25 November 2013

DEMOS Report: A Higher Wage Is Possible

From www.demos.org

There is enormous public support for increasing the minimum wage in recognition of deep recessions and income equality. DEMOS' new report shares how it can be done:

November 19, 2013
American workers are working harder for less, with productivity rising but living standards stagnant or declining.1At the same time, stock market wealth and incomes for the highest-paid Americans have risen.2 Against this backdrop, the pay practices of the nation’s largest private employer have come under increased scrutiny. Walmart, with 1.3 million U.S. employees and $17 billion in annual profits, sets standards for all other retailers and across the supply chain of one of the nation’s fastest growing industries.3 Walmart’s practices impact the public sector and taxpayers as well when employees earn too little to meet their needs and require public assistance.4 Finally, Walmart is a leader in promoting an employment model in which workers earn too little to generate the consumer demand that supports hiring and would lead to economic recovery. In the last year, Walmart employees themselves have been increasingly vocal in protesting their low pay. Since the last holiday season, Walmart employees in stores throughout the country have repeatedly spoken out in pursuit of a modest wage goal: the equivalent of $25,000 a year in wages for a full-time employee.
  • Walmart workers and a growing number of community supporters are taking a stand this holiday season, calling for wage increases and sufficient hours on the job to earn the modest income of $25,000 a year. This brief explores one way to pay for raises.
  • Walmart spent $7.6 billion last year to buy back shares of its own stock. The buybacks did nothing to boost Walmart’s productivity or bottom line. If these funds were redirected to Walmart’s low-wage workers, they would each see a raise of $5.83 an hour.
  • Curtailing share buybacks would not damage the company’s competitiveness or raise prices for consumers.
  • If Walmart redirected its current spending to invest in its workforce, the benefits would extend to all stake-holders in the company—customers, stockholders, taxpayers, employees and their families—and the economy as a whole.


A Higher Wage Is Possible

17 November 2013


It's a week and a November 22nd when every Baby Boomer is going to tell you where they were and I am no exception.

At age 13, I was in Mrs Sonigan's 7th grade speech class when the class abruptly ended at Pickering Junior High near Wyoma Square in Lynn, Massachusetts. This was just one year removed from the Cuban Missile Crisis when, at age 12, I thought it was over for me and everyone else by way of nuclear annihilation.  But then Kennedy, not listening to General Curtis "Bombs Away" LeMay,  and Khrushchev, resisting his own hawks in the Kremlin,  cut the deal to allow me to get to junior high.

I don't know whether the news from Dallas came over the principal's office intercom or from Mrs Sonigan herself on that Friday. But school got out early for the weekend. There was a bus ride home full of nervous guessing by some classmates and then a long, sad three days of black and white television.

President and Mrs. Kennedy descend the stairs from Air Force One at Love Field in Dallas, TX, 22 November 1963.  
(Cecil Stoughton. White House Photographs. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston)

The murder of the 46-year-old 35th President in Dealey Plaza profoundly changed the course of U.S. History in ways we'll never know.  Some historians and observers says Vietnam and much of the turbulence of the 1960s may have been averted had Kennedy lived. On the other hand, there is some doubt that Kennedy could have gotten all that was attained in the aftermath and mood created after his death. President Johnson's  legislative genius is greatly responsible for the civil rights acts and a War against Poverty (Head Start, Meals on Wheels) that came out of the Kennedy and Johnson years.

The war in Vietnam that haunted JFK's Defense Secretary Robert McNamara  and the subsequent murders of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy (on the night of my senior prom) killed the "high hopes" Kennedy brought.

Being Irish and Catholic and living in Massachusetts we took it  like a death in the family. In truth, however, the mourning  was ecumenical and universal.  "This is a sad day for all people," President Johnson drawled getting off the plane with Kennedy's body. Before 24/7 cable, McLuhan's electronic "global village" connected all in grief and shock to watch the events unfold on TV.

The other and more uplifting thing to remember about 11-22-63 is that a ton of people in local and national offices, including me, came into or got interested in politics and public service because of Kennedy's "Ask not" call to serve.

That is still the lasting part of JFK's 1,000 days in office -- days long ago but not forgotten this week.

10 November 2013

Other Words: Food Stamp Cuts Will Stoke Hunger

A commentary from former Norwalk Mayor Bill Collins and Emily Schartz Greco on the GOP's move to feed the wealthy and starve the poor.....

Food Stamp Cuts Will Stoke Hunger

From www.otherwords.org

Food Stamp Cuts Will Stoke Hunger

Emily Schwartz GrecoWilliam A. Collins
Would you believe that the nation’s cabinet has approved an executive order defining food as a legal right? No, not our nation.
India has taken this bold step. Malnourishment afflicts 42 percent of Indian children, and part of their government’s response to this entrenched problem is defining efforts to end hunger as more than a welfare challenge.
Here in the United States, we’ve got a hunger problem too. Yes, it’s not on India’s scale, but nearly 50 million Americans — 16 percent of us — live in what experts call “food-insecure” households. The number of hungry Americans has held steady since 2008, when the Great Recession began.
UNICEF rates child welfare among 29 of the world’s richest countries.We’re in 26th place — ahead of Romania, yet behind Greece, Slovakia, and Slovenia.
Clearly, we should do more to help the most vulnerable among us, right? Well, Congress doesn’t agree. So now the world’s largest economy will let more people go hungry while our lawmakers squabble over how deeply to cut food stamp spending.
Food stamp benefits for poor families have already taken a hit. Even though hunger never declined from its peak during our alleged economic recovery, a small benefit increase in the 2009 stimulus package expired on Halloween. The end of this $5 billion safety net extension will trim $36 per month for a family of four enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program food stamp program, known as SNAP .
The Republican argument for cutting food stamps is based on the program’s growth. The government spent around $80 billion on SNAP benefits in the past year, more than twice levels seen before the Great Recession. That increase followed the boost in the value of the food stamps people could qualify for and the expansion of the number of people poor enough to qualify.
Simply put, we’re spending more on food stamps because widespread economic problems increased the number of empty larders in America. It’s possible that higher benefits compelled more people to apply, but that’s beside the point.
Had the economic recovery been widespread, we might be spending less on SNAP. Instead, the richest 1 percent inhaled all economic growth and then some. In 2010 and 2011, the 1 percent snatched 121 percent of the recovery’s bounty. This mind-boggling statistic means that the bottom 99 percent experienced a net decline in income.
Demand for food stamps won’t retreat until the economic recovery reaches the rest of us. And food stamps are a powerful economic stimulus because every dollar in increased SNAP benefits generates about $1.70 in economic activity.
So what’s Congress going to do? Pare back benefits even more. The House has passed two different versions of a Farm Bill, the SNAP program’s legislative home. One left food stamps out altogether and the other slashed SNAP spending by $4 billion each year.
The Senate’s version would cut SNAP outlays by $400 million per year. Either of these reductions would come on top of the $5 billion decline in support for this meager lifeline that helps one in seven Americans with less than $1.50 for every meal.
Can the private sector do something? Well, sure.
Workers employed by many of our largest corporations, such as Walmart and McDonald’s, are compensated so badly that millions of them qualify for government anti-poverty programs. If they’d just pay a living wage, fewer Americans would turn to stamps, Medicaid, and other safety-net options.
If seeing your tax dollars subsidize giant corporations that refuse to pay their own workers enough to get food on the table strikes you as unfair, this business trend may cheer you up: Companies selling their wares to the poor are lowering their sales forecasts due to the SNAP cuts. Including Walmart.
Emily Schwartz Greco is the managing editor of OtherWords, a non-profit national editorial service run by the Institute for Policy Studies. OtherWords columnist William A. Collins is a former state representative and a former mayor of Norwalk, Connecticut. OtherWords.org

25 October 2013

Republican Push Poll Called "Desperate" and "Misleading" By New Britain DTC

The Stewart for Mayor campaign, devoid of substantive ideas and relying on out of town interests such as Waterbury-based absentee landlord group, is headed for the gutter and negative campaigning, according the New Britain DTC as the campaign enters its final two weekends.
In this week's post at www.newbritaindemocrat.org reports are surfacing about push poll tactics on the part of the new Team Stewart:
Democratic Town Chairman John McNamara said today the Stewart for Mayor campaign has been conducting  an anonymous telephone poll to mislead voters and falsely link Democratic Mayor Tim O'Brien  to property tax hikes.s-UPSIDE-DOWN-ELEPHANT-large"Members of the Democratic Town Committee and other residents have informed our campaign that they were on the receiving end of a push poll conducted directly from Stewart for Mayor headquarters," said McNamara.  "Anonymous callers in the Stewart campaign are asking residents if they 'support Mayor O'Brien's tax increase' and who their preference is for mayor."
The DTC statement continued:
"The Republican push poll is another attempt by the Stewart campaign to distort the record on taxes and engage in negative campaigning as Election Day approaches. The Stewart campaign has been happy to peddle their water department lie and buddy up with outside corporate groups. Now they're disguising a call  as a supposedly unbiased survey. It  comes right out of the GOP's bag of dirty tricks to attack an opponent with misleading information.  It shows desperation and no respect for voters who deserve to know what campaign and political party is contacting them.
The Republican nominee and her cohorts keep complaining that everyone's taxes have gone up without providing any facts. Theirs is a campaign of innuendo and distortion because they have nothing to offer on issues that matter to voters.
It is a matter of record that 77% of single family homeowners are paying less in property taxes this year because of reassessments. The percentage exceeds 90" for two and three family residence. 
McNamara called on the Stewart campaign to cease the push poll and conduct their campaign activities with full disclosure. "Voters deserve better than to be on the receiving end of bogus political surveying by the Republican mayoral campaign."

10 September 2013

The Big Lie On Taxes From Team Stewart and NB Republicans

Statements coming out of the mouths of Republicans in New Britain these days on property taxes are about as false and misleading as it gets. The phony refrains on taxes are a stretch even for the partisan sniping that is the New Britain Republican Party's stock in trade.

It's one thing to oppose first-term Mayor Tim O'Brien on fiscal priorities, but the GOP mayoral nominee and her cohorts are fabricating property tax increases where they do not exist.

"These tax hikes, spending hikes, and borrowing hikes will never end as long as this current mayor is in office," Erin Stewart told the New Britain Herald in a September 5th story not long after she supported spending hikes and borrowing hikes as a member of the Board of Education. Maybe she was for those new and much-needed school books before she was against them.

Republican Council candidate Carmelo Rodriguez, Jr., in the September 8th Herald, said Democrats on the Common Council "have lost credibility with the people because they say they did not raise taxes. But, the numbers reflect something different."

Mr. Rodriguez may begin to question his own credibility once he actually talks to most of his neighbors or bothers to look up the numbers that are a matter of public record.

Unfortunately, the new Team Stewart is sounding a lot like the old Team Stewart with a heavy dose of of tax-cut demagoguery and an aversion to the truth.

The campaign gambit is to falsely pin all the blame on O'Brien who took office in November 2011 facing structural deficits and an out of balance municipal budget.  It took O'Brien several months just to sort out a fiscal mess caused by his predecessor. 

Meanwhile, the new Team Stewart is laying 100 percent of the responsibility for  regressive, state-mandated auto taxes on the incumbent.  Funny how the state and not the local administration was blamed when a previous mayor named Tim occupied the corner office at City Hall.  And I thought elephants had good memories.

Current assessment data for New Britain documents just how false the Republican claims are on property taxes "going up"  in the aftermath of state-mandated revaluation.

The Assessor's Office and the revaluation firm retained by the city last year based assessments on the sales market values from October 2011 to October 2012 for the new values.  The burst of the housing bubble here and everywhere over the last five years can be seen in the numbers.

Across-the-board drops in assessments meant there was less value to tax and consequently tax bills decreased for every  property owner that declined in value by more than 17%.

Of more than 9,000 single-family homes in New Britain, there was an average decrease of $134; 6,972 homeowners (77%) are paying less on a mill rate of 44.12; 2,076 pay slightly more or about the same because their home values did not drop as much as others.

For two and three-family houses the property tax decreases are even more dramatic. Of 2,711 two-family residences 2,479 (91%) experienced lower tax bills; 232 did not. The average change is a decrease in taxes of $546.  Of  1,582 three-family dwellings 1,577 (99.6%) got lower tax bills and  15 paid more. On average three-family owners are paying $1,129 less.

The new property assessments confirm that  tax bills for single family, one-, two- and three-family residences decreased significantly.  Only the few properties with values decreasing less than 17 percent paid about the same or received small increases.

Politicians of all political stripes will face challenges in maintaining essential city services and being fiscally responsible over the next two years.  That's because the current property tax system as a means of paying for schools and city services is unsustainable.

Don't look for Team Stewart to acknowledge this reality. The intent is to dissemble and mislead on property taxes from now to November 5th.

SEE related February 6, 2013  post on Housing Bubble and Property Assessments

28 August 2013

Remembering The March and Speech From the "Global Village"

The March for Jobs and Freedom culminating in the "Dream" speech that occurred 50 years ago today stirred the social consciences of many more than the 250,000 who were on the Washington mall that hot summer day in Washington, D.C.

All of us who are old enough have no business remembering where we were on that Wednesday afternoon so long ago.  But we do. "The new electronic interdependence recreates the world in the image of a global village," said a prophetic Marshall McLuhan in the 1960s at about the time there was a TV in virtually every living room

I was 13 about to enter 9th grade in Lynn, MA. The television was on in our Clarendon Avenue apartment and I knew the live network coverage in black and white was connecting  me to something big and historic.  Former President Bill Clinton, praising the marchers at todays' commemoration at the Lincoln Memorial, said he too joined the march through the medium as a 17 year old in Arkansas.

Said Clinton:
This march and that speech changed America. They opened minds, they melted hearts and they moved millions, including a 17-year-old boy watching alone in his home in Arkansas. (Applause.) It was an empowering moment, but also an empowered moment. As the great chronicler of those years, Taylor Branch, wrote: The movement here gained the force to open, quote, “the stubborn gates of freedom,” and out flowed the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, immigration reform, Medicare, Medicaid, open housing.
King's speech and the march brought millions of people together in hope and possibility that August day.  And television elevated the event in the cause of social justice.

Less than three months after the March for Jobs and Freedom  I and many others would never forget where we were 50 years later.  We spent many more hours  in front of the  black and white TVs --- this time part of a global village connected in loss and sorrow over President Kennedy's  assassination.

29 July 2013

Virtual Busway Tour Starting At New Britain Station

A special section in The Hartford Courant has an interactive tour of the the New Britain to Hartford rapid bus transit system a/k/a "CTfastrak"  as provided by the CT  Department of Transportation at its project website www.ctfastrak.com

The state Bond Commission this month allocated $500,000 for transit-oriented development in the downtown district. The busses of the long-awaited and much-debated busway are scheduled to start running in early 2015.

22 July 2013

Access For All: New Britain Will Celebrate 23rd Anniversary of ADA Wednesday, July 24th

New Britain will observe the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) — on Wednesday, July 24th,  with a “Walk and Roll” event around Walnut Hill Park beginning a 5:30 p.m.
The City, under the auspices of Mayor O’Brien and the Commission on Persons with Disabilities, is sponsoring the event that will include ice cream sundaes, tee-shirts and music at the band shell.
Persons who rely on wheel chairs and scooters to get around will participate to celebrate the  civil rights law that “prohibits discrimination and ensures equal opportunity for persons with disabilities  in employment, state and local government services, public accommodations, commercial facilities, and transportation.”
The ADA became law in July 1990 with adoption of legislation sponsored by Iowa Senator Tom Harkin.   In 2010, on the 20th anniversary of the ADA, Harkin said:
“The Americans with Disabilities Act — signed into law on July 26, 1990 — has been described as the Emancipation Proclamation for people with disabilities. It sets four goals for people with disabilities: equal opportunity, full participation, independent living and economic self-sufficiency.  But at its heart, the ADA is simple. In the words of one activist, this landmark law is about securing for people with disabilities the most fundamental of rights: “the right to live in the world.” It ensures they can go places and do things that other Americans take for granted.  I will always remember a young Iowan named Danette Crawford. In 1990, she was just 14. She used a wheelchair and lived with great pain. But she campaigned hard for the ADA. When I told her that the ADA would mean better educational opportunities and prevent workplace discrimination, Danette said: “Those things are very important. But, you know, what I really want to do is just be able to go out and buy a pair of shoes like anybody else.”
The ADA will be an enduring part of Senator Harkin’s legacy. He will not be seeking re-election in 2014.

Dems Recommend Nicole Rodriguez For School Board Vacancy: City Council Will Fill Vacancy

DTC Recommends Nicole Rodriguez For BOE Vacancy
Nicole Rodriguez, a high school graduation specialist in the Hartford School system and parent, is the choice of the Democratic Town Committee to fill the seat left vacant by Dr. Nicole Sanders who recently resigned from the Board of Education.
Ms. Rodriguez, who holds a master’s degree in school counseling, volunteers as Alton F. Brooks Youth Basketball Commissioner and coach.  She also coaches for the CT Heat AAU Girls Basketball Club. She serves on the board of directors of the New Britain-Berlin YMCA and was a recipient of WMCA’s Ron Brooks Youth Development Award. 
Rodriguez was among five candidates seeking endorsement for three BOE seats up for election this year.  In seeking a board seat she told the DTC of her interest in being a member of the Board of Education:  I am a stakeholder, educator and I am committed to quality education. As a parent and educator I am concerned and determined that our children receive the best education possible. I have over 12 years’ experience as an educator. Many of them include working to reduce the dropout rate for at risk students.
If appointed by the New Britain Common Council, Rodriguez will serve for the remainder of a term that ends in 2015.  The appointment could come at the August meeting of the Common Council.
from www.newbritaindemocrat.org

04 June 2013

Preserving The Hatch Building: Leaves & Pages Open House Fundraiser June 6th For Historical Society

Leaves and Pages, Dan and Arlene Palmer's downtown coffee shop and book store, will host a membership/fundraiser open house on Thursday, June 6th for the New Britain Historical Society from 5:30 to 7:30 pm.  Leaves and Pages is located at 59 W. Main St.

Wine, cheese, and hors d'oeuvres will be served, and registration is limited to those 21 and over. 
Proceeds will be put toward buying and refurbishing the iconic W.L. Hatch Insurance building on Washington Street near the Elks Hall and Washington diner.

The organization offers annual memberships at $25 for students, $30 for individuals and $40 for families. A charter lifetime membership is $1,000, with the person's name displayed inside the building. A benefactor lifetime membership is $5,000. The historical society can be reached at  860-249-3314 or  newbritainhistsoc@att.net.

29 April 2013

Little Poland Day 4/28/2013: A Street Festival On Broad Street

Not since "Main Street USA" in years past has New Britain seen a street festival like April 28th's Little Poland Day organized by the Polonia Business Association.

More at New Britain Democrat  http://wp.me/pWyF4-11v

24 March 2013

Rell v CCJEF: Data Shows NB One Of Hardest Hit In Funding For Schools

Rell v. CCJEF Lawsuit: New Britain One of Hardest Hit Cities In Funding For Schools
Money or the lack of it to pay for public education  was the focus of the Democratic Town Committee meeting last month.  A presentation by longtime advocate Dianne Kaplan deVries, on  a landmark court case brought by the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding (CCJEF) contended that New Britain and other urban districts will always struggle for adequate education dollars so long as there is too much reliance on property taxes.
The Rell v. CCJEF suit, launched in November 2005,  is applying plenty of  legal pressure to shift the funding  for schools away from local property taxes and to compel equity in school funding for city and suburb alike.  The case, aided by the pro bono work of the Yale Law School Education Adequacy Clinic for the last seven years and taken up last year by New York City 's Debevoise & Plimpton firm,  seeks a decision to re-write the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) formula to reflect  "the real costs of adequately preparing all students for the modern workforce and productive citizenship."
New Britain -- one of the financially distressed cities that struggles with schools budgets every year -- could be considered Exhibit A in Rell v. CCJEF, according to Kaplan deVries' analysis presented to elected officials and DTC members on February 28th.  New Britain school children, in fact, have figured prominently as plaintiffs in the litigation.
New Britain needs $21,140 per pupil in inflation-adjusted dollars to provide "an adequate education" but the school district had $12,608 (2011-2012) in local and state funds, according to the Coalition. Using that number developed as part of the research for the law suit, city schools are $8,500 per pupil short or $86 million shy of delivering the "adequate" resources.
In 2013, Kaplan deVries says the gap for New Britain is even worse. The Coalition's numbers  "fail to  account for unfunded mandates, full No Child Left Behind (NCLB)  implementation, and other significant changes impacting the cost of schooling that have come along since 2004-05.  "CCJEF’s expert finance consultants found that New Britain is one of the four most severely underfunded districts in the state" according to presentation at the DTC meeting.
Dr.  Kaplan deVries,  a policy expert and CCJEF project director, said the belief that "quality education is a civil right and key to achieving social justice" underlies her organization's call to fix the school funding formula on a statewide basis and to restructure the tax system so that "geography is not destiny."
Right now attorneys in Rell v. CCJEF are in  a back-and-forth "discovery" phase of data collection, depositions and studies.  The Attorney General is in the unenviable position of defending the status quo with a trial date now set for July 2014.
The proceedings are strikingly similar to the decades-long Sheff v. O'Neill battles that eventually led to voluntary, state-funded remedies to end racial isolation and today's network of interdistrict magnet schools.  Rell v. CCJEF is just as far reaching and will impact every city and town depending on the outcome
In its challenge to the status quo CCJEF defines  "adequate" education in elementary and secondary schools with a dozen components: universal preschool and full-day kindergarten, smaller class sizes, longer school day and year, with free summer school for all, help for all students falling behind, up-to-date textbooks, materials, computer technology, more/better assistance for ELL and SPED students, opportunities for advanced students, more/earlier foreign language options, expanded arts programming, guidance counselors, social workers, psychologists, more/better professional development for teachers and all staff and improved buildings/grounds maintenance.
A decision in Rell v. CCJEF is, of course, years away. Optimistically, an improving economy and a willing state government could lead to  many of the remedies called for in the plaintiffs' case for a restructuring of school finance outside of the courts.
New Britain and other towns have no other option than to work within a structure that is unfair and overly reliant on the 17th century property tax to pay for 21st century teaching and learning.
More ECS money as proposed by Governor Malloy this year can help,  but will not solve the underlying problem.  It also helps that the eight years of willful neglect of education by the Stewart administration ended last year. Mayor O'Brien, the current Council and New Britain legislators have shown a firm commitment to give the schools their fair share, however limited revenues in cash-strapped New Britain are for education.
Regardless of the court proceedings and the outcomes, Rell v CCJEF continues to apply the needed pressure to move the state toward "adequate" funding and equity so that children in New Britain have the same opportunities as children in Greenwich.

24 February 2013

Options On The Table For The "Move To Neighborhood Schools"

New Britain's "Move to Neighborhood Schools" will be the focus of  a Monday, February 25th Board of Education meeting when board members will review a plan by Supt, Kelt Cooper that calls for all students attending classes in schools and programs outside of their neighborhood district in 2012-2013 to attend a neighborhood school in 2013-2014.

The Monday 2/25 public meeting begins at 6 p.m. at New Britain High School's Tercyak Lecture Hall on Mill Street with a presentation on the neighborhood plan and two hours set aside for public comment. According to BOE President Sharon Beloin-Saavedra a final plan for a neighborhood schools' strategy will be voted on by the board in March.

The BOE faces a lengthy agenda because of storm cancellations earlier in the month. It will also take up inclusion of the DiLoreto School in the State Commissioner of Education's "network" schools -- a decision expected to bring additional funds into Slater Road school to improve the school district's low achievement scores.

Over the last decade or so the school district established specialized programs or magnets with learning communities and supports as choices for families (available via lottery) across the city with the intent of developing models for higher student achievement. The neighborhood school proposal notes that "while most students attending these select programs attained high levels of academic achievement, the strategy did not increase overall school district performance."  The administration said the citywide academies "created another  unintended issue: that of filling schools with non-neighborhood children. This necessitated the busing of neighborhood students to other buildings to accommodate any incoming population."

Cooper is proposing that 2013-2014 be a year of transition with four steps: 1)Students newly registered to the district are placed in his/her neighborhood school based on classroom space; 2) the elimination of Out of District (OOD) or "non-neighborhood school" requests by parents or guardians; 3) the re-zoning of school district lines based on population; 4) adoption of neighborhood schools for all students in the 2013-2014 school year identified as "Plan A." by the school administration.

BOE members are reviewing Cooper's proposal that also identifies two alternate plans for moving to a neighborhood school strategy.

"Plan B" allows students located in a school outside of their district to be "grandfathered" into the school outside of the neighborhood district with certain conditions. The student would first be placed in a neighborhood school in September 2013 for the first three weeks and then, -- if space is available -- the student could  return to the OOD school of choice for the remainder of the year.  Parent or guardians, however, would be required to provide transportation since busing to non-neighborhood schools will be eliminated. "Plan C" allows for "grandfathering" of students in the non-neighborhood schools of choice in 2013-2014 in grades 5 and 8 only.

Supt. Cooper prefers Plan A stating that it "would be the most efficient means to return to neighborhood schools. It is one which would probably be the most cost effective regarding the budget."

For implementation to neighborhood only schools (special education is exempt from the plan) the school administration will need to re-draw the city's education map with new district lines. "The ground work has begun in the mapping identification of students at schools for the current year. This process clearly shows that students in each school are scattered throughout the city, which requires busing to all schools," Cooper stated in a February 7th proposal. "The second process involves the mapping of former neighborhood school district lines from the mid 1990s with the overlay of our current student population to identify the numbers of students at each school based on the former neighborhood lines. In some cases the population has shifted away from a few neighborhoods and significantly increased in other neighborhoods."

The neighborhood schools' plan seeks to "establish the framework for equitable distribution of district resources based on the needs of the neighborhood school."   School administrators acknowledge  "the movement of district lines is a significant event in our community but it is essential to regain a sense of school community in neighborhoods."

To counteract parent concerns about the loss of learning communities (LCs) that have improved student performance in the academies, school officials are pledging that "the best practices we have learned to be effective through out smaller learning communities will be implemented district-wide for all students in all schools."

The neighborhood school proposal identifies a potential saving of $78,200 for each bus taken out of service in 2013-2014.  Those funds presumably could be applied to school budgets on a neighborhood basis,  but the total amount of savings from transportation for the district was not estimated.

09 February 2013

Digging Out Slowed By Storm Intensity, Accumulation

The storm that moved into the city at mid day on Friday dumped upwards of 27 inches of drifting snow. It will likely take two to three days to get streets back to normal in cities such as New Britain and Hartford.

By 9 p.m. Saturday many residential side streets remained unplowed as crews labored to get major thoroughfares cleared for emergencies and public safety responses.

The intensity of the storm and Friday night blizzard conditions forced crews off the roads disrupting a normal schedule of snow clearance that occurs with less severe storms.  Public and private crews have been working all day Saturday and will continue through the night to make all streets passable by some time Sunday, officials said.

"You can't even quantify how bad it is out here," said one private plow operator about the situation in New Britain. "Take the 2011 storms and triple it. I've been stuck in the truck 10 times. There are places I can't even do with the truck. There is just too much to plow."

In an update Mayor O'Brien said that all streets should be clear by Sunday:

"In New Britain, city crews have been working around the clock, under difficult conditions, since during the storm, to clear the snow. As of right now, it looks like city streets will be opened by snowplows sometime tomorrow (Sunday).
With the massive amount of snow, the clearing has been tough and slow-going. To get the city up and running, the city has been clearing the major roads first and working to the neighborhood streets.
The job is so large because of the historic snowfall that the city workers actually have to use pay loaders in addition to plows to clear the large amount of snow. And because there is so much snow to be removed, it is going to take time to completely clear the streets. It is a tough job, given how severe this storm was, and other cities and towns are experiencing similar challenges."

A pristine Brighton Street near CCSU in the Belvedere neighborhood was among many secondary roads that were still waiting for street plows late Saturday night.  Friday's blizzard forced crews off the roads for a time during the storm. 

05 February 2013

Lower Values Will Mean Fewer Assessment Appeals, Lower Taxes (But Not For the Right Reasons)

The Board of Assessment Appeal will be hearing from hundreds of property owners in a couple of months who disagree with the just completed, state mandated revaluation on residential and commercial real estate in the city.  

But for City Assessor Mike Konik and his three-member board the number of appeals should be dramatically less than other reassessment years. The caseload load may be at an all-time low.

The Herald's Scott Whipple reports: "The city’s Grand List for Oct. 1, 2012, decreased $498,847,668, or 16.92 percent, from the 2011 list to $2,450,232,418. Revaluation, mandated by state law at least every five years, was the reason for the drop-off as housing values have been adjusted downward reflecting the bottoming out of the market that had reached a peak in 2007 when the city last reassessed property."

Homeowners and apartment house owners will be getting a break as the mill rate is set for another year. Tax rates are going down not because governments are ending the over reliance on property levies. They are declining because of the  economic collapse of five years ago.   Long term, the fiscal squeeze on cash-strapped cities such as New Britain is getting worse..

It used to be a given that your home would  always go up in value in good economic times and bad. Home equity was that economic ace in the hole for American households. It could leverage loans to pay for college or help reduce debt. The seller, with rare exceptions, could always count on a return on investment, getting  significantly more than the original sales price.  The only downside was that whenever revaluation occurred homeowners would always get whacked with a bigger tax bill. And in Connecticut ,with some of the highest property taxes in the country, that meant lots of appeals and more pressure to shrink municipal budgets.
"The banks had issued so many mortgages, so rapidly, that they had given short shrift to basic procedural safeguards," says Economist Joseph Stiglitz in his book, The Price of Inequality: How Today's Divided Society Endangers Our Future. "And as the banks and other lenders rushed to lend more and more money, not surprisingly, fraudulent practices became endemic. FBI investigations spiked. The combination of frequent fraudulent practices and a disregard of procedural safeguards was lethal."

And so bad things happened to many working and middle income people when the unregulated "too big to fail" banks and investment houses consorted to bring down the economy.  The bailed out bankers foreclosed quickly on the little guys, including those duped into homeownership via lenders who stretched and broke the rules..

Locally,  lower assessments will further  reduce municipal income as communities seek revenue to keep school funding and essential services afloat.   Few thought the ever expanding housing market would go bust until the "bubble" burst and the economy tanked in 2008. 

As reported in the New York Times in a story on the plight of municipal budgets in 2011:

And because it often takes several years for property tax assessments to catch up with the state of the housing market, the real impact of the housing implosion is only now being felt in many cities. For the first time since the Great Recession began, property tax collections fell during the last three months of 2010, according to an analysis of data by the Rockefeller Institute, and many mayors expect the declines to continue.

A July 2012 report from the Rockefeller Institute, State University of New York, "The Impact of the Great Recession On Local Property Taxes,"  puts the new property assessments and the financial struggles of cities  into perspective:

  • The property tax is, by far, the most significant revenue source used to finance critical local services such as K-12 education, police and fire protection, and other front-line public services.
  • Although the property tax is generally a stable revenue source, the Great Recession, the housing bubble, and tax limits have combined to weaken tax collections significantly.
  • Local property tax revenues declined by 0.9 percent in nominal terms in the first quarter of 2012, after two consecutive quarters of growth. However, after adjusting for inflation, local property taxes actually declined by 2.8 percent in the first quarter of 2012, marking the sixth consecutive quarterly decline in real collections.
  • Prolonged weakness in the property tax, combined with continued budget stress at the state level and the prospect of deep spending cuts in Washington, raise the prospect of serious budget problems and service cutbacks in local governments in many parts of the country.
Everyone on all sides of New Britain's budget and tax debate needs to consider the big picture before pointing fingers and blaming the Mayor, the Council and their neighbors.

27 January 2013

Tribute To Bart Fisher, the Herald's Historian-In-Residence

Herald sportswriter Bart Fisher, who died last week at age 68, touched many, many people with his coverage of sports, "encyclopedic" knowledge of athletics and community and informative pieces about the city's history.  Invariably a Bart Fisher column would reveal little known but important aspects of New Britain's past that gave us a deeper understanding and appreciation of where we live.

Dennis Buden, a former Herald writer, gave one of the tributes to his mentor:

Bart’s Hardware City History column in The Herald offered a weekly chance for nostalgic readers like me to fondly recall the New Britain of a kinder, gentler time. His Around Town column highlighted the special people and places in our community, and always brought a smile. His reporting and countless columns as Herald sports editor, chronicling the exploits of New Britain’s athletes over the last 40 years, preserve a permanent and poetic record of New Britain lore as only Bart could tell it.
Link to tribute:

The New Britain Herald : New Britain, Conn., and surrounding areas (newbritainherald.com)

Community Journalism Gone Bad

The New Britain City Journal, once a promising venture in community journalism, has plunged into a tabloid gutter of innuendo, rumor and personal attack over the issue of regulating non-owner occupied housing and paying for code enforcement in the city.  

The City Journal, violating basic rules of journalism with all kinds of unsubstantiated accusations, has taken sides and cast its lot with out-of-town landlords, particularly their loudest voice,  New Yorker Sam Zherka, the owner of Farmington Hills apartments (formerly Ledgecrest Village) and publisher of The Westchester Guardian

Yellow Journalism In New Britain

Every week now scurrilous stories and anonymous advertising of questionable legality are hammering the O'Brien administration and members of the Common Council. 

The latest "news story" in the January 25th edition, offers readers a $25,000 reward for information leading to "the arrest and conviction" of Mayor O'Brien and Aide Phil Sherwood to "clean up city (sic) of a corrupt and dirty administration."  The Journal, at Zherka's behest, is relying on readers to come up with the "dirt and corruption" to bring down Mayor O'Brien. 

Wrote City Journal Editor and Publisher Robin Vinci: "Anyone who has any information is asked to send it to: The New Britain City Journal....and it will be forwarded to 'Taxpayers and Associates affiliated with Farmington Hills."  

The situation at the New Britain City Journal is akin to what occurred at Zherka's Westchester paper in 2010.   
In his column, "The 'Zherkus' is back in town," Phil Reisman of  The Gannett-owned Journal News wrote a story on the resignation of the Guardian's editor in chief, Sam Abady: 

"The falling-out was caused by the Sept. 16 issue, which featured a cover story about Yonkers Mayor Phil Amicone titled,'Rumours (sic) Of Impending Indictment?' The piece by Hezi Aris, who succeeded Abady as editor, is all over the map in its criticism of the Mayor, but it never says exactly why Amicone is supposedly in hot water. It is overwrought, rife with tortured metaphorical references to the battle of Gallipoli, Shakespeare and 'Waiting for Godot' -- and thick with innuendo and winking, read-between the lines suggestions of criminality. Nothing is substantiated. But the most damning piece is that Aris all but admits he didn't have the only metaphor that matters -- the smoking gun. The self incriminating sentence is as follows: 'The rumor mill has been spewing out tidbits of information accepted as 'facts' by some, yet is unsubstantiated to date." 
In that 2010 column Reisman reported that Zherka, the organizer of a Tea Party demonstration in White Plains (confirming his right-wing, extremist views),  had won a 1st amendment lawsuit when the Yonkers Mayor overstepped his bounds during a longstanding feud and ordered removal of newspaper dispensing boxes.  

"Besides owning a topless bar in New York City and publishing a vanity newspaper filled with political conspiracy theories, Zherka is known for being a self-styled 'player' with a flare for attracting attention," wrote Reisman, "Zherka is also notorious for filing lawsuits against public officials he believes have crossed him. There are many who fall into this category --- and many have also been the subject of sensational attack stories in The Guardian since it was started in 2006."

When the City Journal began in October 2009 it was the subject of a laudatory post by NB Politicus. Then known as the Hardware City Journal, the grassroots, free-circulation paper was praised on this blog:

New Britain's "October surprise" has nothing to do with the upcoming municipal election and everything to do with what may be a revival of community journalism in town.
The first edition of Hardware City Journal (HCJ), a 16-page free circulation paper, began circulating Friday (Oct. 16th) packed full of local news and information. The paper, with only a handful of ads upon which free circulation newspapers usually depend, is similar in content and appearance to the Berlin Citizen weekly next door. The upstart HCJ appears to be the brainchild of Robin Vinci, a former Herald reporter who covered Berlin and a native of New Britain. Vinci's love for her native city comes through in an opening letter on the editorial page. She is a journalist who knows the town she is writing about past and present, a factor which can count for a lot in delivering news you may not find elsewhere.

Robin Vinci denies that anything has changed at the City Journal or that it has become Sam Zherka's "vanity newspaper" in New Britain.   She maintains the out-of-town landlord's money and influence are not a part of her publication. It's hard to believe, however, that print and online ads  in a 16 page tabloid alone are paying for mailings of the paper into 23,000 households and for the addition of  "writers" and ad reps who may be imported by Zherka himself.  

Whatever the Vinci-Zherka relationship,  the tone and content of Ms. Vinci's stories over the past few months calls into question her credibility as a reporter.  Her tirades without facts about the O'Brien administration sound more like a propagandist  beholden to special interests, the Republican Party or both.  

The City Journal has  abandoned the mission that you can still find on its online masthead: "We will not publish accusations or hurtful comments. We feel New Britain is a great city and want to focus on the brighter, positive aspects of it."

This is not the same City Journal that won praise here three and a half years ago.  The promise of "honest, straight-forward reporting" has given way to the strident and sensational and an agenda that is not in the public interest.


14 January 2013

Sunshine On State Budget: Lembo Launches Open Connecticut

Score one for State Comptroller Kevin Lembo on the government and transparency front to start 2013. .

Lembo has launched a new website for the public to get an unabridged and politically neutral one-stop source for where state government spends its money, gets its income and borrows. If there are inefficiencies or redundancies to root out as CT faces billion dollar budget deficits this is the place to find it. "Sunshine," the Justice Louis Brandeis famously said, "is the best disinfectant."

Open Connecticut is more comprehensive than the website served up by the Yankee Institute -- a right wing think tank -- that paints state employees with a broad brush whether they are earning their keep or notand uses data to tear down government  

According to Lembo's office Open Connecticut -- www.osc.ct.gov/openct --centralizes state financial data and simplifies access to important information about the state budget and its financial future.

Here's more from the Comptroller's Office:

"It’s your money, and you have a right to know," Lembo said. 'That’s the simple message behind Open Connecticut. 'Pockets of state financial information have long been available, but scattered across state agencies. Those who actually have the time to locate information often discover the next difficult step - understanding the information. 'Through Open Connecticut we want to accomplish at least two things - we want to end the scavenger hunt for taxpayers by creating a centralized warehouse for financial information, and we want to help explain and break down the state’s financial processes as simply as possible. 'We want to help answer basic questions that the public may have - and deserves to know - about state government. For example, what exactly is in the state budget? Where did our deficits or surpluses come from? How much did we spend on a particular vendor or program? And what should we expect in future years?" Open Connecticut is currently organized into seven sections: STATE BUDGET: Provides access to the state budgets for current and previous years, annual end-of-year financial reports, deficit mitigation plans and results-based accountability (RBA) reports that serve as report cards on how state money was spent on certain projects. STATE INCOME: Features monthly reports by the Department of Revenue Services on the amount of state revenue received, as well as reports on income tax collected by bracket and by town. STATE BORROWING:  Provides access to the state’s Bond Allocation Database, which contains information about projects approved by the State Bond Commission. This section also features background about the State Bond Commission, its members and how the bond authorization and allocation process works.  FUTURE COST OBLIGATIONS:  Provides background and links to actuarial reports on the state’s various retirement systems and retiree health care (known as the Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB) report). FOLLOW THE MONEY:  Features links to transparency.ct.gov, an existing searchable website maintained by the Office of Fiscal Analysis (OFA) that already provides information (from the Office of the State Comptroller (OSC)) about employee salaries, vendor payments, retiree pensions and other detailed information about state spending. FINANCIAL FORECAST:  Includes links to monthly independent financial forecast reports by the OSC, OFA and Office of Policy and Management, as well as links to fiscal accountability reports and consensus revenue projections.  TAX BREAKS & EXEMPTIONS: Provides links to reports by OFA and Department of Economic and Community Development on the cost of tax expenditures and evaluations on certain tax credit and abatement programs. Open Connecticut also features brief tutorials on issues such as Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), the state spending cap and consensus revenue. "This site is by no means a finished product - but a starting point towards greater transparency and connectivity between the public and state government," Lembo said. "My goal is to see this site evolve and expand to include more information as it becomes available. I encourage state residents to use the site, to better understand their government - and to let us know if they have ideas to improve the site going forward." Lembo, as state comptroller, is the state's chief fiscal guardian. In that capacity he monitors state finances and issues monthly and annual financial reports. Elected in 2010, Lembo previously served as the state's Health Care advocate..