NB Politicus

Reflecting On the Inauguration: Tim O’Brien Wants To Be The "Education" Mayor

Posted in city politics and government, public education by nbpoliticus on November 15, 2011

Today’s swearing in of the new Mayor, Tim O’Brien, and other municipal officials elected last Tuesday was most significant for where it was held as much as what was said at the ceremony.

 The New Britain High Band played the music and the Madrigal Singers sang the National Anthem as classes at the high school, the state’s largest, were in full session.

As a legislator O’Brien has been nothing less than passionate about public education and how it can be improved in a city where pressures on keeping the property tax down are paramount. O’Brien has balanced the need for aid to education with solid plans to reduce the reliance on property taxes to pay for quality education.  O’Brien should fervently hope that Governor Malloy, formerly an urban Mayor, will address the school funding issues if he can get out from under the state’s recession over the next two years. Among other things O’Brien has called for use of magnet school funding  to give New Britain parents a choice and to develop Sheff-O’Neill regional schools within the city which hosts one of the major teacher colleges in the state in CCSU.  Upwards of 600 New Britain students now journey to Hartford every day to attend the Classical Magnet or the college-oriented Capital Prep.

In the last two City Hall administrations (Pawlak’s  and Stewart’s 16 years)  the local allocation to the schools has been contentious and successive administrations have skirted or scuttled the requirement for a minimum level of support to education. Less than two years ago the Democratic Council restored more than $1 million  to avoid larger classroom sizes only to have it scuttled by the Mayor.

Unquestionably, Tim O’Brien faces enormous fiscal issues as he takes office amid the deep recession and less in the way of help from Hartford or D.C.  But based on his call at today’s inaugural for cooperation and a clear statement that education IS a priority in his administration the terms of the debate have significantly changed.  Education will be a priority and O’Brien intends to be the “Education Mayor”.  As the more perceptive politicians in our town have pointed out that is the only and best  strategy to retain and attract middle-class families to stay here and move in from anywhere else.

One Way To Promote Job Growth and Stability: Eliminate Tuition At State’s Public Colleges

Posted in economic development, public education by nbpoliticus on March 10, 2008

The earning power of college graduates versus those whose highest attainment is a high school diploma favors the former by a wide margin. In central Connecticut, it doesn’t really matter anymore if you want a job as an analyst at an insurance company or fill out an application at a small manufacturer to build parts on the shop floor. You will need post-secondary skills to fill decent paying jobs in our regional economy.

That’s what makes State Rep. Timothy O’Brien’s legislation to eliminate in-state tuition for students at UCONN, the state universities and the community colleges intriguing. So intriguing that O’Brien’s proposal has drawn considerable press coverage, including a February 21 story in the Meriden Record-Journal.

House Bill 5261 “will eliminate all tuition and fees for in-state residents” and proposes “that funding be increased to offset the costs” of eliminating in-state tuition at the public colleges and universities. While many would call the O’Brien idea unaffordable, the need to make college and post-secondary training opportunities available is broadly recognized as a key to retaining jobs and a stronger economy.

O’Brien’s idea is not new. Free public education is an idea deeply rooted in the American egalitarian ideal. Once upon time California was a K-graduate school system without tuitions and fees. And last year MA Governor Duval Patrick, a business friendly Democrat, proposed a guarantee that the 12 community colleges in his state be open and tuition-free.

According to the Record Journal, O’Brien recognizes the current reliance on student tuition and fees to meet operating costs: “O’Brien’s bill would require students who did not pay tuition and fees for the duration of college to pay a fixed rate for a certain amount of time after they graduate, depending on their income. If they move out of state, however, the students would be required to pay back the full amount.”

Says O’Brien: “I introduced this legislation because I think that it is time that Connecticut start talking about the fact that high tuition and fees at our public institutions of higher education is a growing barrier to a college education for many people in our state, even if good financial aid is available for students.” O’Brien emphasizes that the bill is also an effort to stem a “brain drain” that will encourage young people to stay in Connecticut.

While O’Brien concedes that House Bill 5261 will likely go no where in a short legislative session. He knows it opens an important discussion on educational access and economic policy that will not end with the close of the General Assembly this year.

Post originally appeared at http://newbritaindemocrat.blogspot.com

Hartford High School Plan Is Instructional For New Britain

Posted in public education by nbpoliticus on August 25, 2007

In his earliest days as Hartford School Superintendent, Steven J. Adamoski was critical of the $100+ million investment that had been made in Hartford Public High School. The makeover kept the facility a big-box, comprehensive high school with too many students in one place.

One of the nation’s oldest secondary schools, Hartford Public has faced years of accreditation issues and troubling measures of student performance that the physical overhaul and capital investment did not improve.

Adamoski, a former superintendent of Cincinnati, OH schools, was brought to Hartford by Mayor Eddie Perez and the Board of Education for change and reform in the capital city’s troubled 25,000 pupil school system. His task is to implement a “turnaround plan.” Several days ahead of the 2007-2008 school year the details of an “all-choice” plan for Hartford have emerged. According to the Hartford plan the district “will undertake a dramatic investment in the creation of new schools with the goal of bringing over 30 new, high-performing public schools into the Hartford system by 2017, with the majority of new schools up and running in the first five years.”

Dismal student achievement scores have prompted a call by Adamowski for decentralization of its big high schools. A story by Bob Frahm in the August 24th Hartford Courant focuses on the effort to be made over the next several years “to break the high schools up into smaller units.”

“We have to redesign our [large] comprehensive high schools. We can’t have these high schools continue to operate” in their current form, Adamowski told the Courant.

Like Hartford Public High, New Britain High is facing accreditation issues discussed by school board members, school officials and the public at an August 14th community meeting in New Britain. And nobody needs to be reminded that New Britain High has too many students crowded into one place. The New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) Commission on Secondary Schools report of October 2006 noted deficiencies that NBHS needs to address: “The current plant at New Britain High School is not capable of adequately housing its rapidly increasing student body.”

The NEASC site team noted that the Board of Education is taking steps starting with a 9th grade academy (to open this year). But the Commission also noted that “support for student learning is inadequate” with a student to counselor ratio of 330 to 1 and two library media specialists to serve 3,200 students.

Those ratios demonstrate that NBHS is still too much of a comprehensive high school that needs smaller units of students to deliver a better learning environment — the sort of thing Adamowski is now trying to create in Hartford.

The New Britain Democratic Town Committee’s 2007 platform calls for similar action: “The opening of a freshman academy is a positive first step toward a multi-faceted strategy of de-centralizing education and creating learning communities.”

Despite the inequities that are built into the current means of financing the schools, a bold plan for high-performing schools [sometimes but not always contingent on more money] and similar to that being proposed in Hartford is needed in New Britain.