Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education Meeting

Matthew Kazas

On December 3rd I attended the Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education meeting, which was held at the Lincoln High School and started at 4:07pm. The Board members in attendance were Robert G. Flanders, Patrick A. Guida, Colleen A. Callahan, Amy Beretta, Anna Caro-Morales, Angus Davis, Karin Forbes, and Betsy P. Shimberg. Joining them was Deborah A. Gist, Commissioner of Education, and David V. Abbot, Deputy Commissioner of Education.

The first thing listed on the agenda was the Commissioner’s report. Gist started her report by commenting on the "Development of the boards support for starting a RI school for the deaf". Referring to development of the school for the deaf, she said: "We are making progress in terms of identifying individuals to serve on the board and are feeling very encouraged at the turnout so far."

After the Commissioner’s report it was time for the second item listed on the agenda, which was "Public Remarks". Most of the public remarks came from teachers, students and parents opposing the six-period day that Superintendent Tom Brady is trying to impose upon all of the city’s high schools.

John Welch, CEO of Innovative Health Care Plans, was the one of the two people to not speak about the six-period schedule change. Instead he said: "My suggestion is for the Regents to co-host with the Rhode Island Association of School Committees a presentation on a program called PAL that saved the Chicago school system $60 million and only cost $250,000. I think with the 150,000 students in Rhode Island this calculates into over a $14 million savings…"

Welch didn’t give any explanation about what PAL was, nor did he pass out any documents with further information.

The one other person to speak about something other then the schedule change was Mary Ryan, who has four children who were all homeschooled. Ryan said: "I received the Strategic Plan Draft about five days ago, and first I would like to ask that you seriously consider giving some more time before finalizing it."

The draft she was referring to was the RIDE Strategic Plan Draft and can be found here: The Draft was released for public comment on Nov 25th and, according to a Providence Journal article written by Jennifer D. Jordan on the 23rd of November, was to be endorsed at the Dec 3rd meeting. Later, Gist mentioned that there had never been a plan to finalize the Draft at this meeting, and that the finalization would most likely happen sometime during January.

Mrs. Ryan went on to say "One of the things I was concerned about is that it’s a constitutional right for parents to direct the education of their children. But throughout this document--other than one piece of it--there is no mention of parental involvement. There are also one or two clauses talking about how the directives would be reaching out to the families and students to tell them what their options were [based upon] proven pathways, and I feel that is encroaching on the authority of the parents."

She also mentioned her concern about how the draft seems to imply the standardization of younger children, ages three to four, to be ready for Pre-K.

After the Public Remarks section was over, a large majority of the people in the room left, leaving only eight or nine-- about four of those being reporters. This means that there was no one from the general populace to comment positively or negatively on any of the items for approval. Some of the items on the list for approval include: The 2010 revised budget and the 2011 budget, The Table of Organization, The Educator code of Responsibility and the Educator Evaluation Standards. All of these items were approved by the board with no comment from the few people left in the room.

The second to last thing listed on the agenda was the Strategic Plan update, which consisted of Gist reiterating some of things that she wants the Draft to change in the school system, giving a small list of word changes on the Draft, and speaking about how she had visited several families that were concerned with the Draft.

The last thing on the agenda was the Race to the Top update. The update was an explanation of how Gist has worked with the Strategic Plan to have it work alongside the Race to the Top. To learn more about the Race to the Top and how it affects Rhode Island, or to become a little more well-versed with Rhode Island's educational system, attend any of the upcoming Board of Regents meetings. A list of future meetings can be found here:


Sunday, December 13, 2009

Proposed Law Would Allow Apologies

Molly Koch

A Rhode Island lawmaker is introducing a bill that would make it easier for medical facilities to apologize for mistakes, without automatically facing legal repercussions.

This is happening in the wake of the Michael Woods’ wrongful death lawsuit filed against Kent Hospital.

James Woods told reporters all he needed following the death of his brother Michael at Kent Hospital was a sincere apology from the center's medical staff. But legal representatives often advise doctors that saying sorry could be seen as an admission of guilt, leading to a lawsuit.

The law is being pushed by Warwick Representative Joe McNamara, because he believes that allowing medical personnel to offer sentiments not only would comfort patients' families, but also that it could save money, by cutting down on expensive legal proceedings.

McNamara's plan would make apologies inadmissible in court. But the measure was previously scrapped last year, because of concerns that apologies would be made strategically to help exclude other damaging evidence. In response to those concerns, McNamara has said that the bill strictly defines what constitutes an apology.

This new law would be the first of its kind in the country. Michigan lawmakers have instituted a similar change of policy that has significantly lowered lawsuits, down from 260 in 2001 to only 83 in 2003.


What’s in your backyard?

Molly Koch

Maybe a swing-set, a sandbox, a garden, a pool, and… some toxic tanks? Yup, you read it right. Toxic, leaking tanks.

14 years ago, an underground tank at a gas station burst open in downtown Newport, leaking fuel into the ground. It went unnoticed, until some folks in a nearby courthouse noticed a bad smell.

It was removed immediately, but the contaminated soil was still there. The problem was only fixed when the city of Newport planned on re-paving the streets, and the federal government provided stimulus money to rehab the soil.

When asked if there was any idea how much fuel leaked out of the tanks, Paula-Jean Therrien, Principal Environmental Scientist at the Deparment of Environmental Management stated: "No, we don't. [There's] no way to estimate".

The $1 million stimulus grant is just to take care of 20 to 25 sites affected by ruptured underground tanks in Rhode Island. And while that only scratches the surface of the problem, without the stimulus money, it would be much less.

"Right now we have 300 that need some type of cleanup," said Terry Gray, Assistant Director of the Rhode Island DEM.

About 225 of those tanks are gas stations. Many of the tanks are clustered in densely populated areas such as Providence and Aquidneck Island.

The DEM has successfully gotten the number of leaking tanks down from 1,800 to 300 in just 10 years, but some are concerned that the shrinking fund will mean those responsible for cleaning up leaking tanks won't be able to get it done.

So, how do they know when a tank is leaking? The tanks have meters on them that measure how much fuel is put in, and how much is pumped out. If more is being put in than is taken out, they are checked for leaks.

Environmental assessments are also done, and the soil is tested by a lab to see if it’s contaminated.

It took 14 years to clean up the soil in Newport. And because of the stimulus money, it’s now a success story. But the money will soon run out.

Sources:, Brian F. Koch, PG Senior Geologist for Sage Environmental

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

New Texting Law Passed

Gretchen Ryan-O'Connor

Texting, sending a message from phone to phone, is a popular phone feature. Teens and adults both enjoy it. But can texting be dangerous?

While driving a friend or family member might send a text and you may want to answer- but it is now banned in 19 states including Rhode Island. Governor Carcieri signed the bill on November 10th, making texting while driving illegal. If caught texting while behind the wheel you will be fined $85 for a first offense, $100 for a second and $125 for a third. Other offenses can and will be more serious. "This law will help put a driver's eyes back on the road where they should be," said Michael Lewis, Department of Transportation director.

Statistics show that the percentage of car accidents caused by texting is 18%; talking on the phone causes up to 50% of accidents. Some states, and Washington D.C., have been toying with the idea of banning talking on handheld cellphones as well to try to further safen roads. In the private sector Verizon is speaking out as well, posting billboards that ask their customers to put the phone down and drive safely.

No text message is that important. While having a phone on you is encouraged for times of emergency, answering a text while driving is unsafe.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

School System Reform Plan Revealed

Matthew Kazas

Recently a plan to reform the Rhode Island school system was unveiled by state education officials. The hope of this reform is to increase student proficiency, revamp failing schools, improve teacher quality and shrink gaps between low-income and middle-income students.

State Education Commissioner Deborah A. Gist and her staff have been working on the 20-page draft of the reform plan for four months. The draft contains how Gist plans on improving this school system over the next three to five years.

The Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education on reviewed the draft on Thursday; they are expected to endorse it at a Dec. 3 meeting.

"We need to keep our eyes wide open and be flexible," she said. "In many ways, it represents not just the work that’s happened since I’ve been here, but also the work that’s gone on for several years. We are getting a little more ambitious and emphasizing … the sense of urgency we have about this work."

Gist also said that the plan is a "living document," and will be updated or modified as they progress, and as education officials gather more information.

The plan will consist of several large changes to the school system, including increasing the state’s high school graduation rate from 70% to 80% by 2012, and to 85% by 2015. It also relies on making it harder to become or continue working as a teacher in Rhode Island, and paying the best teachers more, based on data that shows that have improved student performance.

Other changes that should take place are the reduction of achievement gaps by 50% among low-income and minority students, the expansion of online courses and the development of a statewide virtual high school. Transforming failing schools, particularly in low-performing urban districts, and developing data systems that help teachers improve their instruction are also on the long list of changes.

"This is our plan, regardless of whether additional resources come into play," she said. "We are confident we are organizing our staff and redirecting the resources we already have to these priorities."


Pocket Constitution Project Hits The Streets

Mike Ryan
Ben Ryan

Today a number of young citizens were seen in various places in downtown Providence distributing pocket-sized United States Constitutions. The Pocket Constitution Project is the first major operation by the Civics & Arts division of Rhode Island Hope, a not-for-profit organization that seeks to increase awareness of the rights of U.S. Citizens and to keep alive hope for a better future.

The project was inspired by the group's shared experience interviewing many elected officials and public figures over the course of the last year. One question always asked of the person interviewed was: "When was the first and last time you read the U.S. Constitution?" The answer was almost invariably "high school." This prompted regular discussion as to how the American People can secure and protect their rights If they don't even know them. So, armed with several hundred Constitution booklets, the group spread out downtown and freely handed them out to anyone who wanted one.

Though the response was generally positive and several hundred copies were welcomed, they were both surprised and distressed at the number of pedestrians who turned down a handy portable copy of the American Citizen's most fundamental working documents. One man wondered aloud why at the age of 56 he should learn or even care about the Constitution at all; several others passed on grounds that they knew their rights already. A woman insisted that she didn't need one because she works in the legal field.

Rhode Island Hope will be out again braving the biting cold and wind to hand out copies of our founding documents in the near future. For more information visit their newsblog at, or tune in to their radio show on Tuesday mornings at 10:00 AM on WNRI-1380 AM.

At the request of Rhode Island Hope, pocket Constitutions were donated by the taxpayers of Rhode Island via the offices of James Langevin, Patrick Kennedy and Sheldon Whitehouse (Jack Reed's office refused to donate on the grounds that Mr. Reed only distributes them to "special constituents").

Friday, November 20, 2009

State Expects Fiscal Year To End Badly

Matthew Kazas

Last Monday afternoon the governor’s budget office released the deficit projection, which is based on revenue and spending levels across state government through the first three months of the budget year. The first-quarter report confirms that the state is on its way to ending the current fiscal year $219.8 million in the red.

Rosemary Booth Gallogly, Carcieri’s budget officer, cited three primary causes for the current year deficit projection of the first quarter report: reduced revenues of $130.4 million, overspending by the state departments of $34.9 million, and an opening deficit of $61.8 million.

Last week state government’s top budget officials agreed to reduce revenue estimates of six months earlier. Top losses included the sales and use tax, which went down $64 million; the income tax, which went down $44 million; and the business corporation tax, which went down $18.9 million.

As more and more Rhode Islanders become jobless, the Department of Human Services’ budget is overdrawn to a higher extent. This year it is expected to overspend its budget by $17 million, due primarily to the rising number of low-income Rhode Islanders on Medicaid. As the unemployment rate grows that number will rise, along with the cost to the state.

"The state has taken significant measures over the past several years, and still revenues are below estimates" said Amy Kempe, Governor Carcieri’s spokeswoman. Kempe described the current financial situation as "one of the most, if not the most, difficult fiscal environments the state has seen."

Sources: Providence Journal

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Cory Shea

Gretchen Ryan-O'Connor

Federal law states that being buried Veteran’s Cemetery with your son or daughter who has died in war is not allowed. The only people who can be buried with a solider are a spouse or minor children.

Denise Anderson, a local Massachusetts mother, had to bury her 21-year-old son, Cory Shea. He was killed in 2008 while in Iraq. Cory was never married and had no children. Denise asked to be buried with him. She hadn’t known about the federal law.

Denise has enlisted the aid of Congressman Barney Frank in starting a petition to allow her be with her son. Shea was buried in National Veteran’s Cemetery in Bourne, Massachusetts, and still has three empty plots available to him.

When Denise was interviewed October ninth on NPR, she was asked why she wanted to be buried with him, even after knowing about the law;

“Because he was my only son, and he sacrificed his life for his country. I sacrificed every day getting up without him, without knowing where he is…”

Denise only wants the law to be changed for the parents whose child has died without marrying or having kids. Having this law changed could ease the hearts of parents. “I know he’s with his brothers-in-arms right now, but I want him to be with family," she said. “I don’t want him down there alone."

“The disproportion between what this country owes her and what she is asking is just as large as can be," Frank said. “She lost her son. She has a request that she would rather be buried with him when that day comes. The disproportion can only be embarrassing. I hope we can accommodate this."

Barney Frank is making a bill to try to change that law, and hopefully reunite a mother with her son.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Healthcare Reform Rolls Along

Jake Wolf-Jensen

The clock is ticking on healthcare reform for Senate Democrats, though they are close to getting the necessary 60 votes that would ensure the passing of the bill, which would include an option for government-backed insurance, according to Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY).

President Obama has made overhauling the healthcare system his top domestic priority, and has laid out an ambitious goal of passing reform legislation before the year's end. He has also set a cost limit of $900 billion on the bill, though there is speculation that he would be willing to go up to $1 trillion.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is leaning towards proposing a bill that would make the government option optional for individual states, said Schumer, while on NBC's Meet the Press last Sunday.

“The liberals, they'd like it stronger, but are willing to live with [the opt-out bill],” said Schumer. “The more moderate Democrats - there are some who actually like it. As long as it's a level playing field, they are comfortable with it.”

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) is also optimistic about the bill, and that it will pass by the end of the year, as Obama hopes.

“If we get some of the more moderate senators like [Nebraska's] Ben Nelson and [Indiana's] Evan Bayh and [Connecticut's] Joe Lieberman in the fold, it would not surprise me to see the few remaining moderate Republicans come along,” said McCaskill last Sunday, while on ABC's This Week, though Nelson has said that he is not ready to support a government-run option, even with the opt-out provision.

“I'll take a look at the one where states could opt in if they make the decision themselves,” said Nelson, during an interview on CNN. “I think the states can make decisions on their own about their citizens. And so I certainly would look at that.”

An aide for Joe Lieberman said that, while he doesn't necessarily support the public option, he would be “inclined” to vote for the bill.

Even Senate Republicans are predicting some success for the health care bill, such as Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who said that the Democrats “have the votes” to get the bill through legislation. “It's likely they will get something through, but it's not clear to me what it is,” said McCain last Sunday, while on CBS's Face the Nation.

Sources: Providence Journal, Associated Press

Friday, October 30, 2009

Struever Bros. drop ALCO

Matthew Kazas

The $230 million American Locomotive Works project (ALCO) was headed by Struever Bros., Eccles & Rouse until this Tuesday when William C. Struever, the president and chief executive officer of Struever Bros., announced that the company will no longer be involved in the rehabilitation.

Struever was quoted as saying: “Like many other real estate development and construction companies, Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse is working through the complex challenges of these trying economic times. While Struever Bros. will have no continued ownership in the future phases of ALCO, McCormack Baron and Olneyville Housing are committed to the revitalization of one of the most important projects in all of Providence.”

The ALCO project has had its hardships; when it was originally proposed in 2005 it was supposed to be a $333-million development with 650 residences, 450,000 square feet of commercial space and a 180-room hotel. But last year the proposal only called for $230-million and 378 residences; 15,676 square feet of the original plan were lost, with 404,044 of the remaining area being office space and the other 30,280 designated retail space. The hotel was also taken out of the proposal.

Now that McCormack Baron Salazar, a St. Louis-based housing developer, and Olneyville Housing Corporation have taken over the rehabilitation of ALCO, Karl Schlachter, the company’s senior vice president, says that they will continue to build the 85 units of low- to moderate-income housing and 25 units of work force housing required in the tax agreements for phases two and three, but that they will lower the amount of market-rate housing.

In order to receive the appropriate financing the city will have to agree to this, and they must also gain approval for low income housing tax credits from Rhode Island Housing. If all goes as planned, this project should provide nearly 2,000 construction jobs and $167 million of investment into the city of Providence over the next three years.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Good news for Afghanistan?

While on CBS news program Meet the Press last Sunday, Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) suggested that the president may very well be open to adding more troops to the Afghanistan conflict, giving hope to supporters of the war who had been pessimistic about Obama’s apparent indecisiveness concerning Afghanistan. “It very well may be that additional troops are ordered,” said Reed, whose views are widely thought to reflect those of the White House. “Certainly there’s a building consensus about additional trainers for the Afghan security forces. We have to also, I think, build up our counterinsurgency forces and build up the enablers, the intelligence groups.”

The words and phrases Reed uses somewhat gave him away. “Counterinsurgency” is the term of choice for the strategy that the president’s new military commander for Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, would like to use. According to military and foreign affairs author and columnist David Ignatius, who also appeared on the show, Reed’s statements were “a very clear statement of where the president and his inner group are.”

McCrystal’s strategy, commonly known as the “surge”, would reportedly need another 40,000 troops, on top of the 21,000 that Mr. Obama has already allotted him. This strategy is closely associated with Gen. David Petraeus, who used it successfully to tamp down insurgent violence in Iraq, under President George W. Bush.

The United States already has around 68,000 troops in Afghanistan, including the recent reinforcements that Obama has sent. Almost 900 of those soldiers are from Rhode Island. They are part of a force of more than 100,000 NATO troops.

While Reed declined to answer whether or not he supports the addition of 40,000 troops, other leading Democrats, such as Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI), have spoken out against the deployment of more troops, while pushing for more efforts to expand and train the Afghan security forces and army. “It would be a mistake,” said Representative Jim McGovern (D-MA) on ABC’s This Week. “Stabilizing Afghanistan should not mean, and does not mean, a larger footprint.”

Reed’s appearance comes on the heels of the news that the Taliban brazenly assaulted the Pakistani capital of Rawalpindi last Saturday, leading to a 22-hour gunfight at Pakistan’s “Pentagon”. This served to accent the point of those who support the “surge”, such as Senator John McCain (R-AZ). “I think the great danger now is not an American pullout,” said McCain, while appearing on CNN Sunday. “I think the great danger now is a half-measure… trying to please all ends of the political spectrum.”

Appearing opposite Reed was Republican leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who, when asked whether or not he would support the deployment of 40,000 more troops, replied “If that is the recommendation of General Petraeus and General McChrystal, who got it right in Iraq, I think Republicans almost overwhelmingly will support the president if that is his request.”

(Sources Associated Press, Providence Journal, New York Times, U.S. Government)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

To Vaccinate or Not to Vaccinate; That is the Question.

As it stands, you've probably already either heard of, or had, the H1N1 virus. A startling 99% of all subtyped influenza A viruses being reported to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) were 2009 influenza A (H1N1) viruses. H1N1, or Swine Flu, is a mixture of swine, bird and human viruses. There is a vaccine in the works, to be released sometime this month.

It will be distributed in the form of a nasal spray first. The nasal spray, which contains a weak version of the live virus, can't used in people at high risk of illness, including women who are pregnant and those with underlying medical conditions.

Twenty-five states and large cities in the U.S. have already placed orders for the vaccine, with the first 600,000 doses of the drug expected to arrive shortly. Washington, D.C., New York City, Chicago and Philadelphia will be among the first places where the vaccine is available. The spray is recommended for other people between the ages of 2 and 49 in the CDC’s priority groups. This includes health-care workers, who are being urged to receive the vaccinations early for the protection of patients and to sustain the health system.

However, nearly two-thirds of U.S. parents say they will hold off having their children vaccinated against H1N1 or will not get them immunized at all, according to a survey released in September.

A magazine published by the nonprofit advocacy group Consumers Union took a phone survey of 1,502 adults from September 2-7. Its results show that 50 percent of parents are delaying the decision on vaccination, mainly because they were concerned about whether or not the new vaccine has been tested sufficiently.

14 percent of surveyed parents have ruled out having their children vaccinated altogether. About 35 percent of adults surveyed said they would definitely have their children vaccinated, a significantly higher number than the 22 percent of 5- to 18-year-olds who are immunized in a typical year, according to federal statistics. It was also found that 43 percent of parents weren’t too concerned about their children contracting H1N1 at all.

The poll, which has a 3-percentage point margin of error, was taken before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the vaccine.

While state agencies are working to get the word out to hospitals and businesses about the vaccine, some parents say they don’t feel like they know enough to make an informed decision for their children. The situation is making a lot of parents uneasy.

But for some, vaccination may be very important.

Asthma and diabetes can be quite dangerously aggravated by H1N1, according to director of the Infectious Disease Clinic at MetroWest Medical Center in Framingham, Massachusetts. While it does not make asthmatics more likely to catch swine flu, it may compound their breathing problems. Diabetics, likewise, are not any more at risk of contraction, but once infected, their blood glucose levels can rise, and cause complications with their regular treatments.

To vaccinate or not to vaccinate? Well, there are so many factors, situations, and opinions that there can be no one-size-fits-all answer. It may be a personal decision, between you and your doctor; you may feel that you have no other choice; or perhaps you feel safe without it. It all depends on your interpretation of the facts.

Sources:,, and the Milford Daily News.

An Investment In Knowledge Pays The Best Interest

When was the first time you read the United States Constitution? When was the last time you read it?

A small group of teenage and young adult activists have been asking these questions to the people around them, and the number of people who have answered "highschool" to the first and second questions is high. They are determined to do something about this.

The aptly named Pocket Constitution Project is well underway. Participants in the project have been meeting every week to gather and exchange information and ideas about the best ways to communicate to people the importance of the U.S. Constitution and its appropriate place in our society as a living, breathing document.

They are studying the document itself, as well as the origins, the history, the changes it has undergone and investigating where it is and is not being upheld today.

The group will be handing out pocket constitutions in high-traffic public areas, such as parks and bus stations. They will be dressed in period costume, answering questions and holding signs with poignant quotes from around the time of the American Revolution that are still very relevant today.

"The idea is to get people interested." said a spokesperson from the group. "It's no longer the law to teach the United States Constitution in Rhode Island schools. Americans in general are knowing less and less about their government, and the negative change it's promoting is blatant. We hope to educate people, encouraging them to take more responsibility as citizens. "

The group anticipates hitting the streets in the early Spring. In the meantime, they are also in pre-production of a documentary series about the Bill of Rights. They are in the research and development stage as of right now, looking to translate the information accessibly. They are hoping to air this series on Public Access television, and are looking for other venues as well.

For more information on the group, keep checking back for updates here.