Monthly Archives: January, 2009

Update from Steve Stycos on Schools, Zoning Issues

From School Committee member Steve Stycos:

MEMORIES OF ED DIPRETE

The Pawtuxet River needs your help. Stop & Shop wants to build a store on the Warwick Nurseries property on Warwick Avenue in Cranston and is trying a back door maneuver to avoid zoning laws. The current zoning code would not allow a large grocery store on the site, so Councilman Richard Santamaria (Ward 5) is proposing to change the definition of the zone to help Stop & Shop.

This maneuver avoids a variance hearing that would require notification of neighbors and a careful examination of the construction plan. Friends of the Pawtuxet is opposed to the Stop & Shop proposal because 1) Our experience with Shaw’s is that supermarkets should not be put next to rivers because plastic bags and newspaper flyers blow into the river, 2) We are developing a trail along the river that could be blocked by Stop & Shop, 3) We are concerned about runoff from a big parking lot into the river, 4) Santamaria’s proposal avoids the usual city zoning procedures. No specific plan for the site has been presented. 5) Nothing has been done to address the neighbors concerns.

If you oppose Santamaria’s move, please call members of the Cranston City Council and attend the Cranston City Council meeting Monday January 26 at 7 PM in Cranston City Hall.

CRANSTON SCHOOL BUDGET CUTS

Cranston School Superintendent Richard Scherza proposed a budget for the next school year, indicating major cuts were required to balance the budget under state law.

Starting July 1, 2009, Scherza’s proposal calls for elimination of the EPIC program, middle school sports, the elementary strings program, Cranston East boys hockey and girls cross country teams, the summer reading program for primary grade students, five technical assistants at the vocational school, an elementary guidance counselor and a social worker.

He also proposes a twenty percent cut in supplies. Major increases are projected for employee step increases and health insurance. Overall, Scherza proposes a budget increase of less than one percent, but because he projects a three percent cut in state aid, a four million increase from the city is required. Mayor Allan Fung, according to School Committee chairman Michael Traficante, has already said he will not be providing $4 million for the schools.

The school committee will now question and amend the budget before it is sent to the mayor and city council. The school committee will hold hearings, with opportunities for public comment, on Wednesday January 28 and Monday February 2 at Western Hills Middle School at 7 PM. We are scheduled to amend and adopt a budget February 9.

Prior the Scherza’s presentation the school committee approved a new custodial contract which calls for an increase in the employee share of health insurance costs from three percent to ten percent immediately, a two year wage freeze with a three percent increase in 2010-11, elimination of health insurance buy back, twelve percent employee share of health insurance costs for new hires starting in 2010-11, recall of laid off custodians and a no-layoff clause.

This contract is a good step forward. The custodians are now paying twice as much for health insurance as teachers (administrators pay 20 percent.). The teachers and other unions have not been willing to agree to similar agreements. Given the sinking economy, the school committee may not be willing to offer similar deals.

SNOW DAYS

Last night I asked the Superintendent Richard Scherza about the cancellation of school last Thursday and Friday. He said the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency strongly advised school departments to cancel school due to expected wind chill. He was particularly concerned about exposure for low income children who often come to school with only a hooded sweatshirt for protection and children who stand out at bus stops. With hindsight, he agrees school should not have been canceled, but when there is a possible harmful situation, he would rather avoid possible harm to a child and extend school one day in June.

I know snow days are extremely disruptive to working parents, but I am not going to second guess him. We have much more serious education issues to tackle.

Tears of Happiness

Lots of that today. After work I got Mr. Green to take me to Cav restaurant, which was graciously hosting a community benefit in the spirit of our new president’s call to public service. And I wanted to attend an awesome party to celebrate the inauguration. I am so proud of our country.

This is a peaceful change of paradigm. Let freedom ring. The people have spoken.

The people are the driving engine of power if we will stay engaged. It is up to us. I do believe that good leadership depends on good, smart, skeptical and principled citizens.

After we left Cav we went to church. First Unitarian. In loving community we celebrated our love of country.

When we got home we saw on TV the Obamas were dancing at the neighborhood ball in DC. I heard my next door neighbor’s dog bark, and thought maybe to invite her over. She came and we shared the festivities.

My sister and friend are stuck in Maryland on a bus back to Providence from the Inauguration. These people I love were a pixel on the satellite photo of the Mall, where the crowd was visible from Earth orbit.

God bless us one and all, for one minute, one hour, one day — let us give in to Hope. Our state seal. Remember Roger Williams — a most impractical man who founded a state based on negotiation, ideals, risk, and success.

And let us celebrate a new President who has overcome prejudice. He has shown that the highest office in our great nation can be won by a person who is unashamedly — smart.

Inauguration

I just got back from the State House, where a couple of hundred citizens assembled for a viewing of the inauguration of President Obama. There were tears, cheers, everyone stood when our new president took the oath of office. Lt. Gov Elizabeth Roberts hosted, and partially fixed a weather related crisis — the bright sun bleached out the video screen.

We saw recorded addresses from Sens. Reed and Whitehouse, and Cong. Langevin. I never expected that the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, would sing, ‘My Country Tis of Thee’.

Back to work now, to take care of all the business I missed this morning. Yes We Can.

This Land Is Your Land

The musical performances of this inauguration are mind-blowing. What fortune for those who are there experiencing all of this live. I just watched Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, and a bunch of other great musicians perform a new composition for the inauguration, with sections of “Simple Gifts,” the beautiful Quaker song. I will upload a video of this once it becomes available.

Conservatives Call Krispy Kreme Offer “Insensitive”

It appears the conservative group, The American Life League, isn’t able to handle the fact that “freedom of choice” is a phrase that can apply to many things other than the cause that they are vehemently trying to stamp out. From the Miami New Times:

Krispy Kreme, being the genial purveyor of glazed goodness that it is, decided to get in on the Obama inauguration craze and is offering one free doughnut to every costumer on January 20, Inauguration day, and released this seemingly innocuous press release:

“Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, Inc. (NYSE: KKD) is honoring American’s sense of pride and freedom of choice on Inauguration Day, by offering a free doughnut of choice to every customer on this historic day, Jan. 20. By doing so, participating Krispy Kreme stores nationwide are making an oath to tasty goodies — just another reminder of how oh-so-sweet ‘free’ can be.”

Well, The American Life League noticed the liberal use of the word choice and decided to blast the chain bakery for producing abortion doughnuts.

“The unfortunate reality of a post-Roe v. Wade America is that ‘choice’ is synonymous with abortion access, and celebration of ‘freedom of choice’ is a tacit endorsement of abortion rights on demand,” the group’s president, Judie Brown said in a statement.

It’s not a big important story, but it seems to indicate a certain lack of awareness on the part of some single-cause zealots that the rest of the world exists and uses words for purposes other than taunting them.

The Dream

Now is the time, now is the time to wake up and get to work. Dreams realized require a time of adjustment, a time of accommodating to a new reality. We are no longer on the outside, waving signs and signing petitions. We are working through the democratic process, and our leaders need us. They need us to make as much noise in February as we did in November. They need us to keep them to their promises, and to stay engaged.

I heard this today in church–

Rosa sat, so that
Martin could walk, so that
Barack could run, so that
We can fly

Now is the time, yes we can.

Obama’s Stimulus and RI’s Education Needs

I managed to join Moveon.org on Wednesday to drop off some 600 petitions from Rhode Island residents asking for Senator Reed to support the Obama stimulus plan. The message from Reed’s staffer was that the Obama stimulus plan could be passed “in the next few weeks.” That seems like a hopeful sign, as long as the plan is properly vetted and the necessary “teeth” of accountability are in there.

In Rhode Island, however, there might be particular problems with getting the money of the stimulus into the right places. Why? Because as Tom Sgouros explains in this excellent analysis of the Governor’s budget (and as Paul Krugman has also warned about) most states are cutting back just as the stimulus is coming through, meaning that much of the stimulus will need to be applied to fix the devastating cuts that “little Hoovers” like Carcieri are proposing such as the cuts to public transportation and RITE Care.

In addition, Pat Crowley explains in this post that education funding for Rhode Island from the Obama stimulus may also be a problem because we don’t have an education funding formula. The General Assembly could choose not to use any of the stimulus to help with our lack of state funding for education this year.

We are the only state in the entire country that does not have an education funding formula. State Senator Hanna Gallo of Cranston has proposed one, but the bill cannot seemingly get anywhere. Now we will find out if the General Assembly can come up with a fair way to allocate some of the stimulus funding to education, or whether other priorities beat education out and our schools will continue to be starved into deficits.

End of Life

Excellent post today on Daily Kos from idahospud44, First Steps Into Eternity-How We Helped Mom Die. Spud’s mother had an unremarkable experience of aging, disability, and a final illness that ended with her death in a hospital. What is special about this is the way Spud repaired their relationship, made the best of their time together, and protected his mother from the failings of our medical system. The post is short and packed with good advice, but this passage jumped out at me because it is so true…

Do not trust the doctors as being all knowing. You need to be in control especially concerning medications. One time mom was hospitalized and when she returned home my sister and I went through her many medications and read the printouts. We found that she had been given medications that interacted in negative ways with one another. We got some discontinued after alerting the main physician who was himself unaware. This is especially true of those seeing multiple doctors or specialists.

The closest thing we have to a team leader in our medical system is the primary care provider, and it’s a good idea to contact them whenever there’s a change, because they don’t get no respect and they are not always in the loop.

My condolences to Spud. He writes beautifully and honestly about love and loss. Now I’m going to call Mom.

Good News for Fiends

Writers, bloggers and caffeine fiends everywhere have a reason to feel good.

STOCKHOLM (AFP) – Middle-aged people who drink moderate amounts of coffee significantly reduce their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, a study by Finnish and Swedish researchers showed Thursday.

“Middle-aged people who drank between three and five cups of coffee a day lowered their risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease by between 60 and 65 percent later in life,” said lead researcher on the project, Miia Kivipelto, a professor at the University of Kuopio in Finland and at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.

Interestingly, the AFP photo shows a hand holding a cigarette next to a cup of coffee. Sorry guys, I don’t think cigs are going to turn out to be healthy.

Maybe I can get into a clinical study for people who have 40 year coffee habits, but since I keep forgetting where I put my cup down I might not qualify. Next subject for study should be whether the really good roast is healthier than that dishwater stuff. And don’t even mention instant. I’ve gotten very spoiled for good coffee. If you want to buy local and help global check out New Harvest Coffee Roasters of Pawtucket, RI.

Support Legislation for Historic Zoning in Pawtuxet

This message comes from the Pawtuxet Village Association via school committee member Steve Stycos:

Dear Friends and Neighbors:

The Cranston City Council Ordinance Committee is holding an important hearing Thursday, January 15 at 7pm at the Cranston High School East auditorium (next to City Hall, on the side closest to Reservoir Avenue.)

The third item on the agenda is critical to the future of Pawtuxet Village–a proposed ordinance establishing a HISTORIC OVERLAY ZONE for the Pawtuxet Village National Historic District. Despite this national designation from the early 1970′s and Warwick’s enacting a local historic zone on their side in 1989, Cranston provides no level of review to protect historic structures and architectural features. At present, historic buildings dating back to the Colonial period are exposed to demolition and alteration without regard to their historical or architectural significance, and the City has no rules against building which could negatively affect the Village character and property values.

Under the proposed ordinance, the City’s historic district commission would review and approve all such proposals. This system has served Warwick well–more that 90% of all proposals are ultimately approved, and development is sensitive to the character of the historic village.

This meeting is critical for all supporters to attend regardless of where you live! All bodies will make a difference so please consider attending. This affects what can happen on Broad Street as well as the neighborhoods. The future of Pawtuxet Village is at stake.

Thanks, we hope to see you there. The future of Pawtuxet Village is at stake!

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