Yearly Archives: 2012

For-profit schools shut doors on short notice to students

Officials of the for-profit Sawyer School have given its estimated 1,200 students, and the state, just a few days’ notice that they are closing their post-secondary programs in Bridgeport, Hartford and Hamden. “I regret to inform you that the School’s board has directed that the Sawyer Schools and Butler Business School suspend operations. Classes scheduled to begin in January have been cancelled,” the Dec. 30 notice from a school official reads. According to its website, Sawyer also has schools in Providence and Pawtucket, R.I. Information was unavailable Monday on whether these facilities, in addition to the three in Connecticut, are closing. Continue Reading →

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Fiscal cliff deal is tough for some liberals

Washington — The deal being hammered out in the Senate Monday to avoid the fiscal cliff may be tough for some liberals, including those in the Connecticut delegation, to swallow. The proposal would raise about $600 billion over 10 years, far less than President Obama and congressional Democrats had wanted, by allowing taxes to rise on households earning $450,000 or more a year and through other tax increases. While some liberals are balking at the deal, Sen. Joe Lieberman has embraced it. “I don’t agree no deal is better than a bad deal,” he said. But others, including Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, say they won’t vote for the deal because it fails to do what the president campaigned on: raise taxes on families earning more than $250,000 a year. Harkin, and other liberals, think social programs will be cut instead to avoid “sequestration,” a number of deep automatic cuts slated to occur Wednesday. Continue Reading →

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Esty enters Congress under Newtown spotlight

Washington — When Rep.-elect Elizabeth Esty, one of dozens of newly elected members of Congress attending a Harvard policy seminar, was pulled out of class by news of the Newtown shootings, her days as an ordinary House freshman were over.Unlike the rest of the 67-member House freshman class, Esty, a 53-year-old Democrat, won’t be able to take time learning the ropes during the first weeks she’s in office. Instead, from the moment she’s sworn in on Wednesday, Esty will be thrust into the middle of a national debate on gun control — led by President Obama — because she will represent Newtown in Congress.”You don’t always choose the issues, the issues choose you,” Esty said. As representative for Newtown, Rep.-elect Elizabeth Esty arrives to Congress for her freshman year at the center of the gun control issue. Esty said she packed her bags and drove from Cambridge to Newtown as soon as she determined the shooting occurred in her district, even though she was not officially its representative yet.That duty belongs to Rep. Chris Murphy, D-5th,  until the current Congress ends Tuesday. Murphy has been elected to the Senate.An irony of the situation is that the Republican Esty defeated for the 5th District seat, former state Sen. Andrew Roraback, shared her advocacy of gun control — something that helped win him the backing of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.As a Republican, Roraback would have played a special role in the looming congressional fight over gun control.But no matter, it’s Esty’s job now.”This is an issue that requires the representative of Newtown to play a significant role,” Esty said. “That obviously changes priorities.”University of Connecticut political science professor Ron Schurin said, “I would suspect she would not want to be thrust into the spotlight by something like this.”But she has.”Of course, the whole delegation — and many senior Democrats from throughout the country — will be involved in the fight.But the tragedy is already shaping how Esty approaches her new job. She said the shootings forced her to postpone hiring staff. Continue Reading →

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Commissioner Pryor: Let’s build a better public school web tool

When State Commissioner of Education Stephen Pryor unveiled Connecticut’s “School Performance Index” (SPI) website earlier this year, the initial story grabbed front-page headlines, but the substance was underwhelming. Both the Connecticut Mirror’s Jacqueline Rabe Thomas and the Hartford Courant’s Kathy Megan reported that the SPI site revealed few surprises. If the Commissioner wants to engage the public more effectively in education reform, then one simple step — among other, more substantive ones — is to create better information tools that offer more meaningful comparisons of Connecticut’s public schools, drawing upon lessons learned from the SmartChoices site developed at Trinity College. In simple terms, the SPI site averages three years of Connecticut standardized test scores into one composite index for each school. While the underlying test data has been publicly available on the CTReports.com site for several years, it’s now compressed into one number. Continue Reading →

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House Democrats name nine new co-chairs

The House Democratic majority announced nine new committee co-chairs Friday night as J. Brendan Sharkey of Hamden prepares to succeed Chris Donovan as speaker of the House next month. Four of the joint House-Senate committees — Energy and Technology, Government Administration and Elections, Human Services and Labor — will have two new House and Senate co-chairs. The Senate leaders were announced Monday. The authority to name new co-chairs belongs to Sharkey, who is now holds the No. 2 post of House majority leader. Continue Reading →

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Sending children to live out-of-state — a decision for DCF, not courts

State lawmakers have stripped state judges of the authority to send children who break the law to out-of-state facilities for treatment. Instead, the decision will be left to the Department of Children and Families, a state agency that has been monitored by the federal courts for decades for failing too many children in its care. As part of its effort to reform the troubled agency — and with the approval of many child advocates — agency officials have made it a priority to avoid sending children to live out of state. But that initiative — which has resulted in almost 300 fewer abused, neglected or delinquent children living out-of-state today — at times has come into direct conflict with a judge’s order. DCF Commissioner Joette Katz: ‘We need to be doing a much better job.’ Continue Reading →

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Senate approves Sandy funding, but bill faces uncertain future

Washington – A $60 billion emergency spending bill to pay for the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy was approved by the Senate Friday, but the final fate of the bill is very much in doubt. Before voting 61-33 for the bill, the  Senate  considered more than 20 amendments that would have either stripped or added money to the package and rejected most of them. Senators also rejected an alternative, proposed by Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., to cut the amount of aid to $23.8 billion. Coats said his bill would provide for immediate needs but allow congressional committees time to review documentation for other, longer-term rebuilding plans. Most of the money in the bill would go to New York and New Jersey. Continue Reading →

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Commissioner, let’s build a better school-rating system

By Jack Dougherty, Associate Professor of Educational Studies, Trinity College
When State Commissioner of Education Stephen Pryor unveiled Connecticut’s “School Performance Index” (SPI) website earlier this year, the initial story grabbed front-page headlines, but the substance was underwhelming. Both the Connecticut Mirror’s Jacqueline Rabe Thomas and the Hartford Courant’s Kathy Meganreported that the SPI site revealed few surprises. If the Commissioner wants to engage the public more effectively in education reform, then one simple step — among other, more substantive ones — is to create better information tools that offer more meaningful comparisons of Connecticut’s public schools, drawing upon lessons learned from the SmartChoices site developed at Trinity College. In simple terms, the SPI site averages three years of Connecticut standardized test scores into one composite index for each school. While the underlying test data has been publicly available on the CTReports.com site for several years, it’s now compressed into one number. Continue Reading →

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Microgrid project deadline nears. Do communities understand the concept?

Norwich – It was only for a few hours during Tropical Storm Irene, but the William W. Backus Hospital here still got a hard lesson on what losing power in the heat of summer meant. While the hospital has emergency generators, “they’re not large enough to power everything,” said Keith Fontaine, vice president and chief administrative officer. “There are red outlets all over the hospital that are for emergencies. All the operating rooms and inpatient units automatically switch over, but not everything –including air conditioning.” That’s right, no AC plus the windows don’t open. Continue Reading →

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State revenue chief takes aim at identity theft in tax system

Connecticut’s top tax official is optimistic that a new initiative designed to target identity theft will better protect Connecticut residents and businesses from security breaches and will recoup millions of dollars in income tax fraud for the state’s coffers. But Department of Revenue Services Commissioner Kevin B. Sullivan was more skeptical about a controversial initiative enacted by the General Assembly last week. It assumes $1 million in fraud exists in a new state tax benefit for working poor families. Thursday, Sullivan and Attorney General George C. Jepsen outlined the identity theft program that relies both on new safeguards implemented by state government, as well as increased vigilance on the part of all taxpayers. Kevin Sullivan, left, commissioner of revenue services, and Attorney General George Jepsen outline the state’s new identity theft program. Continue Reading →

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Audit cites Department of Public Health procedural weaknesses

The state Department of Public Health issued licenses to day-care facilities without the needed criminal background checks on employees, failed to take action against a dentist despite four complaints, and paid more than $25,000 to volunteer stem cell grant reviewers that it might not have had the authority to spend, according to a state audit released Thursday. The audit, which covered the period from July 1, 2007 through June 30, 2009, also raised concerns about the department’s oversight of contracts and overtime payments, and inadequate membership of licensing boards and commissions. State law requires that prospective day-care employees submit to state and national criminal records checks. The department must also check whether they’re included in the state’s child abuse registry. But the Auditors of Public Accounts reviewed three day-care centers that were newly licensed during the 2009 fiscal year and found that two of them got licenses even though three employees’ background checks had not been completed. Continue Reading →

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State’s unemployed will be first to feel fall over the ‘fiscal cliff’

Washington — Eventually, nearly every American will feel the economic pain brought on by going over the so-called fiscal cliff, but more than 43,000 unemployed Connecticut workers would be among the first. That’s because those long-time unemployed workers will stop receiving benefits next week unless Congress acts in the next few days. “Both houses of Congress need to grow up and make sure 2.3 million Americans don’t lose their benefits,” said Mitchell Hirsch, an unemployed worker advocate at the New York-based National Employment Law Project. There are both humanitarian and economic reasons to continue those benefits, Hirsch said. A sudden loss of money from Washington, which the unemployed usually spend quickly on necessities, would hurt local economies, he said. Continue Reading →

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Malloy names first openly gay justice to high court

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who took office two years ago pledging to make the courts as diverse as Connecticut’s society, today nominated Andrew J. McDonald as the first openly gay justice of the state Supreme Court. McDonald, 46, was an influential legal voice as co-chairman of the General Assembly’s Judiciary Committee before he left the legislature two years ago to become Malloy’s top legal adviser as general counsel. He is a longtime confidant of Malloy. Before becoming a legislator, he served as city attorney in Stamford when Malloy was mayor. Judicial nominee Andrew J. McDonald
Malloy said he selected McDonald to work for him both times for a simple reason. Continue Reading →

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Blumenthal wins concession for Newtown donations

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., has persuaded MasterCard, Visa, Discover, American Express, and PayPal/eBay to waive processing and transaction fees for donations made to organizations providing relief to Newtown. Last week, Blumenthal sent letters to five fundraising websites,  four credit card companies and four wireless companies calling on them to waive  the fees, which range from six to 13 percent of each contribution. “I hope others follow these companies in waiving fees for donations made to worthwhile charities that will benefit the families and Newtown community that were victims of this horrific tragedy,” Blumenthal said in a statement. “The people of Newtown deserve every dollar of every donation of these charitable contributions.” Continue Reading →

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New Year’s Deal?

Connecticut’s lawmakers won’t be spending New Year’s at home. House GOP leaders ordered all House members return to Washington Sunday night and warned them they might work through Jan. 2, the last day of this Congress. The Senate came back to work on Thursday.  But even if both houses of Congress are in session on New Year’s Eve, the nation could still plunge over the fiscal cliff. Continue Reading →

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