Courant: Magnet School Lottery Delayed, Possibly Until Early June
Magnet School Lottery Delayed, Possibly Until Early June
Lottery Had Been Scheduled For April 5
by Kathleen Megan
May 23, 2014
©The Hartford Courant
Thousands of Hartford-area parents who have been anxiously awaiting regional school lottery results since early April to see if their children get spots in a magnet school may still have a few more weeks to go.
State education officials said Friday that they expect to hold the lottery for the Hartford region by late May or early June, and will notify parents of the results by email and letter as soon as possible.
The state’s Hartford regional lottery originally was scheduled for April 5.
While the delay complicates matters for parents, schools and state education officials, Glen Peterson, who is division director of the state’s Regional School Choice Office, said, “We hope people will still accept the seats we are offering.”
Peterson said the delay was caused by a combination of factors, including a 6-week holdup in the start of the application process to await the December completion of the latest round of negotiations in the long-running Sheff v. O’Neill desegregation case. Those negotiations determined to some degree how many new magnet seats would be available.
He said new legislation designed to control the growth of magnets also has been a factor in the delay.
Educators, as well as a lawyer for the plaintiffs in the Sheff case that led to the creation of dozens of magnet schools in the Hartford area, expressed concerns about the effect of the delay on this year’s lottery process.
“When you run a late lottery, you lose a lot of students. … It’s not an optimal time for them to decide which school to go to so late in the year,” said Bruce Douglas, executive director for the Capitol Region Education Council, which operates 19 magnet schools in the region.
With 20,000 applicants in the lottery this year, Douglas said, he expects there will still be plenty of students to fill the open seats.
Enid Rey, director of the Office of School Choice for Hartford Public Schools, said she is concerned that the delay “will impact our acceptance rates. … This makes it very hard for families and schools to plan.”
Martha Stone, the plaintiffs’ attorney in the Sheff case, said the delay “wreaks havoc on parent choice. It causes tremendous confusion for parents about what their options are. It deflates demand because a lot of parents both suburban and urban may just drop out of the lottery process because they don’t want to wait so long.”
The new legislation led to a delay because state officials had to confer with school or district officials on an almost a school-by-school basis to determine how many new magnet seats could be added, according to Charlene Russell-Tucker, chief operating officer for the state Department of Education.
The legislation restricts the growth of the magnet schools to certain situations, including cases where schools must add seats to reach capacity enrollment or if the seats are part of the most recent Sheff court agreement.
Rep. Andy Fleischmann, a West Hartford Democrat and co-chairman of the legislature’s Education Committee, said the new legislation grew out of concerns raised in February when Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor announced that the department had a $35 million shortfall in the statewide magnet school budget, only a few weeks after Gov. Dannel P. Malloy had announced his proposed budget for next year.
That shortfall was “pretty stunning,” Fleischmann said, adding that it, along with a significant deficiency in this year’s magnet school budget, seemed to indicate a lack of administrative control.
“I don’t think there was a clear signal sent to magnet school operators about what was acceptable and what was not in regard to expansion,” Fleischmann said. “Lacking oversight, a lot of magnets were expanding as quickly as they could, soaking up more and more education dollars.”
Fleischmann said the delay in the lottery is “extremely unfortunate,” but added that he rejects the idea that the legislation caused the delay. Although the legislation was passed in May, Fleischmann said the discussion took place in February and early March and state education officials and magnet school operators were informed of the expected change by early spring.
“To try and act as if the legislation caused this problem is just inaccurate,” he said.