Ed Board to State: One More Year Of ECA, Please

Christopher Peak PhotoThe Board of Education condemned the state’s recent decision to cut off funding for most incoming freshmen who want to enroll in a popular afternoon arts high school.

In late February, the Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE) said that it would no longer pay for magnet-school students to enroll in ACES’s Educational Center for the Arts (ECA), the regional half-day arts program on Audubon Street. Going forward, the only New Haven students who can enroll in ECA will be those from the two comprehensive high schools, Wilbur Cross and Hillhouse

In the midst of a major budget crunch at the Capital, the CSDE said it was cracking down on alleged double-dipping into limited magnet-school funds. Even with a boost from strong state tax receipts, the CDSE hasn’t changed its mind, a spokesperson said this week.

New Haven’s Board of Education signaled its disagreement with that decision in a unanimous vote at Monday night’s meeting at Celentano School.

“They’re balancing their budget on our student’s backs and we have to say something about that,” Darnell Goldson, the board’s president, argued before the vote.

The school board agreed to send a letter written by Tamiko Jackson-McArthur. The letter pointed out that families didn’t hear about the new restrictions until just before the school choice lottery. The letter asked the CSDE to reconsider or, at the very least, hold off any changes until next year.

Four afternoons a week, roughly 310 students travel to ECA from more than two dozen nearby towns. Taught by practicing artists, the students study creative writing, dance, music, theater and visual arts. About half go on to art school after graduation.

The 13 local teens and 23 suburbanites currently in the program will be allowed to continue at ECA until graduation. But starting with the incoming freshmen class, no new magnet students will be allowed in.

Parents didn’t find that out until days before they needed to send off their final picks for the school choice lottery. After the deadline, Sherri Davis-Googe, the school choice coordinator, allowed families who’d bet on ECA to re-rank their preferences, perhaps making Cooperative Arts & Humanities School their top choice.

“We are writing with concerns about the changes in the state’s magnet enrollment policy that affects new Haven next year,” Jackson-McArthur read. “Changes in the policy only days before the lottery process closed does not honor the many months of work and very careful school selection process families have gone through.

“We ask that the state honor the school enrollment policy for all students entering next year, grandfathering in the eighth graders, if they’re fortunate enough to be accepted,” she continued. “We understand we’re all dealing with massive budget cuts, as we are. We have to make difficult choices to keep the budget in line, while still providing a quality education. But we’re committed as a board to making cuts as far away from the classroom as possible.

“We recently adopted 12 Next Generation Accountability standards, and arts access is one of these indicators. This move to eliminate admittance to ECA goes against your own initiative,” Jackson-McArthur concluded. “We appeal to you to do the right thing.”

CSDE said that it’s making the change to end alleged double-dipping into magnet funds, a stance that the officials reiterated this week.

The department found out earlier this year that it needed to trim $18.5 million from its $328 million magnet account, said Peter Yazbak, a CSDE spokesperson. As it had done in Hartford in 2014, the department planned to pick up some small change by ending dual enrollments in New Haven: mere nickels, however, compared to the multi-million dollar cuts it needed.

The 36 students currently at ECA cost the state $386,815, Yazbak said. That figure represents $201,955 for the morning magnet schools and $184,860 for the afternoon ECA program.

“Not only were the cuts to our magnet operating budget an issue, but when students are enrolled in two choice programs they are taking an opportunity away from another student who can’t even enroll in one program,” Yazbak said. “The decision was both financial and one of fairness.”

Several New Haven parents, however, argue that ECA’s half-day program shouldn’t be thought of as a magnet slot but a curricular supplement. Regardless whether their child’s morning classes are funded by the state’s Education Cost Sharing formula or magnet funds, they believe the students should be able to access arts programming in the afternoon.

CDSE may not need to make the cuts, after all. As Connecticut taxpayers adjust to new federal tax rules, they sent in $915 million more than projected. Most of those receipts will be locked away in a rainy-day fund, but House Democrats have proposed using that extra revenue to restore cuts, including to the magnet fund.

At Monday’s meeting, Mayor Toni Harp encouraged families, many of whom send their kids to magnet high schools, to contact state legislators and ask to direct the extra revenue to schools.

“Evidently, the revenues from the state have come in at a higher rate than they expected,” she said. “This may be a good opportunity for those who know the state delegation to advocate for increased education funding.”

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posted by: 1644 on April 26, 2018  8:47am

$11K/per student/per annum strikes me as a lot to pay for a “curricular supplement”.  I believe, all in, West Haven spends about $14-$15K per student.

posted by: 1644 on April 26, 2018  8:55am

“It planned to pick up a few pennies by ending dual enrollments in New Haven ...”  Mr. Peak, if it’s only “a few pennies”, the New Haven BoE shouldn’t be bothered. Heck, I will kick-in a few pennies.  If it’s $387K, as you state earlier, that’s a significant amount for anyone, you, me, the state, and the city.

[Chris: Phasing in dual enrollments will save the CSDE about $46,000 next year, at a rough estimate. As I meant to indicate, that puts CSDE only 0.25 percent closer to erasing its $18.5 million gap. I’ve revised my metaphorical language above to make that clearer.]

posted by: Noteworthy on April 26, 2018  11:10am

New Haven spends about $18K per student. Rich and too much. If money were the answer to better outcomes, our students should all be A+ students. They aren’t. No, the current law, passed just last year, said windfalls go in the Rainy Day fund. It should not be prostituted less than a year later. Any pol who thinks it should or moves that it should is just a john.

posted by: FacChec on April 26, 2018  11:26am

“They’re balancing their budget on our student’s backs and we have to say something about that,” Darnell Goldson, the board’s president, argued before the vote.”

Really, Goldson and what is New Haven doing in terms of balancing it’s budget… Not only off the backs of students but moreover off the backs of service employees… first to go!!!

WHO’S BACK IS THIS off, Goldson?

“Darrell Hill, the district’s part-time chief financial officer, said he and Birks have reduced the deficit for the 2017-18 fiscal years from $6.9 million to $6.6 million since they started six weeks ago, largely by eliminating part-time employees receiving pensions or reducing part time hours.”

“The superintendent expects to make up most the money through reducing staff. During a presentation at Monday’s Board of Education meeting, members of her budget team said they’re looking to save $5.58 million by realigning and reducing staff. They’re projecting that school closures will recoup another $3.29 million.

The accountants also plan to draw down $1 million in carry-over funds from grants and cut $1.85 million from operations, transportation and other non-instructional sources.

posted by: 1644 on April 26, 2018  11:56am

Fac:  I took “eliminating part-time employees receiving pensions” to mean terminated retired people (i.e.. receiving pensions) who had returned for part-time work that wouldn’t reduce their pensions.  There has been a lot of talk, and some resentment, about people who retire but come back to work part-time,  arguably “double-dipping.”  It not a bad deal for NHPS if the retired person is hired at less cost, benefits included, than a non-retired employee would cost, so long as the work is really needed.  On the other hand, some commentators have alleged that these hiring are really “make-work” jobs to supplement the income of old friends of the current administration.  If so, then it’s a good place to start cutting.  As for other part-timers, they are just easy to cut, although they, too, may offer the most bang for the buck if they do not have benefits.

posted by: 1644 on April 26, 2018  12:15pm

Noteworthy:  $18K per student is about what suburbs like Branford and Woodbridge spend, with better results.  Presuming that is the all in number, and some commentators have said employee benefits are not included in that number, it is not unreasonable.  The question then is, why are there still complaints of shortfalls of basic supplies and maintenance backlogs?  The answer is likely that the $18K is not being spent wisely. Too many administrators and disparate and unwieldy physical plant are obvious areas to target.  I do not think any district in the state comes close to the number of schools New Haven has, which in turn necessitate too many principals, etc, in addition to central office staff.

posted by: FacChec on April 26, 2018  1:05pm

@644 on April 26, 2018 11:56am

The article says nothing about ” mean terminated retired people (i.e.. receiving pensions. This is your assumption and provides the basis for your comment which is juxtaposed by presenting argument against your own view,

“Fac:  I took “eliminating part-time employees receiving pensions” to mean terminated retired people (i.e.. receiving pensions) who had returned for part-time work that wouldn’t reduce their pensions.  There has been a lot of talk, and some resentment, about people who retire but come back to work part-time,  arguably “double-dipping.”

Juxtaposed by your comment:
” It not a bad deal for NHPS if the retired person is hired at less cost, benefits included, than a non-retired employee would cost, so long as the work is really needed. 

WTF…?

posted by: 1644 on April 27, 2018  8:13pm

Fac:  Just because I say, “There has been a lot of talk, and some resentment, about people who retire but come back to work part-time,  arguably “double-dipping.”” doesn’t mean that agree with that sentiment, and there is nothing in my comment which shows support for that position.  My position is, as I state in my comment, it depends, first, on whether the retired person is doing necessary working secondly, if that retired person is cheaper for the BoE than a non-retired person.  If the answers to both questions are yes, then hiring the retired person is a good idea.