Posts Tagged ‘Allison McKinnon’

BCC student broadens education

Saturday, May 14th, 2011

By Allison McKinnonThe Sun Chronicle

Chris Wilbur, a Bristol Community College 2011 graduate, was honored at the Statehouse Thursday. Photo by Amanda Swinhart for The Sun Chronicle.

Chris Wilbur, a Bristol Community College 2011 graduate, was honored at the Statehouse Thursday. Photo by Amanda Swinhart for The Sun Chronicle.

BOSTON – After spending almost five years working, traveling and living abroad, 25-year-old Chris Wilbur decided it was time to return home and go back to school to work on a college degree.

He didn’t know he would consider it one of the best decisions he would ever make.

Wilbur, a New Bedford resident who graduates this June from Bristol Community College, said his goal was to get as extensive an education as possible.

So, he took advantage of various groups and programs the college offered, including working as a grant assistant, taking over as editor-in-chief of the school newspaper, The BCC Observer, and serving as the student representative to the college board of trustees.

The Massachusetts Department of Higher Education took note of Wilbur’s achievements, naming him among the “29 Who Shine” Thursday as one of 29 outstanding students in the commonwealth. Gov. Deval Patrick was on hand to congratulate the students.

The “29 Who Shine” celebrates a group of students from the Class of 2011 representing each of the state’s 29 public campuses. The honorees were chosen based on their academic achievements and record of student leadership and community service.

At Thursday’s ceremony, Gov. Deval Patrick and his administration joined leaders in higher education to celebrate the graduates who range in age from 17 to 52, each with stories of struggle motivation, and achievement.

In a short speech to the graduates and their families, Patrick said he was proud to stand with the “29 Who Shine.”

“Collectively, they give all of us a reason to be extremely proud and extremely hopeful,” he said.

Wilbur enrolled in Bristol Community College two years ago after traveling the world, living in Yemen and Italy, and what he calls “self-educating” himself with lots of reading and writing.

“I didn’t have the college education that, in my mind, was required to enter the workforce,” he said. “So when I came back, I decided to do it local and do it cheap. From there it just expanded and I became very engaged and involved with everything at school.”

During his “extended gap year,” Wilbur said he was able to develop an appreciation for other cultures and how their views, opinions and ideas blend together. He said he felt better prepared to enter college and find the resources he needed to succeed there.

This fall, Wilbur will transfer to Brown University to study international relations and take the next step toward his goal of a career in diplomacy.

State park funding suffers silently

Monday, May 9th, 2011

Cutbacks taking toll on maintenance, staff

By Allison McKinnonThe Sun Chronicle

Officials from the Department of Conservation and Recreation say that no matter how little or how much the state’s environmental budget cuts will be, Massasoit State Park in East Taunton will have “severely limited to zero staffing” during the next fiscal year.

“We’re still operating on the budget cuts of the last two years, where we lost almost $30 million,” Commissioner Ed Lambert said. “Certainly this latest round of cuts is going to continue to have a negative impact on Massasoit and other parks, but this budget season will be nothing new.”

Budget cuts will also hit the already diminished Department of Environmental Protection, which lost 170 positions last year. The staff could face another 25 percent cut this year.

Often out of the public eye, state recreation and environmental activity, from the maintenance of state parks to the environmental monitoring and permitting, has suffered quietly through a succession of budget cuts over the past several years.

“It’s a bad recession and everyone is taking a hit, so it’s hard for the environment to come front and center,” said Jennifer Ryan, legislative director of Mass Audubon. “Clearly the other issues are important, too. I think the environment just doesn’t have the human face those issues do to gain as much support.”

The budget woes are likely to get worse. Lambert said the department already has about 25 percent less staffing than two years ago, and although the House of Representatives voted to restore about $700,000 to the department for state and urban parks, that leaves a funding gap of almost $600,000 in 2012.

“We’re hopeful that the final budget will have some additional funding to allow us to provide the basic level of services, he said. “At the end of the day, we’re more concerned about the public having access to our services and facilities.”

Lambert said cuts to the administrative line item were not restored, however, and have gotten so severe that the department cannot effectively oversee the almost 1,000 partnerships with private entities that often operate skating rinks and swimming pools.

“People often don’t think well of administration, but in an agency like ours, where we increasingly turn to leases, permits and contractors to provide services that we can’t because of cuts, we need managers,” he said. “When you’re cutting administration, you’re still impacting services.”

Ryan said the conservation department will have to scale back hours of access to parks and pools if they want to keep them open.

“When people think of Massachusetts as being a very ‘green’ state and very progressive, they don’t often realize that we’ve cut the Department of Environmental Protection by 40 percent in the last 10 years, and lost a lot of staff in other agencies” she said. “There’s a false security that we’re doing really well, when in fact we’ve scaled back dramatically.”

Ryan pointed to findings from Boston think tank Beacon Hill Institute, which found that while Massachusetts spends half the national average of per capita spending – about $63 per state resident – it operates the nation’s ninth largest state parks system.

“The real irony about our situation is that probably when people need us most because they don’t have the money to take their family to Disney World, we’re actually cutting staffing at facilities because we don’t have the funds,” Lambert said.

Cities and towns could also see the results of the budget cuts up close, Ryan said.

Limited staffing could mean limited access for local officials who need to get into state parks to remove hazardous waste or conduct water sampling and air monitoring.

The Department of Environmental Protection is facing similar staffing issues. Commissioner Kenneth Kimmell said that although some funding has been restored to the various environmental agencies, there is still a long fight ahead in the budget process.

“We’re making a strong case to the Senate to avoid layoffs, but in the worst case scenario we would have to decrease staffing again,” he said.

His department lost 170 employees in fiscal year 2011.

If the $43.6 million budget the House passed is the final number, Kimmell said about 25 percent of the staff in charge of issuing permits for wetlands development, air quality and sewer work would be cut.

Kimmell said decreased staffing would hurt economic growth because it would further slow the already time-consuming process new businesses face for various license, permits and certification they need to move into the state.

“Our responsibilities have increased rather than decreased over time,” he said. “For example, new federal mandates are about to kick in for cities and towns that require a more comprehensive job of managing storm water. (We) are going to need to step in and help them.”

The Senate Ways and Means Committee plans to release its version of the environmental budget in the next few weeks.

Tracks: Simulcasting needed

Thursday, May 5th, 2011

Plainridge officials make case at Statehouse hearing

By Allison McKinnonThe Sun Chronicle

BOSTON – Officials from Plainridge Racecourse and Suffolk Downs told legislators Tuesday the livelihood of their tracks would be at stake if Massachusetts limits their ability to broadcast live horse and greyhound racing.

Members of the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure are reviewing 18 bills, including two that would limit simulcasting rights for tracks that don’t have full racing schedules and would ban simulcasting of greyhound races starting in 2013.

Another bill would extend simulcasting rights through Dec. 31, 2012.

Plainridge President Steve O’ Toole said the racetrack supports the bill proposed by Sen. Richard Ross, R-Wrentham, because the simulcasting issue comes up almost yearly, often having to be revised and then pushed back until the next legislative session.

“Extensions for this bill have gone on for over a year, at least, and it’s just time to move forward,” he said. O’Toole said if the bills banning tracks from showing dog races and live races passed, Plainridge would be at a great disadvantage because it would keep away spectators who come to bet on races at other tracks.

He also said the bill would hurt the breeders and the Harness Horsemen’s Association of New England. “They would all take a hit,” he said.

Plainridge has pushed its opening day back to May 16 instead of the traditional April opening to keep more money in the hands of the track and its horsemen, and to ensure greater attendance at live races this summer.

Committee Chairman Sen. Thomas Kennedy, D-Brockton, defended the 80-day racing schedule, saying the shortened calendar would keep the tracks going.

Chet Tuttle, CEO at Suffolk Downs, said the national trend in horse racing is to host a fewer number of live racing days to make the purses bigger, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that is a good thing.

“Less is more, and that is true around the country,” Tuttle said. “There is simply less demand for live racing at tracks and a greater demand for simulcasting, so we need to save on expenses and attract more simulcasting to keep up.”

No breathing easy in Norfolk, Bristol

Thursday, April 28th, 2011

Counties’ air quality getting poor grades again

By Allison McKinnonThe Sun Chronicle

BOSTON – The grades are in for air quality in Bristol and Norfolk counties, and neither are bringing home a good report card this year, although Bristol County is making progress.

The American Lung Association released its annual air quality report – “State of the Air 2011″ – at a Statehouse news conference Wednesday.

Bristol County received a grade of “D” in the ozone category, up from an “F” in 2010. Norfolk County’s grade remained an “F” for the second year in a row.

But then, no Massachusetts county received better than a “D” for ozone, and most were graded “F.”

Letter grades were based on the average number of days counties had unhealthy or hazardous air quality from April through September. According to the report, Bristol and Norfolk counties recorded a total of 29 high ozone days from 2007 to 2009.

Speakers on Wednesday, however, said Bristol County stood out as a good example of how Massachusetts is reducing particulate matter with its ‘A’ grade in the 24-hour particle pollution category. Bristol had no high particle pollution days from 2007 to 2009.

Norfolk’s particulate matter pollution numbers were not available because there is not an air quality monitoring station in the county.

“In the last 12 years, I can’t remember seeing A’s in that category,” said Jeffrey Seyler, president of the American Lung Association of New England.

Particulate matter is a combination of tiny specks of soot, dust and aerosols in the air. Short-term exposure can be linked to aggravated asthma attacks in children and inflammation of lung and tissue in young, healthy adults.

Year-round exposure has been linked to greater risk for cardiovascular disease and stunted lung function growth in children and teenagers.

“Particulate matter is one of the most dangerous air pollution forms out there, so to have an overall decrease in the state is a great thing,” Seyler said. “The air is becoming healthier to breathe, but we must protect the Clean Air Act if we want to continue this trend.”

Boston University School of Public Health professor Jonathan Levy discussed the importance of making state-based progress under the 1999 federal Clean Air Act, and looked at how it measures benefits and costs to public health.

“What it breaks down to is for every one dollar we spend on air pollution control, there is $30 in health benefits,” he said. “The U.S. economy is stronger and the population is healthier as a result of these investments in air pollution control.”

Levy said that although the report focused on breathing dangerous levels of ozone or particle pollution, the potential problems don’t just involve the lungs, but the heart and other systems.

“We must continue to implement standards for diesel trucks that travel through many of our counties and regulate the emissions from coal power plants,” he said.

Katie King, public policy director for the American Lung Association of New England, said the nine at-risk groups identified in the report represent people who are vulnerable to lung diseases and illnesses who could have severe complications from air pollution.

“The ‘under age 18′ group has a particularly higher risk because kids’ lungs are still growing and their respiratory defenses aren’t fully formed,” she said.

According to the report, of the nearly 272,594 children under 18 in Bristol and Norfolk counties, there are 23,379 recorded cases of pediatric asthma.

Other at-risk groups included 223,466 people with chronic bronchitis, 1.8 million with cardiovascular disease and 112,049 with emphysema.

King said those who fall below the poverty line were identified as at-risk because many low income communities are located closer to dense traffic and urban areas. About 100,326 people were identified as living in poverty in the two counties.

“People who are living in poverty may not have as much control over their communities about where power plants are sited,” she said. “Also, many already have untreated health issues, creating a double disparity.”

King said counties such as Suffolk and Middlesex have the largest poverty levels, but each showed improvement in both ozone and particle pollution this year, similar to the progress seen in Bristol County.

Following are ozone grades for other Massachusetts counties:

Barnstable, F; Berkshire, F; Dukes, F; Essex, F; Hampden, F; Middlesex, F; Plymouth, NA; Suffolk, D; Worcester, F.

Following are particulate grades for other Massachusetts counties:

Barnstable, NA; Berkshire, B; Dukes, NA; Essex, A; Hampden, B; Middlesex, A; Plymouth, B; Suffolk, C; Worcester, B.

Government leaders? Y not

Thursday, April 21st, 2011

By Allison McKinnonThe Sun Chronicle

Members of the Hockomock Area YMCA delegation at the Statehouse in Boston, where they participated in a mock legislative session. (Sun Chronicle)

Members of the Hockomock Area YMCA delegation at the Statehouse in Boston, where they participated in a mock legislative session. (Sun Chronicle)

FOXBORO – If some local student legislators had their way, Massachusetts would make it mandatory to record all police interrogations, prevent anyone under the age of 18 from dropping out of high school and impose a 5-cent deposit on all plastic shopping bags.

For students from Foxboro’s Hockomock Area YMCA, those issues were turned into ideas for bills they debated as mock senators and representatives last month at the annual statewide Youth and Government program conference in Boston.

“Seeing them advocate in committee their bills, hold dialogue back and forth and support their arguments with research is just not something you see teens do often enough,” said Peter Rizzo, adviser for the Hockomock delegation and the Y’s area camp and outdoor education director.

Each year, high school students from YMCA’s across the commonwealth go the Beacon Hill as delegates to write and propose legislation during a series of meetings, caucuses and conferences that start in October and culminate in a mock court and legislative session in late March.

Students serve in elected positions such as youth governor or attorney general, as well as appointed positions such as the governor’s council or the editor-in-chief position in the press corps section of the program.

This year, about 100 delegates from 18 delegations participated in the program, which is a lower number than previous years, Rizzo said.

The Hockomock delegation had five students – two acting as senators and three acting as representatives.

Franklin High School junior Danny Tighe got his bill about raising the dropout age to 18 through both houses before it was vetoed by the governor. Despite the defeat, Tighe, 16, said what he learned about the legislative process would stay with him the rest of his life.

“I really enjoy Youth and Government because you can debate strongly against someone’s idea, but still be their best friend at the end of the night,” he said. “I would recommend it to absolutely everyone. Even if you have zero interest in government, everyone likes to argue.”

During the four-day conference, students heard an opening address from Attorney General Martha Coakley, lobbied for various bills and met some of their state representatives.

Rizzo thought the social aspect was most valuable piece of the program because the students made great friendships during nightly activities, such as dodge ball games, and learned how to be young professionals during the day.

“I think a great piece of the program is that it gets them to think harder about the choices they make and how that will help them reach their goals,” he said. “They all learned a lot about working with others in a professional environment and still had some fun, too.”

Rep. Jay Barrows, R-Mansfield, said he was proud of his district of Norton, Mansfield and Foxboro for “stepping up” and achieving the distinction of ‘Premier Delegation,’ a title that recognized the group’s outstanding leadership skills, respectful behavior and a positive attitude.

“All of the delegates seem to be taking it seriously and doing a good job. These kids have had so much success in such a short time, and that’s what their legacy will be to pass on to future delegates,” he said.

Barrows, a board member of the Hockomock Area YMCA, said the Foxboro YMCA branch has partnered with Foxboro High School to provide leadership classes and clubs for teens.

Barrows said by expanding those programs, he hopes to see the Youth and Government program grow more in the community.

“In the last couple of sessions, I have filed a bill to require civics to be taught in high school, and this is a good example why,” he said. “This is probably the only place these kids are being exposed to seeing how state government works.”

Jen de Souza, a first-year delegate and high school junior, said learning how democracy works made her feel more informed both inside and outside the classroom.

“It completely re-sparked and amplified my previous interest in history and civics,” said de Souza, who wrote the plastic bag deposit bill. “From learning about how an amendment is passed to watching a story on CNN, I see now how important it is to be familiar with the parliamentary procedure that governs our everyday lives.”

Tax day rally grows heated

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

Tea Party, union activists trade barbs on Common

By Allison McKinnonThe Sun Chronicle


Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty speaks at the Greater Boston Tea Party's third annual Tax Day rally on Boston Common in Boston Friday. (Associated Press photo)

BOSTON -Tea party activists and union members from around the state clashed during a Tax Day rally on Boston Common, often shouting obscenities at one another and continuously trying to block each others’ signs.

Activists of the populist movement organized the rally at the Common’s Parkman Bandstand Friday afternoon with speakers from several nonprofit groups, talk radio shows, and Republican leaders.

About 500 people attended the rally, including a few dozen tea party critics who said they wanted to highlight what they called the group’s right wing agenda.

Police at times stepped in between tea partiers and union representatives whose disagreements over health care, pension and education reform often escalated to face-to-face yelling matches.

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who has courted tea partiers in his bid for the GOP presidential nomination, was the keynote speaker. “On this Tax Day, we need to tell the bureaucrats to stop spending and to not raise the debt ceiling limit,” he said. “The bottom line is the government is too damn big.”

Pawlenty and three other potential Republican residential nominees – talk show host Herman Cain, ex-Louisana Gov. Buddy Roemer and former Pennsylvania GOP Sen. Rick Santorum – spoke at an earlier Tea party rally in Concord, N.H., Friday, discussing similar themes of smaller government and lower taxes.

In Boston and New Hampshire, Pawlenty listed what he called President Barack Obama’s failed promises and said modern-day Paul Revere patriots will take back the country.

“We are focusing on change and restoring America one American and one tea party at a time,” he said.

Greater Boston Tea Party President Christen Varley said the Tax Day rally was a starting point for the group to reach out to the public and gear up for a string of candidate visits to Boston this summer.

“We felt that by bringing a Republican presidential contender to Massachusetts, we could offer voters an opportunity to hear a different point of view on the role of government than we usually hear in this state,” she said.

The rally also featured live music and speakers from the Pioneer Institute, an independent public policy think tank, as well as Karyn Polito, a former state representative and candidate for state treasurer.

Polito asked rally attendees to “accept the responsibility of their freedom,” and criticized government spending, calling for a balanced budget amendment.

“We’re not angry, we care, we’re concerned and we’re anxious,” she said in reference to the federal 2012 budget announced this week.

Many of the hundreds of attendees were local college students, families with children, and some state officials.

Michael Haughey of Weymouth said this was his third time attending a tea party rally. He said he believes the tea party has the ability to change the direction of the nation.

“We need, as people, to get back to the way it was when men like Thomas Jefferson led this country. They led by example and history has proven that’s all that has ever worked properly,” he said.

Haughey said he brought his young son along to teach him more about democracy. “It’s when you’re young that you learn values and what not to do,” he said. “The Constitution isn’t being taught correctly in school anymore, and we need to show our children a better model of what America should be like.”

T officials deliver apology

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

By Allison McKinnonThe Sun Chronicle


Train pulls into Attleboro station. (Staff file photo by Tom Maguire.)

BOSTON – Calling commuter rail breakdowns and delays over the long, brutal winter “unacceptable,” transportation officials apologized to state legislators Tuesday and pledged to improve communication and review maintenance procedures to rebuild train service.

“We are committed to strengthening our operation and we are learning the lessons of this past winter to improve reliability for next winter,” MBTA General Manager Richard Davey told the Joint Committee on Transportation.

Davey was among officials from the MBTA, Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Company and Massachusetts Department of Transportation called in to testify about weather-related and mechanical failures that stranded countless commuters this winter.

Transportation Secretary Jeffrey Mullan blamed the system’s aging locomotives for the delays. The MBTA is in the process of replacing or overhauling the engines that have exceeded their 20-year life expectancy.

“The commuter rail utilizes 60 locomotives each day, and we have 18 locomotives that are more than 20 years old,” he said. “We are aggressively trying to get improved equipment.” In January, the MBTA introduced to the fleet two 16-year-old locomotives – the newest in the state.

The diesel-electric locomotives were leased from the Utah Transit Authority, and the MBTA is in negotiations to lease seven additional locomotives from Utah, Davey said.

Mullan also blamed delays on track switches that short-circuited because heaters attached to them could not melt the snow fast enough.

Mullan said of the 1,800 workers the Massachusetts Bay Railroad Company employs, about 1,200 are maintenance workers.

Retraining them to look for early signs of equipment problems is a major part of the company’s plans to reduce future delays, he said.

Davey said the number of delays over the winter months were “unacceptable” for customers, and promised to improve communications to riders about delays. He said the MBTA likely would make a decision by the end of the year on whether to renew its contract with the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad, the private venture contracted to operate commuter rail lines.

The contract with the MBCR runs through mid-2013, but Davey said at least 18 months likely would be needed if the agency picks a new contractor or takes over operation of the system itself.

Still, Davey tried to put the delays into context, noting that 2,800 trains operated with delays of nine minutes or less during one of Massachusetts’ harshest winters in years.

Davey said that while 78 percent of commuter trains ran on time from December through February, that simply wasn’t good enough.

He said the MBTA has streamlined the process of issuing alerts to commuter via text, email or on, as well as broadcasting information on an AM radio signal at commuter rail parking lots so commuters can wait for updates in their cars.

“During any storm, information is as important as the service itself,” Davey said.

Social media such as Twitter was used for the first time to update customers during storms this past winter and was also available for customers to register their opinions.

In a few weeks, Davey said the MBTA plans to unveil “Commuter Connect,” a new communication tool that will allow riders to take and send pictures of damaged MBTA vehicles or structures directly to the maintenance management team.

“This tool will greatly enhance the speed to address and potentially schedule repairs,” he said. “We will respond to 95 percent of these issues within five days. Even if it’s just to say ‘We’ll get back to you’ or ‘We’ve fixed it,’ our customers deserve answers.”

Former MBTA executive James O’Leary told the committee that commuter rail ridership had increased 400 percent over the last 30 years but there had been little equipment modernization.

The legislative committee, chaired by Rep. William Straus, D-Mattapoisett, and Sen. Thomas McGee, D-Lynn, took testimony only from officials at Tuesday’s oversight hearing. It scheduled another hearing for May 3, when riders would be invited to speak.

Working women

Monday, April 11th, 2011

Panel told fewer seeking political office today

9147903BOSTON – When freshman state Rep. Shaunna O’Connell decided to run for the state Legislature last year, she thought being a mother would be a campaign advantage.

Her opponent didn’t see it that way, saying she wouldn’t be able to care for her children if elected. The charge made headlines, raising a familiar question for women politicians.

“The mere fact that I had children backfired on me,” O’Connell, R-Taunton, said at a panel discussion this week at Suffolk Law School’s Rappaport Center.

“My experience was to establish my career when I was younger, and then I took time off to have children before going back to work full-time,” she said. “But there’s no ‘one size fits all’ model, and politics will always take you back.”

O’Connell’s participation in an all-female discussion on the challenges women face in their political careers comes at a low point in women’s participation in the Legislature. While women represent about 51 percent of the Massachusetts population, they comprise only 23 percent of state lawmakers – the lowest percentage since 1998, according to the Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus.

Panel member Leanne Doherty, a professor of political science at Simmons College, said the under-representation of women in Massachusetts politics is not because women candidates don’t win the races they enter, but because women aren’t running in the first place.

“Women don’t see themselves as viable candidates for office and they need to be asked upwards of eight times to run, as opposed to their male counterparts who only need to be asked once,” she said.

O’Connell, elected to the 3rd Bristol District after running a grass roots “meet the people” campaign last year, said her road to politics was vastly different from her colleagues.

As a self-employed court reporter and mother, O’Connell said she was never involved in politics until she got involved with helping to pass new guidelines requiring sex offender registration for violators of Jessica’s Law, a statute that requires a 10-year minimum mandatory sentence for sex crimes against children.

“What made me run is probably what keeps a lot of people from running – and that was my children,” she said. “Once I found an issue to be passionate about, I realized there were a lot more things that I wanted to change and could change.” Now in her fourth term as a state representative, Martha Walz, D-Boston, said her decision to run for political office later in life was “enormously frightening.”

“It was a long decision-making process for me, most of which was me swearing I would never run for office,” Walz said. “I finally got to the point later in my years where I had the personal courage to do it and risk losing in public.”

The panel’s moderator, Janet Wu of Channel 5′s political reporting team, brought up the impact the media has on women during their campaigns and time in office.

Although former Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey said she thought she was treated fairly by the media during her campaign, she said that both the public and the mainstream media punish female candidates when they show too much emotion or are too reserved.

“I think that all female politicians are aware of the very narrow emotional band of which we can occupy without risking some kind of comment or criticism,” she said. “It comes back to the idea of self confidence and feeling confident that you’re qualified to be standing up there doing a job where everyone sees you.”

O’Connell said the public needs to let women know they are valued in any workplace and educating young women on the importance of public involvement is part of the process of bringing more women into the political arena.

“There are a lot of benefits of being a woman in any work environment, and the compassion and consideration women bring is unparalleled,” she said.

Bigger payoffs at track

Monday, April 11th, 2011

State takes less from Plainridge

BOSTON – With opening day at Plainridge Racecourse just around the corner, gamblers betting on live horse races at the Plainville track can look forward to bigger payoffs this summer.

Due in part to a new, lower “takeout” rate of 15 percent, anyone placing a winning wager on a horse at the beginning of the racing season will pocket the highest payoffs per capita in the nation, officials said.

Takeouts are a percentage on every dollar that the track and state take out of bets. The typical rate is 19 percent.

By lowering the percentage, gamblers will get a better return on investment, Plainridge General Manager Steve O’ Toole said at a state Racing Commission hearing Wednesday.

“Lowering this rate means more money is returned to the customers in the overall pool,” he said. “We would rather have someone with a few hundred dollars who is a savvy gambler keep running it through than someone who places thousands of dollars on one bet.”

The commission approved the takeout policy, which will run as a promotion starting on opening day, May 16, and run through the end of June.

“I think this is a great move for bettors and an innovative and aggressive move for a small track,” commission Chairman Joseph VanDeventer said.

Funds from takeouts go to the horsemen, maintenance of the track and barn, state taxes and to pay simulcasting fees.

Tracks are usually charged a 3 percent fee for the simulcast signals, but the prices can go up drastically for signals from big events, such as the Kentucky Derby.

O’Toole said the rate will apply to all “show” bets, meaning the horse you bet on finishes first, second or third; “place” bets, meaning your horse must take first or second place, and the more difficult “win” bets, when your horse is the first place winner. “Exotic” bets, or those involving two horses in the same race, also fall under the new takeout rate, he said.

“By lowering the takeout rate to 15 percent, the average gambler will be able to stay in the game a lot longer,” O ‘Toole said.

Community colleges committed to their cause

Monday, April 4th, 2011

Community college officials set on increasing programs

By Allison McKinnonThe Sun Chronicle

ATTLEBORO – Bristol Community College students will now have some extra incentives to transfer to a four-year state university – but only if they can keep their grades up.

The University of Massachusetts at Amherst announced last week it would offer free tuition to any students graduating with a 3.0 grade point average or higher seeking to transfer from one of the state’s 15 community colleges. And, students who have at least a 2.5 GPA will automatically be accepted as transfer students to the university.

Bristol Community College's Attleboro campus is at forefront of growing national trend. (Staff file photo by Mike George)

Bristol Community College's Attleboro campus is at forefront of growing national trend. (Staff file photo by Mike George)

BCC spokeswoman Sally Cameron said the announcement comes as part of a longstanding joint-admission collaboration between community colleges, UMass, and state universities to encourage students to transfer.

“One of the problems students often have is being able to transfer to four-year schools from community colleges, and joint admission has always helped them do so,” she said. “But what they are doing at UMass Amherst really smoothes the way by taking some of the financial burden off and that’s a great thing.”

She said when the collaboration started over 15 years ago, the goal was to give students a cost-effective way to get their education.

Although the UMass-Amherst announcement was greeted as good news, other issues were on the minds of the presidents from eight community colleges last week when they testified at an oversight hearing before the Joint Committee on Higher Education in Boston to update lawmakers on enrollment statistics, the programs on their campuses and their legislative priorities.

Committee member Rep. Nicolas Boldyga, R-Southwick, said he and the presidents should continue to be committed to increasing the number of community college grads who stay in Massachusetts after they graduate was crucial to boosting the state’s economy.

“We need to encourage these grads to make their homes here, to work here and become taxpayers in the commonwealth,” he said.

Ronald Voltz, a student in the business administration program at BCC’s Attelboro campus said legislators might have a hard time convincing community college and state university graduates to stay in Massachusetts if large corporations continue to leave the state.

“The state has to have something for us to look forward to. Bring in more companies and we’ll stay,” he said. “I have a pension from my time in the military, but I feel for the young people who work and go to school at the same time and there’s nothing for them when they get out.”

Voltz served in the military for 24 years and worked at a company before returning to school. Voltz said he has two semesters left to complete his associate degree and plans to transfer to a Massachusetts state school to get a four-year degree before returning to the Washington, D.C., area to look for work.

“The Boston job market isn’t very good, so I have no problem leaving the state,” he said. “Wherever the jobs are is where I’m going to go.”

In 2010, some 700 of the 1,035 graduates from BCC had a 3.0 GPA or higher, and 44 graduates transferred to UMass Amherst, Cameron said. Most BCC students transfer to either Bridgewater State University or UMass Dartmouth, with almost 400 students transferring to those universities in 2010, she said.

Seekonk resident Michael Lasko, 31, is also part of the business administration program at BCC’s Attleboro campus, and plans to graduate by the end of the year.

Lasko was a commercial truck driver before he went back to school and now works at the administrative offices for Waste Management at Patriot Place in Foxboro.

“BCC makes it pretty easy for someone in my position to return to school, learn new skills and get the education that you really need out there these days,” he said. “What drew me in was the online and night classes, which made me realize, ‘Hey, I can make this work.’”

Lasko said between having a family and working full time, the flexibility that community colleges offer is unparalleled. That flexibility, he says, has allowed him to excel and become a member of the Commonwealth Honor Scholars program and maintain a 3.93 GPA.

“With my busy work schedule, I try to squeeze in two to three classes a semester,” he said. “I’ve taken a lot of classes at night and online and BCC’s been very accommodating.”

Lasko said the 10-minute commute was also a motivating factor to decide to further his education.

“If I had to drive an hour or two, this probably wouldn’t have happened.”

Cameron said the number of satellite campuses and the increase in online courses offered at BCC allows for more students to find classes closer to their homes. Ninety percent of BCC graduates live within 30 miles of campus, she said.