BRISTOL - The Capitol Region Education Council has approved a resolution asking the state legislature change the way it funds CREC magnet schools to keep local school districts’ tuition costs from rising, according to Board of Education chairman Chris Wilson.
“We have been discussing for probably six to eight months developing a resolution to ask the legislature to support the magnet schools that are managed by CREC, so that the tuition would not have to be increased to the local school districts,” said Wilson, who also serves as CREC vice president.
The resolution has been finalized and approved by all but two members of the 33-member council, he said. “So now we give the tools to those that lobby in Hartford to try to solve this fiscal problem of funding the magnet schools that were created as a result of Sheff v. O’Neill.”
CREC is one of six Regional Education Service Centers established by state statute to allow regional cooperation by member school districts, which, in CREC’s case, covers three dozen districts, including Bristol.
It operates 16 magnet schools in the Hartford area, for all grade levels, specializing in arts, sciences and other areas, as well as seven service schools that offer preschool and special needs programs.
CREC’s magnet schools were created by the state legislature as a response to the Sheff v. O’Neill case, a 1989 lawsuit over Hartford-area students being denied their fundamental rights to an education and equal protection under the law due to unequal state resources spent on schools with majority black/Latino populations compared to those with majority white populations.
Since last fall, Wilson has been updating fellow members of the Bristol school board on the state of financing for the CREC magnets, warning that “the sustainability of those magnets schools is at risk.”
Originally, the idea was that the state would supply 75 percent of the funding to the magnet schools and that the local school districts whose students attend the schools would supply the other 25 percent, but the state has not kept up that formula, Wilson has said.
In fiscal year that ended in 2011, the state paid only 67 percent of the cost, and in the fiscal year that ended in 2018 it only paid 61 percent.
“With increased costs and a concern about the burden being placed on our districts, magnet schools have made cuts to staff and programming and the providers have run deficits,” according to background material supplied by Wilson. “As costs continued to rise, magnet schools have only one option for securing the funding necessary to continue to operate. Without a municipal tax base and without funding from the state, they will significantly raise tuition to local school districts next school year (fiscal year 2020).”
Local districts have no control over the number of students from their communities who enroll in magnet schools and how that will affect their education budgets.
CREC is one of the six Regional Education Service Centers that the state developed decades ago to help school districts collaborate on sharing services to save money, Wilson explained. “For instance, [CREC] has a hearing-impaired program, Soundbridge. It would inefficient for any school district to have a program like that on their own, so that’s why these RESCs were developed.”
It wasn’t until much later that the RESCs started building magnet schools, in response to Sheff v. O’Neill, and, unlike CREC, most of the other RESCs only have one or two magnets, he said.
Wilson said Bristol only pays tuition for students who attend the CREC schools, not for those local students who attend the Hartford school district’s magnet schools.
Bristol has no magnet schools of its own at present, although the school board and the city are working on creating an arts magnet school here.
Here is a “snapshot” of how many Bristol students currently attend CREC magnets and service schools and where they are going:
Academy of Aerospace & Engineering: 13.
Academy of Science and Innovation: 22.
Ana Grace Academy of the Arts Elementary Magnet School: 15.
Discovery Academy: 20.
Glastonbury-East Hartford Elementary Magnet: 2.
Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts: 11.
Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts Middle School: 10.
International Magnet School for Global Citizenship: 1.
Metropolitan Learning Center: 3.
Montessori Magnet School: 8.
The Museum Academy: 6.
Reggio Magnet School: 26.
River Street School: 6.
Two Rivers High School: 6.
Susan Corica can be reached at 860-973-1802 or firstname.lastname@example.org.