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Nelson Mandela condolence book located at State House

December 9, 2013 05:20 PM

State House visitors may now send messages to the people of South Africa through a condolence book for Nelson Mandela set up outside the House chamber.

Legislative leaders and Gov. Deval Patrick, working with Rep. Byron Rushing and South Africa Partners, are hosting the book, which will be available for signing through Friday and presented at a later date to the Nelson Mandela Foundation in South Africa.

An entry signed by House Majority Whip Byron Rushing expresses gratitude to Mandela, “the African National Congress and to all the South Africans who struggled for liberation during Mandela’s lifetime.”

State House visitors from Ireland and various parts of the state have already signed the book. “Our world has been forever changed because of you, President Mandela. Our deepest condolences and greatest thanks. God bless!” says an entry signed by Rep. Alan Silvia (D-Fall River) and staff.

– M. Norton, M. Deehan/SHNS

Governor Patrick announces $27 million for Massasoit Community College health building

November 25, 2013 03:29 PM

The following is a press release from the Massasoit Community College

Brockton, MA (November 22, 2013) - Governor Deval Patrick announced on Wednesday at the Metro South Chamber of Commerce Annual Meeting, held at the Massasoit Conference Center, a $27.4M appropriation for Massasoit Community College to construct a Health Sciences building. This new building will provide much needed teaching and lab space and will allow Massasoit to expand its allied health programs. Additionally, with the new space, Massasoit will be able to introduce students to the latest technology in laboratory, diagnostic, and medical simulation in Nursing, Radiologic Technology, Respiratory, Polysomnography, Medical Assisting, and Phlebotomy programs. It will also enhance the College’s capacity to meet projected workforce needs and to explore the possibility of new programs and courses. “Growth requires investment, and these investments in education, infrastructure, and open space will bring growth and opportunity to the Metro South area and beyond,” said Governor Patrick.

Massasoit Community College President, Dr. Charles Wall said, “The College has been given an unprecedented and unique opportunity to expand our main campus in a way that we have not been able to do since the second phase of building construction in the late 1970s. Though our growth has taken our physical presence to Canton and to Middleborough, and though we will continue to reach to places in the region where we are most needed, this funding creates an expansion possibility right here at the Brockton campus.” Massasoit offers the only Radiologic Technology and Respiratory Care Programs in the southeastern region of the state, and was the first to offer a 2-year Polysomnography degree program in the Northeast. 30% of the College’s 2013 graduates received Allied Health/Science degrees. Growth in the sciences is up 39% from the 2006 academic year and has outpaced overall College growth. The new building will allow the College to create new programs and courses in such areas as medical laboratory technician, biotechnology, and nutrition. There is a great need for additional laboratory facilities in general biology, physics, chemistry, and earth sciences. Having additional space for our health programs will enable the repurposing of converted space in the existing science building both to meet these needs and to expand current science programming. Anatomy and physiology and microbiology is also likely to move to the new building, which will further ease congestion in health and science programs and classrooms resulting from increased enrollments; Liberal Arts Transfer-Science is one of the College’s fastest growing programs, with a 35% increase over last year, and more than five times as many students as it had just four years ago.
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Haiti Movie Awards set for Sunday

November 22, 2013 10:39 AM

For the third year. the Haiti Movie Awards will recognize the best filmmakers and actors coming out of the island nation.

The annual event, organized and produced by the Motion Picture Association of Haiti Inc. will be held Sunday from 6 p.m.-10 p.m. at Lombardo’s, 6 Billings St., Randolph.

The program will be broadcasted live on Tele Caraibes in Haiti and on Island TV in Florida.

This year’s ceremony will be hosted by actor Benz Antoine and former Miss Haiti Universe Sarodj Bertin. It will feature an array of special guests, including actress Garcelle Beauvais and the founder of the Boston International Film Festival Patrick Jerome.

More information about the program and tickets can be found here.

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Email Patrick D. Rosso, patrick.d.rosso@gmail.com. Follow him @PDRosso, or friend him on Facebook.

Governor Patrick plots major public transportation projects in Chelsea, Medford and south of Boston

November 18, 2013 11:35 AM

In his seven years, Gov. Deval Patrick has steered the state toward major public transportation expansions into Chelsea, Medford and toward the South Coast, and in 13 months responsibility for the completion of those plans will fall to his successor, to varying degrees.

Patrick, who has railed against the enduring, burdensome debt of the Big Dig project burying Interstate 93 beneath downtown Boston, campaigned in 2006 in part on his support for the Green Line Extension and the South Coast Rail. Critics have said those projects would add to the state’s indebtedness and the cost of running an MBTA system already struggling with an antiquated fleet and infrastructure.

While funding is being lined up for the Green Line trolley to Somerville and beyond and the project appears inevitable to transportation experts, other projects such as extending the Silver Line bus to Chelsea, expanding South Station and stretching the commuter rail to Taunton, Fall River and New Bedford, face challenges in funding, logistics, politics and labor relations.

“Everything we’ve announced will be on track, and we’ll have some progress against before I leave, and I think whoever the next governor is, their understanding of the value of investing of in education, innovation and infrastructure will be key to the future growth of the Commonwealth, so it would be hard for me to imagine that the next governor would turn away from these investments or the people that they benefit,” Patrick told the News Service earlier this month. He said, “The responsibility to see that the next governor is held accountable for delivering on these belongs to the voters.”

The governor’s transportation priorities, along with earmarks for scores of smaller projects around the state, could emerge for consideration in the House this week as part of a $12.1 billion transportation bond bill, although House leaders were unable to say Monday if the bill would come up for debate.

Fred Salvucci, a lecturer at MIT who was Gov. Michael Dukakis’s transportation secretary, said the South Station expansion would require moving the United States Post Office facility next door, which employs many people, and running the Silver Line to Chelsea faces logistical hurdles in the buses, which currently switch between gas and electrical power.

None of the major projects in the pipeline faces as steep a climb as the South Coast Rail, which faces some opposition from environmentalists for its routing through the Hockomock Swamp, carries a $1.8 billion price tag for construction that would be borne entirely by the state, and an additional federal requirement to electrify the trains rather than use diesel.

“If the next governor doesn’t see any priority, that’s one it’s pretty easy to not implement,” Salvucci told the News Service. He said, “It’s got the longest way to go, plus I believe some opposition, so that’s the toughest.”

Asked which projects would be past the “point of no return,” Patrick said, “My hope is that they will all be 14 months from now.”

That sentiment was troublesome to Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, a Gloucester Republican, who has warned of the state’s high level of indebtedness.

“One of the guiding principles of our state government has always been not binding future legislatures to future expenses, and certainly not binding future administrations to certain courses of action, and to depart from that now I think is an indication that we may be seeing some effort in building a legacy,” Tarr told the News Service. “The question is at what expense is that legacy going to come for the folks that have to follow and pay for these things and deal with their consequences.”

By sinking enough money into a project, an administration can virtually ensure its eventual completion.

Sen. Robert Hedlund, a Weymouth Republican and longtime member of the Transportation Committee, said the state “can afford” to extend the Green Line, but had greater doubts about South Coast Rail, saying he believes the administration’s estimate of a $40 million operating subsidy once the project is completed is low.

Hedlund said past administrations have nudged projects past the “point of no return” by getting construction started, but said the Patrick and prior administrations have played a different game with the South Coast Rail, funding environmental studies and permitting as a means to push off the actual construction.

When Gov. Mitt Romney took office, he froze capital spending, and scored transportation projects on their necessity, finding the ongoing Greenbush commuter rail line into Hedlund’s South Shore district was “dead last.” Despite the finding, Romney was unable to halt the project, Hedlund said, because so much of the work had already been completed.

The advent of a new administration can bring new hopes and worries for those whose pet projects have not yet crept past the point of no return.

“It’s kind of a barbaric system in some respects,” House Majority Leader Ron Mariano, a Quincy Democrat, told the News Service. “When the new administration comes in it’s a fight to make sure they look at your project favorably.”

Transportation Secretary Richard Davey told the News Service that the merits of projects undertaken by the Patrick administration should power them onto the next governor’s priority list.

“I think the bottom line is, it’s less about having the ink dry on a contract by January ’15, although that will happen in many instances, but it’s choosing the right projects that anyone in their right mind will continue,” Davey said.

“For any person who’s elected governor, they would have to think twice about rolling back anything we put in place because we’re not choosing these projects will nilly,” Davey added. He said, “We’re still working on our final permits for South Coast Rail. South Station’s a little more complicated; there’s a lot more moving pieces to that proposal.”

GREEN LINE EXTENSION

The Green Line Extension, which is mandated by a court settlement between the state and the Conservation Law Foundation, is far along the track to completion.

On Oct. 21, MassDOT officials signed a $393 million contract extension to rebuild the current terminus Lechmere Station in East Cambridge and construct brand new stations in Somerville’s Brickbottom and Union Square neighborhoods.

Those three stations comprise the first leg of the first phase of the project, which would continue on to stops in Gilman Square, Lowell Street, Ball Square and College Avenue in Medford. CLF contends the state must bring the trolley line out to Route 16, near the Arlington border, and notes that the further extension was included in the Boston Region Transportation Improvement Program with funding programmed for fiscal year 2016.

Though Republicans have warned of the financial implications expanding the system would have on an agency that already runs deficits and features major maintenance backlogs, Hedlund said the project is worthwhile and affordable.

“I think that we can afford to do the Green Line Extension. I just think it should have come a long time ago,” the Weymouth Republican told the News Service.

The Green Line’s completion, which had been recently considered unlikely by several Somerville pols, is now nearly set in stone, according to Salvucci.

“It seems to me that a new governor would be very unlikely to stop the Green Line. It’s a good project; some people might have different priorities, but it’s a good project,” Salvucci said. “I don’t think anyone’s against it, per se, and it’s so far along it seems unlikely anyone could stop it.”

The state recently submitted an application for federal New Starts funding, which officials hope would provide nearly half the $1.3 billion cost of bringing the trolley out to College Avenue. A federal award would add to the inevitability of the project.

SILVER LINE TO CHELSEA

Having secured a bus-only route into Chelsea from East Boston, Patrick recently announced plans to extend the Silver Line into the mostly water-bound city, creating a terminus that would include a new commuter rail station near the Everett line.

The most significant remaining hurdle is the buses themselves, according to Salvucci and Chelsea Rep. Eugene O’Flaherty.

The Silver Line buses ferry passengers on overhead electric power in underground tunnels through the South Boston Seaport before shifting to gas to make the trek through tunnels to Logan International Airport.

The line is in need of new buses, the manufacturer is now out of business, and the electrified catenary wires cannot be strung through the Ted Williams Tunnel, and gas engines cannot be-used in the subways beneath the Seaport, Salvucci said.

“They’ve got to solve the equipment problem,” the former transportation chief told the News Service.

Salvucci said hybrid gas-electric vehicles might be a solution, or the route could bypass the South Boston leg driving through the tunnels directly to East Boston, where it could continue on to Chelsea.

“Chelsea really wants it,” Salvucci said. “I think the Chelsea priority is likely to have legs with any governor if they can solve the vehicle problem.”

SOUTH STATION EXPANSION

The expansion of South Station faces mightier hurdles, as the new platforms could go right where a major U.S. Postal Service station is currently located.

“The post office has a lot of jobs,” Salvucci noted. Noting some opposition from advocates of linking North and South station by rail, Salvucci said said an agreement with the Postal Service to acquire the land would head the project on a trajectory toward completion.

“South Station is quite full, and there’s lots of people who want more commuter rail service, and who want more inter-city Amtrak service,” Salvucci said. He said, “It’s got a lot further to go, and the biggest significant hurdle, I think, is working out a deal with the Post Office. If that happens it still will not be at the same status as the Green Line, but it will be in stronger shape.”

RAIL TO THE SOUTH COAST

For lawmakers in the coastal regions off Buzzards and Mount Hope bays, the announcement this fall that the state had secured approval from the Army Corps of Engineers for construction of a rail link through Taunton to Fall River and New Bedford may have triggered déjà vu.

When Patrick came into office, he inherited state permits for the long-awaited return of rail service to the South Coast from the Romney administration, though Gov. Mitt Romney had not yet secured approval of the Army Corps before passing the reins of government to Patrick.

“When Patrick-Murray came in, they said, ‘Well, in order to really make sure that it’s going to be done right, we want to do all this stuff all over again, because it’s under our jurisdiction now. We want to make sure all the T’s are crossed, all the I’s are dotted, and so on and so forth,’” said Sen. Marc Pacheo, a Taunton Democrat. “I think in part it was done for that reason; I think in part it was done because nobody had the money.”

Pacheco was one of a few Democratic lawmakers from the region who voted against the July tax bill because he believed it was insufficient to fund the project.

The transportation bond bill that passed the Transportation Committee last week fully funded the rail line at $2.2 billion, an increase from original estimates of $1.8 billion earlier this year. House Transportation Chairman William Straus, a Mattapoisett Democrat who represents part of New Bedford, said the administration said the $12.1 billion 5-year-bond bill could be supported with the roughly $340 million in new taxes.

While skepticism has taken hold among some lawmakers in the region, several noted the efforts undertaken by the Patrick administration, which have extended beyond environmental studies and permitting to include upgrading bridges along the corridor and rehabbing of the tracks, which are in use by freight companies.

“I would encourage Gov. Patrick to undertake those projects that have independent value immediately,” said Straus, noting there is a bridge along the rail route, which would need to be upgraded for the train and also occasionally jams up trucks.

Sen. Mark Montigny, a New Bedford Democrat who describes himself as a “cautious pessimist” about the project’s completion, said tens of millions have been put into bridgework and track upgrades.

Pacheco, Straus and Montigny all said the Patrick administration has demonstrated its commitment to the project.

That “money in the ground” could inch the project toward the point of no return, but it is unlikely to reach inevitable status during Patrick’s tenure, said Salvucci.

Pacheco noted the rail had already passed through the swamp when it was in service about a half century ago.

“Electrification on commuter rail is a huge deal. I mean, in some cities commuter rail is electrified, and in Boston none of our system is electrified. It would be nice to have it be electrified, but that’s a lot of money and a lot of engineering and a lot of time,” Salvucci said.

Added to South Coast Rail’s challenges is the requirement to expand South Station to accommodate the increased rail service, and the $40 million operating subsidy to run the service once it is built.

“You’re going to get to the point where you’ve got to make a decision,” said Hedlund. “You can’t just build something and not know how you’re going to pay to run it once it’s built.”

Hedlund said administrations dating back to Gov. Paul Cellucci in the 1990s have appeased South Coast officials and business leaders by funding studies for the rail line, without actually funding the much heftier cost of construction.

“They announce they’re releasing some money for environmental work or what have you. There’s all these little milestones, but it’s all small amount of dollars that get released, and get sunk into the project. It’s nowhere near comparable to what had happened with Greenbush, where they were actually undertaking land takings and actual digging and ground work,” Hedlund said.

THE GREENBUSH EXAMPLE

While Hedlund holds up the Greenbush rail line to the South Shore as an example of a project handcuffing an incoming administration, the halting of the Inner Belt highway project in the 1970s has been held up as a triumph of one administration squashing the plans of its predecessors.

Salvucci, who was transportation advisor to former Boston Mayor Kevin White and worked to stop the highway, said it took courage for Gov. Frank Sargent to scrap the proposed highway through Somerville, Cambridge and Boston neighborhoods, but it was not as far along as it seemed and had substantial opposition from the people whose homes would be demolished to make room for the highway.

“The Inner Belt had not gone through its environmental impact statement, for instance, which was a brand new requirement. The law requiring environmental impact statements came in in 1970,” said Salvucci. He said, “It seemed imminent because everyone was talking about it. It actually had a fairly long way to go in procedural terms . . . There was federal funding available, which made it pretty courageous, very courageous, I’d say, for Sargent to stop it.”

Hedlund said Gov. Mitt Romney found the Greenbush line scored “dead last” of all the ongoing transportation projects, but it was so far along that he allowed the construction to continue.

“The problem was that the Cellucci administration had gone ahead using some nefarious language that was put in a transportation bond bill, giving the MBTA authority to do a design-build on one quote-unquote ‘pilot project’ and they chose Greenbush to do that, which was not the legislative intent. So what the Romney administration found that was there was too much money sunk in the ground already to kill the project, and they weren’t even at full-design phase. They were only at 30 percent design, but they were using that design-build language that was given to them in a bond bill,” Hedlund said. He said, “The intent was it was going to be for a minor project, not anything controversial. That way they could kind of try it out, and of course they picked extremely controversial, expensive project to do it on, so I felt that was a deliberate strategy to get money sunk in the ground before a new administration came in and had a chance to really look at that, and that’s exactly what happened.”

Pacheco said when Romney froze capital spending upon taking office it put plans for a judicial complex in Taunton on ice for the remainder of Romney’s term in office.

“He pulled it from the list, so we had to wait until Deval Patrick came into office,” Pacheco said.

Survey seeks opinions on Norfolk County judges

October 21, 2013 10:00 AM

DEDHAM, Mass. (AP) — The state’s highest court is sending questionnaires to attorneys and court employees in Norfolk County, seeking input on 35 judges as part of an ongoing program to evaluate judicial performance.

The Supreme Judicial Court’s survey covers several categories including a judge’s knowledge of the law, fairness and impartiality, temperament on the bench and treatment of litigants, witnesses, jurors and attorneys.

Lawyers who have appeared in court in the county over the last two years will receive questionnaires.

All questionnaires are confidential and do not ask for the names of the respondents. The resulting reports also will be confidential and are given only to the judge being evaluated and to the chief justices of their courts.

Questionnaires will be accepted by the SJC through mid-December.

Congressman Michael Capuano won't run for governor, opting for US House instead

September 26, 2013 03:55 PM

U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano will seek a ninth term in the U.S. House and will not run for governor in 2014, opting against entering a competitive primary that would have pitted him against Attorney General Martha Coakley, who defeated Capuano in the 2009 Democratic Senate primary.

The 61-year-old former Somerville mayor had been mulling a campaign for months and issued a statement Thursday announcing his decision not to try to succeed Gov. Deval Patrick and to instead try to keep his seat in the House, which is currently controlled by Republicans. (More coverage: Political Intelligence blog.)

"After taking time to reflect with my family, I have decided that I will not be a candidate for Governor in 2014. I am truly touched by the support and encouragement I received throughout this process, but believe that I can best serve the Commonwealth in Congress. I will continue to be a strong voice for progressive policies in Washington,” Capuano said in a statement.

Capuano said in June that he was weighing both family considerations and the reality that he would need to give up the seat in Congress he has held for nearly 16 years since he succeeded Joseph Kennedy in 1999.

“I see a path politically. But I think the bigger question is whether I want to do this to myself, my family and my supporters. If I do something, I do it 150 percent," he told the News Service in late June. "I would have to give up this seat and a fair amount of seniority for the Commonwealth. I know I'm not irreplaceable, but I think I do a pretty good job down here.”

He represents Seventh Congressional District, which includes Somerville, Chelsea, Everett, Milton, Randolph and parts of Boston.

A Public Policy Polling survey taken last weekend and released Tuesday included Capuano among the Democratic field of gubernatorial contenders. The poll found Capuano to be the strongest competitor against Attorney General Martha Coakley for the party nomination, though he still trailed her 41 percent to 21 percent.

Capuano also held a 42-37 lead over Republican candidate for governor Charlie Baker in a hypothetical matchup.

Though Capuano has been reluctant to risk his Congressional seat for an uncertain statewide campaign, he ran in the 2010 special election for U.S. Senate following the death of Sen. Edward Kennedy. He finished second in the December 2009 primary to Coakley, 47-28, and then was uncontested as he won reelection to the House that fall.

While still mayor of Somerville, Capuano waged a short-lived campaign for secretary of state in 1994, but was edged off the Democratic primary ballot when he failed to secure enough support at the party convention.

Secretary of State William Galvin went on to win that campaign, and when asked by the Boston Globe after the convention why he decided to run for secretary of state, Capuano said, “Because I wasn’t ready to run for governor.”

Neither Capuano, nor Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone have made much effort to build support for a statewide race in their staunchly Democratic hometown, according to Jack Connolly, a longtime member of the Board of Aldermen.

“They would have had the luxury of a lot of local support, but timing is everything,” said Connolly, likening the primary contest to a road race.

Curtatone told the News Service this week that he has talked to people "around the Commonwealth" about running for governor, but has not made up his mind and is not considering any of the other offices that will or might be open next year.

"I'm not an office shopper," said Curtatone, who said he agrees with Patrick in the need for "generational investment" and holds up his management of the city of roughly 77,000 just north of Boston as an example. He said, "I would run with a plan and a commitment and a passion to get the job done."

In addition to Coakley, Treasurer Steve Grossman, former Obama Medicare and Medicaid chief Donald Berwick, biotechnology executive Joseph Avellone, Cape Cod Sen. Daniel Wolf, and national security expert Juliette Kayyem are running for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.

Republican Charlie Baker and independent Evan Falchuk will also be candidates for governor in 2014.

Snapshot: The cost of safety

September 19, 2013 05:19 AM

snapshot.JPG
Fire Department spending as a percentage of all expenditure spending, fiscal year, 2012.

Click here to see a larger, interactive version of this chart.
Additional town-by-town snapshots.

Capuano, Lynch, Tierney weigh in on use of force against Syrian regime

August 29, 2013 04:14 PM

Several members of the Massachusetts Congressional delegation called for caution and forethought in the nation’s approach to Syria, which might include military force.

U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Ed Markey, and Congressmen John Tierney, Michael Capuano and Stephen Lynch indicated openness to the use of force, while calling for more information and in some cases the assertion of Congress’s constitutional power to declare war.

“The one thing that I’m absolutely certain of is that Congress has to be consulted and in my opinion, consulted means more than just informed. In my opinion it means Congress has to be asked for permission to use military force,” Capuano said.

Secretary of State John Kerry has said Syria’s “indiscriminate slaughter of civilians” with chemical weapons is “undeniable” and “defies any code of morality.”

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has been at war with rebels within the country since “Arab spring” protests in 2011 were met with a violent governmental crackdown. Last week, reports emerged that a rebel-held suburb of the capital, Damascus, had been attacked with a chemical weapon, killing hundreds of people, some of whom had hunkered in their basements for cover from the shelling.

Warren echoed Kerry’s indignation, while urging caution as the United States weighs its options.

“There is no doubt that what Assad – or I think there is not doubt at this point – that what Assad has done violates international law. This is a violation against all the people of the world, not just the people of the United States, but all the people,” Warren said Wednesday, when asked if Syria posed a direct threat. She said, “At this point, it’s about identifying that we have a goal, and that we have a reasonable way to get there. But I want to caution on this. It’s critically important that we remember about unintended consequences. We may have good intentions, but the consequences of our acts are not limited by those intentions.”

Tierney, who voted against the Iraq War authorization and questioned the lack of support for a strike in the region, said President Barack Obama should call Congress back into session, and lay out the evidence.

“Where’s the Arab League on this whole thing, and why aren’t they standing up? . . . I think Turkey is supportive of somebody else doing something that they ought to be stepping forward and taking a lead on,” Tierney said. “The United States doesn’t always have to be the most outraged and the most aggressive.”

Obama did not seek Congressional approval for a series of missile attacks and air raids over Libya, which helped the rebel fighters there depose and eventually kill the country’s leader Moammar Gaddafi.

Capuano, who joined other lawmakers in a lawsuit against the commander in chief for failing to consult Congress about the Libyan intervention, said he would be open to the argument of military involvement if he is satisfied the Assad government used chemical weapons.

“If it’s proven, I would listen to it. But the use of military force is not a short-term thing. It also opens up the issues of what happens to the rest of the region, what happens after the use of military force,” Capuano told reporters.

Lynch and Markey both saw routes for a military engagement, with restrictions.

“I do believe that the opportunity to use NATO might be available. I certainly don’t think the United States should go in there without considerable international support and probably with full NATO support,” Lynch said. He said, “I would not support the U.S. going in there unilaterally.”

“It is important for the United States to stand up and say, ‘No, chemical weapons cannot be used.’ At the same time, we do not want to involve ourselves with ground troops in a civil war in Syria,” said Markey. He said, “Congress should exercise its prerogative” on use of the military, and said, “I would hear the case that was made.”

Lawmaker open to lifting the cap on charter schools in some communities

August 15, 2013 04:52 PM

As Boston opened its last allowable charter school on Monday and other communities bump up against limits, state lawmakers could be willing to lift the cap in some districts, a top lawmaker who helps steer education policy said Thursday.

Advocates hoping to lift all charter school limits statewide are unlikely to see that happen, but a more modest lift could be in the works, Rep. Alice Peisch, co-chair of the Joint Committee on Education, told the News Service.

“I think there are underperforming districts that have reached the cap, Boston and Holyoke, that kind of change I think is more likely than a total cap lift. Some modest change is possible,” Peisch said. “I don’t want to say we are definitely going to do it.”

Currently, Boston, Holyoke, Chelsea, North Adams and Greenfield are frozen. Other cities with room for one more new charter are Lowell, Lawrence, Somerville, Everett, Randolph, Salem, Fitchburg, Gardner, Webster and Southbridge, according to the Charter School Association.

Peisch said she has heard from her colleagues a willingness to lift caps in certain cities, with two cities – Boston and Holyoke – being looked at closely.

Running out of room at charter schools is not a pressing issue in most communities, Peisch said, pointing to the 2010 Achievement Gap Act that allowed more charter schools to open around the state and gave traditional public schools more options to be innovative.

The Massachusetts Charter Public School Association would rather see the limits eased in more communities, arguing there is pent-up demand. Teachers unions oppose adding more public charter schools to the education mix.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education this month posted data that showed 40,376 students on waiting lists for charter schools, a drop from earlier reports that showed 52,583 students on the lists compiled separately from individual schools. The number went down after DESE eliminated duplicates – students who were on waiting lists at more than one school.

Deputy Education Commissioner Jeff Wulfson said the waiting list information, even after eliminating duplicates, is not a “gold standard” for data. Many people put their children on waiting lists, but do not take themselves off once they find a spot somewhere else.

Education officials think it would be premature to lift caps statewide, Wulfson said. There are still many communities with charter school seats available under the 2010 Achievement Act, he said.

“The commissioner has encouraged charter operators to go into some of these other districts and not just focus on Boston, but go to Chicopee and New Bedford,” Wulfson said.

The numbers do point to a need to revisit the caps, with several communities hitting their limit or on the verge, according to Dominic Slowey, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association.

“We always knew there were duplicates. We always acknowledged there were duplicates,” Slowey said. “Charter opponents and unions were claiming our seats were wildly over-inflated. I think this shows they weren’t wildly over-inflated. Forty-thousand is a huge number statewide. Seventeen-thousand in Boston is a huge number.”

“We have used up all those extra seats now in Boston and several other communities. It is time to take a look at lifting the cap again,” Slowey said.

Peisch said instead of easing caps statewide, she would rather see charter schools move into communities where there is still room or places where they have traditionally shied away from.

“I think lifting the cap is not the only way to improve the learning experience for more students. My goal, frankly, is to figure out what is the best way to give the most kids access to a high-quality education,” Peisch said. “I think it is possible some change to current law may be part of the solution, but it is not the only solution.

“We could lift the caps tomorrow and we would still have 40,000 kids on the waiting list. We need to be focused on much more comprehensive solutions rather than just charter schools,” she said. “I see them as a piece of the solution, but not the entire solution.”

Charter school advocates argue that opening more schools in places that still have room does not help parents with children in struggling school districts.

“What are you going to tell the parents in Chelsea and Holyoke and Boston? You are going to have to wait until we fill up every seat in those other communities . . . ” Slowey said.

One bill advocates are pushing would increase access to charter schools along with allowing school administrators to have more flexibility in turnaround plans at underperforming schools. The legislation (S 235), filed by Sen. Barry Finegold (D-Andover), would allow unlimited Horace Mann in-district public charter schools to be established in the lowest 10 percent performing school districts, without approval of the local teachers union. It would also remove a statewide cap of 48 Horace Mann Charter Schools, in-district facilities subject to approval by local school committees.

Massachusetts Teachers Association President Paul Toner said there are things traditional public schools can learn from charter schools, but added the state should be investing in regular district schools first. “We don’t believe taking more money away from districts is going to benefit the vast number of children,” Toner said.

Toner said his organization and school superintendents are working with lawmakers to craft legislation that would give “Level 3” performing schools tools for rapid turnaround, before they hit the lowest level of performance “Level 4.” He could not provide details because he said it was still in the draft stages, and no one has committed to it yet.

Thomas Gosnell, president of the Massachusetts chapter of American Federation of Teachers, said increasing the number of charter schools would not be good for the majority of students in the state.

“One of the reasons is the students who are affected most, in terms of lost money, are poor kids, English language learners, kids with special needs,” Gosnell said. “When a kid goes off to a charter, the school district loses state aid and local money that is spent on that student. This may not mean any reduction in the cost for the school system.”

It impacts the services traditional public schools can offer, Gosnell said.

“One of the reasons we also oppose it is the urban school systems have a substantial number of English language learners, and they are terribly disadvantaged when a school system loses resources,” he said.

Frozen yogurt chain Orange Leaf to open 18 new stores in Mass., including first in Boston

July 29, 2013 03:02 PM

Orange Leaf, an Oklahoma City-based frozen yogurt chain, said it will continue to expand its presence in Massachusetts by opening 18 new stores in the Bay State before the end of the year, including its first store in Boston.

The Boston store will be in the city's Brighton neighborhood at the corner of Market and Washington streets, the company said in a press release this month.

Nine of the chain’s stores have already opened in Massachusetts this year. Once the 18 additional stores planned for 2013 open, there will be 41 Orange Leaf stores in Massachusetts. The only state with more of the chain’s stores is Texas, where 54 are either open or under construction.

“As a company, we cannot be more excited to expand our footprint in Massachusetts as one of the highest-demand markets for frozen desserts,” said a statement from Orange Leaf CEO Reese Travis. “Massachusetts, along with the northeast as a whole, is one of Orange Leaf’s fastest developing areas. Our low start-up cost and scalable business model has attracted many eager franchisees in the region who are excited to grow our brand.”

By year’s end, the stores in Massachusetts will be in communities including: Acton, Attleboro, Andover, Belmont, Brighton, Brockton, Burlington, Cambridge’s Harvard Square, Canton, Chelmsford, Danvers, Dracut, Franklin, Gloucester, Hingham, Hanover, Hull, Leominster, Lexington, Mansfield, Marblehead, Medway, Melrose, Methuen, Natick, Needham, Newburyport, Newton, Norwood, Plymouth, Randolph, Reading, Salem, Seekonk, Somerville, Swansea, Tewksbury, Waltham, Watertown, Wayland, Wellesley, Westwood, Winchester, and Woburn.

E-mail Matt Rocheleau at mjrochele@gmail.com.
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