Hartford Public Schools Weighs Layoffs

Hartford Public Schools might have no choice but to lay off teachers and staff to help address a gaping budget hole.

For the 2018 fiscal year, the system is facing a nearly $20 million shortfall and system officials said they're looking at what they describe as a menu of options and layoffs are merely a possibility for now.

Overall, as many as 200 positions could be eliminated across support staff and classroom positions, based on current estimates.

"The positions identified during the presentation were meant to represent the scope of the potential cuts in 'what if' scenarios as illustrations of the impact of the fiscal crisis at the state and city level, as well as other factors such as increased costs and decreased funding," superintendent Leslie Torres-Rodriguez said in a statement.

The funding issues are related to sagging revenues at both the state and city level. The state heavily funds Hartford Public Schools, but it faces a $1.5 billion shortfall, and the city faces a $20 million shortfall this year and a projected $50 million shortfall next year. The governor did say last week he wants to rework the state's education funding formula to help cities like Hartford that need more assistance than more affluent towns.

Andrea Johnson, the president of the Hartford Federation of Teachers, the union that represents teachers across the system, said she was, "blindsided" by the news that hundreds of teachers could lose their jobs.

"It sent a chill down our spine," Johnson said during a phone interview Tuesday. "To see this and not have any prior notice is troubling."

Johnson said she spoke with Torres-Rodriguez Tuesday morning and the result of that conversation was that there would be better communication between the union and the school system.

Johnson said the union has also provided concessions in recent years like freezing wages and keeping benefit packages stable, which she says she hopes would be helpful in fending off layoffs.

Torres-Rodriguez is urging caution and restraint when it comes to conclusions about layoffs. She said some positions might be eliminated if someone leaves a job or retires, which in those cases would not lead to job losses.

"The budget process has not identified actual position eliminations yet, as the process is just launching. Instead, the budget process at the school level, involving the School Governance Councils, will identify priorities and any position eliminations, which may result in layoffs. It is premature to identify the number of layoffs for any position in the district,” Torres-Rodriguez said.

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