Letters to the Editor

August 30, 2006

It Doesn’t Add Up at 60 Putnam

I find it rather remarkable how officials in the Hamden school system are struggling to put a happy face on a flawed education system in a town whose per-pupil cost is one of the highest in the state. Mastery scores, a way to determine student achievement, are not only stagnant but the trend is downward and has been for years.

We have heard all the excuses before and now we hear them once again. Fingers are always pointed away from school administrators. Textbooks are the problem. Achievement gap between white and minority students is the problem. Disadvantaged students are the cause. And on and on.

Administrators say they have the best and brightest teachers yet the children are not learning as they should. Is it possible that the "best and brightest" are not as talented in daily classroom instruction as they should be?

A short while ago, huge raises were given to two assistant school administrators who were touted as "working very hard." Doing what? One would think that "working hard" would result in positive results and quality education for Hamden pupils. Maybe compensation should be tied to end result not just passed out on someone’s whim. School Superintendent Alida Begina was passed over for a raise this year, not because she oversees a less than positive education system, but because she was absent too many days. What is wrong with this picture?

Frank Baldino
Washington Avenue

August 29, 2006

Vets with PTSD Need Congressional Aid

More and more members of Congress are trying to make the Iraq War look and feel like the Vietnam War. The driving force for these members of Congress is personal political gain. By doing this they are putting our men and women in uniform at risk and they are also helping the enemies of this country gain support in Iraq and the rest of the world.

If some members of Congress want to end this war in Iraq, they should stop funding it like they did in Vietnam, because a war cannot be fought without money.

The one thing that is the same about Vietnam and Iraq is that there is no safe place to be. The war is all around you all the time. This kind of warfare puts our troops under unbelievable stress that no one watching it on TV can understand or feel.

Post-traumatic stress disorder is running at about 28 percent for troops returning from Iraq. The Department of Veterans Affairs is going to ask Congress for more money to treat these returning veterans. I hope that these same members of Congress that are using the Iraq War for political gain will vote for more money to be spent to help our troops retuning from Iraq with PTSD. Will they give the VA money to treat our returning veterans that have PTSD? Or will they turn their backs to this problem like they did for the Vietnam veterans?

Nobody knows how many Vietnam veterans ended their lives because they could not get treatment for PTSD. As a Vietnam veteran with PTSD I ask you to please not let this happen to our Iraq veterans. Make veterans’ health an issue in this election.
What you can do when you meet an Iraq veteran is to say thank you for your sacrifices and welcome home -- whether or not you agree with this war.

Thomas Alegi
Benham Street

August 28, 2006

DEP Let Us Way Down

The much-anticipated DEP meeting on the Newhall remediation project was held on Aug. 17, and the much-anticipated plan presented to the community by the DEP contained precisely the same solution the department proposed approximately one year ago. The DEP explained it verbally then, and it took them a year to put it into report format.

The only change -- and it is a substantial change -- is that they are no longer considering dumping the contaminated soil behind the old middle school, for which I am grateful. However, the DEP ...

I could go on and on but the meeting left me feeling very sad. These are poor working people who have been to meeting after meeting, year after year, submitting suggestion after suggestion, completing form after form, tormented by fears about their health and the health of their children, and the health of their senior relatives due to this contamination. They all left feeling frustrated and fearful upon hearing this much-anticipated DEP proposed remediation plan.

Antoinette Oliveira
Dudley Court

If You Vote Like a D, Think Like a D, then Be a D

I am writing this letter to the hundreds of newly registered Hamden Democrats. As many as 700 Hamden residents either switched their registration from unaffiliated to Democrat or newly registered as Democrats in order to vote in the Aug. 8 primary. On behalf of the Hamden Democratic Party, I want to welcome you, and I urge you to remain a Democrat to help us build the party.

Most likely, you became a Democrat in order to vote for Sen. Joseph Lieberman or Ned Lamont. Registering as a Democrat was an acknowledgement that the Democratic Party addresses your goals, your ideals and your hopes for the future of America. By remaining a Democrat, and by getting involved with the local Hamden Democratic Party, you can see those goals and ideals achieved.

What are those goals? Well, among other things, on the national level they include a balanced budget, a competent and coherent plan for getting the United States out of Iraq, a strong defense against terrorism, protecting the promise of Social Security and ensuring that every American has access to affordable health care. On the state and local levels, those goals include tax reform and honesty in government.

There are some things that stand in the way of achieving your goals. First and foremost, we need to elect a Democratic governor for Connecticut this year. The inequities of our current property tax system and the terrible increase in Hamden residential property taxes can be blamed on the fact that, for the past 12 years, Republicans have controlled the governor’s office and have blocked any reasonable, coherent tax reform. Former Gov. John Rowland and his partner Jody Rell have overseen 12 budgets that rejected every measure that would have offered property tax relief to communities like Hamden. If you are unhappy about your property tax bill, the best way to address the problem is to vote for Democrat John DeStefano in November.

The second obstacle to seeing your goals achieved is the Republican Party in Washington, which has routinely rejected any concept of fairness. In both Connecticut and Washington, D.C., the politics of greed has taken over. The Republican Party’s acronym, GOP, now stands for Greedy Old Party. Connecticut’s John Rowland was only the first. Consider this list: Duke Cunningham, Tom DeLay, Jack Abramoff, Robert Ney, Halliburton. The list seems endless and is growing daily.

But in Connecticut, we have three marvelous Democratic candidates running against Republican congressional incumbents: in the 2nd District, Joe Courtney; in the 4th District, Diane Farrell; and in the 5th District, Chris Murphy. All three need and deserve your support.

The last time Hamden’s Democratic registration was this high was immediately after the 2004 presidential election, another time when Hamden residents overwhelmingly identified themselves with the Democratic Party. We had about 13,000 registered Democrats at that time, but nearly 18,000 Hamden residents voted for John Kerry and John Edwards. And last year, Hamden overwhelmingly elected Democratic Mayor Craig Henrici with over 80 percent of the vote in the final election.

I urge all of you to remain in the Democratic Party. The local Democratic Party Web site is www.hamdendemocrats.com; notices of our upcoming meetings are posted there. Help us to elect John DeStefano, Joe Courtney, Diane Farrell and Chris Murphy. Help us to give your government back to you.

Joseph P. McDonagh, chair
Hamden Democratic Town Committee

August 25, 2006

Dems Should Make More Babies

It’s amazing that former Mayor John Carusone and others are saying that Sen. Joe Lieberman should pull out of the Senate race so the Democratic Party could unite. If I remember correctly, Mr. Carusone was told by some members of the Democratic Party that he should not run for mayor. The same reason was given.

As history shows, Mr. Carusone did not do what some members in the party wanted him to do and he became mayor.

I saw something on one of the news channels about Republicans. They are having more babies than Democrats and these babies are growing up and joining the Republican Party. I would suggest to the Democrats that the only way to close this baby gap is by spending more time with your significant other at night than thinking about how to put the screws to the Republicans.

Thomas Alegi
Benham Street

August 22, 2006

Check Your Bucci Facts

This otherwise tardy communication results from a recent notification passed down to me this week. Mr. Anthony Aceto notified our family this week of a hall of fame dinner event commemorating my father, Joseph T. Bucci, as well as others. I followed a winding path of Web sites to the Hamden Daily News that posted a Nov. 28, 2005, article titled "The History of 'The (Green Bowl) Game,'" written by John Carusone.

Mr. Carusone makes reference to a "Gridiron District Hall of Fame" in regards to Don Noto and Joe Sette. Could this be the same HOF suggested by Mr. Aceto? If so, what is this organization? I suspect it is restricted to the district athletic league of years past, e.g., Hamden, Notre Dame, West Haven, Hillhouse, etc.

I am also compelled to mention an error in Mr. Carusone's article. Mr. Carusone makes flattering reference to "Other Hamden Greats" including "Joe Bucci a defensive back with the AFL Boston Patriots" (as well as, Mr. Aceto). I have the strongest suspicion that the reference is to my father. However, my father did not play for the Boston Patriots at any time in his life. There is evidence from my father's scrapbook of having attended tryouts, and having received a "don't-call-us, we'll-call-you" letter from Patriots management. The oversight is not a major issue unless I consider the possibility of other errors being introduced at the Gridiron District event, assuming the dots connect between Mr. Aceto, Mr. Carusone and my father.

I would sincerely ask that Mr. Bucci's biographical information be crosschecked with Bucci family members, as there is the possibility of embarrassment or emotional upset. At your request, I am happy to provide contact information for the family.

Thomas Bucci

August 16, 2006

Pension Anxiety

Yesterday, Mayor Henrici stated in an interview with the Hamden Daily News that he is considering presenting to the Legislative Council a proposal to bond approximately $85 million. The money would be a contribution to the pension plan in order to cover our shortfall.

I was initially stunned and shocked by the fact that the mayor indicated the actuarial amount required to fully fund our pension plan is $250 million. I had understood that the figure was closer to $160 million. That’s a huge difference, especially since we only have approximately $82 million in the fund now.

What caused such a huge change? Did our actuaries calculate the previous figure incorrectly? Did the recent retirements have this great an impact on the fund? These are questions that need to be addressed.

Bonding the pension has enormous risks, but if done correctly, can make sense. The first concern is what the annual principal and interest payments will be compared to future pension contributions. Under this year’s budget, we placed $9 million into the pension fund, and next year we are slated to contribute $12 million. Assuming that the principal and interest payments on the bond are less than $12 million, then you must add what our contribution will be next year, based on the fact that we would have just made an $85 million deposit from the bonding. Remember, even if we fund up to 70 percent of the new requirement of $250 million, we would need $175 million. Adding our current $82 million with the new $85 million totals $167 million. Hence, we would still be $8 million short.

The second concern is what our rate of return has been historically on our pension plan. The plan is invested in market securities, which have had fluctuating results. With $167 million invested, how much return can we reasonably expect? Is that return enough to cover our annual obligations? What was our average rate of return over the last 10 years? As an example, if our average rate of return has been 3 percent and the interest rate on the bond is to be 4 percent, it may not make sense to proceed in this direction.

The final issue that I can envision at this point is the degree of risk we have within the pension plan’s portfolio. Given that we are borrowing a substantial sum to invest in this plan, we can ill afford to lose money should the market downturn. Imagine borrowing this kind of money and then after two years only having $60 million left while paying principal and interest on $85 million. That would be disastrous.

I would suggest we take a good long hard look at our portfolio and consider a more conservative approach, even it that means placing a high percentage of the fund in government bonds, etc. Of course, that could mean a lower rate of return, but it sure beats the alternative, which is a potential loss.

Given these issues, the possibility of bonding can be effective, but it must be done with careful consideration and realization of the risks involved. All parties concerned, the mayor, Council and Pension Board must cooperate and understand these risks and plan accordingly.

Jim Pascarella
At-large councilman

School Supers Not Overpaid

Both Dr. Portia Bonner and Hamlet Hernandez (assistant school superintendents) have carried a heavy load as we struggle to improve curriculum and meet No Child Left Behind, build the new middle school, negotiate with the union on outsourcing and keep on budget while the superintendent is frequently out of office.

Both Dr. Bonner and Hernandez were new hires last summer and have been learning their responsibilities quickly and filling in for the superintendent as needed. As I read the Hamden Daily News article on the highest paid town workers, LINK I note that with their raises included, our two assistant superintendents would only come in 13th or 14th on the list, and clearly they had to put in many late nights without the benefit of overtime.

Moreover, both were doing this at a salary less than that of their counterparts in other towns. The Board believes in retaining and grooming qualified people in important positions such as these -- a strategy that leads to stability and saves money in the long run. Most importantly, not one cent used for these raises will be taken out of the classroom.

Lynn Campo, member
Hamden Board of Education

August 15, 2006

I’ll Drink to That

A cartoon poster in Milford’s TJ’s Package Store depicting a soldier in camouflage reads: "Out of Work? Undereducated? No Health Plan? Join the Army and see Iraq." It has recently offended some Milford veterans’ organizations. And it has sparked the creation of a new coalition.

Some of those veteran and coalition members are calling for a boycott of TJ’s if owner Thomas Jakubisyn does not remove the poster. To date, Jakubisyn has refused to even consider removing it.

I am going to go from Hamden over to Milford to TJ’s Package to buy some beer and to thank Tom Jakubisyn for his time in the military service in Vietnam. And also to acknowledge his humor, courage and conviction to display someone else’s very witty cartoon.

All the while, the post commander of the Milford VFW Post 7788 and the Milford boys and girls of the newly formed coalition, Veterans and Families for the Troops, will continue to have their thoroughly embarrassing hissy-fit.

Mike Hackenbruch
U.S. Navy veteran, 1964-1967
Stanley Road

August 8, 2006

Super Rec Supers

After reading the column by Ron Gambardella I knew I had to respond to defend the recreation supervisors he has decided to use as his new platform.

As the vice president of Hamden Soccer (HSA) I can attest to the amount of hours the recreation supervisors put in, at least when working with HSA. Our organization is run by volunteers. Our meetings are held in the evening. Our practices are held in the evenings and on weekends. I can’t tell you how many times I have called Dave Demartino (recreation supervisor) with problems, which he quickly solves.

Dave comes to our general meetings, field meetings and sometimes board meetings. He comes to games on the weekends and practices during the week, just to check if everything is OK. And all of this after hours. Dave was the only town official to attend the Hamden Soccer opening day. The mayor didn’t even come.

As a resident of Hamden for 44 years, I can also attest to how hard Vinny Lavorgna works as Brooksvale ranger. He is on the grounds 24 hours a day, and I can guarantee he works a lot more than five hours of overtime a week. I have seen him on the grounds during festivals, summer camp and Boy Scout functions, and I was with both Dave and Vinny at Brooksvale while my son attended football camp -- and this was after regular business hours. I do not know the third recreation supervisor so I cannot say how hard she works. But I am sure if she is anything like Dave and Vinny, she is on the go all the time, and all of it for the residents of this town.

After reading Gambardella’s column, I would encourage the three recreation supervisors to give up this “perk” (which has been around for 25 or 30 years), and go back to putting in for overtime when you work it. You will make a lot more money that way.

As for Mr. Gambardella’s column, sometimes I am in agreement with his opinion but certainly not this time. I also think that his columns concerning Hamden’s finances would hold more weight if he had actually shown up for the budget vote.

Matt Whalen

August 2, 2006

Never Enough Dough for Begina

As a Hamden taxpayer who just had their taxes increased over $1,000 per year, I was not happy to read Dr. Begina's response to her recent evaluation. She blames the "lack of funding" as one of her excuses.

Can someone tell me what amount of money will be enough for Dr. Begina?

I have sat through budget meetings where she was told in advance not to bring an 8 percent to 10 percent increase to the Board of Education, only to turn around in the next meeting and do exactly that. For years I have listened to her threaten to -- and seen her -- cut programs and supplies for students if the Council would not approve her requested increase. Yet she never cuts any management positions. The special education director's budget has almost doubled in the past three years. Did our number of special education students double?

With all of these directors why didn't anyone notice the problem with the special education classrooms in the new middle school? Why was Hamden one of the only towns paying $40,000 per year to outplace special ed students instead of having its own functional life skills program in the middle school at a lower cost? When the program was finally decided on in May 2005, why didn't the director of special education notify the School Building Committee that a function kitchen was needed in the new school? Mr. Pepe [middle school principal] and I were the ones who discovered this in late October 2005.

As taxpayers, I feel we are held hostage by Dr. Begina. That our children will not receive their education if we don't give her the increases she asks for. She also states how her phone number is listed so the public can readily reach her. When there were parking issues at Spring Glen School in the past, I left several messages for her with not one call returned. Hopefully this evaluation by the current BOE is a step in the right direction for Hamden.

Kathy Coughlin

August 1, 2006

Joe Worked Hard

Ex-Mayor John Carusone and his ultra-liberal gang are not supporting Sen. Joe Lieberman in the Democratic primary this year. That's OK, because Mayor Carusone and his gang have been on the wrong side of things for many years. Maybe Mayor Carusone should just write about baseball seeing he does not have a liberal view of baseball.

As far back as I can remember, Sen. Joe Lieberman has worked very hard for the people of Connecticut. He was the moving force to keep the submarine base open in Groton. 31,000 jobs would have been affected if the sub-base closed. He has helped to bring new contacts to Electric Boat for new submarines. To name a few things that he has done to keep jobs in Connecticut.

Sen. Joe Lieberman worked and marched for civil rights when it was not the in thing to do. I see Sen. Lieberman as a man of the people. You can look at Sen. Lieberman through the fogged classes of ultra-liberals like John Carusone, or you can make up your own mind. All I ask of you is to go to Sen. Lieberman's Web site and find out about the man yourself.

Thomas Alegi
Benham Street

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