State education leaders say they're pleased that President Barack Obama's proposed education budget would overhaul the Bush administration's test-based No Child Left Behind law with a more competitive approach that rewards reforms designed to raise student achievement, improve teaching and inspire students to excel in math and science.

Connecticut is set to receive $455 million under Obama's proposed budget to help develop better schools, improve student achievement and make high school graduates ready for college and a career.

Many of the proposals in the education budget, released Monday, expand Obama's Race to the Top national school reform competition, which encourages expansion of charter schools and linking teacher pay to student performance, among other reforms.

The budget would add $1.35 billion more to Race to the Top and offer millions in competitive grants for state and local efforts to improve literacy instruction and develop effective strategies for teaching and learning science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

"It more clearly defines what's most important to invest in," said George Sugai, a professor at the Neag School of Education at the University of Connecticut.

He said he liked the fact that the budget increases funding for education overall, focuses on improving student performance "by looking at how you teach" and pays attention to special education to make sure the needs of all children are addressed.

"We see a refocused shift from No Child Left Behind, which was based on year-to-year test scores and consequences, to a new calculus of focusing on instruction, using data and putting more emphasis on student performance from year to year," said State Board of Education spokesman Thomas Murphy.

State Rep. Andrew M. Fleischmann, D-West Hartford, co-chairman of the legislature's education committee, called the new approach a "vast improvement" from the "one-size-fits-all" approach of the Bush administration.

He said the new approach is more logical and attempts to improve the nation's global competitiveness.

"It sounds to me like the right direction," Fleischmann said. "We know the United States is falling behind our competitors when it comes to math and science."

State Sen. Thomas P. Gaffey, D-Meriden, the other education committee chairman, was more reserved, saying he'd like to know more specifics.

"It remains unclear as to actually how they are going to define these terms as having children college-ready and career-ready," Gaffey said. "That's going to be left to the Department of Education to write those terms. I get very nervous when there is stuff proposed in legislation, but it is left up to the bureaucrats to write the terms."

Copyright © 2010, The Hartford Courant




School choice: 'The most efficient way' to desegregate
CT MIRROR
Robert A. Frahm
February 2, 2010

As Connecticut spends millions of dollars a year to meet a court desegregation order by building and running racially-integrated magnet schools, parents like Iraida Sanchez of Hartford would be happy with a far less expensive alternative.

Year after year, Sanchez has put her son Nathaniel's name in a lottery. She is not aiming for one of the region's state-of-the-art magnet schools but hoping instead for a desk in a regular elementary school in any of the city's neighboring suburbs.

No luck so far. "Ever since first grade or kindergarten he's always on the waiting list," she said. Nathaniel's now in fourth grade.

Despite what state officials insist is an ample supply of open seats under a decades-old school choice program, suburban schools have accepted only a trickle of children while Sanchez and thousands of other Hartford parents continue to wait.

Moving some of Hartford's largely minority student population to integrated or mostly white suburban schools was to have been a key element in the effort to comply with a 1996 state Supreme Court order [3] in the Sheff vs. O'Neill desegregation case. However, the state put its emphasis - and its money - mainly into building magnet schools with popular specialty themes such as science, performing arts and international studies. The suburban choice program languished.

But today, as magnet schools and the state's fiscal crisis push education budgets to the breaking point, some educators believe this civil rights-era program, now known as Open Choice, could be a more budget-friendly, long-term answer to school desegregation in the Hartford region.

"The future of Sheff rests on the back of Open Choice, not magnet schools," said Bruce Douglas, executive director of the Capitol Region Education Council (CREC), an agency that runs both the choice program and several magnet schools in the Hartford region.

Leaders of the state Department of Education and the legislature's Education Committee agree that the choice program should be expanded, and the potentially volatile issue of requiring suburban towns to accept city students may come up in the General Assembly session that starts Wednesday.

Urban-suburban transfer programs have been used to desegregate schools in cities such as Boston, St. Louis and Milwaukee, and plaintiffs in the Sheff lawsuit agree that Hartford's suburban choice program can play a larger role.

"We've always believed that [suburban] choice was a far more effective means to offer quality and integrated education for the bang for the buck," said John Brittain, a civil rights lawyer who was part of the team that filed the Sheff lawsuit in 1989.

Among those hoping to bolster the Open Choice program is state Education Commissioner Mark McQuillan, who is troubled by the focus on magnets as the central strategy to meet the Sheff goals.

"Relative to Sheff, it has not been a good strategy," McQuillan said. Magnet schools sprouted across Connecticut following a 1996 law that promised the state would pay the entire cost (later reduced to 95 percent) of building new magnets.

The state has spent nearly half a billion dollars to build more than a dozen magnets in the Hartford region with several others under construction or in planning. Nevertheless, the effort to place enough Hartford children in integrated schools has been a struggle.

About one quarter of Hartford's 21,730 minority schoolchildren now attend integrated magnet schools, charter schools, regional technical and agricultural high schools, or suburban schools. However, under terms of a court-approved agreement with the Sheff plaintiffs, the state must increase that number to 41 percent by the 2012-2013 school year.

As many as 14,000 names remain on waiting lists for magnet schools and the Open Choice program, officials estimate. Most are Hartford students.

Although the legislature increased support for operating magnet schools in the Sheff region this year, it did not increase the subsidy to suburban schools for enrolling Hartford students in the choice program. That subsidy remains at $2,500 per student despite McQuillan's request for a substantial increase.

Bolstering that subsidy would be far more efficient than building another magnet school for, say, $60 million, said former Avon Superintendent of Schools Richard Kisiel, now representing the Sheff plaintiffs under the court-approved settlement.

"You take that $60 million and translate that into [Open Choice] incentive money - absolutely it's the most efficient way, but we can't seem to convince the legislature," he said. "If they had increased the incentive as the commissioner proposed, I'm convinced that would have opened up seats. . . . I think it could solve the problem completely."

McQuillan still hopes to get more incentive money but also plans to ask the legislature to give him authority to order suburban schools to accept additional Open Choice applicants.

"Choice is the preferred strategy," McQuillan said, "but you can't execute a strategy like that if you don't have any power and, secondly, no money."

State Sen. Thomas Gaffey, D-Meriden, co-chairman of the legislature's Education Committee, supports the idea of allowing the commissioner to order schools to increase participation in the Open Choice program. "I don't see how you reach the [Sheff] goal . . . unless he does have that authority," he said.

Nevertheless, forcing schools to accept students in what has always been a voluntary program undoubtedly would be met with resistance. "In my community, the fact it's voluntary has an extremely positive effect. Mandating things is very corrosive," said Cal Heminway, chairman of the Granby Board of Education and past president of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education.

Granby is among the most active school systems in the Open Choice program, taking more than 3 percent of its student body from Hartford.

But is the expansion of Open Choice the best strategy for pursuing the Sheff goals?

The magnet school approach has led to major school construction projects in places such as New Haven and Hartford, helping those cities replace or renovate crumbling schools. Magnets also have renewed interest in city schools from thousands of applicants, including suburban families who have put their names on long waiting lists for the popular specialized schools. Four Hartford magnet schools recently were cited in U.S. News & World Report's survey of America's best high schools.

"As long as there is a demand, then we haven't reached the limit" for magnets, said Norma Neumann-Johnson, principal of Hartford's Breakthrough Magnet School. "Just building magnets may not be the only solution. Choice should be part of it, but I think we need to keep going."

Edward Linehan, who formerly ran magnet programs in both Hartford and New Haven, said state officials should not ignore the benefits of magnets.

"If Open Choice were seen as the only future expansion [of desegregation programs], you lose the potential impact on urban school districts that magnets represent," he said. "The cost of voluntarily desegregating our schools is going to be substantial, and the least expensive alternative may not be the most effective."

The choice program was known as Project Concern when it began in 1966 with 266 Hartford children bused to schools in Farmington, Manchester, Simsbury, South Windsor and West Hartford. It drew national attention and was once considered a showcase for racial integration, but after reaching a peak of about 1,200 students in the 1970s it fell on hard times and nearly closed.

Today, enrollment hovers near 1,200 again but growth has been slow. A state study last year reported that suburbs have the capacity to enroll three times that number. Still, of more than 4,000 applicants this year, just 236 children were selected in a lottery for new seats, according to CREC.

Suburban officials have been reluctant to open more spaces. Some question the accuracy of the state study on school capacity. Others cite factors such as cost and limited class sizes. Many accept only the youngest students, those in kindergarten or the primary grades, saying older students have more difficulty adjusting or are sometimes lagging academically.

In Granby, for example, schools accept new Open Choice applicants only up to second grade so that they can stay in the Granby system throughout elementary, middle and high school, said Heminway.

"You send us a ninth-grader with $2,500, and there is no way we can service that kid," he said.

To run a choice program successfully, schools should have support to pay for services such as extra training for teachers or after-school buses allowing city children to take part in sports or extracurricular activities, Heminway said.

In Plainville, about 50 students from Hartford attend school under the choice program. "We keep trying to take more, but we don't have the space," said Kathy Binkowski, superintendent of schools. Some classrooms already exceed school board guidelines on class size limits, she said.

An early study of the choice program, then known as Project Concern, said it produced long-term benefits. The study, published in 1992 by Teachers College at Columbia University, found that graduates of the program had lower dropout rates, more social contact with whites, better success in college and fewer problems with police.

"I learned how to deal with different cultures," said Angela Minto, of Hartford, a former Open Choice student and one of nine black graduates in a class of 192 seniors at Plainville High School in 2004.  "In the real world when you grow up, you're going to have to deal with different kinds of people," said Minto, who later attended Howard University, where she graduated in 2008.

Minto's mother enrolled three daughters in the choice program in Plainville, looking for "a diverse education," Minto said, and "a better education than what Hartford schools were giving at the time."

That is the same goal that prompts parents such as Iraida Sanchez, Nathaniel's mother, to put their children's names in the lottery again and again.

"I'm still keeping my fingers crossed," Sanchez said.




Charter Schools - not a popular idea in most states, as of now...

Obama to seek $1.35 billion more for education

YAHOO
By DARLENE SUPERVILLE, Associated Press Writer
January 19, 2010

FAIRFAX, Va. – President Barack Obama announced Tuesday he'll ask Congress for $1.35 billion to extend an education grant program for states, saying that getting schools right "will shape our future as a nation."

Obama outlined the proposal that will be part of his budget request for this year at an elementary school here, where he also held a short discussion with sixth-grade students.

The $787 billion economic stimulus program that Obama signed into law soon after taking office included $4.3 billion in competitive grants for states, nicknamed the "Race to the Top" fund. States must amend education laws and policies to compete for a share of the money.

The deadline to apply for the program is Tuesday, and officials expect more than 30 states to apply. The Education Department is expected to announce its first of two rounds of awards in April — with Obama saying that not all who enter will get a grant.

The president said that extending the program would allow more states to win grants. He also wants to use some of the $1.35 billion for a similarly competitive grant program for local school districts.

"Offering our children an outstanding education is one of our most fundamental — perhaps our most fundamental — obligations as a country," Obama said in brief remarks. "Countries that out-educate us today will out-compete us tomorrow, and I refuse to let that happen on my watch."

With the grant programs, Obama is trying to make federal education spending more of a competitive endeavor to encourage states and school districts to do better, rather than a solely formula-driven effort in which states and districts look forward to receiving a certain amount of money each school year, regardless of how good a job they do educating students.

To that end, Obama sees the use of student test scores to judge teacher performance and the creation of charter schools, which are funded with public money but operate independently of local school boards, as solutions to the problems that plague public education.

National teachers' unions disagree. They argue that student achievement amounts to much more than a score on a standardized test and that it would be a mistake to rely heavily on charter schools.

The "Race to the Top" fund — and the opportunity to compete for the billions of dollars it holds — was designed to encourage states to rework their education systems and bring them more in line with Obama's vision. Education is largely a state and local responsibility.

So far, more than a dozen states have changed laws or policies to link data on student achievement to the performance of teachers and principals, or pave the way for opening more charter schools.

Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, called the administration's plans "exciting."

Obama is expected to send Congress his 2011 budget proposal sometime next month.



State Stands To Win Up To $175M For School Reform
Department of Education Racing To Finish Race To The Top Application
The Hartford Courant
By GRACE E. MERRITT
January 18, 2010

HARTFORD —

The state Department of Education has been racing to finish its application to the federal Race to the Top competition that's designed to stimulate broad-based school reform.

With $4.35 billion on the table — a tantalizing chunk of change in a time of tight budgets — states are fiercely competing to file the most compelling proposal.

"We're in an era of fiscal crisis. This is the only game in town," said Tom Murphy, spokesman for the state Department of Education.

The grant program, part of the federal economic stimulus package, is designed to reward states that promote innovative reforms to improve teaching, do a better job tracking student performance and shore up failing schools.

Connecticut stands to win up to $175 million in Race to the Top money and is working overtime to get towns to sign on, write proposed legislation and iron out hundreds of other details by Tuesday's deadline.

Education Commissioner Mark McQuillan has been working late and on weekends and held numerous meetings with superintendents, teacher organizations and school boards to encourage schools systems across the state to support the application by signing a memorandum of understanding to participate.

So far, 120 out of 187 school districts — including charter schools and regional education centers — have signed up. To promote cooperation, the application encourages each district's superintendent, school board chairman and teacher union representative to sign the agreement.

Some school boards have been hesitant to sign, worried about whether they will be able to withdraw from the project at any time and whether local taxpayers will be saddled with extra costs to keep programs running after the federal money dries up, said Robert Rader, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, which has been advising local boards.

"What we're doing is just telling them they should review details of the state plan, figure how much they are eligible to receive and think about whether the district will be able to support the work when the funding ends in four years," Rader said.

Suffield's board of education, for example, opted not to sign the memorandum of agreement last week, arguing that its estimated $33,000 allocation spread out over four years would not come close to helping the board pay for changes it wants to make.

Connecticut is eligible to receive a maximum of $175 million spread over four years, a small number compared to the $8.5 billion the state spends on pre-kindergarten through Grade 12 public education each year.

Half the Race to the Top money would go directly to local participating towns based on need. Hartford, for example, would get $14.8 million. West Hartford would get a relatively small lump sum of $170,000 in each of the four years.

"Big cities are in for millions of dollars and we're in for diddly-squat. That's not the issue," said Terry Schmitt, vice chairman of the West Hartford school board. The school board voted recently to be a "good citizen" and respond to the commissioner's appeal to sign up but also to take advantage of cutting-edge teacher training and professional development.

The other half of the grant money would pay for state-run activities, such as professional development for teachers, running a regional teacher exchange, building data systems to track students from kindergarten through the public university system, expanding advanced placement courses and hiring more Department of Education employees to run everything.

Along with getting towns to sign on, the board of education is developing proposed legislation to allow for secondary school reform, lift enrollment caps on charter schools and increase state per-pupil grants to charter schools from $9,300 to $10,300.

•Staff writer Shawn Beals contributed to this story.

Copyright © 2010, The Hartford Courant



State Board Of Education Discourages So-Called Tracking In Schools
Hartford Courant
By GRACE E. MERRITT
January 7, 2010

HARTFORD —

The State Board of Education voted Wednesday to oppose the longtime practice of tracking students by academic ability, saying it funnels a disproportionate number of low-income and minority students to less challenging classes that hurt their chances to succeed.

The resolution is not binding on school systems, but is designed to discourage the practice.

The board's resolution calls for schools that do track students to inform parents if their child is on a low track and tell them that the level of course work would not be rigorous enough to allow the child to attend the state university system.

In addition, schools must file annual reports explaining their tracking systems, describing the research that supports them and mapping out the demographic characteristics of students assigned to each track level.

"The intent is not to take issue with instructional-level classes or groups," board member Theresa Hopkins-Staten said. "It's to take issue with the disproportionate number of students of color and low-income students in low-track classes.

"This is something we, as a board, need to monitor ... to ensure high quality education is available to all in this state."

The measure is not aimed at advanced placement courses or honors courses or even just splitting up a classroom into different reading groups, said Tom Murphy, spokesman for the state Department of Education.

"That's not tracking," he said. "Tracking is when you have an A-team and a B-team and maybe even a C-team and you never leave those teams. You have a different curriculum, a different pace and a different set of expectations."

Assistant Education Commissioner George Coleman said the resolution approved unanimously Wednesday is designed to make sure parents realize that their child has been placed in a non-college preparatory track and give them an opportunity to see the data supporting that placement and redress the decision.

Hopkins-Staten said she proposed the resolution after learning that some school systems in Connecticut still adhere to rigid tracking. The Department of Education doesn't know exactly how many school systems still have tracking because schools systems are run and controlled by local school boards.

For instance, the board learned that Danbury and Stamford still have tracking systems — though they're dismantling them — when school leaders presented the board with their school improvement plans recently.

Tracking, which was popular in American schools in the 1970s, has fallen out of favor in some education circles, Murphy said.

"We are trying to get away from it," Murphy said.

Instead, state school officials prefer a more heterogeneous approach in which a wide range of students learn together in one classroom.

"Research says if you are in a heterogeneous classroom where you have students of all levels and experiences, students, particularly students who are struggling, can do better," Murphy said.

Critics, however, say that approach does a disservice to high-achieving students who might become bored as extra time is spent with other students. A group called Stamford Residents for Excellence in Education, for example, has said that Stamford's plan to dismantle tracking would "dumb down" instruction.

There is conflicting research on both sides of the issue.

A study by the Fordham Institute released last month on tracking in Massachusetts middle schools found that more students at schools with two or three levels of math scored near the top of state math tests than those at schools with only one math track.

But Stamford Superintendent of Schools Joshua P. Starr firmly believes in the benefits of "eradicating" the tracking system, which he says serves only high-performing students.

"The kids at bottom stay at bottom and it hurts kids that are traditionally lower performers," he said. "They are not being challenged. They are not being asked to work at a higher level. The evidence is overwhelming. It all leads to the same conclusion: Tracking does not work for those kids."

Copyright © 2010, The Hartford Courant



Kan. Delays Aid Payments to Schools for 3rd Month
NYTIMES
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
January 5, 2010 Filed at 1:52 p.m. ET

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- Kansas is delaying $200 million in aid payments to public schools this month so it can meet state government's payroll and pay other bills on time, its top budget official confirmed Tuesday.

It will be the third consecutive month that an ongoing cash crunch has led the state to postpone payments to its 295 school districts. State officials expect nearly 100 districts will be forced to violate cash management laws to pay their own bills.

The payments to schools, representing part of general aid to school districts, were due Friday, the first day of the new year.

State Budget Director Duane Goossen said the state hopes to make half the payments by the end of the week. But he said it doesn't expect to pay the rest until the end of January because it won't collect enough tax revenues in its main bank account until then.

''It depends on how fast money comes in,'' Goossen told The Associated Press. ''These bills will be paid. It's just that we don't have the cash right now to do it.''

The state's financial juggling comes as legislators, Gov. Mark Parkinson and other officials wrestle with the state's ongoing budget problems. Legislators are scheduled to open their 90-day annual session Monday, and their biggest task will be heading off a projected budget shortfall.

The state delayed general aid payments to schools in November, with half the funds not arriving until early December. It also postponed general aid payments and special education funding in December.

Deputy Education Commissioner Dale Dennis said a third of school districts probably will be forced to violate state laws that govern how they're supposed to manage various accounts.

''The state really needs to step up and honor its commitments,'' said Mark Desetti, a lobbyist for the Kansas National Education Association, the state's largest teachers union. ''This is shameful.''

But Goossen said delaying payments to public schools will allow state government to cover $25 million in payroll expenses this week. Also, he said, the state will make $35 million in aid payments to community colleges on time and pay health care providers $24 million for services to needy Kansans in the Medicaid program.

Meanwhile, state Sens. Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat, and John Vratil, a Leawood Republican, planned to outline a bipartisan budget initiative. Both are members of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, which handles budget legislation.

Kansas Governor Cuts Education Budget; Parkinson Reduces Spending By $259 Million
KMBC-TV
POSTED: 4:39 pm CST November 23, 2009
UPDATED: 7:52 pm CST November 23, 2009

TOPEKA, Kan. -- Kansas Gov. Mark Parkinson announced $259 million worth of spending cuts Monday, reducing funds for highway maintenance and education to shore up a troubled state budget.

The cuts are the fifth such reduction for the state budget year, which ends June 30. Parkinson said Kansas was in historic times, never before seeing two consecutive years of revenue declines, let alone the four-year trough it faces now.

"This has been particularly challenging for the 2010 budget, which has been absolutely decimated by this decline in state revenue," Parkinson said. "There are no longer any easy answers."

The Democrat's plan also calls for drawing down an additional $85.9 million in federal stimulus dollars given to states to prop up budgets. That leaves $189.6 million remaining from Kansas's allocation.

Republicans said Parkinson was helpful in making the cuts, but thought he could have gone deeper in cutting spending without borrowing from transportation funds or federal funds that will be needed next year.

"I applaud the governor's effort to make what are some very difficult decisions," said Rep. Kevin Yoder, chairman of the House budget committee. "What we didn't see and hoped to see were real, significant reductions in government spending."

Legislative budget analysts said Monday that even with the governor's cuts, Kansas already is looking at a 2011 budget hole of as much as $400 million.

Parkinson made the cuts in response to a Nov. 5 revenue estimate that foretold a gap of $260 million between state revenues and approved expenditures. Parkinson said he could not promise there wouldn't be further cuts next spring when the next revenue forecast is given.

Policy-makers use the revenue forecast as the basis for setting the state budget. Estimates are made twice a year, taking into account trends in the economy.

Parkinson said every agency took a hit and will have to adjust accordingly.

"I am genuinely sorry," he said. "There is no way to sugar coat this. This will have negative affects across the state."

The governor promised legislative leaders earlier in the year that he would balance the budget through cuts before the 2010 session begins in January. He said Monday that work on the 2011 budget year begins immediately, but wouldn't commit to pushing to raise taxes to cover future revenue shortfalls.

Legislative action will be required to make permanent Parkinson's cuts, which include a $50 million reduction to the Kansas Department of Transportation for maintenance, $36 million for K-12 schools and $2 million for higher education. Medicaid reimbursements paid to providers, such as doctors, nursing homes and services for the disabled, were reduced 10 percent, or $22 million.

Parkinson said state agencies would have flexibility in responding to the cuts, which may include layoffs or furloughing employees.

Yoder, an Overland Park Republican, said cutting wage costs was the way the state could reduce spending, much like the private sector has been forced to do when the economy slumped.

House Minority Leader Paul Davis, a Lawrence Democrat, said state budget cuts could have been avoided over the past decade if not for tax cuts enacted by Republicans while spending increased.

"This goes far beyond 'trimming the fat' from state agencies," Davis said. "These cuts are now doing severe harm to our public schools, community colleges and universities and the most vulnerable Kansans who are relying on state services to survive this economic downturn."

Derrick Sontag, state director of Americans for Prosperity, which favors smaller government and opposes tax increases, said Parkinson should continue to look for ways to cut inefficiencies and for long-term solutions to end the budget crisis.

Parkinson cautioned school districts not to consider suing the state for additional funding, as they did in 1999. That suit resulted in a 2005 Kansas Supreme Court ruling and a spending increase of nearly $1 billion over the past four years.

The governor said districts should wait to see what state revenues do once the economy rebounds. If education cuts are not restored, then a lawsuit may be necessary, Parkinson said.

Budget Adjustments
An overview of the Governor’s budget reductions and adjustments:

Budget Adjustments: $258.9 Million

    * Targeted, strategic budget reductions in individual agencies as outlined on the attached list.
    * Reduce highway maintenance funds by $50 million. This is achieved by transferring $50 million from the State Highway Fund to the State General Fund.
    * Reduce the amount transferred from the State General Fund to the Bioscience Authority by $5 million. This will still allow $35 million to be transferred from the General Fund to the Bioscience Authority.
    * Reduce funding for K-12 by $36 million and Regents by $2 million, leaving both at 2006 spending levels. Do not fund recommended $155.8 million K-12 increase based on revised estimates of property tax revenue and student enrollment.
    * Move unspent funds from prior years from individual agency budgets to the State General Fund. This includes the Governor’s Office and the Legislature.
    * Reduce Medicaid reimbursement rates by 10%. This cannot be implemented immediately, so it is estimated it will result in savings of $22 million during the last three months of the fiscal year.

Offset Budget Adjustments With Recovery Act Funds: $85.9 Million

    * Reduce K-12 Supplemental General State Aid by $85.9 million, but offset that reduction with $85.9 million of federal Recovery Act funds that had been budgeted for the 2011 fiscal year. This leaves the state with $189.6 million of Recovery Act funds (State Fiscal Stabilization and Special Education funds) for use in the 2011 budget.

    * States have discretion over when to draw down these Recovery Act funds. At least 10 states plan to use all of their Fiscal Stabilization Recovery Act funding by the end of FY 2010. A large majority of states plan to use a greater portion of the funding in FY 2010 and a smaller portion in FY 2011.




In neighboring Westport...
Consultant Projects Drop Off in Elementary Enrollment
WestportNow
Monday, Dec. 7, 2009

An education consultant told the Westport Board of Education tonight that the town’s elementary enrollment could drop off sharply over the next few years.

However, Donald G. Kennedy of the New England School Development Council, known as NESDEC, said the pattern could reverse itself quickly depending on a number of factors, especially the economy.

“Will you lose?’” he asked. “Maybe, maybe not…these are strange economic times.”

Kennedy said based on his analysis, Westport’s middle school population will likely remain the same while the high school population will continue to increase.

The NESDEC official cautioned that because Westport was so different from other towns, it “may not have drop off like other communities.”

“Westport usually recovers more quickly than other communities,” Kennedy said referring to the economy.

He said given the pattern in place, Westport will probably “level off and grow again in student population in a shorter amount of time” than some other communities.

Kennedy said one result of the difficult economy is that Westport has experienced a growth in school enrollment as parents have moved their youngsters from private schools to public schools.

He said this pattern could be reversed quickly if there is an improvement in the economy.

Donald O’Day, chairman of the board, said while the projections were useful he noted that many assumptions used 2000 census numbers and that these numbers were nine years old and likely very outdated.




Layoffs likely after Shelton schools find themselves $700,000 short; Layoffs possible after teachers reject furloughs
CTPOST
By Kate Ramunni, STAFF WRITER
Updated: 12/07/2009 10:43:51 PM EST

SHELTON -- Layoffs are likely as school officials grapple to close a $700,000 gap in the current year's school budget as teachers reportedly have turned back a request to take two furlough days.

The teachers met Monday afternoon with union representatives to vote on a proposal to take two unpaid days -- the last school day of the year and a teacher's development day -- in order to avoid layoffs, but unconfirmed reports say they rejected that request.

Union representative Deb Keller couldn't be reached for comment after the meeting but multiple sources reported that the teachers rejected the furlough proposal. Now school officials say that the result will likely be layoffs, as well as other measures to close the gap.  A combination of an increase in the number of students needing special education services and a decrease in the amount of state special education funds has led to the shortfall, Board of Education chairman Tim Walsh said.

"The state didn't fund what they said they were going to fund," he said. "They're only coming through with about 70 percent of what they did last year."

Add to that a dramatic increase in need and you have a problem, he said.

"Our special education costs are getting away from us -- they're astronomical," he said. There's been an increase of about 50 students requiring special education services this year, he said, and a total of about 200 over the last several years.

There has been more demand for tutors, which is hurting the district's finances, he said, but the district is mandated to provide them. "The mandates are killing us -- it has put quite a strain on us," he said. There are some children who are placed outside the district, and their costs can top $100,000 each, he said.

The problem has consumed school officials' time, he said. "We have been meeting morning, noon and night," he said. And Tuesday night the board will address the problem in open session at 7:15 p.m. in the Shelton Intermediate School auditorium.

"Hopefully (administrators) are going to present plans for mitigation for this year's budget," Walsh said.

Exactly how much is needed to close the gap hasn't been determined yet, Walsh said. "Hopefully we will find out (Tuesday) night," he said.

On Wednesday, Superintendent of Schools Freeman Burr will present his 2010-11 proposed budget at another special meeting at 7:15 p.m. at the Central Office on Long Hill Avenue.

Former board chairman Win Oppel, who still sits on the board, said the figure is about $700,000, which school officials had hoped could be filled in part with a two-day furlough that the teachers' union voted on Monday afternoon.

"Originally it was just under $2 million, but we were able to cover all but $700,000 in our existing budget," Oppel said.

Even if the union had agreed to the two furlough days, there would still have been about a $290,000 gap, Oppel said.

"The furlough days are the least impactful as far as students and classrooms are concerned," Oppel said. "Even with furlough days, the potential for a reduction in staffing is probable, and without it, it would become pretty much a certainty."

Approving the furlough days would have meant that certified staff would likely have been immune from layoffs, Oppel said, which would have fallen on uncertified staff. But rejecting the furlough days means certified staff will likely be included in any layoffs, he said.

When the board approved its budget, it used the 2008-09 budget figures regarding state special education funding, but when state legislators got around to passing a budget months later, that number was considerably less than that, Walsh said.

"Part of it is we assumed we would get from the state at least what we got last year, but that didn't happen," he said. In addition, the board received a zero increase from City Hall, he said.

The school board may return to the Board of Aldermen for help, Walsh said. "Hopefully they will let us come back and appeal for help," he said, "but I don't have great hope that is going to happen."

Aldermanic president John Anglace couldn't be reached Monday afternoon, but Mayor Mark A. Lauretti said he doesn't see the city bailing out the school board.

"Our budget is set and I'm not interested in any new appropriations," he said. "This is something they are going to have to work out for themselves."

The mayor said he doesn't have much sympathy for the school board.

"It's the same old story -- more raises, hire more people, they never have enough money, and meanwhile the test scores are the same," he said. "They are going to have to do whatever they have to do."

When formulating the current school budget, the board's goal was to allow everyone to keep their jobs, Walsh said.

"We did everything we could to avoid layoffs," he said.




E L E C T I O N   I N F O R M A T I O N

At the request of the FORUM, we are including a link to the CT Statutes. This section explains why Board of Education candidates always seem to get fewer votes and thus appear to be less popular that other candidates for seats on other Boards and Commissions:  http://www.cga.ct.gov/2009/pub/chap146.htm#Sec9-204.htm



EDUCATION: Board Discusses Application For Funds; Teacher Evaluation Requirement Raises Concerns
The Hartford Courant
By GRACE E. MERRITT
October 8, 2009

HARTFORD —

Holding its breath and jumping right in, the State Board of Education broached the controversial subject of connecting teacher evaluations to student performance Wednesday as members discussed the state's application for funding under a new federal competition.

To be eligible for the U.S. Department of Education's $5 billion Race to the Top reform-driven competition, applicants must prove that performance assessments for teachers and school administrators are linked to student and school achievement.

The state Department of Education wants to revise legislation to allow that linkage in order to meet a Dec. 30 application deadline.

>> 2009 CMT & CAPT Test Scores Search

The state is developing an ambitious proposal for Race to the Top money that calls for dramatically improving 20 school districts, mostly urban, through secondary school reform and other initiatives.

During Wednesday's meeting, the board discussed various approaches to the teacher evaluation issue, such as linking teacher merit pay to student achievement. The issue proved immediately divisive as board Vice Chairwoman Janet Finneran and others said they could not support merit pay.  Teacher unions, which negotiate pay for members as a group, are generally skeptical of merit pay.

"I just don't want to see us sell our soul as we are racing to the top and not making philosophical decisions along the way," Finneran said.

She also raised concerns about the possibility of setting different salary levels for teachers based on market demand in their fields.

"How can you decide whether a high school math teacher gets more pay than a kindergarten teacher? Teaching kindergarten is a more difficult job," she said.

Board member Lynne Farrell said teachers go into the profession knowing that they won't get rich, but will get satisfaction from the job.  Chairman Allan Taylor said the issue of whether some teachers get paid more than others is separate from the merit pay issue.  Taylor noted that there are various other teacher evaluation models the board can consider.The board eventually agreed to explore models developed by other states and agreed to discuss the issue more fully at a future meeting.

Also during the meeting, state Education Commissioner Mark McQuillan gave a presentation of the state's Race to the Top application, which he is still refining.

Currently, the plan would target 20 districts: Hartford, East Hartford, Manchester, Bloomfield, New Britain, Bristol, Middletown, Meriden, Ansonia, Bridgeport, Danbury, Hamden, Naugatuck, New Haven, New London, Norwalk, Stamford, Waterbury, West Haven and Windham, as well as the state-run Connecticut Technical High School System.  The goal is to make the Class of 2016 ready for college or work, lower the number of students requiring remedial course work in college and lower high school drop-out rates, among other measures.

Also during the meeting, McQuillan told board members he strongly disagreed with recent criticism by the U.S. inspector general's office that Connecticut used economic stimulus money to plug budget holes rather than on education spending.

The inspector general's office said last week that Connecticut, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania may not get Race to the Top money because they misappropriated stimulus money set aside for education.But Connecticut education officials said they used the money to shore up education cost-sharing money funneled to towns. State Department of Education spokesman Tom Murphy said the U.S. Department of Education even complimented the state for its excellent application. Murphy said the state is preparing an official response to "clarify and correct misconceptions."

"We believe we will be treated fairly once he sees the response and notes the compliance," he said.

Copyright © 2009, The Hartford Courant




Another, later, report.
State Education Board Expected to Approve Investigation of Charter School Group

CTNEWSJUNKIE
by Christine Stuart | Jun 30, 2014 5:30am

The state Board of Education will meet at 10 a.m. today to discuss the appointment of a special investigator to examine the operations, finances, and governance of Family Urban Schools of Excellence (FUSE) and Jumoke Academy.

Michael Sharpe, the charter school group’s CEO, resigned last week after his criminal past was revealed in news reports. Sharpe also admitted to the Hartford Courant’s editorial board that he had never received a doctorate in education and also had not graduated from New York University, despite claiming those titles for years in published literature and in remarks to the state legislature.

If the special investigation is approved it will be led by attorney Frederick L. Dorsey of the Hartford law firm Kainen, Escalera & McHale, P.C. Previously, the Education Department retained Dorsey to investigate suspected irregularities in the 2010 Connecticut Mastery Test administration at Hopeville School in Waterbury.

“We are deeply concerned about recent revelations regarding FUSE and Jumoke Academy,” Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor said in a press release last week. “Like all operators of public schools, these organizations have an obligation to meet high standards of organizational governance.”

The investigation is expected to include interviews of members of the organizations’ staff and governing boards, as well as an analysis of relevant documents. Dorsey will work with the Education Department’s Office of Internal Audit to coordinate the financial audit of Jumoke Academy, which is being conducted by O’Connell, Pace & Company.

Since 1998, Jumoke Academy has been given about $53 million in state grants, according Education Department officials. Sharpe didn’t get involved with the charter school organization until 2003.

In addition to Jumoke Academy in Hartford, FUSE operates Bridgeport’s Dunbar Elementary School and had managed Hartford’s Milner Elementary School until Hartford school officials ended that relationship. FUSE also was hired to run a new, state-approved charter school in New Haven.

FUSE’s website was down Sunday.

In the meantime, two other members of the FUSE management team have resigned, including Andrea Comer, a state Board of Education member appointed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who was the chief development officer for the charter school group.





Malloy To Give Charter Schools A Boost

CTNEWSJUNKIE
by Christine Stuart | Feb 6, 2012 11:33am


(Updated 3:10 p.m.) As part of his education focused budget address, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy will propose increasing charter, magnet, and vocational schools funding.

Malloy’s plan will increase funding for charters by $21.6 million. That will bring the per-pupil funding for charter schools from $9,400 to $11,000. And local districts will now be required to pay $1,000 for each student it sends to a charter school. It also includes funding for five new state charter schools.

The proposal was first reported by the CT Post Sunday and was confirmed by a spokesman in the governor’s office Monday.

The proposal will also allow the number of charter schools to grow from 17 to 22 and will allow local school districts to start counting charter school students standardized test scores with their own.

In exchange charter schools will have to demonstrate they are actively recruiting students with special needs, English-language learners, and other low performing students. Public school advocates have complained charter schools avoid those types of students and that‘s why their test scores are often better.

Patrick Riccards, CEO of ConnCAN, said he thinks the proposal is a “positive step forward in bringing equity to all Connecticut school children.”

However, he said it still doesn’t get charter school funding up to the state per pupil average.

The state average per pupil cost is $14,551. In districts which currently host charter schools it’s about $12,690. He said districts which currently send students to charter schools get to keep all of the per pupil funding the state sends them. He said he doesn’t believe giving up $1,000 will be too much of a hardship for many of the districts.

But there are others who will likely disagree.

Jim Finley, executive director and CEO of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, said only 8 percent of students attend charter and magnet schools, while 92 percent attend traditional public schools. He said some of the lower performing school districts will likely have trouble finding $1,000 per student to help send more students to charter schools.

As it is right now the Education Cost Sharing formula is underfunded by $800 million, Finley said.

The proposal was largely praised by the state’s two teacher unions for increasing the per pupil funding for a variety of schools including charters, magnets, vocational technical schools, vocational agricultural schools, and CommPACT schools.

They were also heartened by the idea that charter schools would also have to accept a larger segment of the student population.

“It appears we’re moving in the right direction,” Mary Loftus Levine, executive director of the Connecticut Education Association, said Monday.

But she said she knows there will be concern amongst some “cash strapped districts” who may find it difficult to find the additional funding.

She said the Education Cost Sharing Task Force of which she is a member hasn’t reached any conclusions yet.

Sharon Palmer, president of AFT Connecticut, said she’s also pleased the governor’s proposal requires new charter schools to include students with special needs.

“If we are truly committed to improving education in Connecticut, it must be for every child, not just a select few,“ Palmer said. “We would like to see these requirements expanded to encompass all charter schools in Connecticut. We think this is a good starting point for discussion and look forward to seeing the legislation.”

Meanwhile, Malloy’s plan also offers incentives districts to open their own charter schools with an offer of $3,000 per pupil in state funding and a $500,000 start-up grant.

“Charter schools provide families with options within the public school system, options that can be a real asset in targeting those students who have had trouble achieving success in other schools,” Malloy said Monday in a press release.

Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor, who helped found the Amistad Academy in New Haven, said “The best charter school models help to close the achievement gap, so it makes good sense that the governor’s plan channels charter energy to the places it’s needed most – our lowest performing districts – as well as to the students who need the most attention and greatest opportunity.”


Malloy Proposes 'Commissioner's Network' And $24.8 Million For Lowest-Achieving Schools
Governor Also Calls For $21.6 Million Boost For Charter And Magnet Schools

The Hartford Courant
By KATHLEEN MEGAN, kmegan@courant.com
2:45 PM EST, February 6, 2012

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced plans Monday to create a "Commissioner's Network" and spend $24.8 million to bolster the lowest-performing schools in the state. He also pledged to increase funding for alternative schools — including charter and magnet schools — by $21.6 million.

Malloy's proposal would increase the state's contribution for charter schools from $9,400 to $11,000 per pupil, bringing it closer to the share the state pays per student in traditional public schools. In addition, local schools would be asked to contribute an additional $1,000 per pupil.

"Charter schools provide families with options within the public school system, options that can be a real asset in targeting those students who have had trouble achieving success in other schools," Malloy said.

In recent days, Malloy has been releasing separate prongs of his education reform agenda, which he has said will be a top priority for his administration during the legislative session that starts Wednesday.

Turning Schools Around

Joined by Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra and Hartford Schools Superintendent Christina Kishimoto at the SAND Elementary School in Hartford, Malloy said the centerpiece of his effort on behalf of up to 25 chronically low-achieving schools would be a "Commissioner's Network," a system of supports and interventions to help those schools. In cities such as New York City, the school turnaround model has been known as a "Chancellor's District."

Schools in the network would be administered by a partnership between the home district and the state, or the state would administer the school directly as a temporary trustee.

In some cases, according to the governor's office, the schools could be operated by universities, Regional Educational Service Centers, nonprofit organizations, charter school management organizations, CommPACT "and other providers with proven school designs and track records."

In some cases schools in the network could be significantly restructured to provide more time for learning, with a longer school day and a longer school year.

Schools would be selected for the Commissioner's Network based on low student achievement and lack of progress.

Charter Schools

Malloy noted that when he was mayor of Stamford, two charter schools were created there, and, he said, "the results were overwhelmingly positive. We should assist in the ability of charter schools to reach these high-need student populations while also implementing requirements to ensure that those who can benefit most from this schooling are targeted. This proposal will do just that."

Malloy's proposal also would increase accountability to ensure that schools are focused on underserved student populations.

Stefan Pryor, state commissioner of education, said Malloy's proposal will strengthen and increase the public school options, including charters, magnets, CommPACT schools and more.

"The best charter school models help to close the achievement gap," Pryor said, "so it makes good sense that the governor's plan channels charter energy to the places it's needed most — our lowest-performing districts — as well as to the students who need the most attention and greatest opportunity."

In the past, critics have said that charter schools drain funds away from traditional public schools and serve only a small number of students.

Patrick Riccards, CEO of ConnCAN, a nonprofit education reform group, praised Malloy's proposal for broadening all students' access to alternative schools. he said that for too long students at charter schools "have been treated like second-class citizens."

"Requiring that municipalities contribute to their students' education at charter schools is an important first step in the right direction," Riccards said in a statement.

However, he noted that students in nontraditional public schools are not included in the state's Education Cost Sharing (ECS) formula, which sends state funds to municipalities for school districts.

"While the funding increase to make expenditures at schools of choice more aligned with traditional school district expenditures is laudable, these changes do not address the fundamental issue of funding inequity: that public schools of choice are not included in ECS and their students are therefore at risk of being treated differently under challenging funding conditions," Riccards said.

Among the key aspects of Malloy's proposal for alternative schools:

Invest $5.5 million in new funding to create capacity for opening new schools, including local charter schools, CommPACT schools, community schools, and five new state charter schools.

Add $5 million in per-pupil spending for magnet schools across the state.

Adopt legislation requiring any new charter schools to be created only in high-needs districts.

Mary Loftus Levine, executive director of the Connecticut Education Association, the state's largest teachers' union, could not be immediately reached for comment.


Charter School Battle Shifts to Affluent Suburbs
NYTIMES
By WINNIE HU
July 16, 2011

MILLBURN, N.J. — Matthew Stewart believes there is a place for charter schools. Just not in his schoolyard.

Mr. Stewart, a stay-at-home father of three boys, moved to this wealthy township, about 20 miles from Midtown Manhattan, three years ago, filling his life with class activities and soccer practices. But in recent months, he has traded play dates for protests, enlisting more than 200 families in a campaign to block two Mandarin-immersion charter schools from opening in the area.

The group, Millburn Parents Against Charter Schools, argues that the schools would siphon money from its children’s education for unnecessarily specialized programs. The schools, to be based in nearby Maplewood and Livingston, would draw students and resources from Millburn and other area districts.

“I’m in favor of a quality education for everyone,” Mr. Stewart said. “In suburban areas like Millburn, there’s no evidence whatsoever that the local school district is not doing its job. So what’s the rationale for a charter school?”

Suburbs like Millburn, renowned for educational excellence, have become hotbeds in the nation’s charter school battles, raising fundamental questions about the goals of a movement that began 20 years ago in Minnesota.

Charter schools, which are publicly financed but independently operated, have mostly been promoted as a way to give poor children an alternative to underperforming urban schools — to provide options akin to what those who can afford them have in the suburbs or in private schools.

Now, educators and entrepreneurs are trying to bring the same principles of choice to places where schools generally succeed, typically by creating programs, called “boutique charters” by detractors like Mr. Stewart, with intensive instruction in a particular area.

In Montgomery County, Md., north of Washington, the school board is moving toward its first charter, a Montessori elementary school, after initially rejecting it and two others with global and environmental themes because, as one official said, “we have a very high bar in terms of performance.”

Imagine Schools, a large charter school operator, has held meetings in Loudoun County, Va., west of Washington, to gauge parental interest in charters marketed partly as an alternative to overcrowded schools.

In Illinois, where 103 of the current 116 charter schools are in Chicago, an Evanston school board committee is considering opening the district’s first charter school.

More than half of Americans live in suburbs, and about 1 in 5 of the 4,951 existing charter schools were located there in 2010, federal statistics show. Advocates say many proposed suburban charters have struggled because of a double standard that suggests charters are fine for poor urban areas, but are not needed in well-off neighborhoods.

“I think it has to do with comfort level and assumptions based on real estate and not reality,” said Jeanne Allen, president of the Center for Education Reform in Washington, which studies and supports charter schools. “The houses are nice, people have money, and therefore the schools must be good.”

Ashley Del Sole, a founding member of one of the rejected charters in Montgomery County, said that regardless of how well a district performed, children benefited from choice because not everyone learned the same way. She added that competitive pressure would invigorate schools that had grown complacent.

“There’s sort of this notion that if it’s not broken, why fix it,” Ms. Del Sole said. “But there are people who are not being served.”

With high test scores and graduation rates to flash around, suburban school officials have had an easier time than their urban counterparts arguing that charters are an unnecessary drain on their budgets. In some states, including Virginia, where only local school boards authorize charters, suburban boards have all but kept them out.

“It’s like you’re Burger King and you have to go to McDonald’s to get a license — in most cases you won’t get a friendly reception,” said Roy Gamse, executive vice president of Imagine Schools.

District school boards in Georgia have rejected so many charters that lawmakers created a commission that approved 16 schools over local objections. But after several boards sued, the law was overturned in May, leaving in question the fate of some of those schools.

In New Jersey, where the State Education Department approves charters, school boards and parents have been fighting a proposed school in another suburb, Montclair, north of Millburn, and another Mandarin-immersion school in the Princeton area that was approved last year but has yet to open. Statewide, 15 of 73 charter schools are in the suburbs.

The latest battle, over Hua Mei and Hanyu International — which would start in 2012 with 200 kindergarten through second-grade students drawn from Millburn, Maplewood, Livingston, South Orange, West Orange and Union — has divided neighbors and has spurred calls for legislation to require voter approval to open charters.

Jutta Gassner-Snyder, Hua Mei’s lead applicant, said some of the school’s 12 founders had received threatening e-mails.

“This is not just about the education of my child,” said Ms. Gassner-Snyder, who sends her daughter, Kayla, 4, to a private Mandarin-immersion preschool. “If we just sit back and let school districts decide what they want to do without taking into account global economic trends, as a nation, we all lose.”

Millburn’s superintendent, James Crisfield, said he was caught off guard by the plan for charters because “most of us thought of it as another idea to help students in districts where achievement is not what it should be.” He said the district could lose $270,000 — or $13,500 for each of 20 charter students — and that would most likely increase as the schools added a grade each year.

“We don’t have enough money to run the schools as it is,” Mr. Crisfield said, adding that the district eliminated 18 positions and reduced bus services this year.

Millburn offers Mandarin only in high school, fueling the arguments of those seeking the new charters. “Kids are like sponges,” said Yanbin Ma, a Hanyu founder. “There are so many things they can absorb and become good at, and I feel that our public schools haven’t done enough to take advantage of that.”

But to Mr. Stewart, a leader in a growing opposition that includes Livingston mothers who have helped collect more than 800 petition signatures, this sounds “selfish.”

“Public education is basically a social contract — we all pool our money, so I don’t think I should be able to custom-design it to my needs,” he said, noting that he pays $15,000 a year in property taxes. “With these charter schools, people are trying to say, ‘I want a custom-tailored education for my children, and I want you, as my neighbor, to pay for it.’ ”



Behind the unions' shift on charters

By THOMAS W. CARROLL
Last Updated: 11:20 AM, October 9, 2009
Posted: 1:14 AM, October 9, 2009

NEW York's teachers unions have recently abandoned their open hostility to charter schools. To see whether the shift is real or merely rhetorical, it helps to look at the reasons behind the change in tone.

Shifting politics: By far the biggest factor has been the enthusiastic embrace of charters by President Obama, who was elected with strong union support.

Dick Iannuzzi, president of the state teachers union (New York State United Teachers, or NYSUT) admitted as much to The Albany Times Union this week, when asked if Obama had forced a change in the union's position. Although still unenthusiastic, he said: "I'll be the first to admit I was one of the staunchest opponents [of charters] and waged a real battle in my own school district in Central Islip. The world has changed since then. Charter schools are established."

Mounting evidence: A recent independent evaluation by Stanford Professor Caroline Hoxby has much undercut the union's historic anti-charter position.

The study's most important finding: "A student who attended a New York City charter school for all of grades kindergarten through eight would close about 86 percent of the 'Scarsdale-Harlem achievement gap' in math and 66 percent of the achievement gap in English." Students attending for shorter periods would see "commensurately smaller" gains. The study also showed that charter students were more likely to post higher results on state Regents exams.

In response to the study, Jonathan Gyurko, the point man on charters for the city teachers union, the United Federation of Teachers, grudgingly conceded on the union's blog that "Hoxby's findings are encouraging."

Blowback from union members in charter schools: Teachers at most charters have opted to remain nonunion, but some have unionized. And these union members aren't happy to see their schools facing layoffs this year because their own union got the Legislature to freeze charter funding.

The freeze prompted union members at the Charter School for Applied Technology in Tonawanda to demonstrate outside NYSUT headquarters.

Here in the city, the UFT has had to compromise even at "union" charter schools. For example, it agreed to a more flexible contract with the Green Dot charter that does away with tenure and limits on the length of the school day and permits faster removal of bad teachers than the UFT's master contract with the city.

The union is well aware that Green Dot was the chief organizer of a 2,000-plus parent rally earlier this year at a Los Angeles Board of Education meeting. The rally led the school board to defy the LA teachers union and turn over up to 250 schools to new management by nonprofit charter operators or others.

Green Dot's charismatic leader, Steve Barr, has long argued for collective bargaining in a charter-school context -- a rarity among charter leaders. But, at the same time, Barr is perhaps the fiercest foe of union attempts to block charters or broader education reforms.

Losing the prestige press: Reporters and editors no longer automatically buy the union line on charters. The New York Times has called a national teachers union "aggressively hidebound." The Washington Post recently ran an editorial with the blistering headline: "Poor children learn. Teachers unions are not pleased."

The coming year will show whether the shift in union rhetoric is just cosmetic. Watch three key charter-related issues:

* Will NYSUT again call for a freeze on charter funding?

* Will the unions oppose lifting the cap on the number of charters? The current cap of 200 schools will likely be exhausted early next year.

* Will the unions support preserving SUNY's authority as one of the two state authorizers of charter schools -- or instead push to reserve this power exclusively to the state Board of Regents, which is widely viewed as not especially charter-friendly?

Whether the teachers unions are sincerely shifting is one test that will be easy to grade in the year ahead.

Thomas W. Carroll is president of the Foundation for Education Reform and Accountability.


Charter-school clincher
New York Post
Last Updated: 10:15 AM, September 28, 2009
Posted: 5:07 AM, September 28, 2009

A new study has just blown away any remaining doubts about the remark able success of charter schools.

Maybe now Albany will stand up to the teachers union and finally give more New York students access to these better schools -- by lifting the state cap on them.

Already, charter schools (public schools that operate largely free of union rules) have mounted much evidence, especially in the city, that they out-perform their union-run, public-school counterparts.

Last year, for example, 87 percent of city charter students met math standards, while only 68 percent did at regular schools. In English, 82 percent made the grade at the charters, but only 58 percent did so at traditional schools.

But critics -- like those in the teachers union -- have pooh-poohed such data, claiming that charter schools score better only because they admit better students.

Families that apply to charters, they claim, are likely more interested in education -- so their kids are more likely to do better, no matter where they go to school.

But Stanford economist Caroline Hoxby's new study shatters that argument.

She compared the scores of applicants who were accepted to New York charter schools with those of students who were not. Turns out, the ones who got in to the charters did better -- by about six percentage points in math and five in English.

But the key here is that New York charters don't get to cherry-pick students; kids are accepted strictly by lottery. So Hoxby's study strongly suggests that it is the schools, not the students or their families, that make the difference.

Only one question left: Will Albany let more of these better schools open?

Two years ago, the Legislature raised the cap on charters to 200 statewide and 100 in the city. But why have a cap at all, except to please the teachers union (which doesn't particularly like the competition)?

Albany needs to do what Secretary of Education Arne Duncan wants every state to do: Ditch the cap completely.

Lawmakers no longer have any honest excuse.



Regional Shift Seen in Education Gap
NYTIMES
By SAM DILLON
July 15, 2009

Historically, the achievement gap between America’s black and white students was widest in Southern states, where the legacies of slavery and segregation were reflected in extremely low math and reading scores among poor African-American children.

But black students have made important gains in several Southern states over two decades, while in some Northern states, black achievement has improved more slowly than white achievement, or has even declined, according to a study of the black-white achievement gap released by the Department of Education this morning.

As a result, the nation’s most dramatic black-white gaps are no longer seen in Southern states like Alabama or Mississippi, but rather in Northern and Midwestern states like Wisconsin, Nebraska, Connecticut and Illinois, according to the federal data.

The study plotted the evolution of average scores of black and white students on the series of federal tests, known as the National Assessment of Educational Progress, that were administered every two to four years in both math and reading from 1992 through 2007.

Nationwide, the average math score in 1992 for fourth grade white students on a 500-point scale was 227, compared to an average score of 192 for black students that year. Those scores resulted in a black-white gap of 35 points.

By 2007, the most recent year included in the new study, average fourth grade white math scores had risen to 248, but average black scores had risen faster, to 222, thus narrowing the black-white gap to 26 points, about the equivalent of two and a half years of schooling.

By 2007, the widest black-white gap in the nation on the fourth-grade math test, (not counting the District of Columbia, which is not a state) showed up not in the deep South but in Wisconsin.

White students in Wisconsin scored 250, slightly above the national average, but blacks scored 212, producing a 38 point achievement gap. That average black score in Wisconsin was lower than for blacks in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, or in any other Southern state, and 10 points below the national average for black students, the study indicates.

Wisconsin was the only state in which the black-white achievement gap in 2007 was larger than the national average in both the fourth and eighth grade tests of both math and reading, according the study.

“I was just in Wisconsin meeting with principals, and I showed them the scores, and that they had the largest achievement gaps, and they were just stunned,” said Kati Haycock, president of Education Trust, a Washington-based nonprofit that works to close achievement gaps. “Black kids in Wisconsin do worse than in all these Southern states and the reason is that they haven’t been focusing on doing what’s necessary to close these gaps.”

Nebraska is another Midwestern state where black student achievement is lower than anywhere in the old South. In eighth-grade math, for instance, the average score among Nebraska’s black students in 2007 was 240 on a 500-point scale, compared to the national average for blacks of 259, according to the federal data. The average score for black eighth-graders was 246 in Alabama, 251 in Mississippi, 258 in Louisiana, and 261 in Georgia.

The average white eighth grade score in Nebraska in math was 291, almost exactly the national average, resulting in a black-white gap there of 51 points, far larger than in any other state.

Connecticut is another Northern state where achievement gaps are larger than in states across the South, the federal study shows. That is partly because white students in Connecticut score above the national average, but also because blacks there, on average, score lower than blacks elsewhere.



Stimulus Funds Are Wildcard In Local Budgets 
DAY
By Karin Crompton 
Published on 5/25/2009

As legislators wrangle and bicker in Hartford over state budget details, local towns and school districts are embarking upon their annual ritual of drafting proposed municipal budgets without knowing exactly how much state funding they will receive.  This year's guessing game is more complex than in most years, however, as municipalities also factor in federal economic stimulus funds and try to sift through the regulations attached to the federal funds headed their way.

A large chunk of stimulus money that will directly influence local budgets comes in the form of education funds. And while the federal government released the money and sent out instructions for its use on April 1, local and state officials are still maneuvering through the details.

”I'm right in the middle of it right now,” Groton superintendent Paul Kadri said during a phone interview on Friday. “It's so complicated I don't even know where to begin.”

And that comes from someone who said he felt he had a good grasp of the subject.

”I feel we're on top of it,” Kadri said, “but make no bones about it, my desk is a mess.”

The stimulus funds for education are split into three categories: Title I (typically for low-income districts); IDEA (special education); and “fiscal stabilization” funds.

The first two pots of money are being doled out according to existing formulas districts are already familiar with. With a few exceptions about how the money can be used - qualifying districts can use up to half of their special education funds for other purposes, for example - these two categories are largely seen as the most straightforward of the stimulus funds.  Then there is the stabilization money.

A one-time appropriation of $48.6 billion nationally, the stabilization funding, as the name indicates, is meant to “minimize and avoid reductions in education and other essential services,” according to the federal education department's Web site.  Each state has to apply for its share, demonstrating in its application to the federal government that it will use the funds according to the guidelines laid out.

Twenty-two states and Puerto Rico have already applied for the stabilization funds, according to the federal education department's Web site, with 13 already having received money.  But Connecticut has not yet applied for its $541 million in stabilization funds.

Tom Murphy, a spokesman for the state Department of Education, said the department and the governor's budget office each has a role in putting together the application. Murphy said Connecticut ran into some minor technical issues regarding how the state funds its education grant program and how that jibes with federal guidelines for the stimulus funds.  The spokesman in Gov. M. Jodi Rell's office who fields stimulus questions was off on Friday and unavailable to explain Connecticut's delay in applying.

Meanwhile, local officials grapple with the unknowns in how the funds can be used, some saying they're awaiting guidance from the state, some pointing to the federal government.

”We have no idea yet what strings are going to be attached to another 2, 3, 4 million, whatever it's going to be, that the city's going to get from ARRA (the stimulus package) and whether that is supplantable or supplementable or what at this point in time,” said Donald Goodrich, New London's interim director of finance.

Goodrich was referring to a key component of the stabilization funds: the distinction between the terms “supplement” and “supplant.” Federal guidelines indicate that the stabilization funds can only be used to supplement a school district's budget, not be used in place of, or supplant, other funds.

In other words, a municipality - and, apparently, the state - is not supposed to “take” from education budgets and use stabilization funds to fill in the gap.  That point is still fuzzy to many, however. Goodrich suggested the federal government re-examine the point “because everyone is really getting hammered.”

”I think there's a lot of public misperception in how you can use the money,” said Christine Carver, New London's assistant superintendent of schools. “People think you can offset the local budget through the stimulus money and you absolutely can't.”

However, Goodrich asked, what if the school district doesn't have a perfect match for the funds?

”What if you cannot expend that (money) wisely; isn't it better to then supplant and not just supplement to be spending money?” he asked. “Or can we use it to, as we saw with the Board of Education adopting its budget, (avoid) reductions in staff? Can we use it to bring some of the staff back? Is that supplanting local dollars or supplementing it?”

It appears the state is considering the same issues. Connecticut is currently considering cutting its state education grant money, known as ECS funding, by 14 percent, then filling in the gap with stimulus funds. 
Murphy, the Department of Education spokesman, said one of the state's technical issues was whether its pledge to flat-fund the state education grant money would affect Connecticut's eligibility for the stimulus funds.  According to Murphy, the U.S. Department of Education “keeps saying in their guidance that dollars would be used to restore” funding.

But the prospect of a 14 percent cut to a crucial piece of state funding has many towns worried, local officials said.

A 14 percent cut in ECS funding means $4.5 million to Norwich, said Joseph Ruffo, the city comptroller. Ruffo said officials who attended a meeting of the Connecticut Council of Municipalities last week were concerned that school districts could find themselves 14 percent over budget already, and some went so far as to say the cut could bankrupt their communities.

Ruffo was more measured, saying Norwich hasn't yet passed a budget and still has a couple of weeks to receive clarification. Still, even if the state intends to fill the gap with stimulus funds, it will pose complications, he said.

”What we hear is (the state is) finding more information about how this process will go forward, but this $4.5 million will be treated separately, and there will be all sorts of requirements and stipulations on how that money will be spent,” he said. 
 

Conn. considers 'green cleaning' in schools 
DAY
Posted on May 5, 12:52 PM EDT

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) -- A coalition of lawmakers and health advocacy groups are asking Connecticut's General Assembly to require all public schools to use environmentally friendly cleaning products.

They gathered Tuesday to support a proposal that would bar school districts from using products that contain various toxic substances and are not certified as environmentally friendly.

Connecticut already requires crews to use certified green cleaning products in all state-owned buildings, including its universities and vocational-technical schools.

The legislation expanding the rules to public school buildings awaits House action, and would give districts two years to start meeting the new standards.


Op-Ed Columnist: ‘No Picnic for Me Either’
NYTIMES
By DAVID BROOKS
March 13, 2009

In his education speech this week, Barack Obama retold a by-now familiar story. When he was a boy, his mother would wake him up at 4:30 to tutor him for a few hours before he went off to school. When young Barry complained about getting up so early, his mother responded: “This is no picnic for me either, Buster.”

That experience was the perfect preparation for reforming American education because it underlines the two traits necessary for academic success: relationships and rigor. The young Obama had a loving relationship with an adult passionate about his future. He also had at least one teacher, his mom, disinclined to put up with any crap.

The reform vision Obama sketched out in his speech flows from that experience. The Obama approach would make it more likely that young Americans grow up in relationships with teaching adults. It would expand nurse visits to disorganized homes. It would improve early education. It would extend the school year. Most important, it would increase merit pay for good teachers (the ones who develop emotional bonds with students) and dismiss bad teachers (the ones who treat students like cattle to be processed).

We’ve spent years working on ways to restructure schools, but what matters most is the relationship between one student and one teacher. You ask a kid who has graduated from high school to list the teachers who mattered in his life, and he will reel off names. You ask a kid who dropped out, and he will not even understand the question. Relationships like that are beyond his experience.

In his speech, Obama actually put more emphasis on the other side of the equation: rigor. In this context, that means testing and accountability.

Thanks in part to No Child Left Behind, we’re a lot better at measuring each student’s progress. Today, tests can tell you which students are on track and which aren’t. They can tell you which teachers are bringing their students’ achievement up by two grades in a single year and which are bringing their students’ levels up by only half a grade. They can tell you which education schools produce good teachers and which do not.
New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein has data showing that progress on tests between the third and eighth grades powerfully predicts high school graduation rates years later — a clear demonstration of the importance of these assessments.

The problem is that as our ability to get data has improved, the education establishment’s ability to evade the consequences of data has improved, too. Most districts don’t use data to reward good teachers. States have watered down their proficiency standards so parents think their own schools are much better than they are.

As Education Secretary Arne Duncan told me, “We’ve seen a race to the bottom. States are lying to children. They are lying to parents. They’re ignoring failure, and that’s unacceptable. We have to be fierce.”

Obama’s goal is to make sure results have consequences. He praises data sets that “tell us which students had which teachers so we can assess what’s working and what’s not.” He also aims to reward states that use data to make decisions. He will build on a Bush program that gives states money for merit pay so long as they measure teachers based on real results. He will reward states that expand charter schools, which are drivers of innovation, so long as they use data to figure out which charters are working.

The administration also will give money to states like Massachusetts that have rigorous proficiency standards. The goal is to replace the race to the bottom with a race to the top, as states are compelled to raise their standards if they hope to get federal money.

In short, Obama hopes to change incentives so districts do the effective and hard things instead of the easy and mediocre things. The question is whether he has the courage to follow through. Many doubt he does. They point to the way the president has already caved in on the D.C. vouchers case.

Democrats in Congress just killed an experiment that gives 1,700 poor Washington kids school vouchers. They even refused to grandfather in the kids already in the program, so those children will be ripped away from their mentors and friends. The idea was to cause maximum suffering, and 58 Senators voted for it.

Obama has, in fact, been shamefully quiet about this. But in the next weeks he’ll at least try to protect the kids now in the program. And more broadly, there’s reason for hope. Education is close to his heart. He has broken with liberal orthodoxy on school reform more than any other policy. He’s naturally inclined to be data driven. There’s reason to think that this week’s impressive speech will be followed by real and potentially historic action.


Ariz. District Cuts School Week to Save Cash
NYTIMES
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Filed at 2:31 p.m. ET
February 14, 2009

SIERRA VISTA, Ariz. (AP) -- A school district has decided to shrink the school week from five days to four in an effort to save cash because of the deepening recession and falling enrollment.

The Bisbee Unified School District board voted Thursday to close schools every Friday for the next two school years. District Superintendent Gail Covington had recommended the shortened school week as a way to save $500,000 each year in the small southeastern Arizona town.

School days would be lengthened by an hour to make up the lost instructional time.

Bisbee Unified had just under 1,000 students during the 2007-2008 school year at four schools: an elementary, middle, junior high and high school. The superintendent has proposed closing the middle school and moving some grades.

Covington said the Friday closures are a more desirable alternative to laying off 13 teachers, but some staff -- including principals, cafeteria and custodial workers -- would lose their jobs.

She acknowledged that working families would have a hard time finding child care on Fridays.

Rebecca Barten, mother of a kindergartener in the district, said parents who attended the board meeting weren't allowed to address the panel before the vote. ''I wanted to hear about all the possible scenarios, not just what was said,'' she said.

Other school districts have proposed cutting school weeks to save on high fuel costs.


Stamford here, Montville here (in another part of CT)
Starr requests smaller school budget hike
Stamford ADVOCATE
By Wynne Parry, STAFF WRITER
Posted: 02/10/2009 11:08:14 PM EST

STAMFORD -- Superintendent Joshua Starr said Tuesday night he hopes to reduce his budget request hike from 4.6 percent to 3.8 percent, a savings of $1.7 million.

He also proposed using $160,000 from the retirement of an assistant superintendent to restore some of the cuts he proposed for high school athletics, choral and debate programs.

Starr presented the changes to the Board of Education, which is scheduled to vote on the budget Thursday.

"This is where I think it becomes really clear to folks the choices we have to make in this economy," Starr said. "I still frankly don't know if the Board of Ed will support (3.8 percent) or if the other board will support it."

Assistant Superintendent Eileen Swerdlick, who heads the Office of Family and Community Engagement, announced her retirement last week. Meanwhile, the board is considering a proposal to cut new supplies for sports, freshman sports and one semester of teacher stipends for choral and debate programs at Westhill and Stamford high schools.

Debaters from both schools turned out to speak with board members before the meeting and hand out letters supporting their programs.

Starr said principals and the athletic directors would decide where to distribute the reduced cut.

Board members reacted warily to leaving Swerdlick's position unfilled because the Office of Family and Community Engagement tries to get parents involved in their children's schooling. A literacy workshop sponsored by the office attracted nearly 10 times as many parents in January as in previous years.

Board member Jackie Heftman suggested replacing that with a lower-level position. But board member Robert King worried about making such a change.

"I don't want to lose that visibility because of the changes we are trying to do in the budget," he said.

The reduction in Starr's budget request was made possible by several factors.

The city reduced the amount it charges the Board of Education for services shared between the city and the schools by $1.5 million.

Locking in the cost of fuel for buses saved $50,000, and the projected spending for oil heat dropped by $100,000.

Starr's proposal takes into account a reduction in the amount the board can anticipate paying for certain post-employment benefits. And Starr said he and other high-level central office administrators will give up $21,000 in bonuses next year.

Board President Susan Nabel said the new increase of 3.8 percent is below what is needed to maintain the schools.

"I am not willing to support any other cuts below this level," she said.



Weston girls basketball reaches states
Posted on 02/14/2009
Staff reports

WESTON -- Brittany Swanson tied a season high with 27 points, including three 3-pointers, to lead the Weston High girls basketball team to a 57-47 victory over New Milford on Senior Night Friday to clinch a state tournament berth.

The Trojans raised their record 8-10 overall, 4-7 SWC and qualified for the state playoffs for the first time since the 2004-2005 season.

"We're very happy," Weston first-year coach Pat Cole said. "It's something we wanted and to do it on Senior Night for Marissa Diaz was great. The kids worked so hard and adjusted to a new system and went through the highs and lows. We're looking forward to the second season."

Weston had the lead throughout and held off the Green Wave in the second half. Hannah Hutchins aided the cause with 14 points and buried two 3-pointers.


See what happens when you have a track to practice on and a new gym?
Weston boys, girls sweep to SWC crowns
Norwalk HOUR
Posted on 02/08/2009

The Weston track and field teams swept both titles at the South-West Conference Championships Saturday night at the New Haven Athletic Center.

The girls scored 144.5 points to blow the field away and claim their fourth consecutive conference championship. Masuk was a distant second with 86 points.

Weston's boys had a closer battle but hung on to win their fifth title in six years with 93 points, five points better than Masuk.

The Trojans were edged by a point for the top spot a year ago.

Steven Piscatelli (first in the 1,000 meters) and Danny Eldon (first in the shot put) led the boys charge.

For the girls, pole vaulters Emily Ando and Julie Sitver put on a two-person tutorial in taking the top two spots. Sitver tied the state record of 11 feet, 6 inches, and Ando followed by clearing that same height a few minutes later.

A little while after that Ando created new girls' state standard by clearing 12 feet to win the event.

Weston also ran 1-2 in the 600 meters, with Rebecca Fine first and Meg Sanborn second. In the 1,000 meters Emma Tobin finished first, followed by Sarah Griffin.

Ando also took first in the hight jump at 4-10, Kathryn Bacher was best in the long jump at 15-10, and the Trojans won the sprint-medley, 4x400 and 4x200 relays.

Cathy Roberts ran second in the 55-meter dash, while Callie Arlo was runner-up in the 300.

"Obviously it was an outstanding job by everyone," head coach Matt Medve said.


Next Big Thing To Go Online Could Be College Education 
DAY
By Tamar Lewin , New York Times News Service 
Published on 1/26/2009

An Israeli entrepreneur with decades of experience in international education plans to start the first global, tuition-free Internet university, a nonprofit venture he has named the University of the People.
”The idea is to take social networking and apply it to academia,” said the entrepreneur, Shai Reshef, founder of several Internet-based educational businesses.

”The open-source courseware is there, from universities that have put their courses online, available to the public, free,” Reshef said. “We know that online peer-to-peer teaching works. Putting it all together, we can make a free university for students all over the world, anyone who speaks English and has an Internet connection.”

About 4 million students in the United States took at least one online course in 2007, according to a survey by the Sloan Consortium, a nonprofit group devoted to integrating online learning into mainstream higher education.

Online learning is growing in many different contexts. Through the Open Courseware Consortium, started in 2001 by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, universities around the world have posted materials for thousands of courses - as varied as Lambing and Sheep Management at Utah State and Relativistic Quantum Field Theory at MIT - all free to the public. Many universities now post their lectures on iTunes.

For-profit universities like the University of Phoenix and Kaplan University have extensive online offerings. And increasingly, both public and private universities offer at least some classes online.

Outside the United States, too, online learning is booming. Open University in Britain, for example, enrolls about 160,000 undergraduates in distance-learning courses.

The University of the People, like other Internet-based universities, would have online study communities, weekly discussion topics, homework assignments and exams. But in lieu of tuition, students would pay only nominal fees for enrollment ($15 to $50) and exams ($10 to $100), with students from poorer countries paying the lower fees and those from richer countries paying the higher ones.

Experts in online education say the idea raises many questions.

”We've chatted about doing something like this over the last decade but decided the time wasn't yet right,” said John Bourne, executive director of the Sloan Consortium. “It's true that the open courseware movement is pretty robust, so there are a lot of high-quality course materials out there, but there's no human backup behind them. I'd be interested to know how you'd find and train faculty and ensure quality without tuition money.”

Other educators question the logistics of such a plan.

”The more you get people around the world talking to each other, great, and the more they talk about what they're learning, just wonderful,” said Philip G. Altbach, director of the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College. “But I'm not at all sure, when you start attaching that to credits and degrees and courses, that it translates so well.

”How will they test students? How much will the professors do? How well does the American or British curriculum serve the needs of people in Mali? How do they handle students whose English is not at college level?”

Reshef said his new university would use active and retired professors - some paid, some volunteers - along with librarians, master-level students and professionals to develop and evaluate curriculums and oversee assessments.

He plans to start small, limiting enrollment at 300 students when the university goes online in the fall and offering only bachelor's degrees in business administration and computer science. Reshef said the university would apply for accreditation as soon as possible.

Reshef hopes to build enrollment to 10,000 over five years, the level at which he said the enterprise should be self-sustaining. Startup costs would be about $5 million, Reshef said, of which he plans to provide $1 million.

Reshef is now chairman of Cramster.com, an online study community offering homework help to college students.

”Cramster has thousands of students helping other students,” said Reshef, who lives in Pasadena, Calif., where both Cramster and the new university are based. 


Boston still vexed by school busing
Justin A. Rice THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Sunday, November 1, 2009


BOSTON | More than three decades after a federal court order forced Boston to desegregate schools by busing black students to white neighborhoods and whites to black areas, the birthplace of public education is still fighting the battle.

But the lines no longer pit race against race, with 87 percent of the student body now minorities.

Now the city is wrestling with school-choice issues and an antiquated busing system that can send a lone student on a bus ride across the city. And the more the Boston Public Schools system assigns students to neighborhood schools, rather than bus them across town, the more likely it is that children in the poorest neighborhoods will go to the worst-performing schools.

Boston schools still let parents pick schools, but only within three enormous and controversial geographical zones. Buses carting only one student often crisscross the city - contributing to next year's nearly $80 million transportation budget at a time when the district faces a projected $100 million budget shortfall.

Proposals to replace the 20-year-old school-assignment zones with five smaller ones fizzled twice this decade, most recently in June. And while the city secured federal funding this month to take another stab at overhauling its busing system, the issue remains a political hot potato that is not among the talking points of either mayoral candidate.

"And they won't talk about it because it's very divisive," said Myriam Ortiz, executive director of Boston Parent Organizing Network, which successfully argued that Boston Public Schools' recent proposal to return to neighborhood schools drastically decreased access to quality schools for the city's poorest students, "because communities where better schools are located could care less about the communities where the underperforming schools are located."

"I know this for a fact. A few months ago, we heard parents testifying that their schools should not receive budget cuts because their schools perform better. They said, 'The schools that are not performing, budget cuts should be their punishment.' "

At a recent debate, Mayor Thomas M. Menino had his performance on education graded by his opponent - City Council member Michael F. Flaherty Jr., who gave him an "F" - and by himself. He said he'd grade himself "maybe a B-plus, no, a B. I'll be generous."

The two men sparred over the mayor's record: "We boast of having the best colleges and universities in the world, yet children who actually do graduate from Boston Public Schools will never get an opportunity to compete," the mayor's 40-year-old challenger said. Each man slung around statistics on dropouts, but neither addressed the educational elephant in the auditorium at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum: busing.

Mr. Menino, who called for the abolition of busing in his 2008 State of the City Address, could not be reached for comment for this report.

During a phone interview, Mr. Flaherty, a proponent of neighborhood schools who said he recently realized the need to focus initially on improving school quality, did address busing frankly.

"The city has a long history with the subject; at the same time, things have changed tremendously," said Mr. Flaherty, who was born five years before the 1974 forced-busing ruling. "We need to be sensitive to the issue and recognize the past. I've seen Boston at its best and at its very worst. To dismiss and discount the past is shortsighted. We need to put all the issues on the table.

"The discussion around school assignment can be polarizing already. With that said, maybe we do need to have a frank discussion about race in Boston, where we came from and where we are now before we embark on this particular issue."

While Boston's third attempt to rewrite its school-assignment plan since 2004 has gone untouched this political season, Washington has taken notice.

On Oct. 1, 35 years after the now-deceased federal Judge W. Arthur Garrity Jr. ruled that Boston Public Schools practiced de facto segregation, the U.S. Department of Education awarded Boston a $241,680 grant.

The Technical Assistance for Student Assignment Plans grant is designed to help school districts reconcile long-term effects of busing by studying the practices of cities nationwide. The 11 districts awarded the grant have 12 to 24 months to use the funds and cast wide nets in reaching out to school-assignment experts and civil rights activists.

For the Boston Public Schools system - which has 72 percent of its students eligible for subsidized free and reduced-price meals - the challenge is deflating a bloated transportation budget without impeding access to the city's best schools.

Superintendent Carol Johnson shelved her five-zone plan in June after it was revealed that the majority of the district's underperforming schools were concentrated in the two zones populated by the city's poorest residents.

Parents in those two zones were irate after learning they wouldn't have equal access to bilingual and special education.

"We are pleased about the grant; it will help propel us further and faster," Ms. Johnson said by phone. "But even if we had not gotten the grant, we are committed to making changes to improve the quality of schools in Boston."

While BPS abolished race-based school assignment in 1999, the district currently conducts a school-choice lottery, in which students apply to elementary and middle schools within their zone of residence. They can apply to schools outside their zone as long as they are within walking distance of their home. High schools are accessible citywide.

Ms. Johnson was widely applauded for tossing out her five-zone plan this summer. But even after she announced in August that she was applying for federal money to aid her new efforts, skepticism remained widespread.

"I don't believe they're going back to the drawing board," said Carlos Henriquez, a City Council candidate who says 10 out of 11 elementary schools in his predominantly black and Hispanic district chronically underperform. "They are waiting until November 3 is over, then they'll propose a plan that convinces nobody." Election Day is Nov. 3.

In 2004, before Ms. Johnson's tenure began, a similar school-assignment proposal also failed. Just as they did this summer, community organizers and parents argued that the district should improve underperforming schools before addressing transportation woes.

While Ms. Johnson says BPS can simultaneously work toward improving poor schools and ending busing, Mr. Henriquez said presenting a school-assignment plan would be much easier once all schools performed equally.

"They can quickly throw together a transportation plan," the 32-year-old said, "but no one can put together how to improve 10 of 11 schools."

In 2008, state officials deemed 100 of 143 schools "in need of improvement" before Ms. Johnson closed or consolidated chronically inadequate schools. About three-quarters of the city's 135 schools underperform today, but Ms. Johnson has increased the number of seats in well-performing schools.

"I think we have some evidence that we made some improvement," Ms. Johnson said. "I also think that since some parents feel they didn't get any of their top three [school choices], they still want us to make sure we address that issue. Yes, some people will feel better about the school their child is in, but not everyone is satisfied. That's why it's important for us to have the grant. We need to think about all the different ways to have a choice system."

While busing battles in Seattle and Louisville played out in the Supreme Court two years ago, Boston has hashed out school-assignment debates hyper-locally in church basements, school cafeterias and auditoriums.

And while the Supreme Court ultimately limited the role race can play in determining student assignment, in Boston the issue is not especially racial, since only 9 percent of public-school students are white, compared with 39 percent black and 37 percent Hispanic.

The battle in Boston pits those trying to preserve access to quality schools, as well as the English language and special education, versus those lobbying for a return to neighborhood schools.

East Boston resident Gloribell Mota wasn't satisfied with the middle schools in her predominantly Spanish-speaking neighborhood a few years ago. So her son traveled 1 1/2 hours by bus each way to attend a better school.

Ms. Mota credits that decision for helping him test into Boston Latin School, the jewel of the district and the nation's oldest public school, founded in 1635. But leaving the neighborhood to attend middle school wasn't easy.

"It wasn't like he could stay after school with his friends hanging out, it was straight home an hour and a half on the bus," said Ms. Mota, whose daughter is in kindergarten. "I want to make sure she has those options as well.

"Until BPS takes a structural look at some of the schools, parents will continue to oppose [a new busing plan]. They want quality schools in the neighborhoods."

Ms. Mota recently walked a few blocks from her home to attend her daughter's parent-teacher conferences and acknowledged that neighborhood schools can foster community and parent involvement.

When defending her school-assignment proposal last winter, Ms. Johnson said the geographical districts reflected parents' desires to choose schools closer to home.

Neighborhood schools, however, are not a silver bullet. The Orchard Gardens Pilot School sets aside 75 percent of its seats for students within walking distance of the school in Boston's Roxbury neighborhood, but Mr. Henriquez notes that it still underperforms.

Ms. Johnson said she understands why parents are pushing so hard for high quality, but added that the debate can sometimes get sidetracked by focusing too much on transportation and school choice.

"I do sometimes think we lose track of what the core of our work in schools is," Ms. Johnson said. "The core business of schools is about student achievement. That is what this is about. We have to keep making sure we ask questions that drive the agenda toward student achievement and student success, as opposed to focusing solely on choice.

"Parents do want choice, but to what end?"




Chicago school chief Arne Duncan got the nod!  And he's off and running with a race to the...top?

Obama Offers 'Race to the Top' Contest for Schools

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Filed at 2:23 p.m. ET
July 24, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Using money as bait, President Barack Obama challenged states and school districts Friday to raise their academic standards, improve teacher quality and allow more innovation if they want a chance at roughly $5 billion in new grants.

Obama said the broad goals are to give every child a chance to succeed and to boost the educational foundation of the nation's economy. Yet the ''Race to the Top'' program is also specifically targeted at expanding reforms the administration wants, such as linking teacher pay to how well students do on tests.

''This competition will not be based on politics or ideology or the preferences of a particular interest group,'' Obama said in an appearance at the Education Department. ''Instead, it will be based on a simple principle: whether a state is ready to do what works.''

The president added: ''Not every state will win and not every school district will be happy with the results. But America's children, America's economy, America itself will be better for it.''

Obama said the states and districts that apply for money will be evaluated by clear criteria, with rewards going to those that adopt strong standards and common tests; that get high-quality teachers in the classroom; and that allow expansions of charter schools, which are public schools that operate with more independence. He endorsed the idea of linking student achievement to teacher pay -- a hotly debated idea in education -- but said it should be just one factor in compensation.

As he has with other domestic priorities, Obama said reforming education has been talked about without enough action for years.

Speaking of the need to improve academics nationwide, he said: ''We have no choice. And I'm absolutely confident that we can make it happen.''

The $5 billion education fund, part of the economic stimulus law enacted this year, is seen as Obama's shot at revamping schools over the next couple of years.

A state will have to meet a series of conditions to earn points and boost its chances. Some of those conditions are controversial, especially among teachers' unions, which make up an influential segment of Obama's Democratic base.

For example, the administration says it will not award money to states that bar student performance data from being linked to teacher evaluations. Several states, including California, New York and Wisconsin, have such a prohibition.

But there are also elements the unions will embrace; states can earn points by submitting letters of support from state union leaders.

The Obama administration is using the stimulus not only to help schools ride out the recession but to try to transform the federal government's role in education. Education Secretary Arne Duncan envisions the dollars going to perhaps 10 to 20 states that can serve as models for innovation.

The $5 billion fund might not seem like much, considering the stimulus bill provided $100 billion for schools. But the fund is massive compared with the $16 million in discretionary money Duncan's predecessors got each year for their own priorities.

Moreover, the fund has taken on added importance because in many states, the bulk of the stimulus money is being used to fill increasingly larger budget holes, and not for the innovations Obama wants.

A report from the Government Accountability Office earlier this month said school districts are planning to use the money mostly to prevent teacher layoffs.

''Most did not indicate they would use these funds to pursue educational reform,'' the report said. The GAO is the investigative arm of Congress.

Already, the promise of an extra $5 billion has helped Duncan prod state legislatures to do the administration's bidding.

For example, he warned Tennessee lawmakers they could lose out on the money if they kept blocking a bill to let more kids into charter schools; within weeks, the bill was enacted and signed into law.

''It's amazing the amount of progress, literally, without us spending a dime,'' Duncan said.

The Education Department will gather public comment on its rules for the $5 billion fund for the next 30 days; applications will be available in October, and the first round of money should be awarded early next year.


Who Will He Choose?
NYTIMES OP-ED
By DAVID BROOKS

December 5, 2008

As in many other areas, the biggest education debates are happening within the Democratic Party. On the one hand, there are the reformers like Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee, who support merit pay for good teachers, charter schools and tough accountability standards. On the other hand, there are the teachers’ unions and the members of the Ed School establishment, who emphasize greater funding, smaller class sizes and superficial reforms.

During the presidential race, Barack Obama straddled the two camps. One campaign adviser, John Schnur, represented the reform view in the internal discussions. Another, Linda Darling-Hammond, was more likely to represent the establishment view. Their disagreements were collegial (this is Obamaland after all), but substantive.

In public, Obama shifted nimbly from camp to camp while education experts studied his intonations with the intensity of Kremlinologists. Sometimes, he flirted with the union positions. At other times, he practiced dog-whistle politics, sending out reassuring signals that only the reformers could hear.

Each camp was secretly convinced that at the end of the day, Obama would come down on their side. The reformers were cheered when Obama praised a Denver performance pay initiative. The unions could take succor from the fact that though Obama would occasionally talk about merit pay, none of his actual proposals contradicted their positions.

Obama never had to pick a side. That is, until now. There is only one education secretary, and if you hang around these circles, the air is thick with speculation, anticipation, anxiety, hope and misinformation. Every day, new rumors are circulated and new front-runners declared. It’s kind of like being in a Trollope novel as Lord So-and-So figures out to whom he’s going to propose.

You can measure the anxiety in the reformist camp by the level of nervous phone chatter each morning. Weeks ago, Obama announced that Darling-Hammond would lead his transition team and reformist cellphones around the country lit up. Darling-Hammond, a professor at Stanford, is a sharp critic of Teach for America and promotes weaker reforms.

Anxieties cooled, but then one morning a few weeks ago, I got a flurry of phone calls from reform leaders nervous that Obama was about to side against them. I interviewed people in the president-elect’s inner circle and was reassured that the reformers had nothing to worry about. Obama had not gone native.

Obama’s aides point to his long record on merit pay, his sympathy for charter schools and his tendency to highlight his commitment to serious education reform.

But the union lobbying efforts are relentless and in the past week prospects for a reforming education secretary are thought to have dimmed. The candidates before Obama apparently include: Joel Klein, the highly successful New York chancellor who has, nonetheless, been blackballed by the unions; Arne Duncan, the reforming Chicago head who is less controversial; Darling-Hammond herself; and some former governor to be named later, with Darling-Hammond as the deputy secretary.

In some sense, the final option would be the biggest setback for reform. Education is one of those areas where implementation and the details are more important than grand pronouncements. If the deputies and assistants in the secretary’s office are not true reformers, nothing will get done.

The stakes are huge. For the first time in decades, there is real momentum for reform. It’s not only Rhee and Klein — the celebrities — but also superintendents in cities across America who are getting better teachers into the classrooms and producing measurable results. There is an unprecedented political coalition building, among liberals as well as conservatives, for radical reform.

No Child Left Behind is about to be reauthorized. Everyone has reservations about that law, but it is the glaring spotlight that reveals and pierces the complacency at mediocre schools. If accountability standards are watered down, as the establishment wants, then real reform will fade.

This will be a tough call for Obama, because it will mean offending people, but he can either galvanize the cause of reform or demoralize it. It’ll be one of the biggest choices of his presidency.

Many of the reformist hopes now hang on Obama’s friend, Arne Duncan. In Chicago, he’s a successful reformer who has produced impressive results in a huge and historically troubled system. He has the political skills necessary to build a coalition on behalf of No Child Left Behind reauthorization. Because he is close to both Obamas, he will ensure that education doesn’t fall, as it usually does, into the ranks of the second-tier issues.

If Obama picks a reformer like Duncan, Klein or one of the others, he will be picking a fight with the status quo. But there’s never been a better time to have that fight than right now.


Sound familiar? 
State looks for $1.7M from city
By Elizabeth Benton, New Haven Register Staff

Friday, November 21, 2008 5:55 AM EST

NEW HAVEN — Thirteen years after High School in the Community opened on Water Street, the state is now seeking $1.7 million from the city, primarily due to a disagreement over the purchase price of the property.

New Haven paid $2.2 million for the property, which they then renovated into an inter-district magnet school. While the state initially reimbursed the city for that expense, in a 2007 audit of the $6 million project, the state determined the property to be worth only $700,000, according to School Construction Coordinator Susan Weisselberg.

The remaining expense was due to charges the state deemed to be not reimbursable.

Weisselberg and Chief Operating Officer Will Clark appeared before the Board of Aldermen’s Finance Committee Wednesday night seeking to include the unexpected $1.7 million in bonds the city plans to issue in March.

The committee approved the request, which will now appear before the full board.

According to Weisselberg, the state has 20 years to audit a project after its completion.

“It makes it really hard,” she said. “The project was done differently than the way we do things now. People who worked on it are not people who are here now. We were able to reconstruct a fair amount of it. Ultimately what it came to was the auditors viewing the acquisition price one way, we viewed it another way,” she said.

State education spokesman Tom Murphy said such reimbursement request are “quite normal and quite prevalent.”

“Every school construction project is audited at close out,” he said. “This is a common outcome in school construction. When you’re talking about a 40, 60 or $100 million project, $1.5 million or even $5 million is a real possibility.”

While the city and state differ over expenses for the older project, the city also is considering $25 million worth of new upgrades to the building, including window replacements, fa硤e improvements, energy efficiency upgrades and expansion for a full-size gym and a multipurpose space. Of that expense, all but $1.5 million would be paid for by the state. The city plans to submit that project to the state in 2009, dependent on economic conditions.


No Towns Willing To Take New London Students; City required to ask under mandate of No Child Left Behind 
DAY
By Jenna Cho    
Published on 10/6/2008 

New London - To comply with the federal No Child Left Behind Act, New London asked 18 school systems in the region last month whether they would transport and educate New London students - for free.

So far, there are no takers.

New London was required to contact neighboring school districts because its Harbor Elementary School this year became the fourth and last elementary school in the district not to make adequate yearly progress for two or more consecutive years under the law. That put Harbor on the list of schools that are in need of improvement.  Under NCLB, school districts with an in-need school must offer parents of that school the option to transfer to a different school within the district. But all the elementary schools in New London are in need of improvement, which means New London has no elementary school alternatives to so-called failing schools.

So on Sept. 2, New London Assistant Superintendent Christine Carver sent letters to school superintendents asking whether any of them would be willing to educate some of New London's 1,600 elementary students if a parent were to exercise his or her right to public school choice under NCLB. New London Superintendent Christopher Clouet said no parent has formally requested the school choice option this year.

”It doesn't say much about the quality of the teaching,” said Carver of sending the letters. “It really is just about the requirement of No Child Left Behind.”

Accepting New London's request would mean absorbing the cost of educating and transporting the New London children. Griswold, Ledyard, Lyme-Old Lyme, Montville, North Stonington, Norwich, Preston, Voluntown and Waterford have all declined to enter into what Carver, in her letter, called the “Inter-district School Choice Cooperative Agreement.”

Eight other districts have not replied, and Colchester is awaiting a board of education discussion on the matter, according to Carver.  Most urban districts in the state are caught in the same predicament as New London, said Susan Kennedy, chief of the state Department of Education's Bureau of School and District Improvement.

”It is very difficult to get surrounding districts to participate in taking kids,” Kennedy said. “Part of it is because there's no transportation that's guaranteed there. Many of these districts have no seats available. The timing is bad in terms of the economy; everybody's struggling. And so to take kids that are not naturally theirs presents some problems.”

Running out of schools able to serve as alternatives to failing schools is a symptom of the fact that adequate yearly progress is a moving target that keeps getting harder and harder to hit, said Kennedy. By 2013-14, 100 percent of students are expected to meet federal proficiency levels in reading and math standardized tests, which means most schools by then will be failing to make the yearly progress standard.

”These schools are improving,” said Kennedy. “The problem, this year, is that the threshold moved up.”

Kennedy said New London's request to other districts single-handedly satisfies the NCLB requirement that school districts offer public school choice, whether or not other districts agree to take on New London's students. When all its schools are failing, a district can offer supplemental services, such as tutoring to help struggling students but isn't obligated to, said Kennedy.  Michael Petrilli, vice president for national programs and policy at the education think tank Thomas B. Fordham Institute, called NCLB's provision for public school choice “basically toothless.”

Only about 120,000 students nationwide exercised their right to public school choice in 2006-07, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

”There's basically no way to force school districts to provide school choice to parents if they don't want to,” Petrilli said, “and in this case, if they don't have an ability to do so.”

Too expensive

For at least a couple of districts, cost was the main deciding factor in declining New London's request. North Stonington's Board of Education decided it could not foot the $13,747 annual cost of educating out-of-district students, said the district's superintendent, Natalie Pukas.  Out-of-district tuition in Ledyard is $9,200 a year for elementary students, and one school bus costs about $75,000 a year, said Ledyard Superintendent Michael Graner.

”Given the nature of our budget this year and certainly for next year,” said Graner, “it would've been a really substantial financial burden for our school district.”

Graner acknowledged the difficulty New London faces in improving student performance when the standards keep rising. He said New London offers strong bilingual programs and has been adept at educating English language learners.

”I have every confidence that New London Public Schools is providing the programs to meet the needs of the children,” Graner said.  


Stage is set for new Weston High School auditorium       
Weston FORUM
Written by Kimberly Donnelly    
Friday, August 08, 2008

The lights are dark and the stage is bare at the Weston High School auditorium. That’s normal for this time of year; what’s not normal is the fact that there are also no seats, no curtain, no floor tiles or carpet, no walls in some places, and lots and lots of dust.

“The demolition part is done,” said Tom Landry, town administrator. “Now they’re working on putting it back together.”

Renovation of the high school auditorium is the final piece in the town’s $80-million school and athletic facilities project that voters approved in 2001 and that broke ground in 2003. That project included new playing fields at Morehouse Farm Park and Bisceglie-Scribner Park, the new intermediate school, and renovation and additions at the high school.

Refurbishing the high school auditorium was not originally a part of the building project. However, when bids for a planned new auditorium at Weston Middle School came in millions of dollars more than expected, the focus shifted to making improvements to the existing high school performance space instead.

Work on the auditorium includes adding air conditioning, replacing antiquated rigging, lighting work, and floor replacement.

WestonArts, a nonprofit group, has raised about $300,000 in private funds to help supplement the costs of the auditorium project, specifically to replace the seats.

Mr. Landry said figuring out the cost of the project as a whole is tricky because so many different contracts are involved. Carlson Construction is the main contractor; Innovative Engineering Services of North Haven is the main design engineer; William Warfel is the lighting designer; Ducharme is responsible for the seating; two different fabric companies, J.B. Martin and Designtex, are involved; and Theatre Projects Consultancy is another designer.

In addition to the money raised by WestonArts, the money to pay for the project — which Mr. Landry ultimately pins down at about $2.1 million — comes from several different sources. Money that was originally bonded to build the middle school auditorium was “transferred” to pay for the high school roof replacement and auditorium renovation.

Mr. Landry said after the roof was completed, about $1.2 million was left to apply toward the auditorium. At a special town meeting June 11 this year, voters approved an additional $586,585 appropriation from the general fund, and there was money left in a capital account for the roof replacement that will be applied toward the auditorium.

The auditorium will not be completed by the time school opens at the end of this month. The building committee is pushing to have it ready by mid-October, in time for the high school’s Company to stage its fall performance.



No surprises here...Weston rank in the state -  #9 (math),#2 (science),#5 (reading),#7 (writing).
Sophomores Show Gains In CAPT Scores

By ARIELLE LEVIN BECKER | Courant Staff Writer
10:30 AM EDT, July 15, 2008

Connecticut high school sophomores showed gains in math, science and writing on the state's annual achievement test, while performance in reading was flat, according to figures released this morning.

Statewide, just over half of high school sophomores reached state goals in math on the Connecticut Academic Performance Test this year, a 4.9 percentage-point increase from sophomores in 2007.

Writing performance was up 4.8 percentage points, with 57.8 percent of 10th graders reaching state goals.

In science, 46.5 percent of students reached state goals, a 2 percentage-point increase, while 45.5 percent of students achieved goals in reading, the same as 2007.

State Education Commissioner Mark K. McQuillan described the scores as promising, but noted that many challenges persist, including wide achievement gaps between minority students and their white peers.

"We still have far to go, but this is a step forward for our state," McQuillan said in a written statement.

Overall, 35 school districts and the Connecticut Technical High School system showed performance gains on all four subjects. Seven districts recorded drops in performance for all four subjects.

The numbers varied widely by district.

In New Canaan, which topped the state in math and science performance, more than 90 percent of students reached state goals in math and writing, and more than 80 percent achieved goal in science and reading. In Hartford, which posted the state's lowest reading performance, 11 percent of students reached state reading goals.

Still, Hartford, like several other poor and traditionally low-performing districts, showed some gains. While the percent of students reaching goals in reading was down in the capital city, math, science, and writing achievement was up, though the district still ranked among the bottom 10 districts statewide in reaching goal in each category.

White, black and Hispanic students all showed gains in math, science and writing, but wide gaps persist. While 63.1 percent of white students achieved goal on the math exam, for example, only 14.6 percent of black students and 18.2 percent of Hispanic students did.

The scores come amid an increased focus on high schools by state education officials, who have proposed an ambitious plan to reshape secondary school education. The proposal, a response to concerns that students are increasingly graduating unprepared for college or the workforce, calls for added credit and curriculum requirements, including an independent project for seniors, end-of-course exams that students would have to pass to graduate, and an increased emphasis on students' connections with teachers and other school staff.


Fewer students in years to come?  Study projects 17% enrollment drop in Conn. schools 
DAY
By Jenna Cho    
Published on 7/5/2008 

In the world of population projections, there are always peaks and valleys that mark a cycle of population growth and decline.

But according to an analysis by the University of Connecticut's Connecticut State Data Center, the state is starting to see a “long-term decline in the school-age population.” The data center serves as a liaison to the U.S. Census Bureau. The state uses the data to create public policy and to decide where to spend money.

The study summary, released last month, projects a 17-percent decline between 2004-05 and 2020-21 in the total number of public-school students in grades 1 to 12 in the state. Public school enrollment in those grades peaked at 523,100 in 2004-05 and is expected to drop to about 432,300 in 2020-21, according to the study.

”Low fertility rates are the root cause of this decline,” the study release reads. “The boomer generation, now approaching retirement, had fewer children than their parents. … Each progressive generation is failing to replace itself.”

The state Department of Education's own projections, through the 2016-17 school year, also reflect a decline in student enrollment in preschool through 12th grade.

”The UConn study suggests that we may not recover from this decline, that the students that are graduating from the high schools now … will move out of state and not return,” said department spokesman Thomas Murphy. “And in some ways, they may be right. We've seen in recent years larger and larger percentages of high school graduates go to college outside of Connecticut and then fail to return.”

But Murphy also cautioned that trends over the past 60 years have shown recoveries from such declines. The state experienced a low of about 466,000 in public-school enrollment in 1988 but in 2006-07 saw the numbers climb back up to about 574,000, according to department records.

The 2008 graduating class was, at about 38,400, the largest the state has seen in the past 10 years, Murphy said. The decline in enrollment is expected starting this year.

”We should be mindful of the projections of the study and consider it a strong possibility, but there's nothing certain because these are projections,” Murphy said.

Orlando Rodriguez, the data center's manager and demographer, said the latest study was actually a re-emphasis of a study released in May 2007 showing enrollment projections in grades 1 to 12 between the years 2000 and 2030.

”In a sense, it's repackaged information,” Rodriguez said. “But the reason we brought it out is because we've been waiting for the numbers to start dropping.”

The data center saw that drop, of about 3,886 students, between 2006-07 and 2007-08. Rodriguez cited several factors as contributing to the decline, including lower birth rates, more people leaving Connecticut than staying and a stagnant job market.

The study projects enrollment to increase again somewhat after 2020, with an estimated 458,900 students in grades 1 to 12 in the year 2030.

The data center and state education department both looked at birth rates and factors such as migration and job opportunities. But Rodriguez said the data center and state numbers differ because the two used different methods of projection. The data center also tracked enrollment trends for a longer period, starting in 1990, he said.

Rodriguez said school districts should be cautious to spend money on construction projects when there may not be a need for larger school facilities in the future. A declining public-school population will have other social repercussions, he said.

”We're projecting that our elderly population is going to increase dramatically,” Rodriguez said. “So in terms of social services, we're going to have fewer children but more elderly.”

New London schools Superintendent Christopher Clouet said the data center's projections did not affect the school district's plan to convert two of its elementary schools into magnet schools because the magnet schools would draw a percentage of its students from outside New London.

Additionally, New London families already tend to have larger families than suburban families, he said.

”When they say the state of Connecticut will have a relative decline in students, I don't doubt that,” Clouet said. “I think the decline will be experienced differently in different types of communities.”


Magnet School Referendum Is Cause For Jitters; NL Lawmakers Fear Negative Vote Could Hamper Future State Funding 
DAY
By Kevin Dale    
Published on 4/5/2008
 

New London — In July, officials from the city, school district and state gathered in the city's Science and Technology Magnet High School to celebrate what was portrayed as a legislative triumph.  In the waning days of the summer session, the General Assembly, after considerable lobbying from New London legislators, passed what has come to be known as the “magnet plan.”

The legislation designated New London as the state's first magnet-school district. But the true purpose behind the creative label was to give the cash-strapped city $58 million — 95 percent of the $61 million estimate — to renovate Winthrop and Nathan Hale schools into 600-student magnet schools.  But as the magnet plan heads to a resident-triggered referendum Tuesday, members of the city's legislative delegation nervously await the outcome of an election that they are surprised is even occurring. The rejection of the plan, they said, could harm their future efforts to secure state funds for the city.

“I don't think anybody thought this largess wouldn't be accepted,” said state Rep. Ted Moukawsher, D-Groton. “It's kind of inconceivable, but here we are.”

Echoing local supporters, Moukawsher noted the plan awards the city $10 million.  Under the reimbursement formula for nonmagnet schools, the city would have to contribute $13 million to renovate the two, roughly 40-year-old elementary schools; the magnet plan requires $3 million.

“It's astounding to me you want to prevent kids from having new schools at basically no cost,” said Moukawsher, echoing the “no-brainer” argument made by the plan's supporters.  State Rep. Ernest Hewett, D-New London, said he has been a little chagrined to have to inform the heads of the assembly's education committees — who backed the plan — that residents forced the referendum and could vote the plan down.

“Actually, I'm a little apologetic to them,” Hewett said. “I'm kind of hoping that it's passed. We would look pretty bad going back up there and making a pitch for New London.”

New London Superintendent Christopher Clouet has said the magnet plan came about because school officials needed additional state money to renovate the schools. He said the district couldn't ask the city to contribute $13 million, a figure equal to 17 percent of its total budget.

“There just wouldn't be any appetite for it,” Clouet said.

The city's legislators said the plan's rejection could complicate future pitches for state money. The assumption underlying those requests, they said, is that New London, as a tax-poor city overburdened with needs, should receive extra help from Hartford.

“People are watching,” said state Sen. Andrea Stillman, D-Waterford. “It has so much support. For the residents to reject what is really a gift from the state in the form of this grant would be a very difficult thing for us to explain.”

In addition to the legislators, the plan enjoys the substantial support of the city's elected officials. The city's Democratic Town Committee has endorsed the plan, as have the city's three Republican elected officials: city Councilors Rob Pero and Adam Sprecace and school board member James Pearce.  But the city's Republican Town Committee appears to be split on the plan. After debating the merits at its meeting this week, the committee decided not to take a position.

Last week, Sprecace, the council's chief number cruncher, and Democratic Councilor Mike Buscetto III held a “nonpartisan” forum to persuade residents of the plan's financial upside. Armed with the slogan “Pay Less, Vote Yes,” Buscetto has stepped forward as a major backer of the plan.

Buscetto, a developer, has said he will be “intimately involved” with the schools' construction. In his appearance Thursday on the cable-access show “The Renshaw Report,” he pledged that the city's $3 million share would be covered through cost savings and wouldn't increase taxes.

“Put it on tape,” Buscetto said after host Murray “the Eye” Renshaw held him to the promise.

With the city's GOP taking a sideline role in the debate, it is difficult to gauge the extent of the plan's opposition, which appears to be led by Charles Frink, Bill Cornish and Evelyn and Demetrious Louziotis.  Those residents, who have been vocal critics of the plan, sponsored the 409-signature petition that challenged the City Council's Feb. 4 decision to approve the plan.

Cornish, a One New London party member and former city councilor, has been the magnet plan's most outspoken critic. He objects to a stipulation in the plan that requires the city's magnet schools, whether they are district-run or not, to enroll a combined 15 percent of students from outside New London.  The city must meet the target by June 2012 or facing having to repay the $10 million, according to the magnet-plan legislation.

The plan's proponents say the goal can be reached, and they point to the roughly 400 suburban students who already attend the city's magnet schools, including 300 enrolled at the Regional Multicultural Magnet School, which is not run by the district.

Cornish and his fellow opponents are skeptical that the elementary magnet schools will attract the 100 or so suburban students needed to meet the 2012 target. “Take the penalty off. Take the quota off for suburban kids,” he said.

During his appearance on “The Renshaw Report” Thursday, Cornish questioned the widely held belief that the Winthrop and Nathan Hale schools are in desperate need of repair. “I don't think they're falling down,” he said.

And Cornish took issue with the $61 million price, which school officials admit is the best estimate that can be made at this point.

“They can take that 'no-brainer' label and stuff it. It doesn't do anything for me,” Cornish said.

Supporters of the plan have been harshly critical of the opponents, characterizing them as a small but noisy group of naysayers.

“There's a few people that are pretty much against everything, or mostly everything,” Buscetto said. Clouet, in a January interview about the plan, accused some critics of being “part of an organized, generalized assault on the young.”

Moukawsher said, “There's an element in New London that seems to be critical — it's just knee-jerk reaction.”

He suggested the critics' overriding motivation is to deal school-district leaders what would be a bruising political defeat on a cardinal policy initiative.

“They're anxious — and desperate almost — to find something negative to say,” Moukawsher said. “The only way their politics or political situation can be advanced is through failure.”

Cornish said he remains unfazed. “There's been a lot of name-calling in this,” he said. “It doesn't bother me at all.”



How do residency, voting controversy, beach access policy relate to this issue?
Schools check students' residence
Greenwich TIME
By Andrew Shaw
Published February 2 2008

Reality or not, concerned taxpayers and parents believe there are many nonresidents attending Greenwich Public Schools taking up tax dollars and classroom seats.

But school officials hope that a proposed centralized residency verification system, combined with a recently acquired software program that tracks address changes with the post office, will help address the perception that there are scores of New York children attending schools on the western side of town.

"We're spending some money to address that perception," said John Curtin, assistant superintendent of research and evaluation. Curtin heads the residency verification process.

The Board of Education's budget includes $48,500 for a centralized system that will change the verification process, starting in July. Instead of a new student bringing in proof of residency to their neighborhood school, under the new system they will have to go to the Havemeyer Building to be verified with district staff. As part of the change, a full-time staff member will be added to help Curtin and his part-time staff member. The school budget still needs to be approved by the town.

Board Vice Chairwoman Leslie Moriarty said non-residency isn't the large issue some believe, but she added that the centralized system should help the district with a more standardized approach.

"We do want to make sure our tax dollars are being used effectively," Moriarty said.

The district's existing verification system has been criticized by some parents for not being effective, based on their anecdotal evidence of seeing New York license plates on cars carrying students.

Deanne Biddle, a mother of Western Middle School and Greenwich High School students, said she's seen the out-of-state plates and thinks the district can do more to check addresses, just as Greenwich uses strict guidelines when approving its beach passes for town residents.

"I have to wonder how many of the children really belong there," said Biddle, 46, of the crowded high school.

But school officials say the out-of-state car often is owned by a relative, or is registered to a business, or there can be a variety of other reasons. However, if a school has cause to believe a student doesn't live in town, an investigation is conducted.

Western principal Stacey Gross said she takes residency verification seriously and that teachers listen for verbal cues that a child doesn't live in town. The school also checks for returned mail, chronic tardiness or an inability to reach parents as warning signs.

The district investigations rarely lead to a student withdrawal, Curtin said. From 2001 to 2006, 78 nonresident students were forced to withdraw. Curtin estimated there are about 10 such students this year. It costs the town about $14,000 a year to educate a student, not including extracurricular activities, the teachers' time and opportunities taken away from legitimate Greenwich students.


Tesei backs early start on GHS art center
Greenwich TIME
By Andrew Shaw, Staff Writer
Published December 22 2007

First Selectman Peter Tesei broke with his predecessor yesterday and said he would consider funding construction of a new high school performing arts center three years earlier than former First Selectman Jim Lash.

The Board of Education wants $2.1 million in architectural and engineering money for the project in the 2008-09 budget year, and $23.4 million construction money in the following year.

Before leaving office, Lash proposed that the construction money be withheld until the 2012-13 budget year. Supporters of the project feared that plans for the project would be out of date by then, and that students need new facilities as soon as possible.

Tesei said students would benefit from having the facility built sooner rather than later, in an interview yesterday.

"One cannot ignore the importance of it," Tesei said of renovating the space. "It's not just about the auditorium. It's about additional space for musical instruction and programming that's needed."

But he cautioned that getting funds earlier would depend heavily on the project clearing zoning hurdles, specifically parking concerns. Lash, who was the head of the Capital Improvements Committee, which evaluates and prioritizes projects for the town, had predicted the project will encounter zoning issues during the architectural and engineering study, pushing construction back.

"I think it's going to take a full and complete hearing," with the Planning and Zoning board, Lash said in an interview earlier this month. "I don't think construction is going to be the thing holding up the phasing of the project."

Parents strongly opposed Lash's plan, though. PTA co-president Leslie Cooper said yesterday, "If they move the construction back, that's another 8,000 to 10,000 kids that won't have use of that new facility."

The performing arts space has been cited for lack of classroom, rehearsal and storage space and poor acoustics, among other issues. A study by Glastonbury architect Perkins and Will showed the auditorium has about half the capacity of those at nearby high schools in other towns.

Tesei said he's impressed with the work done so far by the architect and the community advocacy group, the Friends of the High School Performing Arts, who cleared a hurdle Thursday night when the Board of Education unanimously approved preliminary designs for the project. That clears the way for the board to ask the town to create a building committee to oversee the project.


Day 4 In Sheff Case Reveals Rift
By RACHEL GOTTLIEB FRANK | Courant Staff Writer
November 10, 2007

Testimony by the state's education commissioner on the fourth day of a hearing on the Sheff vs. O'Neill desegregation lawsuit revealed a testy relationship between Hartford's superintendent of schools and the state Department of Education over state efforts to quicken the pace of desegregation.

The Sheff lawsuit, filed in 1989, resulted in an order by the state Supreme Court in 1996 to end the racial, ethnic and economic isolation of Hartford's minority students. The court left it to the state and the plaintiffs to decide how to do that. Now the plaintiffs say desegregation efforts have fallen short, and they are in Superior Court appealing for help.

State Education Commissioner Mark McQuillan on Friday summarized an exchange of letters that began last summer between him and Superintendent Steven Adamowski in which McQuillan asked Hartford to submit documents showing why several of the city's magnet schools didn't have enough white students and how the district intended to remedy the problem.

"This was a repeated plea that went out," McQuillan testified, and the state was threatening to withhold millions of dollars if those documents weren't submitted by Oct. 1.

In letters back to McQuillan, the commissioner testified, Adamowski challenged the state's authority to withhold funding.

"I wrote back to say we really do have the authority to withhold funds," McQuillan said

In time, he said, Adamowski set conditions for the release of the documents that the state was seeking. One condition was the reform of the lottery system used to admit students to magnet schools. In Adamowski's opinion, the lottery system for admission to interdistrict magnet schools is illegal in the wake of recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings on the use of race for the assignment of students to schools, McQuillan said.

"He continued to come back to me to say it was the state's responsibility to develop a new lottery system," McQuillan testified. Finally, he said, Adamowski took the position that until he saw a new lottery system he would not release enrollment plans sought by the state.

McQuillan testified that he believes the lottery, which is run by the Capitol Region Education Council (CREC), is fair.

The U.S. Supreme Court decision released in June forbids schools from enrolling children strictly on the basis of race and threatened many voluntary desegregation plans throughout the nation. But at the time of the ruling,, experts said they believed it would have little effect on school desegregation efforts in Hartford. The key difference, legal experts said, is that the magnet schools and school choice plans that are a central piece of the Sheff efforts do not single out students by race. Rather, the plans attempt to achieve racial balance by selecting students based on where they live.

In the dispute between McQuillan and Adamowski, the state ultimately withheld $4.6 million from Hartford because the city did not submit the enrollment plans that the state demanded.

Another point of tension between McQuillan and Adamowski is the development of a joint office between the state, Hartford and the CREC to implement desegregation programs.

Since he took office last January, McQuillan testified, he has reorganized his office and created a special division to concentrate exclusively on Sheff mandates. The joint office between the state, Hartford and CREC is a separate office he is attempting to create. But Adamowski made clear to McQuillan that he thought the state should take the lead role in implementing integration efforts.

Throughout the hearing on the status of the desegregation projects under the Sheff ruling, Hartford's lawyer has pushed the point that it is the state - not Hartford - that is the defendant in the case, so the state should be responsible for all costs and implementation.

Before McQuillan was called as a witness for the state, Robert Genuario, secretary of the state Office of Policy and Management, testified about some of the funding dedicated to desegregating Hartford's schools, including $4.9 million in the state budget this year and $9.9 million in next year's budget. The money is earmarked for the development of new charter schools, expanding the Open Choice program through which city students enroll in suburban schools, funding interdistrict cooperative programs and operations of the joint office between Hartford, the state and CREC.

John Rose, Hartford's lawyer, asked Genuario if there was money dedicated to make up for lost taxes when the city buys private property for use as a school and whether the state was paying for all the staff in the magnet schools opened in Hartford as part of the integration efforts.

Genuario said that the state assists with salaries for staff through its main grant for education called the Education Cost Sharing Grant, and he pointed out that schools never pay taxes.


Spotty Sheff Enforcement
By RACHEL GOTTLIEB FRANK | And MAGDALENE PEREZ Courant Staff Writers
November 9, 2007

Over the years the state has helped develop a comprehensive plan to desegregate Hartford's schools, spent hundreds of millions of dollars on the efforts, appealed to suburban districts to open their schools to city students and offered training to suburban districts to help city students succeed, state witnesses testified Thursday in the Sheff vs. O'Neill desegregation case.

But cross-examination of those witnesses in Superior Court in Hartford revealed that shifts in management have resulted in spotty results and murky accountability since 2003, when the plaintiffs in the Sheff lawsuit reached a compromise agreement with the state on integration goals.

During those years, changes in oversight included five state education commissioners, multiple reorganizations of the state Department of Education, four Hartford superintendents, a transition from state control over Hartford schools to local control and the creation and disbanding of a magnet school office in Hartford.

The lawsuit, filed in 1989, resulted in an order by the state Supreme Court in 1996 to end the racial, ethnic and economic isolation of Hartford's minority students. The court left it to the state and the plaintiffs to decide how to do that, and sent the case back to Superior Court for monitoring. Now, 11 years later, the plaintiffs say desegregation efforts have fallen short, and they are in Superior Court appealing for help.

Marcus Rivera, a consultant for the state education department, testified that he helped Hartford create a plan for integration that included developing magnet schools, improving all of Hartford's schools and sending city students to suburban schools. After Hartford's school board approved the plan, the state left it to the city to implement it, he said.

But during his cross-examination of state witnesses Thursday, the city's lawyer, John Rose, pointed out that Hartford is not a defendant in the Sheff lawsuit and therefore not responsible for carrying out its mandate.

After his testimony, Rivera said he isn't sure how much of the plan he helped create was carried out, though he believes some of it was.

Some of the testimony suggested the state is not entirely to blame for failure to reach Sheff goals to enroll specific numbers of Hartford minority students in suburban schools through the Open Choice program. Rivera said that Hartford hasn't always cooperated.

For example, Rivera said, when there were openings in suburban schools for kindergartners and first-graders, then-Education Commissioner Betty Sternberg asked then-Hartford Superintendent Robert Henry to include information about the vacancies in a letter to Hartford parents that the district was required to send anyway as part of the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Henry refused to include information about the vacancies, Rivera said, telling the state, "We really would not like to have these letters go out because we want to keep all Hartford students in Hartford."

Under cross-examination by Sheff lawyer Martha Stone, Rivera said the state did not take it upon itself to send the letter to parents.

"What we were not able to do is get information into the hands of all parents that this was a choice open to them," Rivera said.

Stone pressed the point that the state had repeatedly made participation in desegregation efforts voluntary by asking districts to help, but never setting benchmarks for individual districts to meet.

When the state realized it would fall short of its requirement to place 1,600 Hartford minority students in suburban schools - last year 1,070 students were enrolled in the Open Choice program - Sternberg wrote a letter to superintendents "strongly encouraging" them to open more seats, Rivera said.

The July 2006 letter said that 469 new students must be added to the Open Choice program - a total of 18 in each of the 27 school districts governed by the Sheff compromise - to reach the state's ordered obligation of placing 1,600 students in the program by 2007.

Each district has decided to heed or ignore that recommendation on its own terms, Rivera said. While some districts have renewed seats for Hartford students, others have not opened a single new seat in years.


Schools: A Shift Of Views On Sheff;  Case Returns To Court Amid New Skepticism
By RACHEL GOTTLIEB FRANK | Courant Staff Writer
November 5, 2007

A decade after the state Supreme Court ordered the desegregation of schools across Greater Hartford in the landmark Sheff v. O'Neill case, the goal of integration remains elusive.

Magnet schools, the cornerstone of the state's plan to bring together white children and children of color using voluntary incentives, have fallen short. Hartford's schools still have a population that is predominantly black, Hispanic and poor.

Now, as the Sheff plaintiffs head back to court Tuesday to demand the state make good on its assurances, advocates of integration are facing increasing skepticism on the part of both state lawmakers and city officials over both the cost - and value - of continuing down the same path.

Tensions that have long remain hidden are now erupting, opening up a new and potentially contentious chapter in the effort to desegregate schools in and around Hartford.

"It's breaking out in the open now," said John Brittain, a former Sheff lawyer. "The current spat with the Hartford school system exposes the fragility of the infrastructure of the Sheff v. O'Neill process."

Lawyers for the Sheff plaintiffs declined to say what they will seek in court. The latest effort at compromise between the state and the plaintiffs - which failed to win legislative approval - called for the state to spend $112 million over the next five years to expand the array of magnet, charter and vocational-technical schools.

But one attorney said now that the issue is heading back to court, the plaintiffs won't be constrained by the compromises that they have agreed to in the past.

"There's new thinking we'll be presenting at the trial," said Matthew Colangelo, an attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund who is representing the plaintiffs in the Sheff v. O'Neill lawsuit.

"We're saying it's been 11 years and not enough progress has been made and we think it's time for the court to get involved."

Forced Integration?

The question of whether the city's schools must be desegregated was settled by a state Supreme Court order in 1996, though the court left it to the Sheff plaintiffs and the state to figure out how to do it.

The state and the plaintiffs finally reached an agreement on a plan in 2003, and it was left largely to Hartford to implement its terms by building magnet schools and sending students to suburban schools through the state's "Open Choice" program.

The guiding principle of those efforts has been to make desegregation voluntary - sidestepping the politically explosive prospect of forcibly moving children from one school to another.

But the effectiveness of this approach is now being questioned.

"The notion that we're going to get a better result by voluntary programs is ridiculous," said state Sen. Thomas Gaffey, D-Meriden, co-chairman of the legislature's education committee. "We need to shift away from the model of remedy that the state has been pursuing for years. The district is as racially isolated today as it was 10 years ago. It suggests you need to do something different."

Gaffey advocates giving the education commissioner more statutory authority to enforce broad participation by area towns.

The best way to satisfy the court order, he said, probably would be to expand the Open Choice program, through which Hartford students enroll in suburban schools. This would give the commissioner power to order reluctant towns to open their doors to more students from Hartford.

"How open Open Choice is, is really debatable," Gaffey said, conceding that towns won't like being strong-armed into admitting more Hartford kids and that getting any major changes through the General Assembly would be difficult.

Hartford School Superintendent Steven Adamowski bluntly told the State Board of Education recently that it isn't fair Hartford has borne the brunt of making integration happen, while suburban participation remains optional.

As it stands, the state is withholding $4.6 million from the city-run magnet schools for failing to enroll enough white students, and won't release that money until the city submits a plan outlining its plan for a remedy. If the state doesn't release the money, Adamowski said, the district will have to begin laying off staff at the four magnet schools that don't meet the quota.


Adamowski told the State Board of Education and the education commissioner that a regional approach is needed. He strongly encouraged them to create a system of rewards and punishments to get the region's many "fiefdoms" to work with Hartford in developing models for integrated schools that are different from the traditional magnet school model.

But while there are growing questions about the effectiveness of voluntary solutions, the state will likely argue in court against involuntary participation, said Education Commissioner Mark K. McQuillan. "This state has historically and fervently relied on local control," he said.

That devotion aside, he said, programs that are entered into voluntarily are more likely to work.

"People will invest more of their energy and time to carry it out," McQuillan said. "Let's try voluntary measures now. If that fails then we may have to take more drastic measures that people may not want."

McQuillan said he wants to expand the Open Choice program and to press for the development of magnet schools in the suburbs.

He conceded that the assumption that suburban youngsters would be drawn to magnet schools run by Hartford was mistaken. By locating schools in the suburbs, officials said, the state could address the perception of some parents that Hartford schools are not safe.

"Suburban parents have some trepidation about sending their children into the inner city. Whether it's perceived or accurate, we are aware of it," said Tom Murphy, spokesman for the state Department of Education. "Having several schools in suburban communities as a choice will give an opportunity to allay those concerns."

McQuillan said he thinks that six or seven magnet schools run by suburban towns could work, focusing on young children in grades pre-K through 3. Parents who would otherwise pay to send their preschool-aged children to day care would find the offer of an all-day public preschool school program particularly enticing, McQuillan said.

Hartford Pulls Back

Beyond the question of how to make desegregation happen is a broader problem: Officials are growing more vocal about the burden Sheff presents - and even questioning the value of its goals.

In a presentation to the State Board of Education on ways Hartford is working to close the achievement gap between urban and suburban children, Adamowski questioned the very premise of the Sheff lawsuit.

"There is no research to suggest that minority students will do better by sitting next to a white student," he said.

The original lawsuit, filed in 1989, asserted that the racial segregation of Hartford schools violates the state's constitution. Adamowski's comment resonated with some, including Hartford school board member Andrea Comer, who believes it is demeaning to assume that children of color need to share a classroom with white students in order to learn well.

But it drew a sharp response from some advocates of desegregation.

"We're disappointed that it's 2007 and the superintendent wants to debate whether it is a bad thing for Hartford's minority children to be taught in racially segregated schools," Colangelo said.

"As a social science matter, the answer has been clear for decades," Colangelo said. As a legal matter, he said, the case was settled years ago.

In his presentation to the state board, Adamowski outlined a strategy for improving the city's schools that does not specifically address the court's order, although the Hartford school board's new policy for redesigning failing schools directs the superintendent to "give consideration" to the Sheff goals of reducing racial and economic isolation.

"This is high stakes for the state," Murphy said. "The superintendent's reform package has not connected Sheff with the strategies for improvement. We've got to find some common ground."

In the past, Hartford's superintendents have publicly embraced the lead position in fulfilling the requirements of the Sheff lawsuit, even if they grumbled behind the scenes about cost. Adamowski's public arm's-length posture from both the state and the tenets of the court order represent a dramatic shift in the landscape.

Lawmakers are also asking questions about the direction of desegregation efforts.

Legislative leaders this summer didn't put the $112 million plan to expand magnets up for a vote in part because they questioned the effectiveness of the approach, and in part because Hartford's mayor and superintendent urged rejection until the state develops a more comprehensive plan to integrate schools.

On the eve of the case's return to court, Mayor Eddie A. Perez, chairman of the school board, lobbed his pitch into the arena, saying that while the city remains committed to the Sheff goals, the state shouldn't dump the burden on Hartford.

"The state wants to monitor us and have us implement Sheff. We want them to implement Sheff and we will assist them," Perez said. "It can't just be Hartford's burden."




Drug-Resistant Germ Nothing To Lose Sleep Over, Experts Say 
DAY
By Amy Renczkowski   
Published on 10/19/2007 

Local health officials are urging parents and students not to panic about the potentially deadly antibiotic-resistant staph infection found this week in some schools around the state.

“It's out there, but it's not something to be scared of,” said Sue Congdon, epidemiologist at Ledge Light Health District.

At least three high school students — in Weston, Berlin and Newtown — have been diagnosed with Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus infection, or MRSA. Three students at Albertus Magnus College in New Haven also were confirmed Thursday to have contracted the infection.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, MRSA is a type of bacteria that causes staph infections and is resistant to treatment with usual antibiotics.

A student from Virginia died from a similar infection earlier this week.

The state Department of Public Health reported Thursday that about 900 cases of MRSA are reported in Connecticut each year, while hundreds of other cases never become serious enough to require reporting. 
Officials at the local Ledge Light and Uncas health districts said they aren't aware of any cases of MRSA in the local high schools, so they are concentrating on educating the community about prevention.  Congdon said Ledge Light sent out information about the infection to school superintendents in areas the health district covers: East Lyme, Groton, Ledyard, New London and Waterford. Some schools are taking it upon themselves to notify parents and students about methods of prevention.

Robert Bacewicz, principal of Robert E. Fitch High School in Groton, said the school sent out a letter Thursday reminding students to be mindful about washing their hands and keeping clean. He said there have been no cases of the infection at the high school. High schools in Montville and Stonington also reported no cases of MRSA.

“We're taking precautionary measures all the time,” said Thomas Amanti, principal at Montville High School.

Amanti said the school nurse keeps administrators well informed about the latest techniques in disease prevention.  Deborah Buxton-Morris, emergency preparedness coordinator and public health nurse at Uncas Health District, said MRSA spreads through skin-to-skin contact. Buxton-Morris said schools should be careful to sanitize athletic mats and remind students about showering and changing their clothing.

“We don't need to create a panic. Just focus on good hand washing and good hygiene,” Buxton-Morris said.

Congdon added, “If you have a wound, clean it and cover it.”

The Centers for Disease Control reported that MRSA caused more than 94,000 life-threatening infections and nearly 19,000 deaths in the United States in 2005, though these were associated with health-care settings rather than community outbreaks.  Most of the victims were patients who underwent invasive medical procedures or had weakened immune systems.  MRSA in health-care settings commonly causes serious and potentially life-threatening conditions, such as bloodstream infections, surgical site infections or pneumonia.

Buxton-Morris said the infection also affects a lot of children and those with weakened immune systems.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell said in a press release Thursday that her office is working with the state Department of Education and the state Department of Public Health to track cases of infection and to provide information about MRSA to school districts and the public.  


Deadly Germ, But It Can Be Beaten
By WILLIAM HATHAWAY | Courant Staff Writer
October 18, 2007

The antibiotic-resistant infection contracted by high school students in Weston and Newtown is turning up more often in communities across Connecticut as it sparks fear across the nation.

Doctors across Connecticut have been reporting more cases of methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus infection, or MRSA, that have been contracted by people outside of hospitals. The number of serious blood-borne MRSA infections acquired in the community has increased from 38 in 2001, to 99 in 2006, state officials said.

But infectious disease experts also said that although the strain can kill the elderly and others with underlying health issues, in otherwise healthy people it is highly treatable and rarely life-threatening.

Weston High School officials alerted the community to the problem this week, telling parents in a letter that one student had a confirmed case of MRSA and that they were waiting for results of tests on a second student. A similar letter was sent to parents of students at Newtown High School. Officials also posted the letter on the school's Web site.

Although the Weston students were not seriously ill, the news came amid widening concern about the growth and severity of such infections.

The letter from the high school began circulating Tuesday - the same day a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association documented the high toll of MRSA in hospitals and the day the death of a Virginia high school student from the infection became national news.

Ashton Bonds, 17, a senior at Staunton River High School in Moneta, died Monday after being diagnosed with MRSA, his mother said. Protests after Bonds' death led officials in Virginia to shut down 21 schools.

As news of a similar infection in Weston spread Wednesday, officials took several steps - including a press conference - to address community concerns.

There are no protocols that require schools to publicly report MRSA infections, but Weston school district officials said they wanted to be proactive in order to ease fears.

"Yesterday's New York Times and CNN raised a lot of concern," Westport-Weston Community Health Director Monica Wheeler said. "The coincidence of that tragedy in Virginia just made everybody say, `What is going on?'"

Parents' reactions have been mixed, said interim Superintendent of Schools John Reed in Weston.

"There certainly are parents very comfortable with the steps taken, and there certainly are parents concerned," he said. "Some have asked if we're closing the school, and some have said we should close it."

But the state health department has not recommended such steps, Reed said. The district is following the state's advice. School officials have taken some actions, including wiping down surfaces and switching the type of cleaning agents used at the school. Students also are being encouraged to wash their hands and use antimicrobial hand gel that is already available in classrooms, Reed said.

The origin of the Weston High School student's infection has not been confirmed, but school and health officials believe the student was infected off school grounds. Weston school officials would not say whether the infected student had returned to class, citing privacy laws.

As documented in the JAMA article, the MRSA strain kills thousands of people in the nation's hospitals every year, usually elderly and those with severe underlying health issues. The strain is responsible for more than 94,000 serious infections and nearly 19,000 deaths a year nationwide, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But experts also say that when acquired by healthy people in the community - as opposed to those infected at hospitals - the bacterial infection only rarely causes serious illness and is treatable by other classes of antibiotics.

As many as 40 percent of people may carry staphylococcus aureus bacteria at any one time, according to some estimates.

When staph does appear, it is usually as a skin infection, characterized by reddish skin surrounding a boil topped by a black scab. The infection is often mistaken for a spider bite. Occasionally, the bacteria can enter the blood stream, where it can become life-threatening.

Ever since the introduction of penicillin in the 1940s, staphylococcus and other bacterial infections have developed resistance to several forms of antibiotics. As the JAMA study illustrates, these strains continue to raise havoc in hospitals.

But while rates of hospital-acquired MRSA infections have been relatively stable in recent years, community acquired infections have been rising steadily in the state and across the country.

Connecticut reported 952 cases of MRSA infections in 2005, but Hadler said the actual number could be much higher because many cases are not particularly serious.

In fact, MRSA infections are so common in the community now that most doctors who see such infections don't bother treating patients with the class of antibiotics that include methicillin, said Dr. Kevin Dieckhaus, chief of infectious diseases at the University of Connecticut Health Center.

The bacteria often spread through contact with pus-filled boils. In schools, athletes are often susceptible to infection.

"The infection is usually spread by person-to-person contact, and sometimes we see outbreaks in sporting teams, such as wrestlers or football players," said Dr. Robert Lyons, chief of infectious diseases at St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Hartford.

Simple hygiene, such as washing hands, can help stop the spread of the infection, said Monica Wheeler, community health director at Westport Weston Heath District.


THE FULL REPORT
Report: Program Underused; Suburban Schools Could Absorb More Hartford Children, Say Sheff Supporters
By ROBERT A. FRAHM | Courant Staff Writer
September 28, 2007

A long-running program allowing Hartford schoolchildren to enroll in nearby suburban schools has been underused but could be a crucial means of promoting school desegregation, says a report being released today.

Fewer than 1,100 black and Latino children from Hartford are enrolled in predominantly white schools in nearby suburbs under Project Choice, but those suburban schools appear to have the capacity to enroll thousands more, the report says.  Despite slow growth in recent years, the program has produced encouraging academic results and has potential to help meet goals established in the Sheff v. O'Neill school desegregation legal case, says a report sponsored by a group of Sheff supporters known as the Sheff Movement Coalition.

The report, called the "Project Choice Campaign," calls on the state to take a more aggressive role in expanding the program and prodding suburban schools to enroll more Hartford students.

Efforts to place Hartford children in desegregated schools have fallen far short of goals established in a 2003 court-approved settlement in the Sheff case.  With the state spending millions of dollars creating and supporting magnet schools as the centerpiece of its racial integration efforts, the suburban school choice program has been largely overshadowed, today's report says.

Unlike magnet schools, which can take years to develop fully, the city-to-suburb program "is the most efficient means of placing students in integrated school placements," says the report written by Erica Frankenberg, a graduate student at Harvard University's Graduate School of Education.

"The slow growth and low suburban participation rates in Hartford's Project Choice program stand in sharp contrast to similar programs in Boston, Minneapolis, and St. Louis," Frankenberg wrote.

If the program were to expand, "I'm sure many parents would benefit," said Norma Richards, whose son Cedane, a second-grader, has been part of the choice program at Noah Wallace School in Farmington since kindergarten.

"In kindergarten, he was the only black child in the classroom," she said. "If he had two or three more children from the choice program, he'd probably feel more comfortable."

Of 27 suburban districts in the program, 10 provide less than one percent of their seats to Hartford students, and no district provides more than 3 percent, the report said. A review of state data suggests "there is significant room available in many suburban districts" for additional Project Choice students, the report said.  However, the capacity of districts to take Hartford students "is a moving target," said Robert M. Villanova, superintendent of schools in Farmington. He agreed there appears to be room to expand the program throughout the Hartford region, but said, "Capacity is determined to some extent by the will and desire of people who live in the community."

In Farmington, there has been strong support for Project Choice, he said. According to the report, Farmington schools enrolled 95 Hartford students last year, just over 2 percent of the town's overall enrollment. 
Project Choice is an outgrowth of a student transfer program that began more than 40 years ago and was then known as Project Concern.  Project Concern survived financial problems in the 1980s and '90s and nearly closed down after being hailed as one of the nation's first voluntary school integration programs. The program started with 266 Hartford children bused to schools in Farmington, Manchester, Simsbury, South Windsor and West Hartford.

Along with magnet schools, the suburban choice program was part of a court settlement four years ago to comply with a 1996 state Supreme Court ruling ordering the state to desegregate Hartford's schools. However, enrollment in the choice program stagnated, and many of the magnet schools failed to attract enough white students, causing the settlement to fall far short of its goals.  After the settlement expired earlier this year, the two sides agreed on a new settlement that calls on the state to speed the pace of integration, but the legislature has balked at approving the agreement.

Still, lawmakers did approve a budget that includes additional money for integration programs related to the Sheff case, including Project Choice.

"What has to happen is Project Choice has to be marketed more effectively," said state Sen. Thomas Gaffey, D-Meriden, co-chairman of the legislature's education committee.

Suburban participation in the program is voluntary, but Gaffey said the state Department of Education should be given authority to require suburban districts to set aside a specific number of seats for Hartford children.  Today's report calls on the state education department to "play a lead role as the champion for expansion ... of Project Choice" and says the department should establish goals for the number of Hartford children each suburban district is expected to enroll.

Although state financial support for Project Choice has increased, the report said the extra funding is not enough to provide teacher training, academic support and other services to assist students, the report said.

George A. Coleman, deputy commissioner in the state Department of Education, had not seen the report but agreed that "in many ways [Project Choice] is underutilized."

He said the state hopes to begin discussions with local districts about their level of participation in Project Choice, magnet school programs and other efforts to promote integration.



'Where did kids go?' schools ask - Numbers down for 10 districts
By Eric Stevick
Everett, WA Herald
November 23, 2007

An enrollment drop in 10 of 14 Snohomish County districts has school leaders wondering where the students have gone.

Enrollment declined across the county by more than 300 students, slipping to 107,445, according to head counts taken by the districts last month.

What's most perplexing is the dip is occurring while hundreds of new homes across the county are being built and moved into.

"We are all sort of in the same arena of scratching our heads," said Arlene Hulten, a Lake Stevens School District spokeswoman.

The districts expect enrollment will rebound as families with school-age children move into the new homes.

For now, it may be that some families are passing up Snohomish County on their way to cheaper housing in surrounding areas.

"The general trend is that there is small growth in Whatcom and parts of Skagit counties and there is a reduction in San Juan and Snohomish counties," said Jerry Jenkins, director of the Northwest Educational Service District. "I would suppose that the likely cause would be housing costs and that young people with families can stretch their dollars further."

Other factors are also suspected, including a slower birth rate in the county five years ago. Ten of 14 districts had a smaller kindergarten classes than a year ago.

Statistics kept by the U.S. Census Bureau showed a drop of more than 1,500 school-aged children between the ages of 5 and 9 in Snohomish County between the years 2000 and 2006.

More students also are choosing online schools instead of the traditional classroom.

The Edmonds School District surveyed families earlier this year and found more than 40 students who said they were planning to enroll in an online school this fall. Edmonds is now considering starting its own online program.

"That has happened a little bit," said Nathan Olson, a spokesman for the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. "In terms of a percentage, it's probably not much, but it is happening."

The state does not have statewide enrollment numbers for fall.

Projecting enrollment accurately is key for each district as more than 70 percent of its budget is based on the number of students in classrooms. Districts receive more than $5,000 from the state for each full-time student.

Housing, birth rates, population trends and job losses all figure into projections.

The Monroe School District was one of two districts to see enrollment growth in large part because of its new online school for freshmen and sophomores. The school is called Washington Virtual Academy. October enrollment was 264 for the virtual school and the plan is to add a grade each year until it is a ninth- through 12th-grade school. Students have enrolled from across the state with most from outside of the county, said Rosemary O'Neil, a school district spokeswoman.

The Monroe district also added 95 more students to its home-school program this fall, increasing enrollment there to 727.

The district grew from 6,795 in 2006 to 7,174 in 2007, an increase of 379 students.

"The only growth was in the alternative programs," O'Neil said.

Similarly, the Marysville School District saw a slight increase in enrollment only because of a fast-growing online program that also attracts most of its students from outside the county.

"It was done out of a concern for recapturing some of the students who were dropping out," said Larry Nyland, the district's superintendent.

Everett School District, which opened a new elementary school in its fast-growing south end, saw enrollment increase since 2006.

In most districts, enrollment was flat with slight losses.

In Lakewood, for instance, the October head count was exactly the same as last year.

The Edmonds School District experienced the most dramatic loss, dipping from 20,725 to 20,352.

The loss of students can be costly. Edmonds estimates it lost about $1 million in state revenues because of declining enrollment. It won't fill some vacant positions but won't have to make layoffs either, according to a district memo.



Charter Schools without a building?
Virtual schooling growing at K-12 level
By BILL KACZOR, Associated Press Writer
Fri Sep 7, 8:03 AM ET

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - As a seventh-grader, Kelsey-Anne Hizer was getting mostly D's and F's and felt the teachers at her Ocala middle school were not giving her the help she needed. But after switching to a virtual school for eighth grade, Kelsey-Anne is receiving more individual attention and making A's and B's. She's also enthusiastic about learning, even though she has never been in the same room as her teachers.

Kelsey-Anne became part of a growing national trend when she transferred to Orlando-based Florida Virtual School. Students get their lessons online and communicate with their teachers and each other through chat rooms, e-mail, telephone and instant messaging.

"It's more one-on-one than regular school," Kelsey-Anne said. "It's more they're there; they're listening."

Virtual learning is becoming ubiquitous at colleges and universities but remains in its infancy at the elementary and secondary level, where skeptics have questioned its cost and effect on children's socialization.

However, virtual schools are growing fast — at an annual rate of about 25 percent. There are 25 statewide or state-led programs and more than 170 virtual charter schools across the nation, according to the North American Council for Online Learning.

Estimates of elementary and secondary students taking virtual classes range from 500,000 to 1 million nationally compared to total public school enrollment of about 50 million.

Online learning is used as an alternative for summer school and for students who need remedial help, are disabled, being home schooled or suspended for behavioral problems. It also can help avoid overcrowding in traditional classrooms and provide courses that local schools, often rural or inner-city, do not offer.

Advocates say those niche functions are fine, but that virtual learning has almost unlimited potential. Many envision a blending of virtual and traditional learning.

"We hope that it becomes just another piece of our public schools' day rather than still this thing over here that we're all trying to figure out," said Julie Young, Florida Virtual's president and CEO.

Florida Virtual is one of the nation's oldest and largest online schools, with more than 55,000 students in Florida and around the world, most of them part-time. Its motto is "Any Time, Any Place, Any Path, Any Pace."

Struggling students such as Kelsey-Anne, who suffers from attention deficit disorder, can take more time to finish courses while those who are gifted can go at a faster speed.

Casey Hutcheson, 17, finished English and geometry online in the time it would have taken to complete just one of those courses at his regular high school in Tallahassee.

"I like working by myself because of no distractions, and I can go at my own pace rather than going at the teacher's pace," he said.

For all its potential, virtual schooling has its critics and skeptics.

"There is something to be said for having kids in a social situation learning how to interact in society," said state Rep. Shelley Vana. "I don't think you get that if you're at home."

But virtual students get a different kind of social experience that is just as valuable, said Susan Patrick, president and CEO of the North American Council for Online Learning in Vienna, Va.

"We should socialize them for the world that they live in," she said, suggesting that people spend much of their time interacting via computer these days.

Many policymakers approach virtual learning with dollar signs in their eyes, expecting big savings from schools that do not need buildings, buses and other traditional infrastructure.

"We should not, as stewards of public money, be automatically paying the same or even close to the same amount of money for a virtual school day as we pay for a conventional school day," said Florida Senate Education Committee Chairman Don Gaetz.

Florida Virtual this year is slated to get $6,682 for every full-time equivalent student, just slightly less than the average of $7,306 for all of the state's public schools. Young said her school has expenses that traditional schools do not.

"Our data infrastructure is our building," she said.

Teacher unions have opposed spending public dollars on some virtual schools, mainly those that are privately operated or function as charter schools.  Indiana lawmakers this year refused to fund virtual charter schools. Opponents argued they are unproven and would have siphoned millions of dollars from traditional public schools.

Florida Virtual's Young said she plans to recommend that her state follow the example of Michigan, which passed a requirement that students complete some type of online experience to earn a high school diploma.

If "we do not give them an opportunity to take an online course, we're doing them a tremendous disservice," she said. "It's become the way of the world."




Didn't come to pass...
Weston High may soon switch to solar power

Norwalk HOUR
Jeremy Soulliere
Saturday, September 1, 2007

Weston High School could be going solar in the near future.

The town's Building Committee, together with the Hartford-based law firm Shipman and Goodwin, is investigating the possible grant funds the town could receive if it were to place a photovoltaic array, or solar panels, on the roof of the school, said committee member Don Gary.

"They're experts in writing RFP's (request for proposals) and evaluating where you can get the grant money," he said about the newly-hired firm.

The grant money evaluation, along with the creation of an RFP for the proposed project, were approved by the Board of Selectmen two weeks ago, Gary said. The board had appropriated up to $5,000 for the assessment, he said.

"At the end of this $5,000 we'll know what we can design for that roof," Gary said.

Gary, who approached the selectmen with the solar panel idea, said the high school's flat roofing could hold anywhere from 800 to 1,000 solar panels, a photovoltaic array that would likely cut the school's electricity bills by 50 percent.
"We'd be able to cut the electricity probably in half," said Gary, who noted the school has no shading.

An 800- to 1,000-panel arrangement could cost the town anywhere from $7 million to $8 million, Gary said, but up to 85 percent of that cost would likely be covered by grants. The panels, he said, would pay for themselves in about five years.

"It just makes sense from a financial point of view," Gary said.

Beyond the financial savings, the town would be helping to combat global warming with the new "clean" energy option, he said, which would be generating roughly 1.25 million of the 2.6 million kilowatt-hours of electricity used at the school per year.

"It's the right thing to do because every kilowatt-hour in Connecticut causes a little less than a pound of carbon dioxide to be put in the atmosphere," Gary said. "That would save over a million pounds going into the atmosphere per year."

First Selectman Woody Bliss said the proposed project would need approvals by the Building Committee, the Board of Education, the Board of Selectmen and the Board of Finance. But, given the estimated cost savings and the environmental advantages of going solar, he said, it "looks very, very promising" that the town boards would give the solar panels the green light.

"I think we need to be leaders in trying to break the mold in how we get our energy," Bliss said. "Right now it's all about burning oil."

Bliss said Weston, which has already committed to a campaign calling for municipalities to acquire 20 percent of their electricity from clean energy sources by 2010, is looking to assess its energy options wherever it can.

"We are committed to that," he said.



Healthy discourse: Area parent group hopes engage others in exploring school lunch reform
Greenwich TIME
By Christina Hennessy, Staff Writer
Article Launched: 10/28/2008 01:00:00 AM EDT

Given the choice of a snack for their next day's lunch, Emma and Abby Straight were not opposed to some cucumber slices.

"Can I peel it?" Emma, 7, asked her mother, Nicole, who was spooning pineapple chunks into reusable containers.

"Just be careful," her mom said, as she helped her other daughter, Abby, 6, roll up a sandwich wrap around grilled strips of chicken.

It was a typical night in the Straight's Westport home, since the girls often opt to bring lunch from home, rather than eat the lunch offered by their school.

Straight and other Westport mothers who are concerned about the kinds of meals students are eating in school will gather at the Westport Public Library's McManus Room from 9:30-11:30 a.m. today for a screening of "Two Angry Moms." The documentary, produced and largely financed by Weston resident Amy Kalafa and her husband, Alex, examines the food offered to children in school and the changes being made around the country to create more nutritious school lunch programs.

Kalafa, 50, who has a daughter in high school and another who is a college graduate, is expected to attend the screening.

A holistic health and nutrition counselor who has produced films and television programs for the past 15 years, Kalafa also directed the film, which was released a year ago. She worked with Susan Rubin, the founder of Westchester (N.Y.) County-based Better School Food, a coalition of educators, health professionals and parents. The group has worked for many years to increase awareness about the link between food and children's health and learning.

"The whole reason I made the film was because there I was in Weston, feeling like a freak, wondering if I was the only parent who was worrying about this," Kalafa says of the food being served in the schools. "This was all very fringe when I started. I felt very isolated."

Since then, she and Rubin have been profiled by leading national publications, as well as featured on television news and radio programs.

Their hope is to get the schools to replace foods loaded with artificial ingredients and additives, such as sugary drinks, chicken nuggets, chips and other snacks, with healthier foods, including fresh fruit and vegetables. Kalafa says she also hopes communities will push school officials to work with local and area farms and farmers' markets to create sustainable agricultural communities.

Straight, 35, who owns Time to Eat, which offers cooking classes to busy moms, says while she sees positives on the school lunch menu, such as grilled chicken on a whole wheat bun and tossed salads, she thinks there can be further improvement.

"We are not the food police," Straight says of Parents for Change, the group organizing the screening. "When people hear lunch reform, they think nuts and twigs."

Instead, she says she'd like to see fewer mozzarella sticks and french fries and more healthful options. Further, she and others are urging schools to purchase locally grown products and create school gardens, so children gain a better understanding of food, from seed to table.

"It's not about withholding delicious food," she says, adding that it is more about making nutritious food delicious and appealing.

The film highlights some school systems that have not only eliminated junk food and processed snack options, but also have worked to create these links with area food producers.

Attempts to reach Westport schools' lunch provider, Chartwells, were unsuccessful, though the districts' Web site lists the elementary, middle and high school menus nutritional values for such foods - at the elementary level - as chicken nuggets made with whole-grain flour, turkey and cheese on whole wheat wrap, French toast sticks, pizza dippers, and a bologna and cheese sandwich. The Web site also provides a link to the student wellness policy. That policy calls upon the district to provide students with nutritious and affordable food choices in school.

In recent years, the work to improve children's culinary choices has been linked to growing obesity rates among the youngest U.S. residents. And before that, health officials were looking to the link between a high-fat diet and cardiovascular disease.

Fifteen years ago, the U.S. Department of Agriculture began working on its School Meals Initiative for Healthy Children. Although school lunches were meeting the recommended dietary allowance, there was concern that too many calories were coming from saturated fat. As a result of that initiative, schools had to limit the amounts of fat and saturated fat in their menus.

The initiative was considered the largest change in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs since their inception in the late 1940s, according to the department.

Straight and Kalafa see this time in history as a moment to push ahead even further with reform.

Straight says she would love to see some of the items that make it to her dinner table - couscous, edamame and hearty soups, for example - reflected in school lunch menus. She says she does not want to "buck the system," but rather work with school officials to make changes.

"The idea of kid food is a made up concept," she says. "We are assuming what kids will or will not eat before asking them."

Kalafa sees opportunities to raise better food consumers, students who understand what is in their food, where it comes from, how it is being prepared and how their diets affect their ability to learn and play in school. She also hopes area schools work on coming together to increase their purchasing power and support the local and area farmers and businesses attempting to make thriving local food systems.

Rather than being "angry," Kalafa is hopeful that this movement is spreading across the country, empowering parents to take a better look at what their children are eating.

"How do you get kids to eat healthier foods?" she asks, "By them not knowing that the food (they are eating) is actually good for them. Instead, they see food that is beautiful, tastes great, has texture, has beauty and it has flavor."




Farming catching on years later...
Filmmaker hopes documentary spurs action on school lunches
Stamford ADVOCATE
By Lisa Chamoff, Staff Writer
Published August 20 2007

WESTON - In Amy Kalafa's ideal world, the processed pizzas and chicken nuggets normally found in school cafeterias would be replaced with meals made from scratch, and fruits and vegetables grown by local farmers or students.

While working on a documentary, Kalafa, a Weston resident and veteran independent filmmaker, learned it happens in some parts of the country.  But in most others, bags of chips, cookies and snack cakes sit tantalizingly in bins at the end of the lunch line, and most of the meals arrive frozen in the kitchens.

That's why she's angry.

Kalafa's recently completed film, "Two Angry Moms," chronicles how school lunches became so unhealthy and what some districts are doing to turn around their food programs.  She hopes the film will mobilize parents to take action this school year.

"We really want people to see the film in community groups, hold discussions and formulate an action plan," said Kalafa, 48, who has two daughters, including one who will enter Weston High School at the end of the month.

The other "angry mom" is Susan Rubin, a nutritionist and mother of three from Chappaqua, N.Y., who created the Westchester Coalition for Better School Food, made up of parents, educators and health professionals.

Kalafa decided to make the film and was introduced to Rubin. She followed Rubin and the efforts of her coalition for more than a year.  The pair came up with the name "Two Angry Moms" one day while tossing around ideas. It seemed to fit, especially when they discovered that a former Texas secretary of agriculture once said it would take 2 million angry moms to change school food programs nationwide.

In the film, Kalafa visits five schools that have what she describes as model food programs.

One of these, the Katonah-Lewisboro School District in New York, employed a chef from the Culinary Institute of America, who had workers creating some menu items from scratch. On one of the days that Kalafa showed up, the cafeteria was serving baked chicken with olive oil and herbs, cauliflower and roasted sweet potatoes.

"Kids were buying it and they were liking it," Kalafa said. "Surprise, surprise."

Kalafa filmed at a school in California that began stocking its salad bar with produce from local farmers. Another served kid-designed meals with locally grown vegetables.  Kalafa said she and Rubin have heard criticism about the documentary from those in the food-service industry.

"There's a perception the film is down on food service and that's totally not true," Kalafa said. The idea is to "help them make it better."

Holly Betts, the new food service director for Weston Public Schools, said school food is becoming more nutritious.  The district, which contracts with Whitsons Culinary Group in Islandia, N.Y., is promoting whole-wheat breads and pasta, and fresh vegetables, Betts said. They limit most foods that are high in fat and offer fruit each day.  Betts recently attended a convention by the School Nutrition Association in Alexandria, Va., where vendors showcased new products.

"Booth after booth after booth, it was trans fat-free and fat-free," Betts said. "Ultimately, we will see a whole-grain chocolate-chip cookie."

But some low-fat and fat-free foods are far from nutritious, she said. In one cafeteria she saw containers of low-fat yogurt sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup and aspartame.

"I don't want my kid eating that," Kalafa said. "I don't think that's healthy. Yogurt? Yes. Artificially sweetened yogurt? No."

Kalafa and Rubin are encouraging people to hold screenings of the film to encourage discussion. They are selling screening kits with 10 DVDs for $275, and single DVDs will be available for $25.

Rebecca Velasquez, a social worker at Springdale Elementary School in Stamford, plans to show the film to the district's Wellness Committee, of which she is a member.  Velasquez saw the documentary last spring and has been bringing up suggestions from it during meetings of a nutrition subcommittee.

"I really feel the documentary has a lot of value," Velasquez said.

People may sign up to host a screening by visiting www.angrymoms.org. Kalafa and Rubin are soliciting donations of "lunch money" to help fund production of the film, which cost about $500,000 to make.

Kalafa said she hopes to get involved with the Weston School District's Wellness Committee and make changes in her town. But so far the committee has they have not asked the "angry mom" to join.

"I'm awaiting my invitation," Kalafa said.

 


A Ruling On Race: Court Rejects Diversity Plans; Little Effect Seen In Hartford
By ROBERT A. FRAHM | Courant Staff Writer
June 29, 2007

 A U.S. Supreme Court decision forbidding schools from enrolling children strictly on the basis of race threatens many voluntary desegregation plans throughout the nation, but experts believe that it will have little effect on school desegregation efforts in Hartford.

That is because Hartford's court-approved desegregation plan in the Sheff v. O'Neill case differs from the voluntary plans in Louisville and Seattle that were overturned in Thursday's 5-4 Supreme Court ruling.

The key difference, legal experts said, is that the magnet schools and school choice plans that are a central piece of the Sheff efforts do not single out students by race. Rather, the plans attempt to achieve racial balance by selecting students based on where they live.  That strategy "falls firmly within what is permitted" by the Supreme Court, said Dennis D. Parker, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who is part of the legal team representing the plaintiffs in the long-running Sheff case.

State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said that Thursday's ruling "should have no impact on state programs to reduce racial isolation in Hartford public schools." Under the Sheff plan, "no student is forced to attend a particular school based on race."

The Supreme Court rejected voluntary plans in Louisville, Ky., and Seattle, saying that assigning children to schools by race violates constitutional guarantees of equal protection.

"The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority. Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia joined the entirety of Roberts' 41-page opinion.

However, Justice Anthony Kennedy, who voted with the majority, left open the door for schools to pursue racial balance as long as individual students are not selected on the basis of race. He cited alternatives such as strategic site selection of new schools or attendance zones designed to tap into demographic patterns.

"A district may consider it a compelling interest to achieve a diverse student population," Kennedy said. "Race may be one component of that diversity."

Some civil rights leaders had feared that a ruling against the Seattle and Louisville plans would mark the end of an era of school integration efforts that began with the court's landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling in 1954 that outlawed deliberate school segregation. However, Kennedy's opinion leaves open, with some restrictions, opportunities for schools to pursue desegregation.

Although the ACLU's Parker called the decision "a significant step backward," he said, "The bottom line is that five justices [counting Kennedy] did agree that diversity and reduction of racial isolation is a legitimate governmental interest."

Theodore M. Shaw, director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said, "We got rained on today, but there's a silver lining." He said that Kennedy, who joined only part of Roberts' lead opinion, didn't go "as far as many people thought he might go."

Kennedy's assertion that racial balance remains a legitimate goal was seen as pivotal by legal experts.

"What Kennedy essentially is saying was, `I don't have any problem with race-conscious policies as long as they don't classify individual students by race,'" said Jack Balkin, a Yale University law professor and constitutional law expert.  Still, the ruling strips school boards of a tool to offset the impact of racially divided housing patterns. Both sides say that the practices used in Louisville and Seattle are common throughout the nation.

Justices John Paul Stevens, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer dissented. Breyer said that the ruling would "threaten the promise" of the 1954 Brown decision.

Some, however, hailed Thursday's ruling. "There can't be a dual system of school assignments based on race or ethnicity," said Edward Blum, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. "Racial quotas and preferences never produce diversity - they produce animosity, bitterness and perpetuate the belief that minority students just can't hack it."

The ruling reflects the influence on the high court of Alito and Roberts, both of whom were appointed by President Bush. Three years ago, before their appointments, the court ruled that universities could consider race in making admissions decisions.  Thursday's ruling comes just as Connecticut has tentatively agreed to take aggressive new measures to speed the pace of integration in Hartford's mostly black and Hispanic public schools.

Under a proposed extension of a 2003 settlement in the Sheff case, the state would spend millions of dollars more over the next five years to subsidize magnet schools, charter schools and other programs designed to bolster integration. The extension still must be approved by the legislature.  The original four-year settlement, due to expire this week, fell far short of its goals, including targets to more fully integrate magnet schools and to increase the number of Hartford schoolchildren enrolled in predominantly white suburban schools.

Plaintiffs in the Sheff case in 1996 won a state Supreme Court ruling ordering the state to desegregate Hartford's public schools, in which more than nine of 10 students are black or Hispanic.

Because some towns have large minority or white populations, magnet schools have tried to achieve racial balance by setting specific enrollment quotas for individual towns. That approach has had mixed success. Many recently established magnet schools in Hartford have had difficulty attracting enough suburban white students but have been more popular among minority students from both Hartford and its suburbs. However, some older regional magnet schools - notably those operated by the Capitol Region Education Council - have been able to attract racially mixed student bodies.

"We've never had to use a lottery that was race-based," said Bruce Douglas, the council's executive director. "We've been able to draw a large number of suburban students to our schools. ... This court case is not a significant concern to us."

In Seattle, the school system allows students to choose among high schools and then relies on tiebreakers - including race - to decide who gets into schools that have more applicants than openings.

In the Louisville case, a mother claimed that her son was denied entrance to a neighborhood school because he is white. The metropolitan district was under a court desegregation order until 2001, but since then it has continued to use an assignment plan using racial guidelines.

In Connecticut, while most observers said that the ruling would have little effect on the Sheff case, it was less clear what impact it would have on schools under orders to comply with the state's long-standing racial balance law.  That law says that the racial makeup of any public school must be within 25 percentage points of the overall racial makeup of the local school district.

Since 1980, when the law's regulations took effect, the state has required several towns to redistrict schools or adjust attendance policies to comply with the law.  Blumenthal, the attorney general, said that Thursday's ruling raises questions about how the state law might be applied, but that each case would have to be evaluated individually.

"We know of no particular racial balance plan in the state that would be invalid under the Supreme Court's ruling," he said.

Some towns, including Manchester and West Hartford, are under pressure from the state to improve racial balance at some schools.  In light of Thursday's court ruling, "we will definitely re-examine the entire racial balance plan we submitted to the state," said Margaret Hackett, chairwoman of the board of education in Manchester, which was cited two years ago because one of its 10 elementary schools was out of compliance.

West Hartford officials said that plans to reduce the racial isolation at two south end schools are based not on designating enrollment by race, but by boosting achievement at the schools and drawing families of all races from throughout West Hartford. The district will continue to work on improving the schools with an eye on how the court ruling will affect other integration efforts, said Jack Darcey, chairman of West Hartford's board of education.



Note:  the opinion expressed below does not represent that of this website
We Keep Succeeding At Failure
Hartford Courant
Rick Green
June 29, 2007

As we nod off again, give thanks to the Supreme Court for its 5-4 decision telling us not to bother with race when trying to create equality in education.

No, this inequality isn't about "extreme" issues like race. It's not about income either, since our cities are repositories of impoverished minorities.  So relax, there's no need to disrupt our antique education system, which preserves and enhances divisions based on race and class.

If you believe this hokum, then you probably think more money will solve our education problems. These divided, inferior schools will be our downfall, preventing us from having an educated, competitive workforce.

Back in 1965, a team of Harvard researchers visited Hartford, warning city officials that they "will have lost the ball game" if the region's growing racial imbalance wasn't addressed. Now, it's the first-ring suburbs that are up for grabs.

More recently, Trinity College researchers found that Connecticut's efforts under the Sheff v. O'Neill decision to create racially mixed magnet schools in the Hartford area have failed.  In West Hartford, schools have grown more segregated. Neighboring Bloomfield, at 95 percent, has a higher percentage of minorities than Hartford. Windsor and East Hartford will be there soon.

I heard Gov. M. Jodi Rell Thursday morning on the radio, touting a budget that gives an additional $260 million for public schools. Sure, let's just give Hartford - and what the heck, Greenwich and Avon, too - more money.  That might be useful, if most of it wasn't funding preservation of the same old divide.

"Segregation is harmful," John C. Brittain said when I called. A lawyer in the Sheff v. O'Neill lawsuit, Brittain was repeating - for the zillionth, drowsy time - that racial and economic isolation are destructive. Business leaders, worried about a nonexistent future workforce, agree.

The problem is us, the way we run this ant farm of a state with all our school boards, police departments, planning and zoning commissions and accompanying political fiefdoms.

"Rather than continuing to try and make these separate schools for rich and poor work well," Richard D. Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation in Washington, D.C., told me, "we might try instead to give every kid the chance to go to a middle class school."

Dozens of school districts around the country already choose to balance enrollment based on income. St. Joseph College Professor Carlota Schecter told me her research proves the point we continue to ignore: Poor kids do better when they go to school with middle class kids. This is dangerous, sleep-disruptive thinking.

Schecter looked at the vocabulary of preschoolers in West Hartford, comparing children from different backgrounds, and found "children in economically integrated programs made significantly greater gains."

Yawn. We're still building new schools in Hartford and the suburbs, reinforcing racial and economic divisions, even as we pour additional millions into special programs, including the governor's new initiative dramatically expanding preschool.

"Racial segregation, particularly in education, leads to other segregation and disadvantages in the broader community," Brittain said, before I drifted off. "Look at Hartford."

No, look at West Hartford, Bloomfield or Windsor: They're Hartford back in 1965.  Take your pick - race or income - the divide remains. Or listen to the Supreme Court. Nighty night.



In Weston schools District's staff may enroll their children
Weston FORUM
by TERRY CASTELLANO
Apr 21, 2007

Children of non-resident Weston Public School certified staff may once again attend schools here if they satisfy tuition requirements. The step is seen by school officials as one that would help the school system recruit new teachers and other professionals and keep them on staffs here.

At the April 9 school board meeting the board unanimously approved reinstating a suspended policy permitting qualified children of non-resident certified staff to enroll in established programs within the school district.

This policy had been suspended before the new school buildings construction projects because of the lack of classroom space.

According to the revised policy, presented by the assistant superintendent, Jeremy Belair, admission is contingent on an assessment of class size limitations and the availability of school resources, and is based on the premise that additional staff will not be required. Tuition will be determined at a rate established by the board before the students are admitted.

This adopted policy states that the board will not be obligated to provide special education programs or services to non-resident students. However, should a non-resident student receive special or additional services, the actual costs associated with providing these services will be in addition to the tuition fee.

Tuition is to be paid in semi-annual installments, due Aug. 15, before the beginning of the school year, and Jan. 15.

Parents or guardians will be responsible for transportation for the non-resident students.

“This is very satisfying,” Ellen Uzenoff, board chair, said, after the unanimous vote of approval. “We are very happy to see this in place.”

Last month, during the first reading of the draft of this policy, Ms. Uzenoff told the board and the public that she believes this reinstated policy will help with recruitment and retention of teachers.


Decision on schools could impact home sales
Greenwich TIME
By Andrew Shaw, Staff Writer
Published April 16 2007

Greenwich real estate agents will be listening carefully when the Board of Education's task force gives its recommendations to fix racial imbalance and declining enrollment in September.  Prospective buyers aren't showing signs of caution yet, agents say, but the housing market will benefit once a decision is made on how to address the problems.

"Any change, like a closure or redistricting, can definitely affect people's decisions on purchasing real estate," said Russell Pruner, a partner at Shore and Country Properties in Greenwich.

Real estate agents will be glad when a decision is made, he said, because uncertainty doesn't help. "The perception is worse than what the reality is, and perception can really drive the market."

George Crossman, a member of the task force as the Greenwich Board of Realtors representative, said that when a family moves, they usually are bound to sending children to the school closest to their home.

"That's your one time to choose where your kid goes to school," said Crossman, a Riverside resident and father of two. But one option expected to be examined by the task force -- making more schools available to the entire town using a lottery admission process -- would open up housing possibilities by no longer linking families to the neighborhood school. "It's the first time in Greenwich they've really given them a choice after they've moved into their property."

Real estate agent Doug Fainelli, a member of the task force, has witnessed what the town's reaction was like the last time a school's status was in flux. Before the International School at Dundee opened, residents were anxious to find out its status, recalls Fainelli, a retired Dundee principal. Once the decision was made, people came to accept it.

Fainelli, who now also is with Shore and Country Properties, expects much of the same with prospective owners as they await the board's decision, expected at the end of the year.

The buyers aren't overly worried now because they believe Greenwich will make a sound decision, he said, but it will help to have a clearer picture of what the school system will look like.

"There's a high confidence level in the school system in town," said Fainelli, a liaison with the selectmen's office. A decision will help in easing uncertainty, he added.

Pruner believes changes to the housing market will be more of a blip than a transformation, citing the example of the closing and reopening of Cos Cob School after the fire in 1990. "All of this is short lived," Pruner said. "Once the decision has been made, people go forward. Going through the process is the hard part."

Carolyn Anderson, president of the Greenwich Association of Realtors, is optimistic that the recommendations will strengthen the district and, as a result, make Greenwich more attractive for prospective owners.

"A committee examining this is a good thing. This could be a great help," said Anderson, of Anderson Associates of Greenwich. Real estate agents are aware of the task force's work, she said, because the success of the school system reflects on the success of the housing market. "We all really care about the schools."


School enrollment hard to predict
Greenwich TIME
By Andrew Shaw, Staff Writer
Published April 9 2007

Three decades ago, the number of public school students in town plummeted. Three schools were closed and those children distributed among the remaining schools.

Over time, enrollment rose, though, and the three schools were re-opened.  Now, officials have projected a steady decline in enrollment that they believe will continue for another decade. Since 2003, their projections have been correct.  The projected decline has parents worried their children's schools might be closed.  The importance of enrollment projections, therefore, is not lost on assistant superintendent of curriculum, research and evaluation, John Curtin, who calculates enrollment.

"The stakes are certainly higher now that we're in a period of declining enrollment," Curtin said recently.

He has produced volumes of enrollment data for the Board of Education's task force that is recommending options to fix declining enrollment and space use issues, as well as racial imbalance.  The district's enrollment projections, he often reminds the committee, are best guesses, not hard facts.  For example, the projection for the 2012-2013 school year is 8,358 students, but, with a 6.2 percent margin of error, that could still mean as many as 8,876 or as few as 7,840 will show up.

That's why, Curtin said, "the art of enrollment projections" will never be an exact science. But in this case inexact science is still useful.

"It's not like the variation (on projections) has been so far above or below that it's not a usable number," he said.

It would be better in the future to use a range for long-term projections to show the margin of error better, Curtin said. Trends in town can be unpredictable and add difficulty to projecting enrollment, he added. Housing development, birth rates and economic changes that could bring new families to town all have to be considered.

"Greenwich is changing. It's really hard to anticipate what those changes are going to be," he said.

Even a one-year projection, with a margin of error at plus or minus 0.7 percent, can be off. The district's projection of 8,905 students for this school year was under by 49 students, causing operating budget constraints.

"That makes our budget a lot tighter," Curtin said. "There's no way to adjust things once school starts."

Peter Prowda, an education consultant with the state Department of Education who does projections for Greenwich, said the numbers will never be entirely accurate. I don't expect to hit it on the number," Prowda said. "You make an assumption that the patterns we observe will continue."

Prowda said that after gathering data, there still can be discrepancies on what the calculations mean. "Numbers speak to us, but sometimes we're not sure what they're saying," he said. "Now you have to figure out what it is, whether it's a temporary phenomenon or not."

No experts are disputing the claim that Greenwich is in a state of declining enrollment. The question is if the projected decline will continue as predicted. By 2016-2017, Greenwich will have only 8,007 students, down from the 2003-2004 peak of 9,113, according to a chart provided by the district.

As Curtin pointed out to the enrollment and space use task force, there's always the chance enrollment could drop dramatically again, as it did in the late 1970s and 1980s. Or it could do just the opposite. Experts say Greenwich usually is a stable town with its economy and housing, so the projections stay accurate. At least, that's how recent history unfolded. If a major change happens in Greenwich, all bets are off with projections, Prowda said.

"Most people can't adjust for future things," he said. "We're going to guess based on past history."


Westporter files suit vs. town, school officials; cites racial bias
By JEREMY SOULLIERE, Hour Staff Writer
March 13, 2007

WESTPORT — A Westport woman has filed a civil suit against the town of Westport and school officials, contending the town's school district has fostered "a pattern of racial discrimination" that has caused her family emotional distress.

Carla Karlen, a black Westport resident who has brought forward the federal suit, claims school officials have tolerated and encouraged race discrimination in Westport's "educational environment," neglected her child's need for proper special education services, and failed to protect the Karlen children from bullying.

The suit, which was filed with the town on March 8, names the town, Superintendent of Schools Elliott Landon, Director of Pupil Services Cynthia Gilchrist, and Kay Maye, the former principal at Coleytown Elementary School.

Neither Landon or Gilchrist returned calls concerning the suit Monday.
Karlen's spouse is white, the legal documents state, and her two children are biracial.

When the couple's oldest child was in the first grade at Coleytown Elementary School in the fall of 1998, the suit papers state, Karlen noticed there were no "students of color" in her daughter's classroom despite there being "children of color" in other classes. After parents had been asked by school officials if they had any suggestions concerning class placement in the next school year, Karlen had written back to the school, stating "she would like to see other children of color in the classroom with her daughter."

In September of 1999, she was "alarmed" to learn there were still no students "of color" in her daughter's classroom at Coleytown Elementary, the suit papers state. Karlen then approached the school's assistant principal about the matter, who told her that "'because (your daughter's) skin is so fair, we don't think of her as black.'" The assistant principal also told Karlen that the minority students who were bused in from Bridgeport to Coleytown Elementary were kept separate "for obvious reasons," the documents state.

"Outraged at what she was hearing," she met with then-First Selectwoman Diane Farrell "to discuss what the town was doing to promote racial diversity," the suit papers state. Karlen quickly thereafter became "persona non grata" at Coleytown Elementary and in town, with school administrators suddenly being "antagonistic" towards her family, and school personnel following her when she was at the school.

"(School) staff members would openly stare and whisper," the documents state. "Parent Teacher Association ... members became hostile and treated (Karlen) as if she were invisible, (and the Karlen children) suddenly had difficulty getting play-dates."

When the Karlens' oldest child — whose learning disabilities include Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, Auditory Integration Disorder and Erlin Syndrome — was in the second grade, she still could not read, the documents state. The Karlens approached the school's educators about their daughter possibly having a learning disability, but "their concerns were met with hostility," the suit papers state.

"The administrators and educators insinuated that a dysfunctional home life could be a factor in her inability to read," the documents state.

After an "outside evaluation" determined their daughter had Dyslexia, the school decided to assess the child, the suit papers state, resulting in a contradicting analysis that stated the child was not Dyslexic.

"(The schools' tests determined she) was not Dyslexic or learning disabled in any way — that her delays are 'developmental' and that, while she does not qualify for special services, they do intend to give her some support," the documents state.

The Karlen's oldest child was also "physically harmed by different children throughout" her third grade year, the documents state, but the school's administration failed to help her.

"The principal finds for the other child each time, regardless of the circumstances," the suit papers state.

After the Karlens requested both their children be transferred to another district school in 2001, their children were transferred to Long Lots Elementary School, the documents state, where the older Karlen child's Dyslexia and Dysgraphia was confirmed. But, despite being classified as special needs at Long Lots, the Karlens' oldest child still "had difficulty getting the special services she needed," the suit papers state.

Karlen, who is being represented by Middletown Attorney Dawne Westbrook, is seeking compensatory and punitive damages the court "shall consider to be just, reasonable and fair" in this case, according to the suit papers.

The federal case, which has been assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Christopher F. Droney in Hartford, has no set court date as of yet, according to the U.S. District court clerk in Hartford, and the defendants named in the suit have to respond to the allegations within 20 days of when the notification had been received.


BOE begins discussion on addressing racial balance
Lisa Chamoff, Greenwich TIME
Updated 10:54 p.m., Tuesday, October 16, 2012

After a meeting with the state education commissioner, Greenwich Superintendent of Schools William McKersie will kick off a discussion with the Board of Education on the district's response to racial imbalances at two town elementary schools.  McKersie, who met with state Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor on Oct. 5, said they had worked out a timeline that would have the district submit a plan to address racial imbalance at Hamilton Avenue and New Lebanon schools to the state by February or March of next year, and present it to the state Board of Education in March or April. The district would then start implementing the plan by next fall.

The time frame is similar for other districts also grappling with racial imbalance, including Fairfield and West Hartford, McKersie said.

McKersie said that during Thursday's meeting at Eastern Middle School, 51 Hendrie Ave., he plans to give the board an overview of the range of options Greenwich has to address the issue, which include modifying the district's existing magnet schools, created to address the imbalances, and "various types of new school formations," McKersie said.  The district can also redistrict, bus kids to other schools or create a charter school.

"It's a complete universe of what might be the options," McKersie said.

McKersie stressed that the state cannot force a solution, and the commissioner agrees that the district should work a solution into plans to address student achievement.

"It was very clear from the state that solutions are for us to determine," McKersie said. "The state is adamant that they're not going to come in and tell us how to do this."

Under state law, a school is considered racially imbalanced if its proportion of minority students varies more than 25 percentage points from the district average. In Greenwich, the district average is about 33 percent. 
At Hamilton Avenue, about 61 percent of the school's 412 students are minorities, and at New Lebanon, about 67 percent of 261 students are minorities, according to data from the state.  School board Chairman Leslie Moriarty said the board will be taking the first step Thursday night in exploring the district's response.

"The purpose of Thursday's discussion is to start getting a little bit more clarity for the administration about the direction in which we would like to proceed," Moriarty said.

Moriarty did not say how she might suggest narrowing the options.

"I think that we have to allow the conversation to occur with all eight board members participating," Moriarty said.

McKersie and school board members said they will make sure to gather input from parents before making any decisions, including narrowing the options.

"This a fairly broad, far-reaching issue for us, and we clearly need to be deliberate and careful about the process," Moriarty said. "We do want to include parents and community members as we develop the plans."

Board member Adriana Ospina said the board will also have to discuss and decide how it will ultimately collect input from parents.

"We want to hear from the community," Ospina said. "Whatever plan we implement is going to affect probably more than just the schools that have been cited."

Also at Thursday's meeting, which begins at 7 p.m., the board will hear from Assistant Superintendent Ellen Flanagan about the effect of supplemental programs, used to help students who are not performing well on standardized tests.

The board will also vote on the district's $10 million capital budget for 2013-14. At the last meeting, the school board discussed the importance of fully funding school maintenance after the Board of Estimate and Taxation Budget Committee's draft budget guidelines recommended the district spend no more than $8 million on capital improvements.


That's "Freund" not "Freud"
Budget woes, vacancies await Freund
Greenwich TIME
By Colin Gustafson, Staff Writer
Posted: 05/16/2009 09:11:31 PM EDT


From working with a tight budget and making critical hiring choices, to restoring public confidence in the district and monitoring a high-stakes construction project, Sidney Freund will have his work cut out for him when he takes over as head of Greenwich Public Schools on July 1.

One of the most immediate challenges, according to outgoing schools chief Betty Sternberg, will be dealing with the district's budget difficulties.  Because of town revenue shortfalls, school officials have shaved nearly $4 million out of next school year's spending plan, which totals nearly $126 million and includes cuts to more than two dozen staff positions.  With more revenue shortfalls forecast next year, Freund's administration could be forced to make more cuts from the 2010-11 budget and seek more union concessions, she said.

"When you have a budget that was already $4 million less than what you started, there will be some tremendously difficult decisions to make," said Sternberg.

Freund is also expected to work closely with school officials to fill top administrator spots, including the high school headmaster position being vacated Al Capasso.

"I think that's the real challenge, because his decision will leave a lasting imprint," said former school board member Bill Kelly. "The budget is important, but you have to pick the right people to work within a budget."

Additionally, officials said, Freund will have to jump into a hodgepodge of different initiatives, programs and school projects, including implementation of a new teacher-evaluation system and leading the district's review of its secondary schools.  He'll also have to keep a close eye on the progress of Glenville School's reconstruction this summer. Students and staff will move first into temporary modular classrooms this fall and then into their new school in January 2010, pending an on-time completion of work.

The Hamilton Avenue School rebuilding debacle could also re-emerge if Freund's administrators are required to testify in the town's anticipated legal action against the project's general contractor, Sternberg said. 
Another challenge will be boosting the public's confidence in the school system, which has dwindled for many over the past two years, according to survey results, said Board of Estimate and Taxation Chairman Steve Walko.  Between 2006-08, community satisfaction with the district declined on the 2008 Harris poll, with teachers saying they didn't feel they could influence policy and parents saying their schools weren't doing enough to communicate with them.

"He needs to be able to communicate with constituents. He needs to be transparent. He needs to understand the fabric of the community," Walko said. "People will have confidence if he, in fact, recognizes and addresses their issues with solutions that are consistent."

For Freund, the adjustment to a larger school district may also pose a challenge. His first three superintendent posts were in small districts -- Herricks schools in New Hyde Park, N.Y. (4,077 students); Oyster Bay-East Norwich schools in Oyster Bay, N.Y. (1,628); and Valley Stream, N.Y., schools (4,583).

And in Dobbs Ferry, he was responsible for a district totaling roughly 1,450 students in just three schools -- an elementary, middle and high school -- with an operating budget of about $38 million budget this year. By comparison, in Greenwich, he'll be managing a school system of nearly 9,000 students in 11 elementary schools, three middle schools and a high school, with a nearly $126 million operating budget.

"It's a larger community and a larger school district (in Greenwich), and it takes some time to get to know all of the players, learn the names, meet the parents," Sternberg said.

The school board will evaluate Freund's performance in an annual report that considers a variety of factors, including community satisfaction and his progress at boosting student achievement, among others, said board Chairwoman Nancy Weissler. He will not be subject to a pay-based critique of his efforts, however, since the school board eliminated a performance pay component from his contract that had existed in Sternberg's contract. However, under a new provision, board members will be able to vote on whether to renew his contract at the end of his second year.

Meantime, community members say they'll be watching his moves closely.

"I have trust in the (selection) process that got us this superintendent," said Bob Brady, chairman of the Representative Town Meeting Education Committee. "But whether or not we got the right person, only time will tell -- as it always does."



Former Commissioner for Education in CT Betty Sternberg - link to other article here.
Racial imbalance in 2012
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Ed Board races to replace Sternberg
Greenwich TIME
By Colin Gustafson, Staff Writer
Article Launched: 10/17/2008 07:19:10 AM EDT


School board members say they are intent on having a replacement for departing Superintendent Betty Sternberg when she leaves in June.

With Sternberg's three-year contract expiring on June 30, 2009, the Board of Education will have to complete the search in eight months or appoint an interim superintendent - an outcome several members said they were determined to avoid.

"I personally have no desire for that, because it just prolongs the outcome," said board member Steven Anderson. "We really need to keep our eye on the ball and make sure we find somebody who can hit the ground running by next June."

Sternberg, the town's highest paid employee, will earn more than $290,000 this year.

Sternberg announced Wednesday that she plans to step down in June. Her decision comes amid mounting concerns from some parents, teachers and board members that the initiatives implemented by Sternberg during the first two years of her tenure have failed to produce satisfactory improvements in student achievement.

Board Chairwoman Nancy Weissler said next week she plans to appoint a four-person search committee, which will hire a consulting firm to identify poetntial candidates; host focus groups of parents, school staff and administrators to help develop a "profile" for the new superintendent; and finally begin actively being recruiting and interviewing candidates, she said.

"We'll very much be looking for public feedback when this gets started" following the board's Oct. 23 meeting, said Weissler, who served on the previous search committee that selected Sternberg for the position in June 2006.

In choosing a successor, Democratic Selectman Lin Lavery said the board should seek out someone likely to remain with the district for some time. She said she was concerned that turnover in recent administrations could raise red flags for candidates and deter some from applying.

"We have had two different superintendents step down in three years," she said. "At some point, people are going to look at this and start asking 'what are they stepping into? What is happening with our community?' "
North Mianus parent Tom Pastore said the school board should focus its search on candidates who have already amassed years of experience as administrators in the school district and are more familiar with the concerns of parents.

As a former state commissioner, "Sternberg was like this big-name free agent that the board went out and decided it had to have," he said. Next time, "we need somebody local and homegrown, who has already been here a while, and knows the politics of what people like and dislike."


Sternberg to step down
Greenwich TIME
By Colin Gustafson, Staff Writer
Article Launched: 10/16/2008 01:00:00 AM EDT

Superintendent of Schools Betty Sternberg will step down as chief administrator of the town's public school system when her contract expires next summer, she said, citing a desire to be "responsive to the interests of the community."

With a Board of Education vote looming next week on whether to renew her contract with the school system, Sternberg said she decided on Monday night to not seek renewal of her employment agreement, which expires June 30, 2009.

"I wanted the district to know sooner rather than later," she said of her decision to announce her resignation prior to the board's vote on Oct. 23.

Sternberg's decision comes nearly two weeks after the board voted to give her a $3,500 salary bonus - out of a potential $15,000 for which she was eligible - based on its evaluation of her management of the district last school year.  Over the past two months, the superintendent has faced heavy criticism from some board members over what they have called the lackluster progress of students since she took over the schools two years ago.

She also came under fire last spring for blocking Boy Scouts from recruiting during class time in Greenwich schools, and has endured intense scrutiny from some parents over the district's handling of the delay-mired Hamilton Avenue School project. In making the decision to step down, Sternberg took into account "the context in the education community and the community at large," she said. "My sense is that it would be in everyone's interest for a new person to take this mantle and continue with it."

Sternberg, who returned in August from a three-month medical leave of absence, said health concerns had not played a role in her decision.  Several school board members described Sternberg's decision Wednesday night as a surprise, and said the superintendent had not faced internal pressure from individual members to step down.

"This was her own decision," said Board Chairwoman Nancy Weissler, who was on the four-person search committee that recommended Sternberg for the position in 2006. The others were current member Steven Anderson and two former members, Ginny Gwynn and Bill Kelly.

Weissler said she will begin selecting members for a new search committee to find Sternberg's successor following the body's Oct. 23 meeting.  Sternberg will remain in the district through the end of her contract. At a meeting Wednesday night on the Hamilton Avenue School reconstruction project, parents reacted to the news of Sternberg's future departure.

"PTA Council has a very good working relationship with Dr. Sternberg. We wish her well in all of her future endeavors," said Julie Faryniarz, the PTA Council president.

Alex Capozza, a vice president of the Hamilton Avenue School PTA Executive Board, said Sternberg had big shoes to fill in and inherited a number of complex issues.

"She came into very tough territory," Capozza said.

Sternberg's departure, Capozza said, creates an opening for the next superintendent to improve academics across the school district.


Sternberg waiting for OK from docs
Greenwich TIME
By Colin Gustafson
Staff writer
Article Launched: 08/05/2008 02:30:20 AM EDT

Her doctors will tell Superintendent of Schools Betty Sternberg this Friday whether she can return full-time to being the town's chief school administrator, a position that she temporarily vacated two months due to an undisclosed illness.  Sternberg said yesterday that while she's eager to jump back into being superintendent of the town's public school system by a target date of Aug. 11, it's up to the doctors to give her a clean bill of health to go back to work.

"I cannot tell you with 100 percent certainty what will happen," she noted. "But I do know I'm feeling better and can't wait to get back."

Sternberg, 58, started a leave of absence June 16 citing undisclosed medical issues. Last year, she wrote an opinion editorial in which she discussed living cancer-free since being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001.  While declining to discuss her medical issues with Greenwich Time Monday, Sternberg said she felt "more than ready" to take on a full slate of responsibilities in the 2008-09 school year.

One goal Sternberg hopes to pursue upon her return, she said, is expanding the teacher evaluation system she implemented last year at several schools.  Sternberg would like to turn her pilot program into a district-wide program that uses a standardized set of criteria to judge performance. Administrators under the program are also encouraged to take a more active, hands-on role in observing how teachers interact with students before completing their evaluations.  However, topping her list of priorities is finding a resolution to the facility issues with Hamilton Avenue and Glenville schools, Sternberg said.

The Board of Education last week agreed on a plan to delay the start of Hamilton Avenue's year to give a contractor extra time to finish work on its rebuilding project, while shifting Glenville students to modular classrooms to allow restoration to begin on their own building.  Both projects have been mired in delays for years, and despite the school board's recent approval of a plan to expedite work, another projected delay in the Hamilton Avenue project has thrown the fate of both schools next year into doubt.

If the Hamilton Avenue project isn't done by August 15, Glenville students will be forced to attend class in as many as four different schools across the district, while Hamilton Avenue students occupy the modulars instead.  While she hopes the situation won't come to that, Sternberg said she'll be prepared to deal with such a dispersion scenario by drawing on her experience of re-assigning Hamilton Avenue students to other schools after mold was discovered in their modulars last year.

"It was painful, but we've learned a lot from the decisions we made with Hamilton Avenue," she said. "That was an emergency situation - so not only having that prior experience, but being able to brace for it as a possibility will make things go smoother next year with Glenville."

Sternberg added that she's been closely watching the situation as it unfolds, even while undergoing treatment for her illness. As such, she's well aware of "all the nuances" of the situation and plans to be able to approach the issues with a fresh perspective, she said.

"There is a positive aspect to having being removed from everything," she said, "because you come back and understand what's important in a big picture - and what you need to do help children meet the vagaries of life, when not everything goes as planned."


Sternberg unveiling budget proposal
Greenwich TIME
By Andrew Shaw, Staff Writer
Published November 8 2007

Communicating with native Spanish speakers, increasing technology and improving specialty programs are focal points for Superintendent of Schools Betty Sternberg's presentation tonight on her 2008-09 budget proposal to the Board of Education.

Sternberg's budget proposal is for $125 million, a 5 percent increase over the 2007-08 budget. That marks a slight drop compared with the 5.4 percent increase she sought for the 2007-08 budget over the 2006-07 budget. Sternberg will make her presentation at 7 p.m. at Cos Cob School.

One of the highlights of the budget, Sternberg said, is the $300,000 marked for adding computerized whiteboards, known as Smartboards, to more classrooms around the district as part of a multiyear plan to eliminate the disparity in the number of Smartboards per school.

The western end of town, especially at the underperforming New Lebanon School area, is a focus of the budget as well. Money is targeted to pay for a part-time bilingual parent liaison to talk to Spanish-speaking parents, and more brochures and letters will be translated.

"If you have a liaison who speaks the language and is able to connect with people É that whole issue of (parent involvement) is addressed," Sternberg said.

Western Middle School seeks money to offset field trip costs for students in need, while Hamilton Avenue School seeks money to expand its Suzuki violin program down to the second grade.

Consultant Ed Linehan, who was hired to help the board's task force in its research of magnet schools addressing racial imbalance problems, will be retained to help the review process of Hamilton Avenue School and the other two magnet programs, as well as the development of New Lebanon's magnet program.

Inside the classroom, after recent overhauls in math and literacy curricula, Sternberg wants to spend money reviewing the effectiveness of science curriculum to find improvements for instruction. Science is under more scrutiny by the state because more students are tested now in science on state exams.

Sternberg also wants funding for her new secondary education review committee, set to begin meeting this January as they consider major changes in how the middle schools and high school operate. For teachers, Sternberg wants to pay for more training in using student test scores and other data to drive their instruction, part of the district's goal to give teachers more insight into their students' academic performance history.

In last year's budget approval, the Board of Estimate and Taxation lopped $500,000 off the Board of Education's final proposal and advised school officials to look for ways to reduce costs where possible instead of seeking more money than the BET believes is necessary. Sternberg ended up evenly spreading the budget cut over all the departments.

The BET sets a spending guideline based on how many students are in the district. In 2008-09, the district predicts there will be 8,929 students, slightly less than the 8,974 this school year.

Sternberg said the district found ways to cut back elsewhere, such as by not making any major textbook purchases for the district, which can cost about $300,000. And, instead of giving departments a dollar amount they can expect to receive each year, now all departments have to explain every item they request. This year, Sternberg said the budget should be more accurate and not leave money unspent at the end of the year, as has happened in the past.

"There should not be an expectation we'll return money," Sternberg said.

After tonight's presentation, there will be a public hearing Nov. 20, also at Cos Cob School. The board will vote on the budget on Dec. 20, and then submit it to the town for approval.


Diversity dilemma Parents, RISE committee disagree over influence of race on options
Greenwich TIME
By Andrew Shaw, Staff Writer
Published September 23 2007

As Greenwich considers adding magnet programs they hope will scatter children of different races across the district, some white parents have spoken out against underperforming, non-English speaking students coming to their child's school and taking attention away from their child.  They also have questioned school officials about why students at schools with many underachieving, minority students would get more money for a magnet program compared to their child's school.

Supporters of the Board of Education's task force, which is examining racial imbalance, say that the comments of those parents are actually bigoted remarks veiled in the language of requests to preserve a neighborhood school system the state says is racially segregated.

Natalie Queen, who is set to become the first black woman to be elected to the Board of Education, said that when people oppose opening up their neighborhood schools to other parts of town, it's akin to "structural racism."

"All kids should be educated equally regardless of what they look like and where they came from," said Queen, a mother of a middle school student.

The state said New Lebanon and Hamilton Avenue Schools have too high a percentage of minority students, and warned that Old Greenwich soon will have too many white students. The law is intended to create a diverse classroom so that students of all races have time together.  As of Oct. 1, 2006, 168 minority students attended Hamilton Avenue and 119 attended New Lebanon, compared to Old Greenwich, which had 19 minority students last year, according to the most recent data available.

Since the beginning of the task force on racial imbalance, space use and declining enrollment, or RISE, in February, some parents have worried that the district would close a school to create better racial balance and maximize space. Now that that option is considered off the table, the focus has been on magnet programs, which school officials say will draw white students from other parts of town to a mostly minority-populated school, and vice versa.

Other than redistricting, magnet schools are thought to be the only option available to make the district more evenly diverse. In response, opponents ask why the district is focusing on racial diversity, saying they want the schools to focus solely on achievement.  A few parents have questioned whether the state's diversity mandate is valid in light of the recent Supreme Court ruling that said Seattle and Louisville schools can't assign students to schools based on race; lawyers consulted by Greenwich officials believe the Connecticut law will be upheld.

Supporters of the RISE task force's efforts say diversity is a measure of achievement and it's not a "tangential issue," as described by one parent at a task force public forum earlier this month.

The forum included comments from both sides of the issue -- those supporting the task force's search for a solution for racial imbalance, and those saying the district isn't looking at the bigger picture of student achievement for all students, not just minority students at a few schools.

Craig Bibb, who called the work of the task force a "social policy experiment," said people would be wrong to think that those speaking against the task force are narrow-minded parents who want to maintain a system that sustains racial isolation.

"I didn't hear anyone speak against diversity. It's about reducing (racial imbalance) at the cost of losing a school," said Bibb, a North Street parent. On a list of options, North Street was listed as a school that had the greatest projected cost savings if it was closed, although school officials said school closure is not being seriously considered. Some parents, however, see turning their neighborhood school into a magnet school as a closure.

"What people are saying is that they love their neighborhood school and they want their neighborhood school to become even better. I don't think anyone's saying they don't want children from other ethnic backgrounds in their schools. They just don't want their child bused to another school," Bibb said.

But some supporters of the committee's work interpret recent public comments of opponents as being close-minded and ignorant.

"It's hard for people to talk about racial imbalance when they are the majority. They never had to deal with being the minority. But I can see the imbalance," said Queen, a task force member.

Angelique Bell, a task force member who is Hispanic, said "some people just don't want to see change," but on the other side, worries that too much is being made of diversity for diversity's sake.

"I'm offended by the thought that just putting a Hispanic kid next to a white kid is going to raise the Hispanic kid's scores," said Bell, a Parkway School mother. "I don't care who sits next to my child, as long as the education is stellar."

Administrators have touted increased diversity as a way to help wealthy, white students be immersed with poor students and other cultures. Sternberg said the cultural development of students, not the mandate, is the driving reason behind the committee's work, which will be reviewed by the board Sept. 27.  Some parents who commented at the public forum said Sternberg was just performing a "social experiment" and trying to be a "social engineer" by arbitrarily mixing races through an open choice school system.

Sternberg emphatically disagrees.

"It's about teaching children to work and play together with children who may not necessarily look like them or represent cultures of their own. I'm not the social engineer," Sternberg said.

Those who feel she is overemphasizing racial diversity at the cost of achievement should think about the racially charged fight at the high school in 2006, she said. Achievement is more than just test scores, Sternberg believes, and people should not be satisfied with students who do well in class but don't embrace diversity.

"I don't think anyone's achievement has been addressed," if there are racially charged fights, Sternberg said.

Early on in the committee process, Sternberg said she was angered after she received e-mails with "a hateful, bullying tone," by those opposing the focus on racial imbalance. She wrote a letter in March to parents and as an op-ed to newspapers chiding parents for being narrow-minded.

In her letter, Sternberg wrote, "I am distraught to read e-mails written with a hateful, bullying tone from parent to parent and from citizen to town official which say, among other things, 'The children are exposed to racial diversity in middle school and high school and in their extracurricular activities. We don't want our elementary school-age children used to neutralize the makeup of another part of town.' "

Since that time, Sternberg said there are parents she believes haven't changed their minds.

"There will be some people who will never embrace this as an important goal," she said.

Representative Town Meeting member Peter Sherr remembers the letter well.

"She was implying that people who were not supportive of her point of view of racial balance might be racist or bigoted. That's Hartford-style politics," said Sherr, referring to Sternberg's former job as state Commissioner of Education. "Greenwich is a much more generous and open-minded place."

Sherr, a North Mianus parent, said that a lack of interest in diversity is not the problem.

"I know there are lots of parents who want a diverse environment. But I don't think they want it preached to or dictated to on that subject," Sherr said. "I don't believe people in Greenwich are bigots or that they don't believe diversity in Greenwich is a good thing."

Instead, Sherr said that it may be the board and top administrators, who are white, that are being racist by trying to come up with a solution for increasing diversity.  School officials believe "we think we know what's best for them. If that isn't racism, I don't know what is," Sherr said.

However, board chairwoman Colleen Giambo said the idea to address racial imbalance is about embracing the fact that that Greenwich is racially diverse.

"This is not a social experiment that's just out there for the world. This is Greenwich. We're a diverse community," Giambo said.

While some parents told the district they believe adding magnet programs and busing children to new schools for the purpose of diversity will take away money from achievement measures, Giambo said there won't be "huge, extra expenses" and that all children will get the attention needed. A magnet program can cost about $75,000 in start-up fees, plus $50,000 in recurring costs.

"This is not an exercise of taking from this one and giving to that one," Giambo said.

She also addressed the concern that moving English as a Second Language children to a mostly white school will hurt the achievement of students already there, since the teacher may need to give extra attention to the ESL child.

"They are always concerned there will be a remedial aspect and then their kid won't get as much attention. But you have to have classrooms that can manage differentiation," Giambo said. The International School at Dundee, which is culturally diverse and has a magnet program, handles different cultures and learning abilities well, Giambo said.

Parents should embrace the idea of a racially balanced district, Giambo said.

"You can't really argue with the concept," Giambo said. "We need to do it."


Parents slam RISE options
Greenwich TIME
By Hoa Nguyen, Staff Writer
Published September 12 2007

Some parents blasted the effort to achieve racial balance in Greenwich schools as a "social policy experiment" that puts their children's education at risk.

"We want great neighborhood schools," parent Craig Bibb said to wide applause last night at Greenwich High School during a public forum to discuss seven options school administrators are proposing for next year to address racial imbalance, declining enrollment and space utilization identified at some Greenwich schools.

"Greenwich citizens do not want to put our community's great assets at risk to conduct a social policy experiment," Bibb said to thunderous applause. "The performance gap Greenwich parents are most concerned with is the gap between public and private schools. The gap É between students of different ethnic backgrounds is a tangential issue."

A few weeks ago, administrators gave seven options to a task force called the RISE committee to consider. The group, which was organized in February, is expected to issue its recommendations to the Board of Education later this month.

With three of the options requiring the closing of a school -- an unpopular choice among parents and administrators -- task force members said last night that they will not recommend any of those options to the education board. That leaves the other four options, which include some variation of transforming one or more so-called neighborhood schools into magnet schools. In all four cases, New Lebanon School would be one of those schools.

Last night's forum attracted nearly 100 parents, some of whom directed their attacks at Superintendent of Schools Betty Sternberg.

One parent said the superintendent and a consultant she hired to help the district sort out the options send their own children to private or charter schools rather than public ones.

"Apparently, magnet schools are not good enough for their children," Parkway School parent Anna Saras said.

Sternberg acknowledged that her children, who are in their 20s, did attend private high school but up until eighth grade were enrolled in public school.

Another parent, Peter Sherr, who is a Representative Town Meeting member, also derided Sternberg's "overemphasis" on racial balance.

"It's the height of bigotry, actually, that white wealthy educated people are thinking what's best for the African American and Latino communities," he said. "I think what we need to do is not go further with building a system of haves and have-nots. We should not be going any further with figuring out racial balance until we have a clear answer from the legal authority in the state."

Marianna Ponns Cohen, who is running for a spot on the education board, said magnet schools are ineffective and costly.

"We should educate our children to the highest standards and spend money on academic programs and not busing," she said. "Magnet schools are just a fancier way to legitimate the busing of students under an illusory promise of choice."

Some parents objected to the objections, saying they want schools such as New Lebanon to become a magnet school so that it is not subject "to the segregation that this country has been trying to fight for a long time," Byram native Ted Flinn said.

"New Lebanon is a racially imbalanced school," he said. "I'm faced with a decision of sending them to a racially imbalanced school or sending them to a private school É Your ideas of trying to change the system that currently exists and to improve it is very noteworthy."

Other parents said those who opposed magnet schools are too hung up on details.

"It seems to me that you are more worried about driving or busing your child than you are about your child's education," parent Claudia Velez said.

Still other parents with children in existing magnet schools such as the International School at Dundee and Julian Curtiss said they have had success with those programs and would recommend it to other parents.

The task force is expected to hold its final meeting Tuesday at Cos Cob School where the group will vote to prioritize the seven options. The Board of Education will then review the choices during its Sept. 27 meeting at Old Greenwich School.


Sternberg grades her year
Greenwich TIME
By Andrew Shaw, Staff Writer
Published August 19 2007

As she sat in her office last week, Betty Sternberg, superintendent of schools and amateur photographer, gestured toward three photographs she took in Mexico that are now displayed beside her desk.

"These two got awards, but this is the one I like the best. Of course, that's the one that didn't get an award," Sternberg said, pointing toward the center photo that captures the image of a solitary stone statue on a run-down street in San Miguel D'Allende. Sternberg, 57, laughs about receiving honors for two photos, but not for the artwork of which she is most proud.

The same may be said of Sternberg's first year on the job, which began last August when she left her position as state commissioner of education. Since she arrived, the Board of Education's task force on racial imbalance, space use and declining enrollment, which Sternberg serves on as a co-chair, has become the most recognizable and perhaps most divisive work during Sternberg's tenure.

But Sternberg said the RISE task force often overshadows all of her other projects aimed at raising the achievement of all students. It's a topic she describes with emphatic hand gestures, such as when she slants her hands upward as she discusses how "youngsters" who are underperforming need to have accelerated growth.

"You can see we're making progress," said Sternberg, the district's first permanent female superintendent.

The statistics illustrate that statement. The Connecticut Mastery Test scores showed general improvement in math scores this past school year compared to 2005-2006, although reading and writing scores slightly dipped. Some of the schools with the most economically and racially diverse students, New Lebanon and Hamilton Avenue, made strong gains in all categories.

To accomplish this, Sternberg continued the work of her predecessor, Larry Leverett, in implementing new math and literacy curricula. She also brought in new cabinet members, including Kathy Greider, deputy superintendent of teaching and learning, and Chris Winters, assistant superintendent of curriculum, learning and staff development, and she oversaw a push to coordinate the work of all the principals.

Sternberg said she's also proud of developing the Success System, which gives the board tangible, defined benchmarks to evaluate how well the district is doing in all areas, including student performance and professional development.

Still, it has been the task force, which has been meeting since March and has taken a considerable chunk of her staff's time doing research, that garners much of the attention, good and bad.

Sternberg said the issues being addressed by the task force are "the most difficult issues I've had to grapple with" in her 26 years as an educator and policy maker.

In December, before the task force was assembled, Sternberg faced one of her biggest challenges of the past year. First Selectman Jim Lash said publicly in a speech to a community group in December that the town either had to "lop off some schools" because of declining enrollment or the cost of public education in town would go up significantly. His comments set off a wave of worry among parents concerned that the district already had their child's school preselected for closure, and a short war of words between Parkway and Glenville school parents over whether the scheduled renovation at the latter would guarantee the closure of the former.

"Parents perceived (that Lash's comments) directly affected their kids, and understandably so," Sternberg said.

Sternberg had to spend several months attending PTA meetings and speaking individually to parents to reassure them that closing a school was a last resort, not the first option.

"That took a lot of focus away from the instructional aspect," said Colleen Giambo, chairwoman of the board, whose members have been eye-to-eye with Sternberg throughout her tenure.

To address racial imbalance and declining enrollment in the schools, the Board of Education created the RISE task force, which Sternberg assembled. But the public relations work for Sternberg was only just starting.

Once the task force began to meet, Sternberg was criticized by some in the community who questioned the motives of the group. At a string of public meetings in February and March, parents, including some from a newly formed group that calls itself Friends of Parkway School, chided the district for what they perceived to be a hidden agenda to push for more magnet schools or close certain schools.

Parent Marianna Ponns Cohen, who is running for the board this year, has been one of the most vocal critics of the process. Ponns Cohen made a massive Freedom of Information Act request for e-mail correspondence among Sternberg and some of her cabinet regarding Parkway School, Glenville School and the task force. The request, which is still being fulfilled, came after weeks of Ponns Cohen making comments in public meetings against Sternberg's administration.

"You're cooking the outcome," Ponns Cohen said to Sternberg at a January Parkway School PTA meeting with the superintendent and other school officials.

Ponns Cohen declined to comment for this story.

Sternberg continued to appeal for calm, writing a letter to the public in March in which she said her critics were using inaccurate facts in their arguments and pitting schools against each other.


Public reaction to the task force's work has settled during the summer, though when the group reports its findings to the board next month things could heat up. Sternberg said the people who have spoken out against the work of the task force aren't looking at the big picture.

"It's important that the community understands that it's a great educational system if it educates all children well, not just some children well. It isn't just about 'my kid,' " Sternberg said. However, she added, "I respect that not everyone agrees."

Beginning in April, Sternberg had to face another crisis when her staff was informed by the Hamilton Avenue building committee that the rebuilding project scheduled to be finished in time for the first day of school was several months behind schedule. The committee first became aware of potential delays around February but thought they could make up for lost time.

Laura DiBella, the Hamilton Avenue PTA president during the past school year, said she wished Sternberg had acted faster, but she was satisfied with Sternberg's effort once she became aware of the delay.

"I think it would have been more helpful had she closely monitored the situation earlier," DiBella said. "But it's difficult coming in midproject."

The delay also pushed back Glenville School's plans for renovation, angering parents who said the school was already overdue for an upgrade and that their children have been receiving a substandard education because of the antiquated building.

Celia Fernandez and Lisa Harkness, Glenville PTA co-presidents could not be reached for comment about Sternberg's performance.

Giambo said Sternberg ably handled the delays.

"There's no fault to her on that. The whole point of a building committee is to take away attention from the superintendent and the board," Giambo said. The project is now scheduled to be finished in December.

Sternberg said she wished she would have known earlier about the delays, but she said the district has learned from the experience. In the upcoming Glenville School renovation, a construction manager will be used instead of a general contractor, which is used for the Hamilton Avenue project. A construction manager gives the district more control over subcontractors and the construction process, Sternberg said.

Despite the hurdles, Sternberg said she's already made progress in accomplishing many of her goals as superintendent. She still would like to make preschool more available to all children and she wants to continue developing programs for parents who need to learn English. Adding more technology in the classroom and reforming secondary education are on her agenda as well.

Sternberg said she would like to be around to see her initiatives through.

"I expect to be here," Sternberg said.

Giambo said the board has long-term hopes for Sternberg, too, after only having Leverett around for about three years, and fairly quick turnover before him.

"It's very disruptive when there's a change of leadership," Giambo said. "We're really hoping we can get good years in so we can make a lot of progress."


Sternberg letter to critics hits chord
Greenwich TIME
By Andrew Shaw, Staff Writer
Published March 10 2007

A letter to the public by Superintendent of Schools Betty Sternberg has many in the school community saying they are glad to see a clear message directed at critics of the Board of Education's task force: Stop fighting with each other and join our cause to improve overall student achievement.

Sternberg said she wrote the letter to make it clear what the mission of the Board of Education's task force is -- to better the education of all children, regardless of wealth or location, by fixing declining enrollment, racial balance and space use problems in the district.

"She's doing the right thing by rallying the troops," said Nicki Barret-Lennard, co-president of the Old Greenwich PTA. "We're all better off together than fighting with each other."

In Sternberg's letter, available on the school Web site and printed as an op-ed piece in Thursday's Greenwich Time, she writes about her anger and disappointment at what she describes as bullying by some.

"I am so upset, so disappointed -- even angry -- about the nasty, mean-spirited talk and e-mails that are coming from some sectors of Greenwich É," she wrote. "I am distraught to read e-mails written with a hateful, bullying tone from parent to parent and from citizen to town official."

She says the e-mail she has seen expresses outrage over redistricting to achieve racial balance, and the possibility of closing schools because of declining enrollment. She refers obliquely to the perception among some parents that if the Glenville School renovation project goes forward, then the Parkway School will certainly be closed -- an idea which she has repeatedly said is false.

Janice Richards, PTA Council president, said she thinks the letter reiterates the PTA Council's mission to get all schools to work together, especially as the district faces uncertainty.

"It serves no purpose to pit schools against each other," Richards said.

Some in Greenwich, including members of the newly formed group Friends for Parkway School, have questioned the financial and statistical data provided by the school administration, especially in regard to the proposed $23 million Glenville School project. Sternberg writes that there is "ill-informed, misinformation that pits one school against another."

"There's a small group of people who present numbers as fact, and, in fact, it is not fact," she said in an interview yesterday. "Everybody is entitled to their opinion. But it's just a concern of misrepresentation of data as if it were fact."

Sternberg also chides in her op-ed piece those who have written letters of criticism without signing their names, going instead under the moniker "Friends of Parkway School." The group also has put an ad in the papers under that name. Sternberg's words also may be directed at members of the Concerned Citizens of Greenwich group, which asked for the postponement of the Glenville project until the task force made recommendations. The group members have remained anonymous.

"When people hold important views, you'd hope they'd be willing to stand up and put their name to the view of others," Sternberg said. She added she is upset with the way people are presenting their case, not the fact that they disagree. "It is done in a very mean-spirited fashion."

Anna Saras, a member of the Friends for Parkway School group, said that she and those around Greenwich who share her views are similarly frustrated.

"We're trying to get facts out. We're trying to keep emotion out of it, but, yes, you do get emotion into it when you're trying to get out a logical message but people aren't listening," Saras said. Friends for Parkway School's main goal is to keep Parkway open and keep town officials fiscally responsible.

"We represent at least half the school," Saras said, adding that their passion has been misconstrued. "We're not bullies."

Sternberg and the Parkway PTA dispute this. Abby Pillari, Parkway PTA secretary, said there has been a false view that there is a Glenville School versus Parkway School attitude.

"I hope they see we are not pinning a school against a school," Pillari said of the community opinion. "We are one school system. We need to work together."

Sternberg concludes the letter by reminding the community that the point of the task force is to create opportunities for all of its children.

"We should operate as if each child in Greenwich is our own child ..." she writes. "Let's get to it. Our children are watching. And waiting."

Celia Fernandez, co-president of Glenville PTA, said Sternberg drove home an important point with that message, and that she's glad the superintendent took a public stance.

"This kind of clears the air," she said. "She's on the money. At the end of the day, it's about the kids." 



    
Did you know that Yale's colors are pale blue, baby blue, or in this case, just blue?

Steamy Shower Has Yale Students In A Bit Of Hot Water 

DAY
By John Christoffersen , Associated Press Writer  
Published on 2/3/2007

New Haven — Sex is not a taboo subject at Yale, home to Sex Week, a biennial celebration that's one of the most provocative campus events in the nation.
But a randy couple's frolic in a shower at one of Yale's undergraduate residential colleges prompted a professor to issue an e-mail of protest, which in turn has sparked debate on the Internet.

With the subject line “Shower Stalls are for Showering,” the e-mail begins “OK, well THIS is the most awkward college-wide e-mail I've ever had to send.”

Yale officials told The Associated Press on Friday that the e-mail was sent Jan. 30 by Professor Jonathan Holloway, master of Calhoun College, one of 12 residential colleges at the Ivy League university.

About 330 students received the e-mail from Holloway, who runs Calhoun as master. He referred comment to Yale's public affairs department.

His e-mail warns against “intimate activity” in the showers, “especially that kind of activity that leaves the showers in a decidedly less hygienic state.

“Several times since the start of the spring term some Hounies have come across a couple having the time of their lives in a shower stall,” the e-mail stated, referring to the nickname for college residents. “Last night, the shower flooded and the bathroom could not be used for over 90 minutes. To the as yet unidentified couple, this may be pleasurable and exciting for you, but it is a violation of community standards. Please stop.”

The note, first reported Friday by the New Haven Register, ended with a warning to the frolicking couple: “I really don't want to explore this matter any further, as I respect your individual privacy. But such continued brazen public displays of affection will only invite public embarrassment. I beg of you, let's not go there.”

One Calhoun resident made his views clear on another blog, criticalmassblog.com. Dan Gelernter, class of 2009, is co-editor of Critical Mass, aimed at “collegiate conservatives,” and called the episode “a new chapter in the story of Yale's continuing descent into the depths of moral degradation.”

“It is not merely unfortunate, but pathetic and disgusting that the Master needed to send such a note to us but in the moral vacuum that has been created by Yale intellectuals, students seem to be left without even the most basic guidelines for proper and decent behavior,” Gelernter wrote.

 

Soda ban hitting some schools in pocketbook 
DAY
Posted on Dec 23, 1:46 PM EST

EAST LYME, Conn. (AP) -- Four soda machines at East Lyme High School generated more than $20,000 in revenues last year.  Much of that money was used to buy new athletic equipment and send students to athletic banquets and awards dinners.  But those machines are now stocked with juice and water because of a new law banning soda and sugary drinks from schools. Since the beginning of this school year, the machines have pulled in only $500.

"It's affecting us big-time," Scott Mahon, the school's athletic director said of the legislation.

"That (revenue) really has been part of the (athletic department's) budget," Mahon told The Day of New London in Saturday's edition. "As budgets get tougher and tougher, we kind of rely on other things. If we can't get sponsorships and other things, we have to rely on soda."

Earlier this year, state lawmakers voted to ban all public schools from selling regular or diet soda and sports drinks in vending machines or school stores in hopes of combatting childhood obesity in Connecticut and sending a message about good nutrition. The bill, which Gov. M. Jodi Rell signed into law, includes a narrow exception for sales at concession stands at school-sponsored events on weekends or after school.

Only milk, soy and rice milk, water and 100 percent fruit and vegetable drinks can be stocked in the machines. Students are still allowed to bring their own sodas and sports drinks to school.

The new law does not ban junk food, but does provide extra money for school lunch programs at schools that offer healthy snacks.

Groton Public Schools signed up for the reimbursement program. It pays schools an extra 10 cents per meal served that complies both with the federal school lunch program and state nutritional standards. Contents of school vending machines in Groton have changed to healthier items, such as baked rather than fried potato chips.

"It's the only thing that has saved us from total decimation," said Fitch Senior High School Principal Robert Bacewicz of the state reimbursement program.

Cliff Still, the school's food services director, estimates revenue at Fitch is down $150 to $200 a day on the beverage machines.

"We used to have a student council machine in the cafeteria, with all sodas, on a timer that didn't kick in until 2:30," he said. "That machine is gone, and they're hurting."

In Waterford, the cost of yearbooks and some school events are expected to rise because of the drop in revenues from the machines. But student groups are making the most of the situation.

Waterford High School Principal Donald Macrino said the school store switched to selling water and school spirit items, such as logo sweat shirts and jackets. With higher student dues and more car wash fundraisers, he said students are now close to generating the same amount of money raised by the soda machines last year. 


School-Aid Boost Recommended
By ROBERT A. FRAHM, Courant Staff Writer
December 21, 2006

Connecticut's heavy reliance on local property taxes to pay for schools fuels a well-documented array of stark inequities.  But what to do?
 
On Wednesday, a state commission on education finance made a bold recommendation: boost the state's major school-aid grant 75 percent by pumping an extra $1.2 billion a year into the public schools.  The hefty price tag will be a daunting politi
cal challenge to Gov. M. Jodi Rell and state lawmakers as they consider how to revise a 17-year-old school finance formula that critics say is underfunded and unfair.

After nearly a year of work, a study commission created by Rell outlined a proposal that would simplify some aspects of the complex formula and - over a period of years - increase state school aid dramatically, affecting virtually every school district in the state.

"This proposal is financially a very, very large undertaking," said Robert Genuario, Rell's budget director and the chairman of the 25-member commission. But the recommendations would go a long way toward making the formula more equitable, he said.

Other school funding reports in the past have produced mixed results. The most recent one, in 1999, made similar recommendations that would have produced big increases in state funding, but those recommendations were largely ignored.  The first signs of how the new report will fare should occur in February, when Rell outlines her state budget proposal, which then will go to the legislature. Lawmakers will have to weigh educational needs against a host of other budget demands.

"I think the governor is going to take [these] recommendations very seriously," Genuario said. "She's the one who called for the commission. She, however, is fully aware the state has limited resources, and this needs to be adopted in a fashion consistent with taxpayers' ability to pay for it."

Still, some are hopeful that Wednesday's recommendations, along with another report to Rell earlier this month calling for a major expansion of preschool programs, will provide a welcome boost to public schools across the state.

"This could be the year of education all around," said Patrice McCarthy, deputy director of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education. "We've never [fully] funded any formula in the past, so there is a bit of skepticism, but I do think the governor will support these recommendations in her budget."

Along with the proposals to phase in more state school aid, the panel recommended broad authority for the state Department of Education to order changes in curriculum, staffing and management in school districts that consistently fail to show progress in students' performance.  The panel also called for significant increases in funding for charter schools, magnet schools and a voluntary school choice program that allows students to transfer to schools outside their home districts.

Critics say the existing method of funding schools has strained school budgets and placed too much of the burden of school costs on local property taxpayers, leading in some cases to tax revolts.

In the small, rural town of Canterbury in eastern Connecticut, for example, voters have rejected school budgets each of the past two years, prompting officials to cut foreign language classes and reading programs and reduce custodial help at the town's middle school. Sandra Suplicki, the school superintendent, is hopeful the state will provide more help. "We'd also like to provide additional math and reading assistance to our students," she said, "but at this point we can't afford to do that."

The state's school funding formula underwent a major change after the state Supreme Court in 1977 ordered the state, in a case known as Horton vs. Meskill, to close a large funding gap between the state's wealthiest and poorest communities. As a result, lawmakers redistributed money, sending millions of dollars to the state's poorest cities.

In 1989, the legislature revised the school aid formula again, introducing the Education Cost Sharing grant, but lawmakers have imposed limits on the formula under the strain of tight state budgets.  This year, that grant will distribute more than $1.6 billion to cities and towns, but it is only part of a complex series of programs and grants adding up to about $3.5 billion in annual state spending on education.

Whatever Rell recommends in her budget, the issue is certain to be intensely debated by lawmakers. At stake are billions of dollars and the way those dollars are distributed to the state's school districts.  The debate will be watched closely by a coalition of municipal officials and educators that filed a lawsuit a year ago seeking to force the state to dramatically increase spending on education and revamp its education funding formula.

Dianne Kaplan deVries, a consultant working with the coalition, said Wednesday's report does not fully address what she called funding inadequacies among school districts, but if all the recommendations were adopted, "I think it would be a tremendous step forward."

Although there is support in the legislature for increased spending on education, the challenge will be to satisfy taxpayers that their towns are getting their fair share of state money, said state Sen. Thomas J. Herlihy, R-Avon.

Herlihy, whose district consists mainly of suburban and rural areas, said, "The cities tend to get ... two or three dollars back on every dollar they send, whereas many suburban and rural communities get only pennies back on that dollar."

However, state Sen. Thomas P. Gaffey, D-Meriden, said, "What you hear a lot about are complaints from towns that feel they're entitled to get more." Despite those complaints, the legislature must focus on helping the neediest school districts, including major cities, first, as required under the Horton vs. Meskill court ruling, said Gaffey, co-chairman of the legislature's education committee.

"It's going to be a difficult chore, as it always is, trying to allocate education funds under any formula and make everybody happy," he said.


School Residency Cases Tracked 
By ANN MARIE SOMMA, Courant Staff Writer
December 2, 2006

WETHERSFIELD -- The school district is cracking down on parents from bordering towns who illegally enroll their children in district schools by providing a false address.

Since March 2005, 49 students have been removed from district schools because they did not live in town, and 50 more cases are under investigation.

"They are just trying to make a better life for their children, but we have a state statute that is reasonably clear on what constitutes residency," said schools Superintendent Patrick Proctor.

To deal with the problem, the district last year instituted a central registration process to replace on-site enrollment at schools. Parents must now provide a mortgage or rental lease as well as a long-form birth certificate for students entering grades 1 through 12.

Students who are suspected of being illegally enrolled are investigated by John Ryan, the district's security officer. Ryan, a retired probation officer, said he uses every investigative tool available - including staking out homes - to weed out the nonresidents. He said his investigations usually begin with a hunch or a tip.

Ryan said the problem is serious. Wethersfield residents get stuck with the cost of educating the nonresident students - $10,000 a year for each one - because their parents don't pay local taxes.

"It's not fair to taxpayers," Ryan said.

It's a common problem for suburban school districts bordered by poorer urban cities where test scores and graduation rates are low.  West Hartford has hired an additional investigator and is investing in high-tech software to keep track of where families live. Bloomfield is dealing with illegally enrolled students from East Hartford, Manchester, South Windsor and Windsor.

Ryan said many of the cases involve parents giving a false address. Some cases involve students living with a friend or relative in Wethersfield. The students come from Hartford, West Hartford, New Britain, Rocky Hill, Manchester, and as far as way as Ledyard.

Ryan said the 49 students removed from the district since March 2005 had been in school for as little as a few months to a couple of years. Proctor said the central registration process has been effective in deterring out-of-district parents from trying to enroll their students in Wethersfield schools.

From July 2005 to June 2006, 51 out of 412 parents who requested registration materials chose not register their children after learning of residency requirements, according to a school district report.  Another report states that from July to Oct. 20 this year, 18 out of 209 parents chose not to complete the registration process after being advised of the residency requirements.

"This isn't an attempt to be punitive," Proctor said.

"It's not our decision. It's a statutory requirement."  


Former Norwich Superintendent To Lead Hartford School District;  Adamowski is credited with major changes here
Norwich Bulletin
By Associated Press 
Published on 11/27/2006

  
Hartford (AP) — A new superintendent of schools starts work today in Hartford, one of Connecticut's largest and most challenging school districts.
Steven Adamowski, 55, a former superintendent of the Norwich school system, and an education consultant with the American Institutes for Research in Washington, will head the 24,000-student district with a mandate from city leaders to boost achievement.

He worked in Norwich from 1983 to 1987 before leaving to head a newly formed school district in New Jersey. While in Norwich he developed a new curriculum, made sweeping staff and administrative changes, retrained teachers and started new programs. Test scores rose, and the number of remedial students declined. School officials at the time said that he had broken the network of nepotism and cronyism in the district.

Hartford and Bridgeport are the state's two largest school districts, and both have struggled to reach the standards set by the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

In Hartford, more than two-thirds of the city's elementary and middle schools fell short last year of benchmarks set in the law.

A native of Ansonia, Adamowski has said his experience in reforming Cincinnati's public schools as that city's school superintendent will be helpful as he takes on Hartford's challenges.

Adamowski attended Trinity College and Southern Connecticut State University, was the associate secretary of education for the state of Delaware, and also worked in the New Haven and Farmington school districts. His annual salary in Hartford will be $205,000


New York's Highest Court Cuts Aid Sought By City Schools In Landmark Decision
By David Herszenhorn, New York Times News Service 
Published on 11/21/2006     
 
New York state's highest court ended a landmark legal fight over education financing on Monday, ruling that at least $1.93 billion more must be spent each year on New York City's public schools — far less than the $4.7 billion that a lower court called the minimum needed to give city children the chance for a sound basic education.

In its 4-2 ruling, the Court of Appeals noted that a commission appointed by Gov. George E. Pataki in 2004 had contemplated a range of spending options for the state to fulfill its constitutional obligation to New York City's nearly 1.1 million schoolchildren, with $1.93 billion at the low end of the scale. The court endorsed the $1.93 billion as “reasonable.”

The amount is to be updated for inflation and other factors, which will bring the total to more than $2 billion a year.

The judges said that lower courts had erred by proposing their own sums, treading on the turf of the governor and the state Legislature. “In fashioning specific remedies for constitutional violations, we must avoid intrusion on the primary domain of another branch of government,” Judge Eugene F. Pigott Jr. wrote for the majority.

The New York case, brought by a coalition of education groups called the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, has been among the most closely watched of dozens of lawsuits over school financing filed across the country that seek to direct more money to needy school districts. The ruling cannot be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court because it is based on the state constitution.

The financing issue has divided Albany for years. But for all of the predictions over 13 years of litigation that the suit would reshape education financing in the state, the ruling did not do so. The court did not touch New York's arcane formulas for education financing and refused to impose new oversight mechanisms.

The decision came as an immense blow to New York City, which, based on prior court rulings, had anticipated up to $5.63 billion a year in additional education aid. New York state now pays about $7.1 billion, or roughly 45 percent, of the city's total education budget of $15.4 billion, the largest local school budget in the country. The court-ordered increase would be on top of this, but the ruling left open the possibility that the state would press the city to contribute to the added financing.

The decision on Monday also vacated lower courts' rulings mandating more than $9 billion in capital aid for new schools, libraries and other amenities, saying that the state had met its obligation last spring by authorizing $11.1 billion for the city's schools.


School enrollment projections: Estimate is off by just nine kids
WESTON FORUM
by TERRY CASTELLANO
Oct 25, 2006


With 2,575 students attending the Weston Public Schools this year, the New England School Development Council (NESDEC) underestimated the total actual enrollment by nine students. This is a less than a half-percent variance, noted Arvid Anderson, the school district’s human resources director, during his presentation to the school board this past Monday.

“This is the third consecutive year that NESDEC’s projections have been at or under 1% of actual (enrollment), which is helpful in relying on future enrollment forecasts,” Mr. Anderson said.

Nineteen students more than were projected entered Hurlbutt Elementary School this year, for a total enrollment of 604 children.

The major increase occurred in kindergarten, with the district enrolling 17 students more than projected, necessitating the addition of one section of kindergarten. Hurlbutt is a pre-kindergarten through grade two school; however, the enrollment figures do not include the pre-kindergarten program.

The pre-kindergarten program has an enrollment of 36 students, seven more children than projected. Of these, 17 students are non-special education tuition paying students.

The intermediate school saw a drop in enrollment versus projection with 570 students, grades three through five, compared to NESDEC’s projection of 584 students.

At the middle school, which houses grades six through eight, 600 students are enrolled. NESDEC had projected 603.

Seven students more than the projection are now attending Weston High School for a total of 801 students. NESDEC had projected 794.

Enrollment projections, which are developed annually, provide the school district with data for program and budget planning as well as future staffing.

NESDEC takes the following factors into consideration when making enrollment projections: migration, in or out of the schools; retention in the same grade; drop outs and transfers; births and deaths; new house construction; and economic conditions.

Projections for 2007-08

NESDEC projects a decrease in student enrollment for the 2007-08 year. NESDEC’s forecast is for 2,527 students to attend Weston schools next fall, which would be a decrease of 48 students when compared to this year’s enrollment.

Much of this expected decrease can be attributed to a projected drop in the kindergarten population.

Mr. Anderson noted in his report that the “in-migration/growth rate” between the year of birth and kindergarten eligibility five years later has been on a general decline for the past 10 years with the exception of this present school year.

Hurlbutt is projected to have a decrease in enrollment by 61 students. The middle school also expects to see a decrease in enrollment when compared to the present school year; 21 fewer students are expected to pass through the doors of the middle school in the fall of 2007.

However, NESDEC projects an increase of 17 students at the intermediate school and 17 more at the high school.

Monitoring kindergarten

Cautioning the board that the kindergarten enrollment must be carefully monitored, particularly in light of low birth rate reports for the years 2002 and 2003, Mr. Anderson said the district will be undertaking the following steps to help ensure as accurate a kindergarten projection as possible:

•    Conduct a district survey of parents of kindergarten students to determine factors that played a role in the large increase in the 2006-07 kindergarten enrollment
•    Launch an earlier pre-registration for kindergarten to help with planning the number of sections needed for the fall of 2007
•    Continue to work closely with NESDEC to identify strategies and methods to identify more accurately three- to five-year-old children who may have moved into the community
•    Schedule the process of contacting all area pre-school programs to obtain an earlier update on the number and ages of children enrolled in these programs

Board member Dick Bochinski asked if the decrease in birth rate during 2002 and 2003 is seen nationally or an anomaly to Weston.

“Weston seems to be the only area town to be showing a depressed birth rate,” Mr. Anderson said.

“It is a challenge when trying to determine how many families are moving to Weston between the birth of a child and (the child’s) entrance into school,” Lynne Pierson, superintendent of schools, said as she reflected on the difficulty of accurately projecting kindergarten enrollment.

Mr. Anderson will present an updated enrollment report, reflecting additional data and information, at the Nov. 20 school board meeting.



Vouchers coming around again?
On another subject...
New Leb to adjust racial balance
Greenwich TIME   
By Keach Hagey, Staff Writer
Published October 17 2006

New Lebanon's School's minority population has increased so much that the school will be cited for racial imbalance by the state Department of Education, according to a school district report.

"There has been a gradual shift in the demographics and enrollment of the students here, so it's not a surprise," Principal Gene Nyitray said. "We have a significantly larger Spanish-speaking population, but we take that as a given, and we make our best efforts to involve parents, educate parents."

State law prohibits any school from having a minority population that is 25 percentage points above or below the district average. A recent report of enrollment figures measured on Oct. 1 revealed the district had several schools either out of compliance or approaching imbalance and said the district expected a citation from the state.

According to enrollment figures measured Oct. 1, New Lebanon School's population is 43 percent Hispanic, 6 percent Asian and 4 percent black. Its 53 percent minority population is 29 percentage points above the district's average of 24 percent.

Hamilton Avenue Magnet School, which is 59 percent minority, according to the Oct. 1 data, also will be cited by the state, as it has been in previous years. Old Greenwich and Julian Curtiss Schools will be cited for having impending racial imbalances, meaning they have minority populations that are 15 percentage points off the district average, according to the report.

If a school violates the state statute, the district is required to file plans with the state that explain how the district plans to come into compliance. In Hamilton Avenue school's case, those plans involved the development of a magnet program to attract students from throughout the district.

After it was cited by the state in 2001, the district filed plans with the state stating its intention to turn the school into a magnet school. During the 2002-03 and 2003-04 school years, some progress was made toward reducing its racial imbalance, but it never reached the state's goals for racial balance.

Facilities issues at the school have temporarily curtailed the magnet program, but committees are now working on developing a revamped magnet program that will attract students from around the district with special programs when the school opens its renovated doors in the fall of 2007.

Now officials are beginning to consider a similar solution for New Lebanon School, although they say it is too early to say just how they plan to solve the racial imbalance problem.

"In order to get people to move around, you need some draw," Board of Education Chairman Colleen Giambo said. "We would like to address it in that way, as we did at Hamilton Avenue School."

However, New Lebanon School may present some unique challenges, she said, because the school building, which now holds 225 students, may be too small to accommodate enough extra students to bring the school into balance.

"It's possible that we need to attract both ways," she said, meaning attracting minority students out of Hamilton Avenue to other Greenwich public schools and draw non-minority students into the school.

While New Lebanon, Hamilton Avenue and Julian Curtiss appeared on lists because they had more minority students than the district average, Old Greenwich appeared on the list because it had too few.

The school is 95 percent white, making it 19 percentage points below the district average.


Father Gets Probation In Coach Assault Case
Courant Staff Reports
5:20 PM EDT, September 20, 2006

MERIDEN -- A 16-month ordeal came to an end Wednesday when Mark Picard, 48, of North Branford avoided jail time when he was given a five-year suspended sentence and five years probation for the May 2005 attack of his daughter's softball coach with a bat.

Picard received his sentence from Judge Nicola Rubinow as the victim, John Crovo, watched. Crovo had asked, through his attorney, that Picard not receive jail time.
 
Picard assaulted Crovo, then softball coach at Sacred Heart Academy in Hamden, after Crovo had suspended Picard's daughter for three games after she missed a game to attend a prom.

Picard, a former art teacher at Notre Dame High School in West Haven, attacked Crovo at a May 17, 2005 practice, hitting him several times with a bat. He then called police and admitted he had attacked the coach.

Over the next five years Picard must serve 750 hours of community service and adhere to a number of conditions, including not attending any sporting event for the next five years. 



Weston experience here...
Panel looks at sports complex idea
TONY SPINELLI tspinelli@ctpost.com
Article created: 09/05/2006 04:43:56 AM EDT
 
REDDING — The Region 9 Board of Education is impaneling a special committee to scrutinize the concept for a sports stadium complex at Joel Barlow High School.The ad hoc committee will include a member of Falcon Pride, the private nonprofit group proposing to raise the $3 million to build the twin-field complex. A member of Barlow Neighbors, the opposition group that presented a petition with 260 signatures at a board meeting last week, will also participate.

The group will include board members and representatives from Redding and Easton as well. Region 9 serves students of Redding and Easton.

The objective is to finish the study within six weeks, said Region 9 Supt. of Schools Allen Fossbender.

The study is needed because there are impassioned arguments for and against building a new athletic facility at Barlow.

The group wants to build the facility because the school board has financial constraints that would delay such improvements for years, if the board were to try to pay for the project itself. But some Barlow parents want students to have an updated facility as soon as possible.

Julia Pemberton, the Region 9 board chairwoman, could not be reached for comment Friday, but had said earlier in the week the board needs more time to discuss the proposal.

The board owns the land so it must agree to be the applicant for the project when reviewed by land-use boards.

Opponents view the study as an opportunity to have their views heard, and perhaps achieve a compromise.
"Instead of the single vision Falcon Pride had proposed, we are hoping that using the needs of the school as a basis that we can emerge from the committee after a few weeks with a new plan that is amenable to all of us," said Susanne Krivit, co-founder of the neighbors' group, in a prepared statement.

The neighbors hope to offer a compromise before the issue reaches the zoning, planning and conservation board levels, Krivit said.

"We want to get this done in six weeks," said Jay Contessa, president of Falcon Pride. "We don't want it to stall."

The group proposes a lighted competition field for football and soccer with bleachers to accommodate 1,600 people and a press box, plus an adjoining all-purpose field.

There would be no cost to taxpayers, according to the project's boosters.

Barlow athletic officials support the concept because they say the high school's fields are aging and in disrepair.


WESTON HIGH SCHOOL HAS ONE OF 9 IN CT...238 IN THE USA!
A Few Students Get The SAT Just Right
By ROBERT A. FRAHM, Courant Staff Writer

August 30, 2006

A new writing test on the SAT college entrance exam made the exam longer and, some believe, more difficult, but that didn't stop Connecticut high school graduates from posting strong writing scores in results released Tuesday.

An elite few, such as Tiffany Yuh, were letter-perfect.

The New Milford High School graduate was one of only nine students in Connecticut and 238 throughout the nation to score 2400 on the SAT, getting perfect 800s on the math and reading portions of the test and on the newly added writing section, which includes an essay.

Nationwide, there were less than one-fourth the number of perfect scores this year, compared with a year ago, when the SAT included only the reading and math sections, and 1600 constituted a perfect mark.

Nearly 1.5 million students took the test this year, and overall they recorded the sharpest one-year scoring decline in three decades, making Yuh's accomplishment even more notable.

"I just couldn't believe it," Yuh, 17, said Tuesday from the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she is a freshman. The test "wasn't too hard, but I didn't expect to get a 2400, that's for sure."

Yuh got the perfect score after compiling a sparkling record at New Milford High, where educators described her as a soft-spoken, hardworking student with an exceptional talent in mathematics. After taking her high school's most advanced mathematics course, she enrolled in a graduate level statistics class at Western Connecticut State University.

"I used to grade her paper first to find any mistakes in my answer key," said David Shaffer, Yuh's calculus teacher and head of the math department at New Milford High.

"Her work ethic is unbelievable," he said. But, he added, she was involved in much more than just academics.

Yuh, who was her class valedictorian, also tutored others in Chinese, played in various musical groups and volunteered at a local hospital, Shaffer said.

Yuh chose MIT but also was accepted by colleges such as Dartmouth, Cornell and Brandeis. She has not decided on a career but is thinking about medical school. "Since I was young, my parents have encouraged me to do well in school," she said. "That really instilled the motivation in me to really work hard."

Throughout the nation, 8,862 students got perfect scores on the reading portion of the SAT and 8,057 were perfect on the math portion, but a much smaller number, 4,102, got perfect scores on the new writing portion, according to the College Board, which produces the test.

The writing test - which includes a series of multiple-choice questions on standard English usage, structure and organization - is the first major change in the SAT in more than a decade.

Among states in which more than half of graduating seniors took the test, Connecticut had the highest writing score, averaging 511, 14 points higher than the national average. In part, that might be the result of students' familiarity with timed writing exams, which have been part of the annual Connecticut Mastery Test for many years.

"We have had long and consistent experience teaching high-quality writing. ... It's one of the national areas we're leading in," said acting state Education Commissioner George A. Coleman.

Connecticut students, however, posted a 1-point decline in mathematics and a 5-point drop in critical reading since last year. State averages were 512 in reading and 516 in math. U.S. students had a similar 5-point decline in reading, dropping to 503, and fell 2 points in math to 518.

Connecticut had the third-highest participation rate in the nation, with 84 percent of high school seniors taking the SAT, compared with a 48 percent average nationwide. Generally, higher participation rates result in lower scores.

Although Connecticut's scores have risen in the past decade, Coleman said, "I'm particularly concerned when I see the curve going the wrong way, even if it's just for one year."

He said he is frustrated by the chronic gaps that show black and Hispanic students trailing white and Asian students by large margins.

Coleman praised the handful of students with perfect scores, including six from public schools. In addition to Yuh, the other public school top scorers came from Cheshire, East Lyme, Granby, Weston and Wilton, Coleman said. "I'm very impressed with them," he said.

The latest SAT results come several months after numerous colleges reported surprisingly low scores on the exam for this year's incoming freshmen.

The College Board said that the scores declined partly because some students took the new, longer test only once instead of twice.

Although Yuh had no trouble with the SAT, she described it as "really long" and said it is possible that the length of the test had something to do with the overall decline in scores.

"It's easy to get kind of tired and lose your concentration," she said.

College Board officials, however, insisted that fatigue did not contribute to the lower scores even though the new test runs about three hours and 45 minutes. Others, however, said that the test's length was a factor.

"The kids found the test such an excruciating marathon that they didn't want to take it again," said Bob Schaeffer of FairTest, a Massachusetts-based watchdog organization that is critical of standardized tests such as the SAT.

"Everything we've heard anecdotally ... has students reporting they are drained by the test," he said.



Education Chief Greenwich-Bound;   After Spotlighting Needs Of Poorest Students, Sternberg Expected To Take Post In One Of State's Wealthiest Towns

By ROBERT A. FRAHM, Courant Staff Writer
June 13, 2006

State Education Commissioner Betty J. Sternberg, who has made the state's poorest schoolchildren a priority in her administration, is expected to be named today as superintendent of one of Connecticut's wealthiest school systems.

The Greenwich Board of Education is scheduled to vote this morning to pick a new superintendent, and Sternberg told members of the State Board of Education in a closed meeting last week that she will take the job.

Her resignation after less than three years as commissioner comes as a surprise. Sternberg is a veteran administrator who rose through the ranks of the state bureaucracy to become the first woman to hold Connecticut's top education job.

Sternberg did not return repeated phone calls Monday.

Virginia Gwynn, a member of the Greenwich Board of Education and head of a search committee for a new superintendent, would not comment Monday, saying only that the board is scheduled to vote and make an announcement today.

Sternberg would replace Larry Leverett, who has announced he will step down June 30.

Among Sternberg's biggest challenges as commissioner has been the chronic achievement gap for low-income and minority children, a problem far more acute in urban centers such as Hartford or Bridgeport than in Greenwich.

According to state figures, slightly less than 8 percent of Greenwich's student body qualifies as low-income. The largest minority groups include Hispanics, accounting for 12 percent of the 9,100-student district; Asian Americans, 8 percent; and blacks, 3 percent.

Of Connecticut's 166 school districts, Greenwich ranked fourth in financing its schools, spending $14,431 per pupil last year, compared with the state average of $10,677. Its test results on annual state tests are well above the state average but not as high as those in several other affluent school systems. About three-fourths of the town's fourth-graders, for example, met the state goal in reading last year on the Connecticut Mastery Test, ranking behind 18 other districts.

Sternberg, 56, became education commissioner in 2003 after working for more than two decades in the state education department as a key player in some of the state's major school reforms.

She was a controversial choice for the job when the State Board of Education, in an unusual split vote, appointed her even though she had no experience as a principal or superintendent. At the time, some board members openly questioned whether the soft-spoken, behind-the-scenes bureaucrat could handle the politics and high visibility of the commissioner's job.

Sternberg, however, soon gained attention in a standoff with the U.S. Department of Education over the federal school reform law known as the No Child Left Behind Act.

She emerged as one of the nation's most outspoken critics of the law, taking issue with its heavy emphasis on testing and questioning its methods for measuring groups such as special education students and non-English-speaking children.

Frustrated by a failure to get waivers from the federal government on the law's requirements for a broad expansion of testing, she supported a lawsuit filed last year by Attorney General Richard Blumenthal challenging the federal act.

She engaged in a high-profile spat last year with U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings over No Child Left Behind. When Spellings suggested Connecticut doesn't expect success from urban black schoolchildren and characterized that attitude as "un-American" and the "soft bigotry of low expectations," Sternberg demanded an apology.

She never got the apology, but she did wind up in the spotlight, appearing in television interviews, newspaper commentaries and other public appearances to criticize the federal law.

Aside from taking on the No Child Left Behind controversy, Sternberg has called for efforts to bolster preschool education, reform high schools, revamp the state's technical high schools and close an achievement gap between poor and middle-class children that remains among the largest in the nation. She has also had to confront a decline in fourth-grade reading results on state and national tests. 


Easton votes down budget hike.  Officials to cut proposal after narrow defeat
VIN MORAN vmoran@ctpost.com
Article created: 05/03/2006 04:30:24 AM EDT
 
EASTON — Town officials must begin the budget process anew after voters rejected a proposed $35.5 million spending plan in a referendum Tuesday that failed by 19 votes.  The low, 30 percent voter turnout and razor-thin margin of defeat, 960-941, frustrated town officials, who have to go back and find reductions without cutting too deeply.

"We are going to have to put an adjusted package together," Board of Finance Chairman Andy Kachele said.

If approved, the $35.5 million budget would have raised property taxes 6.61 percent, from 25.12 mills to 26.75 mills. A mill is equal to $1 for every $1,000 of a property's assessed value. Bud Jennings said he voted against the spending proposal because property taxes are already too high and the town could stand additional cuts.

"I really think they have a lot of room to play with," he said. Jennings added that further mill rate increases could force longtime residents to move. "We're being driven out by taxes," he said.

On the other side of the fiscal divide, Parent-Teacher Association member Robin Pantalena disagreed with Jenning's financial forecast, saying Easton couldn't afford to skimp on education. "I don't believe there is a lot of fat in this budget," she said, adding that Easton residents would feel the loss of services to the schools and town if the proposal gets cut further.

In a separate ballot question, Easton taxpayers voted 955-876 to reject the $17.7 million budget requested by the Region 9 Board of Education to run Joel Barlow High School, which it shares with Redding. However, the Region 9 budget was approved Tuesday when Redding residents supported it overwhelmingly, 927-689, helping to pass the proposal by a vote of 1,803-1,644.

Despite Tuesday's victory for the Region 9 budget, the troubled school district is not out of danger.

Region 9 officials are seeking another $1.3 million from district voters in a May 23 referendum to pay construction and legal bills pending from the problems that plagued the project over five years.

The project has gone through four referendums, and the cost has skyrocketed to nearly $39 million with the latest request.

With the Region 9 budget passing Tuesday, education officials think the district may be willing to move on and approve the $1.3 million funding request.

"I think all residents in both towns are ready to put this project behind us," Region 9 Board of Education Vice Chairman Paul Coppinger said. "And we are close."

The Board of Finance will discuss further cuts to the budget when it meets tonight at 7:30 at Helen Keller Middle School. The finance board's recommendations will then be forwarded to the Board of Selectman, which is scheduled to meet Thursday at a time and place to be determined.

The selectmen are required to set up a town meeting for residents' input before setting a new referendum date. 


State tries new school measure;  Performance check to be removed from economic considerations

LINDA CONNER LAMBECK lclambeck@ctpost.com
Article created: 04/08/2006 4:42 AM EDT

 
HARTFORD — Four months after the state Board of Education dropped ERGs from its vocabulary, it has a new way to compare school districts: DRGs.

The state's 166 school districts are being reshuffled into district reference groups based on demographic information, similar to the way economic reference groups were categorized under the discarded system.  However, the state will no longer measure districts' performance directly against others in their reference groups; instead, the benchmarks will be the state average and the best- and worst-performing districts.

The move comes after officials in some districts complained that the basis for determining ERGs was flawed, and the system forced them to pit their schools' performance against other districts within their groups.  Supt. Allen Fossbender, in charge of the Easton, Redding and Region 9 school districts, said the state's decision this week to create district reference groups that disassociate themselves with academic performance comparisons is a positive step.

"I'm delighted," he said.

Under the new system, Redding and Region 9 will remain with Easton in the top reference group.  Reference groups were introduced 16 years ago as a way to compare districts of similar economic composition. They are grouped based on income, education, occupations, poverty, single-parent families and non-English-speaking families. The state and others use the categories in doling out grant money and comparing everything from preschool slots to school computers.

Under the ERG system, there were nine groups. ERG A represented the wealthiest; ERG I the poorest.

Last year, state officials set about reshuffling ERGs based on the 2000 census. Officials in 23 districts weren't happy with the proposed realignment — especially districts that would have slipped in the rankings.  They  blamed inflated housing prices — particularly in lower Fairfield County — for skewing the formula.  So the board decided in January to scrap ERGs.

Commissioner of Education Betty J. Sternberg agreed the groupings shouldn't be used to limit expectations of students. It should be expected that all students do well, not just as well as students in the same economic group, she added.  Yet Sternberg returned to the board this month with a list of other reasons why grouping like districts was important.

"It really has permeated our state as a way of reporting information about the education, health and well-being of children," she said. "As district reference groups, it will not be about performance."

As such, Connecticut Mastery Test scores and Strategic School Profiles will no longer compare scores to the reference group average. Instead, Sternberg said they would be compared to the state average and a high and low score range.  Fossbender said that's a good thing. "Nine ERG's meant nine expectations. Student performance was related to relative affluence. That, in my opinion, was poor public policy," he said.

He is also happy that under DRGs, Redding and Region 9 will remain in the top category. With data provided to the state in February, the district successfully argued that DRG A was the appropriate classification for the two districts, Sternberg said.



Man pleads not guilty to assaulting girl he met on Internet

Norwalk HOUR
Associated Press
April 9, 2006

BRIDGEPORT — A Pennsylvania man has pleaded not guilty to traveling across state lines to have sexual contact with a 14-year-old Connecticut girl he met through the social networking site MySpace.com.  Stephen Letavec, 39, of Elrama, Pa., entered the tearful plea Friday in U.S. District Court in Bridgeport, the Connecticut Post reported.

His wife and two children traveled nine hours from Pennsylvania, but Magistrate Judge William Garfinkel granted a prosecution request to delay a bond hearing.

"This is a very, very difficult case for release," Garfinkel said.

Letavec has been held without bond since he was arrested in Pennsylvania in February.  He's accused of molesting an Oxford girl in his car. The FBI said Letavec made several visits to see the girl between last summer and January.

"I showed you what love is and how it feels," Letavec wrote in an e-mail found in the girl's school locker, according to the FBI report. "I want to show you how making love feels too, not just sex because there is a difference."

The girl signed onto MySpace as an 18-year-old, but told Letavec she was 14 before he visited, the FBI said.  He is charged with one count of using the Internet to persuade a minor to engage in sexual activity and three counts of traveling in interstate commerce for the purpose of attempting to have and having illicit sexual contact with a minor.

MySpace, a division of NewsCorp., offers a free way for users to meet any of more than 60 million members. Searching by hometown, alma mater or interest, old friends can reconnect, musicians and filmmakers can find audiences and donors can find causes.

But authorities nationwide have expressed concern that the searching options that make the site popular also put children at risk for abuse.

Police in Middletown are investigating recent reports that as many as seven local girls were sexually assaulted by men in their 20s who contacted them through MySpace pretending to be teenagers.


Teens at Risk on Web Sites, Experts Say
By MATT APUZZO, Associated Press Writer
Sun Feb 19, 11:20 PM ET


NEW HAVEN, Conn. - On MySpace.com, teenagers can find kindred spirits who share their love of sports, their passion for photography or their crush on a Hollywood star. They can also find out where their online friends live, where they attend school, even what they look like.

And so can adults.

Parents, school administrators and police are increasingly worried that teens are finding trouble online at sites like MySpace, the leader of the social-networking sites that encourage users to build larger and larger circles of friends.  Police in Middletown, Conn., are investigating recent reports that as many as seven local girls were sexually assaulted by men in their 20s who contacted them through MySpace pretending to be teenagers.

One girl allowed a man into her room while her parents were home, police said, underscoring just how in the dark parents often are about one of the most popular Web activities for teens today.

There are other reports like these scattered around the country, prompting some parents and schools to equate the likes of MySpace with the Internet's red-light district, even as many experts believe that the worries are greater than the actual dangers.

Joseph Dooley is among those who has heard it all before. A retired FBI agent who supervised the agency's first undercover Internet task force in New England, Dooley remembers when America Online chat rooms were the rage. Teens posted detailed profiles of themselves and chatted with any of AOL's subscribers.

Chat rooms soon gave way to services like MySpace, but Dooley said the rules haven't changed and parents need to become more engaged.

"Let the kids know, on the Internet, you don't know who you're talking to," Dooley said. "Parents aren't the friends of their kids. Parents needs to know and observe what their kids are doing."

That can be daunting for working parents. Keeping tabs on the kids used to mean knowing where they went after school, not whom they talked to in their bedrooms.

So when they hear of a new fad among teens, their instinct is to worry.  And the horror stories are indeed terrifying.

Last month, for example, 14-year-old Judy Cajuste was found strangled and naked in a Newark, N.J., garbage bin. Police seized a computer from her bedroom after friends said she told them of a man in his 20s she met on MySpace. The death remains unsolved.  Beyond the threat of abduction, bullies who once made the rounds on playgrounds are using Web logs and home pages to spread rumors and lies faster than the schoolyard grapevine ever could.

MySpace profiles have been used to threaten classmates and in at least one case, to mock a school principal.

Many schools have responded by restricting Internet access from school computers. One private school in Newark, N.J., ordered students to remove all personal blogs from the Internet, even if accessed from home, to protect them from online predators.  Some parents, like Ululani Stauffacher of Eureka, Calif., forbid their children from using MySpace. Stauffacher said her 17-year-old daughter ran off for two days with a 19-year-old man she met online.

"I was going crazy," Stauffacher said. "I was just hearing things about MySpace and incidents of girls missing and some don't get returned to their families. All that I was thinking about was that my daughter was going to be another statistic."

The concerns aren't limited to MySpace, but the News Corp. unit gets the attention because of its sheer size — 54 million users, a quarter of them registered as teens.

MySpace forbids minors 13 and under from joining and provides special protections for those 14 and 15 — only those on their friends' list can view their profiles. Nonetheless, kids lie when they sign up, and many of their profiles carry photos of themselves in suggestive poses, along with personal information against the site's recommendations.

"They're licking their lips and arching their back for the camera because they can, and they have no idea of the consequences," s