Posts Tagged ‘Laura Krantz’

Hopkinton Girl Scouts Welcome Marathon, Greece, Mayor

Friday, April 16th, 2010

By Laura Krantz, The Metro West Daily News

BOSTON – How many people does it take to celebrate the 2,500th anniversary of the Battle of Marathon?

In the case of a State House fete, held days before the 114th running of the Boston Marathon, the answer would be: 70 Girl Scouts from Hopkinton, 71 runners from Greece, the governor, some legislators, the mayor of Marathon and a Greek-speaking aide to U.S. Sen. Scott Brown with the last name of Coakley.

The celebration, organized by the Hopkinton Girl Scouts, was part of the ramp up to Marathon Monday and included discussions of Hopkinton’s relationship with its sister city of Marathon, the close ties runners feel with Hopkinton residents and the pure joy of running.

Among the celebration’s participants were Gov. Deval Patrick, Senate President Therese Murray, Sen. Karen Spilka of Ashland, Rep. Carolyn Dykema of Holliston and Spyridon Zagaris, the mayor of Marathon.

“Everyone runs for a reason,” said Meghan Krueger, a Girl Scout who shared the story of her long recovery after breaking her hip while trying to set a personal record by running a five-minute mile.

“As for me, initially I ran for the sheer love of it,” said Krueger, who’ll be watching from the starting line Monday in Hopkinton.

The Greek runners arrived Wednesday and are staying with Hopkinton families during their visit.

Greek runner Markos Tountas of Tripoli said he enjoyed the event, but was looking forward to time to resting before the race, which will be his sixth.

Is he nervous?

“No, because I’ve run a lot of marathons. When you start a marathon, you forget everything,” Tountas said.

When Zagaris, the Marathon mayor, visited with Girl Scouts after the event, a show of friendship nearly became an international incident when Corey Gaston, 15, tried to show him the many badges covering her Girl Scout sash. The mayor thought she was giving it to him, and started to take it from her.

Corey relinquished the sash and posed for a picture with the mayor.

“He’s very nice,” Gaston said. “Hopefully he’ll come back next year with his own sash,” Gaston said.

“We’ll give him one,” she added.

The mayor, speaking in Greek as a friend translated, said he thought the occasion was fantastic.

Zargaris said the city of Marathon symbolizes peace and love between nationalities. He said he is excited to watch the race, adding that the important part isn’t finishing, but participating and trying to finish.

Many Girl Scouts said they look forward to the event every year and will be in the midst of the controlled chaos Monday morning.

“You can’t really do anything else that day,” said Brooke O’Brien, 17, a senior at Hopkinton High School.

Spilka called the event terrific.

“My only regret was that I couldn’t speak more Greek,” she said during the reception, which featured baklava and Girl Scout cookies.

Maria Coakley, an aide to U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, came to Boston to attend the event on the senator’s behalf.

Speaking in Greek, she wished the runners good luck and said the senator, a triathlete himself, was sad he couldn’t attend.

Hopkinton Selectmen R.J. Dourney and Brian Herr also attended.

“The Girl Scouts did a wonderful job organizing everything and making the runners from Greece feel welcome,” Dourney said.

House votes to allow casinos, slots

Friday, April 16th, 2010

By Laura KrantzThe Metro West Daily News

BOSTON – After years of discussion and one defeat, the House of Representatives approved casino gambling with less than two days of debate.

The House passed a bill late yesterday to allow gambling in Massachusetts with two resort casinos and up to 3,000 slot machines in the state.

The final vote was 120-37, giving Speaker Robert DeLeo more than a two-thirds majority, which the governor couldn’t veto.

Debate yesterday was punctuated by long recesses, during which legislators and lobbyists gathered in State House hallways, whispering on cell phones and huddling in muted conversations.

The bill passed on the same day the House released its version of the 2011 budget, which could cut up to 1,500 jobs and $234 million in aid to cities and towns.

Just before the bill’s passage DeLeo called it “the envy of any other state in the country,” and he congratulated lawmakers on their work.

The bill now moves to the Senate for debate.

Rep. John Fernandes, D-Milford, whose hometown is a potential resort casino site, was among the lawmakers to support the bill.

Addressing the House just before the bill’s passage, Fernandes emphasized gambling’s inevitability.

“This debate has not been about whether it should come, but what we do to control that,” Fernandes said.

Fernandes, who voted against casinos in 2008, said he entered the debate uncertain about how he would vote. He said he’s now convinced the bill sufficiently provides for local control.

“Despite all of the discussion about the ills and the goods, there is a certain inevitability about its march across America and into our commonwealth.”

Rep. Tom Sannicandro, D-Ashland, who voted against the casino bill in 2008, called DeLeo’s proposal a great bill.

Sannicandro said he was pleased with the safeguards it gives to cities and towns, adding that job creation is now his main concern.

“I think what we need to do is get the economy working and get back to work,” Sannicandro said.

State Rep. Karyn Polito, R-Shrewsbury, voted no.

Though she supports the idea of expanded gambling, she opposed the bill because it did not provide a competitive bidding process for racetrack owners like it did for resort casinos, a component she believes will maximize job and revenue possibilities.

Polito said she addressed this issue with the speaker, and proposed an amendment, but “there was no willingness to apply the same rules to the racetrack owners.”

Rep. Carolyn Dykema, a Holliston Democrat, also voted against the bill.

“I’ve been a skeptic from the beginning,” Dykema said.

For six months, she said, she’s received calls from constituents concerned about the damage a big casino could do to small businesses.

State Rep. Danielle Gregoire, D-Marlborough, voted for the bill. “This legislation is going to create thousands of jobs in Massachusetts,” she predicted.

State Rep. Ruth Balser, D-Newton, who opposed the bill, said she expected the outcome.

“Nonetheless I’m disappointed that the House so overwhelmingly supported introducing slot machines into Massachusetts,” Balser said.

“This is a very bad public policy decision, and not good for the economy of Massachusetts and certainly not good for Massachusetts culture,” Balser said.

State Rep. Kay Khan, a Democrat from Newton, had recently suggested she might vote against gambling, but she voted for the bill.

Khan did not return a call for comment last night after the vote.

While most of the 216 amendments failed, one that did pass prohibits gambling companies from contacting problem gamblers who have put themselves on do-not-contact lists. Another aims to require only American-made slot machines.

Laura Everett, executive director for the Massachusetts Council of Churches, lobbied against the bill and was teary outside the House chamber last night.

She called slot machines “the most predatory gambling product available.”

The council will continue to fight, she said. “This is just one round in a very long battle,” Everett said.

DeLeo Gambling Bill Released

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

By Laura KrantzThe Metro West Daily News

BOSTON – Speaker Robert DeLeo unveiled his long-awaited expanded gambling bill on Thursday, saying the plan that could include a casino to the MetroWest could create as many as 18,000 new jobs.

“The legislation that I’m going to be proposing here today is a jobs bill,” DeLeo told a crowd of legislators, lobbyists and union workers flanking the State House’s Grand Staircase.

DeLeo said the bill will provide for two resort casinos and up to 750 slots at each of the state’s four race tracks, generating an estimated $1.7 billion for Massachusetts. One of those casinos has been proposed for Milford.

“My concern is for the workers…and that’s what this bill is all about,” DeLeo said.

DeLeo said there would not be a public hearing on the bill before the House begins debate, scheduled for April 13.

MetroWest legislators had mixed reactions to DeLeo’s proposal.

Rep. John Fernandes, a Milford Democrat who might see a casino in his hometown, said he likes the bill.

“In broad strokes, it meets the goal of getting gaming into Massachusetts,” Fernandes said after DeLeo’s press conference.

Fernandes said he would have preferred one, not two, casinos, and wants to see more details about zoning issues and other technical aspects. But he said he is glad the proposal gives host communities a say in the planning.

“Overall it sounds like a bill I can embrace,” said Fernandes. He said DeLeo, who met with Fernandes while drafting the bill, was responsive to his concerns for Milford.

Sen. Richard Moore, D-Uxbridge, said Thursday afternoon he hadn’t studied the proposal in depth yet, but is open to the proposal of a Milford casino.

Moore said if the bill passes, he will seek the official opinion of the town.

“I want to make sure first of all that Milford supports the bill,” he said.

David Nunes, the Colorado developer who has submitted a proposal for a Milford casino, said he is poised to buy the land at any moment.

Nunes said he is “very confident that we have the best location in the state.”

Although DeLeo said he hoped to win the support “of every member of the House,” some MetroWest lawmakers remain opposed.

“I think it’s a terrible way to jumpstart the economy,” Rep. Ruth Balser, D-Newton, said. “I consider this a sad day for Massachusetts.”

Balser said she is working with House colleagues to generate opposition for the bill.

Sen. Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton, also opposes expanded gambling, because he said it would hurt local businesses.

Gov. Deval Patrick held an impromptu press conference after DeLeo’s announcements, saying the House should hold a public hearing before voting and update the research backing the bill.

The governor said he has always supported a limited number of resort casinos but does not support racinos.

“We are still a long way apart on the idea of slots at the tracks,” said Patrick, but he would not say whether he would veto a bill if it contained provisions for slots.

Other legislators are waiting for more details, including the casino locations and the licensing procedure.

“My main concern right now is how it’s going to be determined where these venues are going to be located,” said Rep. Danielle Gregoire, D-Marlborough.

Rep. Karyn Polito, R-Shrewsbury, said that although she supports expanded gambling, she is concerned about how the gambling licenses are to be awarded.

“We need an open and competitive bidding process that ensures we are putting the best interests of the state first, not those of special interest groups,” she said in a statement issued Thursday.

Casino Study: Mass $ Leaving the State

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010

By Laura KrantzThe Metro West Daily News

A new study says Massachusetts residents increased their spending at out-of-state casinos and racinos by 5.8 percent in 2009, even as gross profits of the five casinos declined overall.

According to the study by UMass Dartmouth’s Center for Policy Analysis released today (Monday) Massachusetts residents left $968 million at the various gambling facilities, contributing $230 million in tax revenue to Connecticut, Rhode Island and Maine.

“While its true that we do not have casinos in Massachusetts, we have lots of casino gambling by Massachusetts residents,” said Clyde Barrow, a political scientist and the director of the Center for Policy Analysis.

The UMass Dartmouth center has been monitoring Massachusetts residents’ gambling habits since 1995, and annually since 2004. The latest study includes information on patron origins, estimated expenditures per state and the amount of tax revenue generated by gambling.

Barrow said most findings were consistent with previous years’ data, except for two changes.

“The biggest shift that we saw was an increase in ratio of visitors going to Twin Rivers and Foxwoods from Massachusetts,” said Barrow. The other change is the increased spending by Massachusetts residents.

Barrow said more Bay Staters visited Twin Rivers following the Rhode Island facility’s 2007 renovation and plethora of TV and roadside advertisements targeted at Massachusetts residents.

The study estimated that Massachusetts gamblers spent $237 million in 2009 at Twin Rivers, $28 million, or 12.8 percent more than they did in 2008.

The study determined the home state of casino patrons by counting license plates in casino parking lots over a period of five days in February, 2010. The results showed that Bay Staters comprise 48 percent of Twin River’s clientele – a jump from 40 percent in 2009.

Bay Staters also comprised 45 percent of Newport Grand patrons, 36 percent of Foxwoods, 19 percent of Mohegan Sun and 1 percent of Hollywood Slots, in Maine. All percentages are slight increases over 2009.

Barrow said it is no surprise Massachusetts accounts for such a high percentages of gamblers because Massachusetts makes up almost half the population of New England.

“Any kind of consumer industry in New England is going to be driven by Massachusetts residents. There’s more people in Massachusetts and more money in Massachusetts,” Barrow said.

According to the study, between 2004 and 2009, one out of every three dollars spent at resort casinos in New England came from the wallet of a Massachusetts resident.

Barrow also suggested the increases in revenue from Massachusetts might be signaling a turnaround in the industry from the slow decline in gross profit since 2007.

“There is no question that the New England (and the Northeastern) gaming market has been buffeted by the Great Recession, but this will prove to be a temporary setback once the U.S. economy enters a new growth phase,” the study says.

The UMass Dartmouth center does not take an official position on whether the gaming industry should come to the Bay State. Still, Barrow said expanded gambling would have a “dramatic and negative impact on [Foxwoods and Twin Rivers] facilities.”

A similar drop off happened in 2007 when, a month after Pennsylvania opened slot parlors, revenues at Atlantic City slot parlors decreased 17 percent.

“That was entirely because of Pennsylvania residents redeploying those trips to their local facilities,” Barrow said.

Barrow said Massachusetts legislators familiar with previous versions of this study will find mostly familiar results.

“This isn’t going to shift anyone one way or the other,” he said.

Overall, Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun generated $362 million in tax revenue for Connecticut’s state government. Twin River and Newport Grand contributed $282 million to Rhode Island.

Tax revenues have been cited by many lawmakers as a primary motivating factor for expanding Massachusetts gambling.

Since 1992 Massachusetts residents have contributed $4.3 billion in gambling tax revenues to New England, including the $230 million in 2009.

Bill aims to include pets in protection against domestic violence

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010

By Laura Krantz

BOSTON – MetroWest legislators and domestic violence prevention groups are pushing for a bill that would allow judges to grant restraining orders protecting pets who are often mixed up in domestic violence cases.

“They can go to court not only to protect themselves, but their pet, therefore they are more likely to go seek that protection,” said Sen. James Eldridge, D-Acton, a co-sponsor of the bill.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Peter Koutoujian, D-Waltham, was also co-signed by Rep. Alice Peisch, D-Wellesley.

The bill would allow judges to forbid someone from abusing, threatening, taking, concealing or disposing of an animal owned by the other party or a child in the household.

Kara Holmquist, director of advocacy at the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which supports this bill, said abusers use pets as pawns, hurting an animal to upset and threaten its owner.

“When animal abuse is happening its usually not in a vacuum. There’s other issues going on,” said Holmquist.

While the bill protects animals, she said the main concern is humans.

“[The bill] will remove the barrier of not wanting to leave the home and the pet,” said Holmquist. She said victims often linger in dangerous situations because they worry about their pet.

According to a 1997 study by the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Northeastern University, 70 percent of people who abuse animals are found guilty of other violent crimes.

The study also found that animal abusers are five times more likely to harm humans.

“Anything we can do to provide victims with an additional sense of safety is a good thing,” said Mary Gianakis, director of the Framingham-based Voices Against Violence.

Gianakis said the organization does not list pets as one of their top 15 indicators of potentially violent situations, but she said the situation is not unheard of.

“Whatever the batterer thinks will work, they will use,” Gianakis said.

But one local law enforcement official wonders if the new law is necessary.

Natick Police Lt. Brian Grassey, who handles domestic violence cases and restraining orders every day, said he remembers two or three incidents of domestic violence involving pets in his 20 years of service.

He noted police already enforce laws against animal abuse.

“I don’t know that we need legislation to take action,” Grassey said

Sue Webb, an animal control officer in Wellesley, survived a situation of domestic violence involving a pet.

“Part of the hesitation was making plans to keep everyone safe,” said Webb. She said she worried about her pet as well as her family when leaving her situation.

“They’re using it as a tool to manipulate the person,” said Webb.

Webb said when she went to a support group, she realized her situation was common, and now helps place abused animals in foster care.

“The people come first, but then the animal. It’s nice we’re helping the animal, but you need to help both to make it a win-win for the person,” she said.

Union Workers Back Casino

Monday, April 5th, 2010

By Laura Krantz

BOSTON – On the eve of Speaker Robert DeLeo’s plan to introduce a bill to expand gambling in the state, MetroWest union members swarmed Beacon Hill, picketing outside the State House and rallying inside with 300 other pro-casino union members, chanting “We want jobs!”

“It’s important to us as people in the trade to do whatever we can to promote the growth of the economy,” said Joe Hansberry, a carpenter from Framingham, as he waited to speak with Sen. Karen Spilka, D-Framingham.

According an aide, Sen. Spilka was unable to meet with union members because she was in her district Wednesday morning.

Hansberry said casinos would mean jobs for union workers.

“It would put things on track as far as building,” said Hansberry, a member of Carpenter’s Local 33 union.

John Canning, an electrician from Newton, who visited Rep. Kay Khan, D-Newton, said he has been out of work for 10 months, doing housework and taking his kids to school while his wife works in a doctor’s office.

He said a casino would bring six to eight months of work.

“Something like this will at least give you a little bit of hope,” Canning said.

Bill Frost of Acton was a speaker at Wednesday morning’s presentation in Gardner Auditorium.

After the event, Frost said he has been a carpenter since he graduated high school, 35 years ago.

“It’s all I know how to do,” Frost said.

But he only worked two months out of the last year. He said his unemployment is affecting his ability to make important decisions in his life.

His wife recently recovered from cancer, but Frost said if she was still needing treatment, he is not sure they would be able to pay.

“If the economy picks up it’s going to help everybody,” Frost said.

Frost said he met with Sen. Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton, who opposes casinos, and Rep. Jennifer Benson D-Lunenberg, who is on the fence. Frost said he scheduled follow-up meetings with both legislators.

Sen. Eldridge was also working in his district Wednesday morning, but his office said around 20 union members stopped by to speak with members of his staff.

Later in the day two groups opposing to slot machines held a smaller State House meeting.

United to Stop Slots in Massachusetts and the Mass Council of Churches voiced opposition to a crowd of about 20 people, referring to the legislation as the “super-secret slots bill.”

Kathleen Norbut, president of United to Stop Slots in Massachusetts, criticized DeLeo for drafting his bill “behind closed doors,” and warned the speaker would push the legislation through committee to a floor vote without holding public hearings.

“Taxpayers need to know – will this cost us or help us?” Norbut asked.

But Norbut also said she understands the other side – her husband is a carpenter who woke up at 4 a.m. Wednesday morning to go to work in New Jersey.

Others at the rally said the costs of problem gambling should deter the state from expanding gambling.

“Massachusetts can expect a 50 percent increase in the number of problem gamblers,” said Rev. Jack Johnson of the Mass Council of Churches. He said he believes the added numbers will cost Massachusetts $750 million.

“We simply cannot afford the increased cost of slots and casinos,” Johnson said.

DeLeo is scheduled to introduce his bill Thursday in the State House at 10 a.m. press conference.

Tax Eyed After Teen Tobacco Report

Sunday, April 4th, 2010

By Laura KrantzThe Metro West Daily News

BOSTON – MetroWest high school nurses say they have noticed fewer students are smoking cigarettes. But they can’t be sure if more are switching to smokeless tobacco as a substitute.

“[There is] definitely less smoking that we can detect on their clothes,” said Marlborough High School nurse Virginia Gadbois, a school nurse since 1986, following the release earlier this month of survey that indicates teens have switched from cigarettes to other tobacco products.

The report, conducted by the Massachusetts Department of Health and Elementary and Secondary Education and funded by the U.S. Center for Disease Control, surveyed middle and high school students about their tobacco habits. It concluded that for the first time, high school students are using more smokeless tobacco and cigars than regular cigarettes.

The study says 16 percent of high school students said they had used cigarettes in the past 30 days, whereas 17.6 percent said they had used other kinds of tobacco products.

High school nurses say they haven’t noticed any increase in such products in their clinics, but don’t deny such products are being used.

“I’m not saying it’s not here, I’m sure it is. I’m saying I’m not seeing it,” Gadbois said.

She said she no longer smells smoke wafting from the girl’s bathroom.

“I just don’t see it as much and don’t smell it on their clothes as much as I used to,” said a nurse at Framingham High School who wouldn’t give her name.

Nicole Marcinkiewicz, a nurse at Natick High School said she hasn’t dealt with any complications due to smokeless tobacco, such as oral cancer.

Still, organizations like Tobacco Free Mass, a policy organization based in Framingham, say youth are drawn to products like flavored tobacco lozenges, miniature, flavored cigars and dissolvable bags of flavored tobacco.

“Its not surprising given the fact that the tobacco industry markets their products to young people,” Executive Director Russet Morrow Breslau said.

These products cost between $1 and $7 she said, whereas a pack of cigarettes costs around $9.

“That points to the fact that youth are price-sensitive. They are turning to these less  expensive products that are marketed to them,” Morrow Breslau said.

The education department study follows a proposal in Gov. Deval Patrick’s fiscal 2011 budget to increase the sales tax on smokeless tobacco and cigars to the same level as regular cigarettes.

While these products are already taxed at rates varying from 30 to 90 percent, the governor’s budget would raise the taxes to equal about 110 or 120 percent of their cost – the same increase imposed on cigarettes in 2008.

“These things weren’t increased back then and the idea is to sort of catch up,” said Robert Bliss, spokesperson for the Department of Revenue.

Some Massachusetts legislators say raising the tax is a good way to discourage young people from buying tobacco.

“This is a product that’s causing a lot of damage to people, hurting a lot of people, killing a lot of people. It makes no sense to me that a product like that wouldn’t be taxed,” said Sen. Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton, the Senate sponsor of a bill mirroring Patrick’s budget proposal. The bill was recently sent to a study committee.

Rep. Peter Koutoujian, D-Waltham, who led the 2008 effort to increase cigarette tax by $1-a-pack, spoke Wednesday at an anti-smoking rally.

“I’m not interested in taxes for raising money, however if you can reduce consumption of a product that’s going to be addictive, that’d be a tax I’d consider,” Koutoujian said Thursday.

Other legislators, including Rep. Danielle Gregoire, D-Marlborough, and Rep. Alice Peisch, D-Wellesley, are wary of any new taxes.

Peisch said she likes the idea of an increased tax to dissuade young people from using tobacco, but she is hesitant to support any new taxes this year.

Peisch said her stance “is less connected to the merits of the particular tax on smokeless tobacco and more connected to the lack of support for taxes at this point in general.”

Speaker Robert DeLeo has said the House budget will not include new taxes.

Possible Reimbursement for Special Election

Saturday, April 3rd, 2010

By Laura KrantzThe Metro West Daily News

BOSTON – Officials in Framingham and other MetroWest towns are hoping to get back some of the cost for this year’s special U.S. Senate election following passage of an budget amendment that would return $7.2 million to cities and towns for the election that sent Scott Brown to Washington.

The amendment to a 2011 supplementary budget plan passed 156-1 in the House on Wednesday.

State Auditor Joe DeNucci had supported the amendment, saying the cost of the special election to fill Ted Kennedy’s senate seat was an unfunded mandate to municipalities.

Framingham Clerk Valerie Mulvey said Framingham spent $54,000 on the election for poll workers, police, custodians, election coordinators, equipment, transportation and supplies for the 10 polling locations.

“Right now I’m in the red,” Mulvey said.

She has asked the state for $41,000, the deficit remaining after the state reimbursed the town $13,000 for keeping polls open an extra three hours on Election Day.

Mulvey said Framingham’s election budget was on target but had no room for unexpected elections.

“That wasn’t in my budget,” Mulvey said.

She said if Framingham isn’t reimbursed by the state, she will ask the town meeting for funds to make ends meet.

Natick Clerk Onorina Maloney said she was pleased the amendment passed. Natick spent $41,046.72 on the election, according to Maloney.

“We are quite thrilled,” she said. “It will offer some relief for much-needed funding.”

Rep. Alice Peisch, D-Wellesley, said Wellesley and Natick were especially worried about being reimbursed because they now face a new set of elections to fill former Rep. Scott Brown’s Massachusetts House seat.

“We are happy we did this before those costs were incurred,” Peisch said.

Rep. Tom Conroy, D-Wayland, said he has been advocating for a much-needed reimbursement since August. Town Clerk Lois Toombs said Wayland spent $6,800 on the election.

“I’m glad that we passed it and I look forward to the Senate doing the same thing,” Conroy said.

Conroy said towns in his district spent between $8,000 and $12,000 each on the primary and general elections, totaling an estimated $60,000. Conroy said while $8,000 might seem minimal to some, it means a lot to the towns.

“Every dollar helps. Sixty thousand bucks is a teacher,” Conroy said.

Glenn Briere, a spokesman for State Auditor Joe DeNucci, said the auditor’s office is waiting for a few remaining municipalities to report before submitting the official cost of the election to the Secretary of State William Galvin.

Briere the actual cost could be higher than $7.2 million due to unquantifiable costs, such as printing nomination papers and costs for renting space during the election.

Parents Rally for School $$

Friday, April 2nd, 2010

By Laura KrantzThe Metro West Daily News

BOSTON- Gail Phillips of Framingham said her son learned the song “I’m just a bill on Capitol Hill” yesterday in his second grade music class.

So Tuesday morning Phillips said she told him she was going to Beacon Hill to rally for the children.

Phillips along with about 150 people, including many other MetroWest parents, braved dreary weather to lobby legislators to protect state funding to public schools.

“I feel it’s important now more than ever to stand up for kids because the money is tight and we want to make sure the state is prioritizing children,” Phillips said.

Stand for Children, an organization that supports public education in six states organized the rally.

The Waltham-based group is asking legislators to protect aid to cities and towns, to allow cities and towns to design their own, less-expensive healthcare plans, and to fund a study to determine what an adequate education actually costs.

“The state hasn’t taken a look in 20 years at what an adequate education is,” said Stand for Children’s chief operating officer Meg Ansara.

Parents from Ashland and Framingham said they want legislators to understand that public schools are hurting from previous budget cuts and can’t take many more.

“The whole system is broken and we need to do something different,” said Jane Greenstein, co-leader of the Ashland chapter of Stand for Children, who has children in the second and fifth grades at Ashland public schools.

Greenstein said state funding cuts over the past eight years have forced all Ashland schools, except the high school, to lay off all librarians, as well as some teachers, administrators and secretaries. Reading specialists and janitorial staff have been fired and the middle school is in danger of losing its band, she said.

Greenstein said students are noticing the effects of the cuts.

“They can see, ‘I can’t take the course I want,’” Greenstein said.

Class sizes are also expanding; she said her son talks about the rowdy children in his second grade class of 25 students.

Jim Stockless of Framingham has three children in the Framingham public school system, the oldest an 11th grader at Framingham High School. Stockless said he has been volunteering at the school since she was in kindergarten.

“Every year there have been cuts and it’s so hard to even keep pace and not cut back,” Stockless said.

He said although his children are receiving excellent educations, he has noticed there are more study halls, certain classes, including AP chemistry, have been cut and fewer students are trying out for sports, due to the $200 fee for each sport.

“A lot of those problems are systemic, not because of the town, they’re because of the things we have to do that the state mandates but doesn’t really pay for,” he said.

Beverly Hugo, vice chair of the Framingham School committee, said such unfunded mandates are a huge burden on schools, including the cost of transporting students who have to attend school outside the district, and costs associated with administering the MCAS test in grades three through 10.

“We have to pick up the slack,” Hugo said.

In addition, Hugo said the rocky budget has made it hard to expand special programs like the ELL program, for students not fluent in English.

“It’s hard for the superintendent to plan long term because the budget is unsustainable,” Hugo said.

Phillips noted that Tuesday’s turnout was smaller than last year’s rally. Both she and Hugo wondered if it was the rainy weather, or perhaps despair, that kept people away.

“It’s easy to feel defeated, in times like now, but it’s exactly these times when you have to fight even harder,” Phillips said.

Flood Safety

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

By Laura KrantzThe Metro West Daily News

Regular bathing is common sense hygiene. Washing thoroughly after coming in contact with flood waters may be critical to your health.

So say state and local health officials following days of rainy weather, rising rivers and flooded basements.

“Assume there’s something not good for you in that water,” said Peter Judge, a spokesperson for the Framingham-based Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.

After last week’s downpour, Judge said stagnant water likely contains sewage, oil and trash. He advises people to wash anything that comes in contact with this brew with soap.

“You don’t know what’s in that soup out there,” Judge said.

MetroWest public health officials say the first step to recovery from the downpours is to dry everything out as soon as possible.

“The key is to get it as dry as possible as quick as possible,” said Walter Sweder, public health director in Waltham.

Sweder said sunlight is the best way to dry things, and after removing loose debris, he suggests sanitizing surfaces with a disinfecting liquid, such as ¾ cup bleach in one gallon of water. Wear gloves, Sweder says.

Judge said people can also use dehumidifiers and electric fans to circulate air and speed up the drying areas without sunlight, such as basements.

Jim White, public health director in Natick, recommends having commercial firms clean and deodorize walls or carpets that got soaked.
“Leave it to the professionals,” White said. But he warned that the cleaning companies he had talked to Wednesday said they were backed up a week and a half already.

White said flooded basements lead to danger of electrocution, and if someone doesn’t feel comfortable in their home, he suggested they stay with friends or relatives.

Framingham Director of Public Health Ethan Mascoop warned people against trying to restart their furnace or gas themselves.

“It can be very dangerous to restart a pilot light,” Mascoop said.

Officials also agree people should think twice about splashing in the puddles.

“It’s not a good idea to be romping through that water,” Sweder said.

Steven Calichman, Wayland director of public health, recommend that people wear life vests if they use a boat in the water, because even as warmer weather arrives, flood water is frigid and can be dangerous to swim in.

If people are in water at night, Calichman said they should watch out for sharp objects. If you are in a flooded basement, Calichman said not to use a lantern, because natural gas from the pilot light of a furnace is highly flammable. Flashlights are a more safe choice, he said.

Officials caution that floods can be followed by mold, which can be harmful to those who are allergic to it, as well as to people with weakened immune systems, children, elderly and pregnant women.

Officials agree that the drying and cleaning process will take months, and will be tedious and extensive.

Of all natural disasters the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency deals with, “flooding is the worst as far as long-term effects on people,” Judge said.

“That’s why we ask people to reach out to their neighbors, everybody is in this together,” he said.

So what happens in the meantime while stagnant water sits and the days get warmer?

“I worry about what the spring mosquito season is going to be like,” Calichman said.