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St. James Episcopal to Host the Vienna Boys’ Choir


WEST HARTFORD – The world-famous Vienna Boys’s Choir will give only one performance in Connecticut during its spring concert tour in the United States.

The Austrian ensemble will perform on April 2 at 7 p.m. at St. James’s Episcopal Church at 1018 Farmington Ave in West Hartford.

Artistic Director of Concerts at St. James Vaugh Mauren said the church is “extremely fortunate that the Vienna Boys Choir has included West Hartford in their 2019 tour.”

That’s because the choir gives about 300 concerts per year in locations across the world and is in high demand, he said.

“This concert is a rare opportunity for music lovers in the Greater Hartford region to have one of the finest boys choirs in the world,” Mauren said.

The Vienna Boy’s Choir, which traces its history to 1498, is known for their lively singing style and beautiful tone. Before 1918, the choir sang exclusively for the imperial court, at mass, concerts, private functions and on state occasions.

Mauren said that the choir will be heard in the natural acoustic of the church sanctuary that is “much more suited” to the boys’s voices than a larger venue.

The program will included the famous “O Fortuna” from Orff’s Carmina Burana, Renaissance and Baroque choral classics and selections from Broadway musicals. It will also end with favorite Strauss polkas and waltzes, including “The Beautiful Blue Danube.”

Tickets for the Vienna Boys Choir’s concert are priced from $20 to $65 and can be purchased here.

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Gov. Lamont Appoints Hartford Resident to Lead DMV


By Fran Wilson, Staff Writer

HARTFORD —  A West-End resident in Hartford was appointed to lead Connecticut’s Department of Motor Vehicles.

Gov. Ned Lamont on Thursday appointed Sibongi Magubane as the Commission of DMV. She will begin on April 1, pending consent from the General Assembly.

Magubane is a business executive who has served within Fortune 100 companies, volunteered in civic organizations and earned a reputation for bringing a “fresh approach” to business and agencies, state officials said.

“She’s a sharp, solutions-oriented thinker with a strong business acumen who will bring to state government an innovative approach that works to cut red tape and brings to the DMV the solutions that so many residents of our state are demanding,” said Lamont in a press release.

Currently, Magubane serves as the human resource director with Specialty Transportation, a contractor of the Hartford Board of Education that provides transportation to students.

She previously worked for Aetna as head of information technology strategic planning, head of finance information systems and enterprise management systems. She also worked for Keane and Cigna.

A native of South Africa, she was named by The Network Journal in 2009 as one of the 25 most influential black women in business. She moved to the United States at the age of 9.

Additionally, she is the president of the West End Civic Association/Neighborhood Revitalization Zone, co-chairs Hartford 2000, Inc, a coalition of Hartford’s neighborhood revitalization zones, and serves as board member for Hartford Stage.

“It’s an honor to serve the people of Connecticut as commissioner,” Magubane said. “As a lifelong resident of Connecticut, I look forward to restoring confidence in the DMV. We will improve customer service and efficiency by listening to citizens, seeking new solutions and working closely with all state agencies.”

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It May be Bumpy, But Lamont Sees ‘a path forward’


By Mark Pazniokas, ctmirror.org

HARTFORD — Gov. Ned Lamont cast his first budget proposal Wednesday as “a path forward,” a map for a wealthy state struggling to wriggle free of a crushing pension debt amassed over decades, end crippling cycles of deficits and spark economic growth.

In a televised, 35-minute speech to the General Assembly, Lamont politely challenged lawmakers to suggest improvements if they don’t like his approach, pleading for “a different type of politics.” But at least for now, the new governor drew few hard lines beyond which he would not cross, all but inviting a robust debate. 

“Politics in Washington is a dysfunctional mess. Let’s show that here in Connecticut, we can work together on an honest budget, on time, one that gets our state moving again,” Lamont said. “When we disagree, don’t go to a microphone. Come to my office. My door is always open. Let’s get it done.”

The plea prompted an extended standing ovation from both sides of the aisle.

But other applause lines — promises of a higher minimum wage, a paid family and medical leave program, a pledge to preserve collective bargaining for state employees — only resonated among the majority Democrats. 

“I think it is a responsible budget that meets our needs. We are facing a deficit of about $1.5 billion in the next year and more than that in the year after that,” said Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney, D-New Haven. “We need some additional revenues. We also need to make sure we have an economic development plan that keeps the state moving forward and promotes job development. I think that’s a key.”

Republican leaders, however, responded coolly after the speech to the governor’s ideas for raising new revenue.

“Well, clearly Governor Lamont has an interest in fixing the state,” said House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby. “I think unfortunately the way he’s trying to do it now is only hurting Main Street America. The middle class is being hurt by far the most in this. I believe in a path forward for Connecticut as the governor mentioned, but this is not the path.”

Lamont, 65, a Democrat and Greenwich businessman, is only Connecticut’s second governor since Chester Bowles, who was elected in 1948, without experience as a legislator in either Hartford or Washington. The other was his predecessor, Dannel P. Malloy, who was mayor of Stamford for 14 years.

Since taking office on Jan. 9, Lamont has invited a steady procession of legislators and other stakeholders, including the state-employee unions that contributed to his victory, to the Executive Residence, listening more than talking.

“Politics in Washington is a dysfunctional mess. Let’s show that here in Connecticut, we can work together on an honest budget, on time, one that gets our state moving again.”

Gov. Ned Lamont

On Wednesday, it was Lamont’s turn to speak.

He was not quite as relaxed as during his inaugural on Jan. 9, when he displayed a goofy charm, offering commentary and asides on his own speech as he delivered it. There were no taxes on the table then, no tolls, no hard requests. But he occasionally ad libbed, playing off the lawmakers’ applause —or their silence.

His promise to save nearly $600 million a year by curtailing borrowing and putting the state on a “debt diet” drew predictable applause.

“Now, I’ve talked to a lot of you,” he said. “I know you agree in principle, but then you generally have ‘one more special project that’s in the queue in my district.’ So be forewarned — if it is not tied to economic or workforce development, or cost-saving shared services, Connecticut is on a debt diet – and I am going to make sure we stick to that plan.”

He raised his voice, punching what was intended to be an applause line.

Lawmakers offered only a stony silence.

Lamont smiled.

“Crickets,” he said.

That prompted laughter — and applause.

If Lamont faces resistance from lawmakers about closing the bonding favor bank, he is looking at trench warfare over his call to end sales-tax exemptions for most everything but groceries and prescription medications. He noted he is seeking no raises in the rates for income or sales taxes, but said Connecticut needs to modernize its sales tax structure.

“Our current sales tax is designed for a Sears Roebuck economy driven by over-the-counter sales. Today we live in an Amazon economy, which is driven by e-commerce, digital downloads, consumer services,” he said. “So my sales tax reform would broaden the base so that digital goods are treated equally and more significantly that we are capturing a growing segment of the economy.”

He suggested there is no rhyme or reason to the current exemptions. Haircuts are exempt, not manicures. Netflix is exempt, not movie tickets. Lamont insisted he knows the size of the fight he is inviting, that he has been warned off by legislative leaders and rank-and-file lawmakers.

“Believe me, I’ve been forewarned by all of you —there was bipartisan consensus on this — that every tax expenditure has a strong lobby behind it and the pushback will be ferocious,” Lamont said.

The new governor promised to push back.

For the first time since announcing Saturday he would propose options for electronic tolling on all motor vehicles — not just trucks, as he promised during his campaign — Lamont explained his rationale to a live audience.

The governor said his lawyers convinced him that trucks-only tolling would survive judicial scrutiny only if the tolls were collected on specific bridges to pay for their reconstruction. He promised Connecticut car drivers would get discounted rates, as other states provide to their motorists.

Democrats applauded.

“By the way, it is estimated that over 40 percent of tolling revenue would come from out of state. As we foot the bill when we travel through their neighboring states, it’s time for out-of-state drivers to help foot the bill for fixing our roads and bridges,” he said.

Republicans, who see tolls as a wedge issue for 2020, did not.

Lamont cast tolling as part of a larger plan to grow the economy,  saying there is little chance of extended growth without modern transportation infrastructure, and there is no way of modernizing infrastructure without tolls.

Tolls would allow Connecticut to speed rail service from Hartford through New Haven and Stamford to New York City and add more frequent service to Waterbury and New London, he said. They also would help his economic-development team when companies ask about gridlock.

“Rather than nervously looking down at our shoes or checking our watch, our economic development team will now be able to answer, ‘I’m glad you asked me that,’ ” he said.

“I believe in a path forward for Connecticut as the governor mentioned, but this is not the path.”

House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby

Lamont faces structural deficits, as did his predecessor, but the immediate task is not as daunting as the $3.7 billion shortfall that greeted Malloy. In some ways, however, Lamont faces a more difficult political task.

Eight years ago, Democrats working with their first Democratic governor in two decades readily yielded to Malloy on difficult revenue questions, such as the $1.8 billion tax increase Malloy proposed in his first budget. The novelty of working with a Democratic governor is long gone — as Malloy discovered in his final two years in office, when legislators shut him out of budget talks.

Lamont needs to find his own path forward, as well as a way to coax lawmakers to join him on the trip. That is a work in progress.

A key talking point Wednesday was Lamont’s intention to break the cycle of deficits, a tempting prospect for lawmakers exhausted by the constant struggle to balance budgets, ignoring the future while paying off debts from the past.

“I will not allow this budget to be another scene from Groundhog Day, where I come to you year-after-year, hat-in-hand, lamenting the fact that we still haven’t addressed our structural deficits,” Lamont said. “Fixed costs inherited from the past consume nearly a third of Connecticut’s budget – much more than our peers. This hurts our ability to make investments in our future.”

He said he can offer a solution, but only if he is backed by lawmakers, selling his plan to business and labor, mayors and selectmen, town councils and boards of education. 

Everyone is going to have to sacrifice — take a haircut, as debtors tell creditors when there is not enough money to pay everyone.  And that includes paying the sales tax on every haircut.

Featured Photo Credit: Connecticut Public Radio

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United Way to Host Legislative Forum on Financial Hardship


HARTFORD — The Connecticut United Way on Feb. 25 will host a legislative forum in Hartford about the “true scope of financial hardship” and how working families can achieve financial security.

The forum will be from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. in Room 2E at the Legislative Office Building, 300 Capitol Ave. in Hartford.

The forum comes after a 2018 report on the increase in the number of Asset Limited Income constrained Employed, or ALICE households. These families in the state included those who despite working hard, live paycheck to paycheck and are unable to afford life’s most basic necessities such as housing, food, child care, transportation, technology and healthcare.

About 40 percent of Connecticut households are unable to make ends meet. They are considered ALICE households. Many ALICE households are one emergency away from a financial crisis impacting their ability to feed their family, heat their home, maintain their housing and ensure their medical care, organizers said.

The other sponsors to this event are the Commission on Women, Children and Seniors and the Commission on Equity and Opportunity.

For more information and to register click here.

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Time to Gear Up for District and Magnet School Lottery


By Madeline Perez De Jesus

My daughter benefits from a different education reality than I did. My own working-class Puerto Rican parents, conversely, thought that all public schools were the same. My guidance counselor convinced my parents to allow me to apply to a prestigious exam high school in New York City allowing me to by-pass a low-resourced neighborhood school. Now I am writing a book on families navigating school choice. My experiences as a student, educational researcher (and now as a mother) have led me to understand that while the school choice system created by Sheff. v. O’Neill 30 years ago is not perfect, it has increased opportunity for Hartford children from backgrounds like my own who were previously shut out from high quality schools.

As my husband and I consulted our social network about the “process”, we realized their worldview and resources shaped the conventional wisdom many families shared with us.  As college professors, interpreted this advice through our own worldview and were mindful of the resources available to us as parents (that were not available to us as children).  We also learned that these perspectives are always tempered by reality. Below I list some of this conventional wisdom on public school choice followed by realities to consider:

Learn about your school options early.

Reality: Your options may already be shaped before your children are born based on where you’ve chosen to live (or didn’t choose). Where you live already shapes the menu of schools available to you (as well as your odds of getting in). Folks who are low-income are not likely to be able to access the full range of options with zoning.

You have to talk to lots of people to get the scoop on how they are experiencing the schools.

Reality: This assumes that you can access a network of parents whose children attend a wide variety of schools. If you don’t, you need to muster up the courage to speak to strangers. Trust and safety concerns impact one’s ability to engage strangers. When I was conducting my research in New York City, many wealthy parents told me it was the norm to be approached by prospective neighbors who wanted to learn about the schools. The working class and poor parents I interviewed thought it was crazy to approach strangers because of safety.

You have to make time to attend school open houses as well as workshops on how the lottery process works.

Reality: It was vital for us to visit schools observing classes in session. This gave us a strong sense of our top schools early on. Not everyone has the opportunity to visit on a weekday between 8am-3pm.  Parents who have overall control of how they schedule their time are the ones who are able to do this best.

You can apply to the HPS lottery every year and any year.

Reality: For Hartford residents, if you don’t apply in preschool, your chances diminish rapidly afterward. The Pre-K 3 year has the most seats available and therefore the highest chance of allowing you to get selected. Even if the seat you are offered was not one of your top choices, you are still advantaged as you are now the “in the system” and given priority if you choose to reapply next year. In her policy brief on the Sheff Movement, Mira Debs highlights that pre-k3 children are not provided transportation by the school system. Therefore, those who have control over their transportation are the ones who can take advantage of this.

Apply to the schools in your order of preference.

Reality: If you live in Hartford, zones really matter. (Jack Dougherty, from Trinity College writes about this.)  In order to increase your chances of being matched to a school, rank them while keeping in mind your odds of getting in. The press publishes the percentage of applicants from each town who get offers to schools which can be used to inform the way you rank your selections. Not everyone knows this. Therefore, parents who seek out data from reputable sources can rank in the ways that are most advantageous.

Consider sharing this information with someone who might need it before the February 28 lottery deadline. And let’s work to further efforts to make the lottery process support the needs of the families in Hartford with the fewest resources. Our entire region is better off as a result.

 

 

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Legislative Caucus Urges Residents to Participate in Forum


HARTFORD — The Black and Puerto Rican Caucus is urging Greater Hartford residents to participate in a public forum to address general issues facing thier communities.

The forum will be on Feb. 19 from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. in Room 2C of the Legislative Office Building in Hartford.

People who wish to speak must sign up the day of the forum from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. in the LOB lobby. Speakers will be allowed three minutes. Written testimony may be submitted in advance to Georgette.Cicero@cga.ct.gov .

“We need direct input from the public, advocates and other lawmakers about their concerns and ideas about issues affecting Black and Latino communities across Connecticut,” said Chair of the Caucus, Rep. Brandon McGee.

Participation is crucial, officials said.

“The caucus plays a very important role in shaping major policy initiatives, and I am looking forward to advocating and leading legislation that in the long run will benefit all people of Connecticut,” said Rep. Geraldo Reyes, (D-Waterbury) caucus vice chair.

More information may be obtained by sending an email toGeorgette.Cicero@cga.ct.gov  or by calling (860) 240-8323.

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The Losers in this Competition: Hartford Students


By Julia Rosenblatt and Ajia Loomis

Let us say first that we believe in magnet schools. We believe in neighborhood schools, too. Unfortunately, we believe the state has done everything in it’s power to avoid taking real responsibility for Hartford schools, despite the Sheff v. O’Neill ruling that says they are obligated to combat segregation and provide equal educational opportunity for all students. These failures of the state are playing out right now at a school that predates that ruling by a full decade.

Starting in the fall of 2019, the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts will split into two schools. There will be a full-day school with academics and arts enrichment, and a half-day professional arts training program. Students will have to choose one school or the other. However, for the last six years, Hartford Public School district (HPS) has refused to bus Hartford students to the half-day program. Knowing this, CREC Superintendent Timothy Sullivan still went ahead with his plan, leaving Hartford students with no real access to the professional training program (there are a handful of students that go to Bulkeley in the morning but they have to walk to the half-day program. They are often late and therefore miss important Academy classes).

Why won’t HPS bus their students? Because the school choice system we have says that money follows the student. Schools, and therefore districts, are in constant competition for students dollars. So while HPS is closing schools, supposedly due to low enrollment, they sure aren’t going help CREC get more student dollars.

Although Sullivan says he rushed this decision through in order to give families time to re-enter the lottery, this has actually been the plan since May of 2018. CREC didn’t let the public know until the middle of October. You see, October 1 is the date by which the state calculates how much money each school gets based on their number of students. By waiting until after October 1, Sullivan didn’t risk losing student dollars for the school year.

And for CREC, it all comes down to dollars. For years the non-profit organization has subsidized its 16 schools through their lucrative real estate and construction side jobs. But the state is pushing CREC out of this business, and CREC is passing that pain onto its schools.

At this point, HPS and CREC  are in cahoots in segregating our students, directly in violation of Sheff. Systemically though, this is the planned outcome and effects of a market-based education regime that pits schools against each other.

The city, the state and CREC can, and will point fingers at each other, but the only real victims here are the students.

Julia Rosenblatt and Ajia Loomis are the parents of Hartford school children. This was first published on ctmirror.org.

Photo by Jacqueline Rabe Thomas

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Connecticut Science Center to Host Technovation


HARTFORD — The Connecticut Science Center will launch a Technovation program on Jan. 26 and is inviting girls 10-18 to join in.

The global technology education program will have girls create a mobile application that addresses a problem in their own community.

The Center will be hosting the event on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Through Technovation, girls will learn the skills to become tech entrepreneurs and leaders while creating apps that can make a difference. No prior coding experience is necessary to join and participate.

The global program officially launched Jan. 7, 2019 and will accept submissions through April 23, 2019.

In 2018, 23 girls from Northeast Connecticut were a part of the nearly 20,000 girls worldwide registered to participate in Technovation across more than 100 countries. Participants develop mobile apps and startups addressing societal problems including the environment, equality, food safety and drug addiction.

Girls participating in the Northeast will be supported by the Connecticut Science Center whose employees will mentor them as they plan, develop and build a mobile app company.

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A Push to End Housing Discrimination Against Ex-Offenders


By Mark Pazniokas, ctmirror.org

HARTFORD — As Connecticut’s prison population shows signs of stabilizing after years of shrinking, the General Assembly and administration of Gov. Ned Lamont are tackling new ways of lowering recidivism, including a push outlined Wednesday to discourage housing authorities and other landlords from barring ex-offenders as tenants.

A working group of the legislature’s Commission on Equity and
Opportunity released a 30-page report  that identifies restrictive
housing policies and a lack of re-entry support as obstacles to
Connecticut continuing to lower recidivism and shrink its prison
population.

“Up to 95 percent of people who have been incarcerated in Connecticut will return to our communities one day,”  the report says. “Having a safe and stable place to live is essential for their successful reintegration. Research shows that if a person has stable housing, they are less likely to commit a new crime and end up back behind bars.”

Rep. Brandon McGee Jr., D-Hartford, the co-chair of the legislature’s Housing Committee, said legislation is being drafted based on the working group’s recommendations, as well as proposed directives for the state Department of Housing.

“Today starts the real work,” McGee said.

The report was released at a two-hour workshop at the State Capitol, where the participants include two new players in the state’s criminal justice reform movement: Correction Commissioner-designate Rollin Cook and Marc Pelka, the criminal-justice policy adviser to Gov. Ned Lamont.

Lamont, who was downstate, canceled a planned appearance at the
workshop, but his chief of staff, Ryan Drajewicz, told the group Lamont was intent on continuing and building on the criminal justice reforms of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, a leader in the national bipartisan movement to reassess sentencing policies that have given the U.S. the highest rate of incarceration in the world.

His hiring of Cook and Pelka, who both have reputations as reformers, is seen as evidence of Lamont’s commitment, but McGee warned that the administration ultimately will be judged on what it delivers in resources and policies.

“We’re all in on this,” said Cook, whose references include Scott
Semple, the man he is succeeding as commissioner.

The workshop was Cook’s first opportunity to meet with a broad audience of community-service providers and policy makers. Cook, who comes from Utah, said he was attracted to the Connecticut job by what he sees as a commitment to progress.

He also noted that the profession as a whole was changing rapidly

“The thing that I’ve seen in corrections over the years is we’ve
changed.  Many people comment on my size,” said Cook, who has the frame of an offensive lineman. “The reality was when I was hired as a correction officer, I was hired for size and athletic ability. They didn’t ask if I could think. They didn’t ask if I could communicate. They didn’t ask if I could problem-solve. They didn’t ask if I was empathetic or anything like that. The world is changing in corrections.”

Connecticut is generally credited with making great strides in making prisons more therapeutic than punitive under Malloy and Semple, who recently retired as the correction commissioner. But community-service providers complain the state still could do much better in preparing inmates for release.

Nearly 11,000 men and women were released from prison from August 2017 through July 2018, with more than 6,000 leaving though parole or some other discretionary release. They typically had some continuing help in finding housing and employment. But 4,677 served their full sentences and left prison without supervision — and in many cases, without support.

Stable housing is crucial to finding and keeping a job, and steady work is one of the best ways to keep ex-offenders from returning to crime, researchers say.

“We don’t want anyone released into homelessness,” said Sarah Diamond, a researcher. “That shouldn’t happen.”

The report concluded that Connecticut has no unified system for tracking the housing status of everyone newly released from jail or prison, particularly those individuals who are released at the end of their sentence.

The working group recommends that the state Department of Housing revise policies that discourage or even bar families getting rental or other housing assistance from welcoming home a relative after a prison term. Parole officers should no longer reject public housing or Section 8 addresses as part of a release plan.

It also recommends legislation banning property owners from looking at criminal records beyond seven years and another bill that would automatically seal all or most convictions after seven years of a person’s release from prison.

The group urges that the sex offender registry be refined to focus on those judged as a danger by a formal risk-assessment system.

“In Connecticut, our sex offender registry is not an indication of risk
or danger to the community, and does not take risk assessment into
account at all,” the report said.

A state recidivism study in 2017 found that within five years of leaving prison, only 4.1 percent were arrested for a new sexual offense.

Featured Photo: Facebook

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Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin Launches Reelection Bid, Cites Progress


By Ann-Marie Adams, Staff Writer

HARTFORD — Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin wants a second term in office.

On Tuesday, he and his supporters stood on the steps of Hartford City Hall and launched a reelection campaign, touting accomplishments since 2016.

Since Bronin entered office, he has tackled the city’s budget, moving the city from the brink of bankruptcy to what he calls stability. He negotiated with the state and received a $550 million bailout and a five-year financial plan, which averted bankruptcy. In return, Hartford officials ceded some power to run the city.

He has also followed up on his promise to address blight. So far, he hired a full-time blight director who runs a blight remediation team that has revitalized 137 buildings.

And he is not done yet.

“We’ve got lots of work left to do. But we’ve got momentum and can’t afford to slow down now,” Bronin said.

Bronin, 39, will face Stan McCauley who launched his bid in November 2018, and Aaron Lewis who launched in December. 2018. Also rumored to run are State Rep. Brandon McGee and State Sen. Doug McCrory.

Bronin is vulnerable in his run for mayor, though. That’s because two years after he entered office, he launched a bid for governor. He was widely criticized by his opponents and encouraged by his supporters.

He also wrestled with the unions over concessions, leaving some dissatisfied. And some residents have complained about garbage and rodent problems that consume the city.

The challenges remain and Bronin said he has his performance in the last three years to build on.

“With crisis behind us, we’re going to focus relentlessly on those basic quality of life issues that matter in every neighborhood,” Bronin said. “But we have a path, and we have a plan. And I’m asking for your help to keep Hartford moving.

Bronin, who served as the legal counsel to former Governor Dannel P. Malloy, raised almost $1 million during his first bid for public office. He defeated the incumbent Mayor Pedro Segarra.

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