What happens if a school board does not follow its policy?

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Earlier I wrote about the HPS school closure policy and administrative regulations, Policy 3600 (2004). Then somebody asked, what happens if a school board does not follow its own policy?

Here’s one response from A Practical Guide to Connecticut School Law by Thomas B. Mooney (2012, 7th Edition). In Chapter 1 on Board Organization, Authority, and Responsibilities, section (b) Development of Policies, Mooney writes:

“if a board of education adopts a policy and its agents act contrary to it, such action will likely be considered per se unreasonable, with the result that school officials may be liable for negligence or even violation of constitutional rights. Aside from statutory requirements, boards of education are well-advised to develop policies to guide schools officials in the daily operation of the district. A board of education has a duty to be consistent in dealing with students and parents. To do otherwise would subject the board to constitutional claims, because people have the right to equal protection of the laws from governmental agencies, such as boards of education…A written policy can be invaluable in such situations to guide administrators and to inform parents as to what the rules are.” (p. 106)

I’m not a lawyer, but this seems pretty clear.

 

What is the Hartford Public Schools policy on school closure?

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While school boards have the legal ability to close schools, many school districts have their own policies on how to go about doing it. At the Hartford Public Schools, there is fairly clear policy on the process of closing a school. In contrast, suburban West Hartford Public Schools does not appear to have a policy on school closure in their policy collection. This suggests that school closure is something that happens in Hartford frequently enough to merit a policy that includes and protect parents from arbitrary decisions.

The HBOE Policy 3600 on school closure was last updated in 2004. To summarize, the written regulations (R-3600 (c)) require the Board to notify parents of a potential school closure, prepare a closing study using multiple criteria that is conducted by a committee (the selection process and requirement for a committee are vague), allow people close to the decisions (e.g. parents at the school) to have input in deliberations about closing a school before the final decision is made, and arrange public hearings on the topic. Generally, any final decision to act requires a vote to close a school.

To be more specific, the closing study must, “include direct involvement by those communities considered in the study.” Further, the study must consider the facility conditions, adequacy of the site, cost/savings, community considerations, and alternatives to closing the school. Once the closing study is complete, it is delivered to the Board of Education and there are two public hearings on the school closure proposal, one at the school and one at the Board of Education. See the policy document below.

 

Download (PDF, 199KB)


In 2016, the Hartford Board of Education leadership and Superintendent Narvaez proposed to change this policy. This proposal was meant to make it easier to close schools, including more vague language on the inclusion of parents in a decision to close or consolidate schools. Due to issues with the language of the policy, it was tabled in 2016 and never brought back to the Board for a vote. This was all tied up with the failed Equity 2020 committee.

Although never approved, the proposed policy would have called for a few similar steps to close a school. Those steps would have included an ad-hoc closure committee that was “representative of both internal and external stakeholders”. This committee would have to, “establish the specific school and facility review criteria, determine the stakeholder engagement and communications plan, and and develop the committee work and recommendations timeline.”

Download (DOC, 54KB)

A key aspect of this process (in the new or proposed policy) calls for people close to the decision (e.g. direct involvement by those communities considered) to have a say in whether their school would close or remain open. Also, the policy was meant to ensure that the decision was not arbitrary, based on vague or no criteria at all, and that any transition plans were well thought out, including transportation and other considerations.

In the case of recent vote to close schools, do you think the Hartford Board of Education follow this policy? What was your experience?

What are the costs and benefits to closing schools in Hartford?

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Last week, I posted a data visualization that connected public data on enrollment, race, and State-defined accountability for the Hartford Public Schools. The requests came in response to the HPS plans to reorganize the school district, including the closure of 3 schools. I also pointed out here that Batchelder, Simpson-Waverly, and Milner are not the smallest schools in the district and not the first I would look at to merge or close.

In addition to this information, I’ve been asked, “will the plan to close three schools and reorganize the district result in ~$15 million in saving?” My short answer: maybe, but I would need more information.

For me, it just makes sense to ask for exact details about where the savings will be, how much, and how the savings would be redirected. As I previously stated, “…school leaders need to be prepared to explain to parents and students in closing schools exactly what the benefits will be for them in their new school…”

Savings to that degree (~$15-17 million) could be possible if everything else is constant. But contractual employee benefits and salary, required student support and transportation, plus continued maintenance of buildings could surpass that $15 million before it every translates to savings or more student support/intervention.

Take the issue of transportation. Many students that attend a school that would close could need district-provided transportation based on the district’s guidelines. For example, if Batchelder closed, then many kindergarten and first grade students attending that school would need transportation to get to Moylan or Kennelly because those schools are more than half a mile away. Students in older grades could need transportation to Moylan, which is more than mile away from Batchelder.

The Opportunity to Learn Campaign has noted this and other issues in their infographic, “Debunking the Myths of School Closures”. You can access that resource here.

As of this writing, I have not seen any  detailed information to explain savings and/or continued/hidden costs of closing these schools, including the issue of transportation. The public and parents have a right to know what are actual savings of closings schools and how that translates to actual benefits at the new host schools and district overall. As far as quality, that is a function of resources (including access to high-performing peers) and practices.  Whether quality will improve remains to be seen since that will depend on those two things.

Here’s a graphic organizer to help the analysis.

Possible Actions Savings ($/resources) Benefits

/Improvements

($/resources)

New Costs

($/resources)

Close Milner Dollars/Resources? Dollars?

Resources?

Learning?

1. Students forced to move to new schools.

2. Impact on academic continuity, transportation, class size, neighborhoods, relationships, culture/climate, access to peers.

Close Simpson-Waverly Dollars/Resources? Dollars?

Resources?

Learning?

Close Batchelder Dollars/Resources? Dollars?

Resources?

Learning?

Other actions

 

Dollars/Resources? Dollars?

Resources?

Learning?

A Quick Look at HPS Enrollment 2016-17: Batchelder, Simpson-Waverly, and Milner Are Not the Smallest Schools

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Yesterday, I posted a data visualization with enrollment, race, and accountability data for the Hartford Public Schools in 2015-16. That was the most recent year with all of these data points publicly available.

So I wanted to post enrollment data for HPS in 2016-17, the most recent year of available data, in order to aid the discussion about the recent reorganization plans. What’s most interesting is that the schools that are proposed for closure, Batchelder, Simpson-Waverly, and Milner (all in orange print below), are not the smallest schools in the district. So if we are talking about efficiency in closing small schools, these would not be the first schools I would look at to close and/or merge with other schools.

The average (mean) school enrollment in Hartford is around 423 students when combining the special education programs with the regular school totals. Depending on how you deal with small school programs, the average enrollment size Connecticut is somewhere between 400 and 500 students.

In 2016-17, Batchelder school was above the district average in terms of enrollment with 452 students, while Simpson-Waverly (335 students) and Milner (292 students) were below average in terms of enrollment. Batchelder and Simpson-Waverly had separate special education programs counted as very small schools (see below).

Nevertheless, they are not the smallest schools in the Hartford school district. In fact, there were 9 public schools in Hartford that were smaller than Milner in terms of enrollment. The smallest schools in the district in terms of enrollment in 2016-17 were Capital Community College Magnet (57 students) and Renzulli Gifted and Talented Academy (131 students).

Small schools aren’t inherently an issue. But there are tradeoffs. On the one hand, a smaller school could mean smaller class sizes, better relationships, etc; and, on the other hand, small schools could mean an inefficient use of resources such as buildings and teachers. Also, it’s important to note that some of the schools on the list already share space with other schools in the same building (e.g. HPHS programs).

Indeed, even before the most recent reorganization plan, MLK school, High School, Inc., Culinary,  Journalism and Media Academy, and Capital Community College Magnet (all in red print below) were already merging or had plans to consolidate with other schools. In other words, the district has already started the process of merging very small school programs with other small programs, such as the plans for the Weaver and MLK renovation projects.

Importantly, schools are not necessarily in control of their enrollment either. Smaller school enrollments could be the result of a number of things such as changing neighborhood population and demographics, district decisions in where they place students in non-magnet schools, parent preferences, facilities capacity and condition, losing students to magnet and charter schools, etc.

In this case, there are schools in Hartford that are smaller than Batchelder, Simpson-Waverly, and Milner that are not facing a proposal to close or merge. These schools include Breakthrough North, Great Path Magnet, McDonough Middle School, Hartford Pre-K Magnet, and Renzulli Gift and Talented Academy.  A fair question might be: If a criterion for merging or closure is small enrollment size, then why not close or merge these smaller schools first?

School Name (2016-17) Total Enrolled

# Students

Revised Total
Hartford Magnet Trinity College Academy 1024 1024
Kinsella Magnet School of Performing Arts 913 913
Bulkeley High School 688 725
Sport and Medical Sciences Academy 709 709
M. D. Fox School 647 682
Naylor/CCSU Leadership Academy 636 662
Burr School 616 635
Asian Studies Academy at Bellizzi School 634 634
Webster Micro Society Magnet School 633 633
Global Communications Academy 617 617
Environmental Sciences Magnet at Hooker School 610 616
Classical Magnet School 560 560
Kennelly School 557 557
Capital Preparatory Magnet School 556 556
Parkville Community School 534 534
Expeditionary Learning Academy at Moylan School 501 516
Burns Latino Studies Academy 496 498.5
West Middle School 449 464
Batchelder School 433 452
University High School of Science and Engineering 431 431
Wish Museum School 429 429
Rawson School 383 428
Pathways Academy of Technology and Design 421 421
Sanchez School 396 396
HPHS Nursing and Health Sciences Academy 383 383
HPHS Engineering and Green Technology Academy 346 377
Betances STEM Magnet School 375 375
STEM Magnet at Fisher School 366 366
SAND School 362 362
HPHS Law and Government Academy 314 362
Breakthrough Magnet School, South 360 360
Montessori Magnet at Fisher School 336 336
Simpson-Waverly School 314 335
Montessori Magnet at Moylan School 304 304
Betances Early Reading Lab Magnet School 299 299
M. L. King, Jr. School 294 294
Milner School 292 292
Breakthrough Magnet School, North 266 274
Great Path Academy at MCC 272 272
McDonough Middle School 261 261
High School, Inc. 236 236
Journalism and Media Academy 190 190
Culinary Arts Academy at Weaver High School 168 168
Hartford PreKindergarten Magnet School 157 157
Renzulli Gifted and Talented Academy 131 131
Capital Community College Magnet Academy 57 57
MDP – HPHS Law and Government Academy 48
Autism Program – Rawson School 45
EDP – M.D. Fox School 35
EDP – HPHS Engineering and Green Technology Academy 31
Autism Program – Naylor School 26
MDP – Bulkeley High School 24
MDP – Batchelder School 19
High Step Transition 17 17
Early Childhood Development Center (ECDC) 16 16
EDP – West Middle School 15
EDP – Bulkeley High School 13
Autism Program – Simpson-Waverly School 11
DDP – Simpson-Waverly School 10
Autism Program – Burr School 9
MDP – Moylan School 9
LC – Breakthrough Magnet School, North 8
Autism Program – Hooker School 6
LC – Moylan School 6
LC – Burns School 2.5
Hartford Average 312 423

Notes: Some small programs enroll fewer than ten students and some up to 40 students. I add these enrollments to the total for the revised total column in the chart above in the case where a small school program corresponds to a larger school program. I combine them with the overall totals because they are mostly located in the same school as their name suggests (e.g. Autism Program – Simpson-Waverly). The LC-Burns program did not have an enrollment total, so I estimated 2.5 students, the average of 4, 3, 2, 1, which are all possible values here.

Hartford Public Schools Enrollment, Race, and Accountability Data 2015-16

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A few people have asked me about enrollment, race, and accountability data for the Hartford Public Schools. The questions have been in the context of judging the merit of a proposal by the Hartford Board of Education to close a number of schools including Batchelder, Simpson-Waverly, and Milner school. So, here you go!

Each bubble represents a school. Magnet schools are in red and non-magnet schools are in blue. The size of the bubble corresponds to the number of students enrolled in the school.

In order to maximize the chart below, I took out the axis titles. The horizontal  axis (scale at bottom of chart) is the percent of all students that are Black are Latin@. The vertical axis (scale on left side of chart) is the school’s accountability index given by the State of CT Department of Education.

You can put your cursor above the bubble to see each school’s information. I have an example in the image above, which shows the data for Batchelder school.

A few things that are immediately noticeable are the two clusters of schools. On the one hand, there are the non-magnet schools on the left in blue between 85-100% Black and Latin@ students and generally lower accountability ratings. And on the right are (mostly) the inter district magnet schools in blue with relatively higher accountability ratings and fewer than 75% Black and Latin@ students, which is the Sheff case’s school desegregation standard.

This data comes from the State of Connecticut EdSight website. Here is the spreadsheet if you want to see the whole data table. There is no 2016-17 accountability data yet, but I can add enrollment data if folks are interested.