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We Need a New Approach to Educating Connecticut Children


By Matthew Borrelli
M

To Beth Bye, Connecticut Commissioner of Early Childhood:

My goal is to present data that supports the conclusion that there is a cadre of families and children that for decades has not been able to benefit from a regular education. The evidence will support the position that the present Pre-K-12 structure of our schools has exhausted its ability to meet the needs of these children. That their needs are as well defined, and unique as those which were the bases for the enactment CGS 10-76, the special education law. That a response equal in intensity, is required to remedy their plight.

I put together these talking points to hopefully show you that the present Pre-K-12 system is working well for those children that we commonly describe as middle-class (School Synchronized). Conversely the same system has for 40 years failed a cohort of children throughout the state in both suburbs and cities that have been labeled lower-socio-economic (School Separated).

I wish to present a review of the many interventions that the state and local towns have implemented to change this outcome, which sadly have all been to no avail for this cohort

I then wish then to speak about the role of special education, which came about in the late 60s and at the same time, the beginning of Choice programs and what effect they have had on outcomes.

I wish to recalibrate the definitions that we use, and to correct the notion of dealing with Correlation as Causation

Although much of this is apropos to general education; I hope to drill down through the facts to the basis of how children learn in their earliest years and show the correlation between home and school as the link and the linchpin for successful learning.

(School Synchronization vs School Separation)

I would also like to review the actualities in two towns, one in West Hartford and one in Bloomfield which I think will prove some of my contentions. Last, I wish to talk about a concept I have deemed PAINES and how school learning relates to children being ready, and willing so we can make them able.

Historical outcomes of school achievement:

  • All national and state testing shows achievement is laddered along economic lines.
  • All towns in Connecticut have shown achievement that fluctuates in a narrow channel, not one town has ever shown consistent growth over a period of many years that would take it out of its District Reference Group.
  • When skills are tested at the high school through either the SAT or the CAPT in alliance districts; only 30 percent of the students achieve at grade level expectation yet 90 percent of the students graduate.
  • Two thirds of the students entering community college require remedial courses prior to taking community college level courses.
  • The ratio of on goal to non-goal students has been approximately 70/30 passing on goal in the suburbs and 30/70 in the urban near urban centers. This has not changed in 40 years.

Interventions

Over the years the state has intervened trying to create a rationale for this bifurcation of scores looking at the possible reasons why this disparity exists:

  • Horton versus Meskill more equal spending would create more equal results
  • Brown versus Topeka, Sheff in Connecticut, racial balance could be the answer
  • Hundreds of changes in curriculum
  • Changes in instructional methodology and the addition of technology
  • Variations of class size
  • More minority representation
  • The creation and additional funding in a group of towns called Alliance Districts
  • Nutrition programs
  • Extended day, school year
  • Rigorous teacher evaluations
  • The introduction of resource rooms

All of the above related to some correlation, but none have created any change in the outcomes because none of them apparently have been causal.

Town exemplars

I would like to show two towns as examples:

The first is Bloomfield; this is a town whose population is majority white but whose school population is almost totally minority. Its board of education is totally minority. Its superintendent who is an excellent superintendent is minority as are many if not most of the administrators. Minorities represent a large number of the teaching staff as well as minorities representing most of the ancillary staff, so we apparently have a situation where race is not a factor and racial bias should not seem to be applicable.

When we look at Bloomfield’s scores we have the same scoring as  towns like Manchester or Vernon with approximately 40 percent of the children on goal and 60 percent not.  The ratios of on goal to other is the same as in  Manchester and Vernon with these towns being a much more racially mixed as a town, school system and faculty. I believe we can argue successfully that the striations in test scores in a town like Bloomfield, which parallels the other alliance districts and is not based on race, it is not based on the lack of minority representation, although they do face racial problems in the sense that some of the highest scoring children are demeaned with terms like “what are you doing are, you trying to be white?”

The next town is West Hartford and truly a tale of two cities. Crossing Farmington Avenue is a little bit like the Mason-Dixon Line. The north end has always been a highly professional, highly educated, highly scoring element of town. In the 70s and 80s this area was a strong blue-collar middle-class community and then in the 80s as the real estate market changed a lower socioeconomic group emerged and the disparity between North and South scores exacerbated.

West Hartford is a town where all things, all resources, all processes were completely evenly divided. West Hartford did not hire a South end Principal or North end Principal or teacher or aide or custodian. There was a single West Hartford standard. There was a single evaluation process of teachers. Everything was the same systemically North and South, and yet the scores always showed a difference. There is a cohort of children that we could not educate, and all of the interventions listed above did nothing to change the ratios because they were not causal.

Change that had effect

The only significant systemic change came in the late 60s through the federal government and we should be proud to be one of the first states that passed a Special Education law CGS 10-76. It was the first time that we recognized that the school system at its best had limits and that there were children based on genetic organic and neurological reasons that were outside of the norm.

The term of art used at that time was these children were “significantly different from the norm.” We saw the causes through medical eyes and recognized that these children were well beyond the scope of our ability to deal with. A whole new system was developed and it has produced a very different kind of result over the last 40 years than in the prior time.

Questionable change

At the same time, the idea of “choice” raised its specter. It was an action taken by successful students’ families to put them in a different context than their neighborhood school would provide. As neighborhoods changed and more needy learners moved in, the children who were more able wanted to exit. It was the beginning of the class flight.

This movement has grown by leaps and bounds, choice has been expanded, charter schools have been developed, magnet schools and been offered and the results are very interesting. Applicants’ families have better scores than their non-applicant families left at the public schools.

This success has been attributed to the fact that privately run businesses, beautifully architected schools, and themes make a difference. The success though has not been in any way proven to be a product of curriculum or architecture or themes since all of those interventions have been tried for the last 40 years in the public schools and they have not worked.

Why do they appear to be working in this situation? The population quality? We have taken middle class families (school synchronized) out of poor neighborhoods and created a middle class school for them.

Cause

This brings us to what is causing learning and failure; and to the conclusion that the pre-K-12 system can only educate well those children who come to us ready and willing to learn (school synchronized).

If we look at who is learning, and, who would be learners in any school district, we would readily identify those typified as middle-class(S-Sync) like the children in your home and my home. This cadre of ready and willing children with middle-class values and upbringing would score on goal in any school system under any teacher in the state of Connecticut without a question. It doesn’t matter what the curriculum is, it doesn’t matter the age and beauty of the school. These kids are coming to a place called school, which is an extension of their lifestyle.

If you would look at your expectations about being a good daughter or son what you need to do to be good, to learn, we’d find clearly that there is a close relationship and commonality between their home and school. The closer the synchronization between the two, the closer to we come to having a 24/7 educational environment.  So much of what we do at home parallels what happens in school.

Now let’s take a look at the Latino child on Park Street. Most of the homes are probably parented by adults who are near literate to illiterate, many whom may be Spanish-speaking with some English. The neighborhood is Spanish-speaking. The ability to live in the community is easy. Now we bring that child to school and that child gets five hours a day, 180 days of English-speaking — a different lifestyle, a different class of education.

Many of the traits that are acceptable in the community are not acceptable at school. We even modify the immersion by speaking Spanish during the day. If you look at the separation between the home and community mores and the schools’, it is that difference that causes the educational domain to stop and start. It is not continuous as in a typical synchronized home. So in effect, the child is educated three hours a day in this school environment with almost no echoing after that and so when we look at why there is not a product that goes beyond language. It goes into lifestyle.

School separation

As I promised, let’s talk about young children.

I want to present the concept I call PAINES. Yes I claim that children are PAINES when we look at the learning process. We have to look at a total child: P physical, A for academics, I for intellect, N for neurological, E for emotional (how you see yourself) and S social (plays well with others). The paradigm is simple, if everything is normal, if you come to school meeting all of your developmental needs on target A = I.

Therefore if you are a typical child in the third grade you will be scoring on a third grade level. If you’re brighter than normal, you will score on a higher level.  If A doesn’t equal I we must ask why. What would cause an educational deficiency? And that’s where we get into (P) physical reasons (N) neurological reasons (learning disability) or it could be E) emotional poor self-concept or (S) social, the inability to get along with others –and this is how we think in special education.

So what we’re dealing with at the youngest age are two factors: home and school. Home provides the readiness through its lifestyle and its culture and language, its mobility and safety, medical and physical care, and in a safe environment what we presently call a middle-class environment(school synchronized), it creates a readiness to learn.

The family helps the child as its first educator. In many cases the mother is the primary teacher  and converts readiness to willingness, and in the best situation, eagerness to learn when that child enters school and school parallels and extends the home. We are extremely capable of making that child able, and in West Hartford and other suburban towns 70 percent of the kids come from those kinds of homes and they are successful; in Bloomfield only 40 percent, in  Manchester only 40 percent,  in Hartford 30-40 percent.

Yet all our efforts have been focused on the able (school) part. We now offer preschool universally, but the kids who are ready and willing would probably be no different in a half-day program than in a full-day program, but for the children from the other homes the need is vital. We developed resource rooms, but they are rooms for families who come to school. They are drop-in centers. They are not evangelical. They do not seek the missing families, (school separated).

I suggest to you your first step is to develop a program to seek out and evaluate these impoverished homes using the Special Ed model.

We need to service the causal element, which is the separated home life style.

I would ask you to look at programs like Gen-2 and prepare the way for a massive intervention which would probably need legal changes to intervene in these homes at the earliest age possible, given that the mother is the primary teacher. Illiterate mothers, who are under tremendous stress, families living in poverty, living in abusive settings cannot provide readiness, cannot make a child willing, and we have proven we cannot make that child able.

Even in a Greenwich there is that group of kids that the highest scoring system in Connecticut fails.

If you do not get into these homes there is no reason to believe anything will be different, because children who are coming to us unready become unwilling and stay unable. There is so much proof that curriculum instructional changes, architecture, STEM, all of those make learning for the willing learners more interesting, but children from school separated homes are unable to gain any benefit from these interventions.

The vision you must have is that we need to get into the homes more than we ever have in the past. We must educate, counsel and support the parents. We must also enact laws that protect these children.

We must train these primary teachers, (mothers) emotionally and educationally to be more able to play their parenting role; that plus a change in how we educate these children Pre-K =12 is what is required to fulfill our State’s obligation to offer every child an appropriate, free, public education.

Matthew Borrelli of Manchester is a longtime Connecticut educator who has served as an interim superintendent of schools in Bloomfield, Waterbury and Hartford school systems and has served in administrative capacities in a number of districts including South Windsor, West Hartford, New Haven and Hartford.

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TSA Agents Say They’re Not Discriminating Against Black Women, But Their Body Scanners Might Be


The full-body scanners at airports across the country frequently give false alarms for Afros, braids, twists and other hairstyles popular among black women.

By Brenda Medina and Thomas Frank, ProPublica

Dorian Wanzer travels frequently for work. And almost every time she steps out of an airport body scanner, security screeners pull her aside and run their fingers through her hair. It’s called a hair pat-down.

“It happens with my natural Afro, when I have braids or two-strand twists. Regardless,” said Wanzer, who lives in Washington, D.C. “At this point in my life I have come to expect it, but that doesn’t make it any less invasive and frustrating.”

Wanzer, who had her hair patted down by Transportation Security Administration officers two weeks ago while she flew home from Raleigh, North Carolina, said she feels singled out when she is asked to step aside.

“When you find yourself in that kind of situation, it makes you wonder,” Wanzer said. “Is this for security, or am I being profiled for my race?”

Black women have been raising alarms for years about being forced to undergo intrusive, degrading searches of their hair at airport security checkpoints. After a complaint five years ago, the TSA pledged to improve oversight and training for its workers on hair pat-downs.

But it turns out there’s an issue beyond the screeners: the machines themselves.

The futuristic full-body scanners that have become standard at airports across the United States are prone to false alarms for hairstyles popular among women of color.

In a request to vendors last summer, the TSA asked for ideas “to improve screening of headwear and hair in compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.” That law bars federally funded agencies and programs from discriminating — even unintentionally — on the basis of race, color or national origin.

Two officers interviewed by ProPublica said the machines’ alarms are frequently triggered by certain hairstyles.

“With black females, the scanner alarms more because they have thicker hair; many times they have braids or dreadlocks,” said a TSA officer who works at an airport in Texas and asked not to be named. “Maybe, down the line, they will be redesigning the technology, so it can tell apart what’s a real threat and what is not. But, for now, we officers have to do what the machine can’t.”

A government report in 2014 found that the machines also “had a higher false alarm rate when passengers wore turbans and wigs.”

Asked about the false alarms, the TSA said in a statement to ProPublica that the agency “is reviewing additional options for the screening of hair.” (Read the agency’s full statement.)

A senior TSA official said in an interview that hair pat-downs are not discriminatory and are done when a body scanner indicates that a passenger has an object in his or her hair. “I get a hair pat-down every time I travel. I’m a white woman,” said the official, who agreed to be interviewed on the condition that she not be named.

“Procedures require that if there is an alarm on the technology, the pat-down [must] be conducted,” the official said. She added that the agency has found no evidence of discrimination in hair pat-downs or any pattern that pointed to a particular airport.

The TSA advises passengers to remove all items from their hair before going through airport security and warns on its website that “wearing a hairpiece, extensions or a wig as well as a ponytail, a hair bun or braids” may trigger an alarm.

The TSA would not say if it had ever found a weapon in a passenger’s hair. Its website says: “You’d be surprised what can be hidden in hair. The most notable things we’re looking for in hair are explosives and improvised explosives device components.”

The false alarms affect more than the passengers whose hair is searched. The government report from 2014 noted that patting down passengers slows security lines and may increase costs by requiring extra screeners.

Full-body scanners — millimeter wave machines — have become standard at airports over the past decade. The TSA accelerated their installation after failed “underwear bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab boarded a flight on Christmas Day 2009 from Amsterdam to Detroit with plastic explosives inside his pants.

The scanners are made by L3 Technologies. A governmentreport said they cost about $150,000 each, and that the TSA spent more than $100 million deploying the machines. An L3 spokesperson declined to comment on the machines, and pointed us to the company’s website.

Unlike metal detectors, the scanners can detect nonmetallic items. But they can’t tell what objects are — or, apparently, if it’s just thick hair. That requires humans.

Last month, ProPublica asked people to share their experience with hair searches at airports. We received 720 responses. More than 90% were from women. Of the respondents overall, 313 identified as white only, 311 as black only and 96 as other ethnicities such as Latino, Asian American, Middle Eastern, American Indian or Alaskan Native, or mixed.

Most black women and other women of color we heard from described the hair pat-downs as intrusive and disrespectful. They said they felt singled out during the process.

Wanzer, who lives in Washington, D.C. (André Chung, special to ProPublica)

“I get TSA workers have a job to do, which is to keep us safe,” said Wanzer, the Washington, D.C., resident who frequently has her hair searched. “But there needs to be a level of sensitivity about how different people perceive these kinds of searches.”

Black women have long been discriminated against for wearing their hair as it grows naturally or for sporting hairstyles mostly associated with black culture, like braids, two-strand twists, cornrows and locks. Natural black hair has been deemed unhygienic, unprofessional and radical, and it has beenpoliced for centuries.

Most white women we heard from said they didn’t mind the searches or considered them a minor annoyance.

Toni Moss, who is white, said she travels by plane about four times a month. Moss said she is occasionally flagged for a hair search. The searches happen only when she keeps her short, voluminous hair in its naturally curly state. When Moss straightens her hair before traveling, she doesn’t get a hair pat-down, she said.

“It isn’t really something that I mind. I just find it funny when it happens but, then, it doesn’t happen every time I travel,” said Moss, whose hair was searched most recently in January while going through security at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport in Texas.

“The last time it happened I was joking with TSA [officers],” Moss said. “I told them, ‘Sorry you didn’t find a pork chop in my head.’ And they laughed.”

The agency has said that even if the machines don’t sound an alarm, agents can still choose to do hair pat-downs if “an individual’s hair looks like it could contain a prohibited item or is styled in a way an officer cannot visually clear it.”

That discretion enables profiling, said Abre’ Conner, a lawyer with the ACLU of Northern California, which filed thecomplaint against the TSA in April 2014. “When that discretion comes into play, unless there is explicit- and implicit-bias training, that can play out in a way that harms people of color, black people,” Conner said.

When Jazzmen Knoderer traveled by plane for the second time in her life, in 2012, TSA officers at Dayton International Airport in Ohio asked her to step aside for a full-body pat-down. It happened again the next time she took an airplane and went through security, at an airport on the Hawaiian island of Maui in 2013. And again, for her fourth plane trip in 2014, at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.

The first time Knoderer’s hair was searched, it was short and styled in two-strand twists. The second time, she had an Afro. The third time, her Afro was no more than 3 inches long, she said.

Knoderer said she didn’t go through a body scanner or metal detector before she was searched.

“It doesn’t feel random when it happens three times in a row. It doesn’t feel random when you see that all the people around you, who don’t look like you, aren’t asked to step aside,” Knoderer said. “I don’t want to change the way my hair grows out of my head.”

The number of complaints filed with the TSA by passengers alleging racial discrimination in hair pat-downs rose from 73 in 2017 to 105 in 2018.

It’s not clear what has caused that increase. One reason may be growing scrutiny of the issue, in particular a powerful story in Cosmopolitan last year in which the writer recounted her own experiences and those of others. Most people we heard from said they had not known they could file a complaint.

The TSA is one of the most diverse agencies in the federal government. One-quarter of the nation’s 46,000 airport screeners are black and 23% are Hispanic, according to Office of Personnel Management data.

Conner, the ACLU lawyer, said black airport screeners seem just as likely to conduct hair pat-downs as white screeners. The only difference is that a black screener “doesn’t necessarily leave my hair as messed up,” she said.

Thomas Frank is a journalist in Washington, D.C., and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2012.

Photo: Mark Lennihan/AP

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Hartford Woman Facing Deportation Continues Fight to Stay in U.S., Court Grants Reprieve


Updated Wednesday, April 10, 2019 at 6:35 p.m.

By Christian Spencer, Staff Writer

HARTFORD — Facing deportation, Wayzaro Walton is on a quest to stay with her family in Hartford.

Walton on Monday received a reprieve. A U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ordered a stay of deportation for her while the federal Board of Immigration Appeals considers her case. However, federal officials said Walton will remain in a detention facility in Massachusetts.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said Walton, 34, is a convicted felon. So on a routine visit to check in with a private agency that works with ICE, officials arrested her on March 26 and transported her to detention.

According to ICE, the British-born immigrant was convicted of third-degree larceny and had several misdemeanor charges for shoplifting. After a judge in 2012 deemed Walton deportable, ICE moved in.

Advocates for Walton said ICE officials made the wrong move. That’s because Walton was pardoned for her past crimes on January 15. And according to a pardon waiver clause, an immigration statue, if she had a full pardon, her past conviction should no longer be used against her as they were used in her 2012 immigration case.

And there are other factors at play, said Erin O’Neil Baker, Walton’s attorney.

“We’ve been trying to reopen that case about her deportation, arguing that her crimes are not deportable crimes,” Baker said.

Walton’s is one of hundreds of individuals in Connecticut who have been detained by ICE officials. Since 2017, 436 people in Connecticut have been detained, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Justice.

Nationally, the fiscal year of 2018 was considered a successful year that aligned with President Donald Trump’s agenda for stricter border control and deportation of undocumented or unlawful immigrants, according to  ICE and Enforcement and Removal Operations. There were 158,581 arrests in 2018, the greatest number of arrests over the last two fiscal years, according to an ERO report.

Since January 2017 when Trump issued his executive order to “enhance public safety,” detention facility bookings nationwide have increased more than 22 percent.

In 2017, there were 4,019 immigration cases pending in Hartford, according to the U.S. Department of Justice report.

Wayzaro Walton’s wife, Tamika Ferguson, wipes away tears after a press conference on Tuesday with Attorney General William Tong in Hartford. Photo: Ann-Marie Adams

Walton Detained

Walton is a legal resident, who is married to an American citizen, Tamika Ferguson. They both have a 15-year-old daughter.  Nevertheless, ICE arrested Walton the night before her state pardon for felony larceny and other misdemeanors became effective.

Since Walton’s arrest, her wife has been talking to her by phone every day.

“She’s just ready to come home. She misses her daughter,” Ferguson said after wiping away tears in the aftermath of a press conference on Tuesday. “She’s just ready to be home.”

Last month, supporters rallied before the federal building in Hartford to help reunite Walton with her family. Consequently, they started a MoveOn.org petition to help keep Walton in Hartford with her family.

Hartford Deportation Defense’s community organizer Constanza Segovia said Walton’s pardon should have prevented her from being detained.

“ICE refuses to accept [Walton’s pardon]. And it’s not recognizing the power of pardon in Connecticut because of the process,” Segovia said.

Legal Question

At issue is a legal question that involves the state’s sovereignty. That’s why Attorney General William Tong has intervened. He recently filed an amicus brief with the Second Circuit Court arguing that the parole board should be viewed as a part of the state’s executive branch. And ICE should have recognized the pardon.

“We needed to step in to make clear that when we pardon someone, they are cleared. It should be recognized. ” Tong said. “The federal government needs to respect the sovereignty of Connecticut.”

The pardon process in Connecticut is different than other states in which a governor grants pardon. In Connecticut, a Parole Board approves pardons. Last month, Gov. Ned Lamont wrote to the Department of Homeland Security asking for Walton’s pardon to be recognized.

“I’m grateful to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals for recognizing the gravity of Wayzaro’s case and granting her a temporary stay of deportation. But this fight is far from over. We need to fight for permanent relief for Wayzaro,” Tong said. “This is another example of how the Trump Administration has separated children from their parents, and it doesn’t just happen at the border.”

Tong said he visited the border. And the country needs to have an honest discussion about immigration.

“The separation of children from their parents is not just happening at the border,” Tong said. “It’s happening here in Connecticut.”

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Eddie Perez Announces Bid for Mayor, Asks for A Second Chance


By Ann-Marie Adams, Staff Writer

HARTFORD –– Former Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez is asking for a second chance to lead the city.

Flanked by an energetic group of supporters at Arch Street Tavern on Thursday, Perez, 61, made his official announcement to run for mayor.

“It’s time for a change in city hall,” said Perez, a Democrat. “We need leadership that cares about the struggles in our neighborhoods. We need leadership to act and improve the lives of all our residents.”

Perez is hoping to follow Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim, who was convicted on corruption charges, served time, ran for office and won. Ganim was in prison for seven years for extorting city contractors. In 2015, he was reelected mayor.

Like Ganim, Perez was charged with corruption. The state tried Perez on five felonies for taking about $40,000 in kitchen and bathroom improvements from a Hartford developer, Carlos Costa. Costa was a city contractor on a Park Street development project.

But unlike Ganim, Perez did not serve prison time. His conviction was overturned by the Appellate Court in 2013 and upheld by the Connecticut Supreme Court in 2016. Perez pleaded guilty to taking a bribe and attempted first degree larceny by extortion in 2017 after the state moved to retry him. Since then, the state has revoked his pension.

Eddie Perez talks to reporters after he announced his bid for mayor of Hartford
Photo: Ann-Marie Adams

Perez will join a crowded field of candidates vying for the city’s top job. State Rep. Brandon McGee, Hartford Board of Education Chairman Craig Stallings, businessmen Stan McCauley and Aaron Lewis have all registered to run for mayor. And the incumbent mayor, Luke Bronin, launched his re-election campaign in January. All are Democrats.

In a 30-minute speech, Perez took his audience on a journey back to 1969 when he first arrived in North Hartford from Puerto Rico. He began as a Vista volunteer and founded ONE CHANE in North Hartford. He continued to work as a community organizer in the south end of Hartford before he became president of Southside Institutions Neighborhood Alliance.

He ran for mayor in 2001 and was elected the first Hispanic mayor in New England.

In 2010, he resigned when he was charged with corruption.

“I let many people down and for that I’m sorry,” Perez said. “The people of Hartford have every right to hold me accountable. I ask for your forgiveness. I ask the city to give me a second chance.”

Perez’s now works as a transportation coordinator for Capitol Region Education Council.

Former City Council member Cynthia Jennings was among the cheering crowd supporting Perez’s bid for a second chance. The crowd that packed the downtown tavern was ecstatic, shouting: “Yes, we can,” and “Si se puede.”

Jennings said she was there to support Perez because “Eddie works on the assumption that we’re all one family and that’s how the city is going to come together.”

Perez said money will be a factor. He already knows he will face Bronin, who is “probably getting money from outside the city.”

The primary election is Sept. 10 and the general election is Nov. 5.

There are 69,531 total registered voters in Hartford.

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Education Committee Approves Lamont’s Watered-down Regionalization Bill


By Kathleen Megan, CTMirror

HARTFORD — Gov. Ned Lamont’s two key education bills — including one intended to push school districts toward regionalization — were approved by a legislative committee Friday, but with a few notable changes.

Members of the Education Committee eliminated the governor’s proposal to have municipalities chip in on teacher pensions and scrapped a plan to require homeschoolers to register in their school districts.

The votes, which went largely along party lines, were on House Bill 7150 — an act implementing the governor’s budget — and Senate Bill 874, the controversial bill that includes what some view as punitive steps to push school districts toward regionalization. The latter bill also would have established a commission charged with creating a plan for redistricting.

Last week, the Lamont administration changed language in Bill No. 874 making it more palatable to many by removing every reference to “redistricting” and “consolidation” and by empowering the commission to make only recommendations.

Senate Bill 874 was one of three bills that prompted hundreds of opponents to turn out for a hearing last month out of fear their school district would be forced to merge with others and that local control would be lost.

Earlier this month, two of the bills died, and last week Lamont recast his proposal to emphasize that his effort to get school districts to share services and save resources would be voluntary.

The original bill called for the establishment of a Commission on Shared School Services, charged with developing “a plan for redistricting or consolidation of school services and school districts.”

The revised bill not only eliminates the words “redistricting,” and “consolidation,” but also replaces “plan” with “recommendations” as a way to emphasize the advisory nature of the commission’s report. It says that the commission “shall develop recommendations for the sharing of school services and additional collaborations within and among school districts.”

“He [the governor] heard the people loud and clear and he heard committee members loud and clear,” said Rep. Bobby Sanchez, D-New Britain, and co-chairman of the education committee.

The bill approved by the committee maintains the governor’s language, but also eliminates a provision that was considered punitive by many. That controversial section of Lamont’s bill required small districts– defined as districts with fewer than 10,000 residents, fewer than 2,000 students, or with fewer than three schools — to share a superintendent with another district or name a chief executive officer to oversee the schools.

Education Committee Ranking Member Kathleen McCarty voiced concerns about the governor's education bills and voted against them. Ranking Member Sen. Eric Berthel is to her right.

KATHLEEN MEGAN :: CT MIRROR

Education Committee Ranking Member Kathleen McCarty voiced concerns about the governor’s education bills and voted against them. Ranking Member Sen. Eric Berthel is to her right.

The bill said that if such a district chose instead to maintain its own superintendent without sharing, the commissioner of education could withhold funding in an amount equal to the superintendent’s salary.

However, Republicans said the steps taken by the administration to water down the bill did not alleviate their concerns.

Rep. Gail Lavielle, R-Wilton, said that despite the language changes, “which do show there was listening and acknowledgement,” she is concerned about the “original discourse and the original intent” of the bill with its references to re-districting and regionalization.

“Most disturbing,” Lavielle said, was that the original language was “all based on the premise that effective local school districts must be prodded somehow to act in their own best interests. So many school districts in Connecticut are effective and efficient already and I don’t believe the state has any business to spend time and energy interfering with them.”

In addition, Lavielle said there is nearly $1 million in the governor’s budget to create and run the commission.

“I don’t see a reason to spend that money, especially in our severe budget straits, because I don’t see a reason for the bill,” she said.

Rep. Kathleen McCarty, R-Waterford, a ranking member on the committee, said she opposed the bill because it leaves the structure for a commission to move forward.

“At some point this could turn to more forced regionalization,” she said.

She said the possibility of “forced regionalization” resulted in a “a lot of angst in the school communities through-out the state.”

Sanchez noted that the bill also is stripped of the provision that would require home-schoolers to register with their district.

“So you don’t have to send me thousands and thousands of emails,” Sanchez said to the knowing chuckles of a dozen or so home-school advocates in the attendance.

Twenty two Democrats voted in favor of Senate Bill 874, while 13 Republicans voted against it. Two legislators were absent.

After it was approved, about a dozen opponents, who were at the meeting were disappointed.

Wilton resident Jennie Wong said, “We made our voices clear. The intent is still there to regionalize. I just think they should have heard us.”

Republicans and Democrats alike spoke in favor of the committee’s decision to eliminate Lamont’s plan to have municipalities pay for 25 percent of teacher pension costs, and a greater share if teachers were paid above the statewide median.

Betsy Gara, executive director of the Connecticut Council of Small Towns (COST), sent out an email after the vote saying, “This proposal would have overwhelmed property taxpayers in small towns and cities throughout Connecticut.”

She said the plan would have shifted $73 million “onto the backs of already burdened property taxpayers…COST is very pleased that lawmakers recognized that shifting a greater property tax burden on homeowners and businesses is bad public policy. This is a big win for municipalities and property taxpayers,” Gara added.

However, those voting against the bill said they were concerned about a provision that accelerated a plan to reduce education cost sharing funds to wealthier districts.

Under Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, an agreement had been reached to phase in a shift in education funding over a 10-year period from wealthier districts to struggling, poorer districts. Lamont’s proposal would phase out the funds to wealthier districts over a shorter period of time.

“I am against this proposal,” said Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, shortly before a vote was taken. “This really represents the undoing of a bipartisan budget that worked hard to re-establish a true [Education Cost Sharing] formula that took the appropriate educational needs into consideration as part of that formula.”

McCarty said the measure would “impact adversely over 74 towns, so for that reason I will be voting ‘no’ on the bill.”

Twenty Democrats voted in favor of House Bill 7150, while 15 Republicans and two House Democrats — Liz Linehan, D-Cheshire,  and Jill Barry, D-Glastonbury — voted against it. Two legislators were absent.

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Judge Rules in Favor of Robinson v. Wentzell, Says Magnet School Discrimination Case Can Move Forward


By Ann-Marie Adams, Staff Writer

HARTFORD — U.S. District Court Judge Stefan R. Underhill on Thursday ruled that a lawsuit against the state and city of Hartford can move forward in challenging the racial quota for magnet schools aimed at integrating metropolitan area schools deemed racially imbalanced.

Judge Underhill gave the green light for plaintiffs to proceed in federal court with the Robinson v. Wentzell case, which claims that race-based enrollment quotas in public magnet schools “unjustly and unconstitutionally deny black and Hispanic children on wait list access to empty available seats in high quality magnet schools.”

At issue is the state law that mandates interdistrict magnet schools to reserve 25 percent of the classroom seats for white or Asian students. Those seats sometimes remain empty while black and Hispanic students are on a wait list because of losing out of a lottery system, advocates for the plaintiffs said. The lawsuit claims the lottery system is discriminatory.

The plaintiffs see the court’s recent ruling as a major victory.

“Yesterday was a huge victory for educational freedom and justice for Hartford black and Hispanic children and their parents,” said Gwen Samuel, Founder and President of the Connecticut Parents Union, an advocacy group based in Meriden.

LaShawn Robinson is the lead plaintiff in the case filed Feb. 15, 2018 by seven families. The California-based Pacific Legal Foundation filed the lawsuit on Robinson’s behalf because she believed the enrollment process for magnet schools was stacked against her son, who is black.

Robinson said she applied for her son to attend a magnet school but was denied for three consecutive years until her son, Jared, dropped out of his neighborhood school.

The lawsuit is a continuation for the long struggle for quality education for all students in a state with one of the highest achievement gap in the nation.

The state was confronted with this issue in the Sheff v. O’Neill case in 1989 when a coalition of parents and students filed a lawsuit that claimed the state denied Hartford students their civil rights in allowing them to remain in segregated schools based on race and socio-economic factors.

Robinson’s case attacks the state’s approach to a remedy for the 1996 Connecticut Supreme Court’s ruling in the Sheff case, which mandates integrated schools.

“Incredibly, the state incentivizes public schools to deny Black and Hispanic children opportunities for an exceptional education for no reason other than skin color,” said Oliver Dunford, a Pacific Legal attorney for Robinson and the other plaintiffs. “This lawsuit aims to protect equal access to education for all children in Connecticut.”

The state and other intervenors, including advocates for the Sheff plaintiffs, asked the court to dismiss the case. Dennis Parker, one of the attorneys on the Sheff legal team, said at a forum in January that the Robinson case was an attempt to nullify the Sheff victory of having more than 40 magnet schools aimed at an integrated and quality educational experience for Connecticut students.

“Things we thought we won, the victories we thought prevailed in civil rights and in other areas are extremely fragile,” said Parker, who serves as executive director of the National Center for Law and Economic Justice. “They are not permanent. We don’t have the luxury of saying, we won this, we can move on to the next problem because those basic wins are being attacked on a daily basis by this administration and by others outside of the administration.”

Samuel sees it differently.

“Both the State of Connecticut, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, ACLU Racial Justice Program, and the Center for Children’s Advocacy, as Sheff v. O’Neill intervenors, tried very hard to have this case thrown out of court on a variety of grounds—forgetting that every child in Connecticut regardless of their race has a right to access safe and quality educational opportunities.”

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Mayor Luke Bronin Touts Robust Fiscal Future for Hartford, More Work to Do


By Fran Wilson, Staff Writer

HARTFORD — In his third state of the city address on Monday, Mayor Luke Bronin touted Hartford as a city on the path to fiscal health after having averted a financial crisis.

Bronin said the city was fiscally sound and was attracting new businesses such as Insurtech, Stanley Black & Decker, MakerspaceCT and ThinkSynergy. Thanks in part to the state’s five-year plan that averted the city from filing bankruptcy last year. The state agreed to pay off the city’s $550 million debt.

The city was indeed at a crossroads and the mayor said he and his team made a plan and stuck with it.

“It’s easy to forget just how dangerous that crisis was,” Bronin said to the city council and others in City Hall. “It was not clear then that there was any path other than bankruptcy that would allow our city to avoid a catastrophic collapse of services.”

Bronin, who is seeking a second term in office, said the city now has enough money set aside for capital investments and to build on the city’s reserves.

But there is much more work to do.

The mayor outlined the need to increase the number of black and Hispanic police officers and fire fighters in the city, tackle youth homelessness, chronic absenteeism in the school district and invest more in Hartford neighborhoods.

The city recently hired more than 100 police officers and about half of those hired are black and Hispanic. Additionally, about 125 firefighters were hired and two-thirds are black and Hispanic, officials said.

The city has also received a grant to help reduce youth homelessness.  The city has partnered with several area organizations and has reduced chronic homelessness by 70 percent since 2015, Bronin said.

Almost 50 percent of Hartford students are considered chronically absent or on the brink of being labeled chronically absent. The city has partnered with a national organization to reengage students to lower the absenteeism rate.

“Issues like that can’t be solved inside the walls of our schools alone,” Bronin said.

There are also signs of development and other investments that dot the city’s landscape. Projects that were stalled are now on track again, such as the Albany Avenue Streetscapes, Westbrook Village and Weaver High School in the North End.

The Southend has a new library branch and Mutual Housing is turning blighted properties into an island of affordable housing.

Progress is evident, he said.

“Anyone who says that neighborhood economic development hasn’t been a priority just isn’t paying attention, or isn’t telling the truth,” Bronin said.

The first-term mayor ended his 30-minute speech by urging all residents and business owners to take ownership of the city and fight for its progress.

“We’re a city that fights when we’re down, and we fight for those who are down,” Bronin said. “We’re a city that stands together. We are the strong heart of our region, and the Capital of this great State.”

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Connecticut Must Support Community Nonprofits


By Gian-Carl Casa

Connecticut’s community nonprofits are important contributors to our quality of life and the state needs to support them with adequate funding.

Gian-Carl Casa

Community nonprofits do many things for people who live and work in our state, things like providing substance-abuse treatment, caring for troubled kids, helping people with disabilities, heating homes and bringing arts and cultural programs to communities across the state.

Gov. Ned Lamont’s proposed budget largely recognizes the role played by community nonprofits in delivering vital services to the people of Connecticut. Despite a difficult budget year, the governor would maintain funding levels for most of the programs operated by nonprofits that serve our residents.

It’s a good starting point and we thank him for that. But there is more work to be done to make sure that payments to nonprofits cover the cost of the services they provide — because in many cases they simply don’t.

Years of tough budgets included many cuts to nonprofits even as demand increased. A 2015 study of rates for behavioral health services showed an annual loss for the top ten procedures (by volume) was more than $27 million for approximately 250,000 service hours. State grants for mental health and substance abuse have been reduced by 17 percent Before the legislature approved targeted wage increases last year, nonprofits that provide services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities hadn’t had a rate increase since 2007.

Compare that with the devastating increase in deaths from opioid abuse and the 2,000-person waiting list for services from the Department of Developmental Services.

It’s been said that for many years community nonprofits have been on the receiving end of cuts because they are run by dedicated people who will provide their services regardless. While it’s true that nonprofits do their best to raise funds from donations and diversify their offerings the days of “providing their services anyway” are ending. We hear frequently about programs that have been curtailed or closed – for example, the closing of group homes for people with intellectual/developmental disabilities or reduced hours for programs that help youth with trauma in their backgrounds. It is system approaching its breaking point.

The state should treat the essential services provided by community nonprofits as if they are fixed costs in the state budget – and off the table for further cuts.

One way to maximize limited state funding is by shifting more expensive state-operated programs into the community and re-investing the savings into the service delivery system. Community nonprofits can reduce state costs and meet the demand for services our residents need in a wide variety of areas.

Community nonprofits do the hard work so government doesn’t have to. The governor’s budget proposal is a good start and should be seen by legislators as the basis for making up some of the lost ground caused by a state funding system that hasn’t kept pace with the need.

The people of Connecticut who need or use services provided by nonprofits will thank them.

Gian-Carl Casa is President & CEO of the CT Community Nonprofit Alliance.

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Obama Foundation to Recruit 100 Hartford Youth for Leadership Program


By Fran Wilson, Staff Writer

HARTFORD — The Obama Foundation is seeking 100 youth in Hartford for its community engagement training designed to “inspire, empower, and connect” young leaders who want to tackle problems in their communities.

Applications are available online and the deadline to apply is March 24. The six-month program will kick off in June. Mandatory in-person training will be held from June 7 to 9, Aug. 16 to 18 and Nov. 8 to 10.

Applicants should be between 18 and 25 years old and live in the city. Selected individuals will become a part of the Foundation’s Community Leadership Corps and gain valuable skills in community organizing, design thinking, and project management.

Hartford is one of two cities this summer to participate in the Foundations program—selected primarily because about 40 percent of Hartford residents are under 25.

Mayor Luke Bronin said Hartford is fortunate to have so many engaged youth.

““We are thrilled that the Obama Foundation chose Hartford as one of only two cities in the country for the second year of its Community Leadership Corps, which will work hand in hand with young people to help them make an even bigger impact in our community,” Bronin said.  “The Obama Foundation’s focus on investing in and supporting diverse young leaders is a perfect fit for a city like Hartford, and we are looking forward to working with them in the months ahead.”

The other city participating this summer is Chicago, home of the foundation’s headquarters. In its first year, the program was in Chicago, Phoenix, Ariz and Columbia, S.C.

The program will include three in-person trainings in each city, online trainings in between and ongoing coaching support.

“We know our young people are eager to make a difference in their communities, so the Community Leadership Corps aims to give them skills to take their passion and put it into action,” said David Simas, CEO of the Obama Foundation. “Building on the successes of last year’s program, we’re excited to introduce the Community Leadership Corps to Hartford—as well as bring together a new crop of leaders in Chicago. In doing so, we’ll help young leaders acquire the skills they need to tackle the issues in their communities.”

For more information about the 2019 program, visit www.obama.org/clc.

Photo courtesy of Obama Foundation.

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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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