NB Politicus

Hartford High School Plan Is Instructional For New Britain

Posted in public education by nbpoliticus on August 25, 2007

In his earliest days as Hartford School Superintendent, Steven J. Adamoski was critical of the $100+ million investment that had been made in Hartford Public High School. The makeover kept the facility a big-box, comprehensive high school with too many students in one place.

One of the nation’s oldest secondary schools, Hartford Public has faced years of accreditation issues and troubling measures of student performance that the physical overhaul and capital investment did not improve.

Adamoski, a former superintendent of Cincinnati, OH schools, was brought to Hartford by Mayor Eddie Perez and the Board of Education for change and reform in the capital city’s troubled 25,000 pupil school system. His task is to implement a “turnaround plan.” Several days ahead of the 2007-2008 school year the details of an “all-choice” plan for Hartford have emerged. According to the Hartford plan the district “will undertake a dramatic investment in the creation of new schools with the goal of bringing over 30 new, high-performing public schools into the Hartford system by 2017, with the majority of new schools up and running in the first five years.”

Dismal student achievement scores have prompted a call by Adamowski for decentralization of its big high schools. A story by Bob Frahm in the August 24th Hartford Courant focuses on the effort to be made over the next several years “to break the high schools up into smaller units.”

“We have to redesign our [large] comprehensive high schools. We can’t have these high schools continue to operate” in their current form, Adamowski told the Courant.

Like Hartford Public High, New Britain High is facing accreditation issues discussed by school board members, school officials and the public at an August 14th community meeting in New Britain. And nobody needs to be reminded that New Britain High has too many students crowded into one place. The New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) Commission on Secondary Schools report of October 2006 noted deficiencies that NBHS needs to address: “The current plant at New Britain High School is not capable of adequately housing its rapidly increasing student body.”

The NEASC site team noted that the Board of Education is taking steps starting with a 9th grade academy (to open this year). But the Commission also noted that “support for student learning is inadequate” with a student to counselor ratio of 330 to 1 and two library media specialists to serve 3,200 students.

Those ratios demonstrate that NBHS is still too much of a comprehensive high school that needs smaller units of students to deliver a better learning environment — the sort of thing Adamowski is now trying to create in Hartford.

The New Britain Democratic Town Committee’s 2007 platform calls for similar action: “The opening of a freshman academy is a positive first step toward a multi-faceted strategy of de-centralizing education and creating learning communities.”

Despite the inequities that are built into the current means of financing the schools, a bold plan for high-performing schools [sometimes but not always contingent on more money] and similar to that being proposed in Hartford is needed in New Britain.

An Energy Broker Comes To Town: City Considers 5-Year Deal With World Energy

Posted in energy, utilities by nbpoliticus on August 17, 2007

The days of your good, old, regulated electric light company are over.

That was abundantly clear at an August 16th meeting of the New Britain Common Council’s consolidated committee. City councillors heard officials of Worcester, MA-based World Energy Solutions explain how they can lower energy costs for the city by being an “honest broker” in a deregulated marketplace where electricity’s price is skyrocketing.

The New Britain meeting stemmed from a resolution filed by Council Minority Leader Louis Salvio that authorizes Mayor Stewart “to enter into a contract for a period of five (5) years with World Energy Solutions…for the procurement and contract management services to obtain the lowest energy prices for the city.”

Obtaining a lower price for electricity is a necessity for financially-distressed New Britain with current costs of power by the local government and schools approaching $4 million this year, according to Ward 2 Councillor Adam Platosz.

Platosz was the author of a resolution early in the year that asked the city finance department to seek “aggregator” status for New Britain in light of double digit electric rate hikes. Under state law, a city on its own can pursue bulk buying and even allow residential users to take advantage of bulk buying through the municipality to lower their bills.

While the Platosz resolution has been ignored for months by the city administration, the arrival of World Energy at the invitation of Mayor Stewart re-opens the debate on the best options the city has to lower its energy costs and perhaps lower rates for residents.

World Energy Solutions representatives delivered an impressive portfolio of their company to the sparsely attended council meeting.

The company, using a sophisticated online auction platform, essentially acts as an “energy realtor” — a term used by Council President Suzanne Bielinski in trying to understand procurement services. World Energy engages energy suppliers in bidding for the sale of power to their large customers, including states, the federal government and corporations.

Founded in 1996, World Energy describes itself as a leader in the “online energy brokerage market, providing technology and intelligence for brokering electricity, natural gas, wholesale power, fuels and green credits.” The company, one of a number now engaged in brokering energy, was created at a propitious time when de-regulation dramatically changed the way public utilities did business.

The de-regulated industry has spawned a system of generators (power plant operators), suppliers (energy sellers) and distributors (utilities). Lest you think Connecticut Light & Power (CL&P) and United Illuminating (UI) will disappear, think again. CL&P and local utilities remain the distributors, owning the wires, poles and infrastructure that delivers the power. Most of us still pay the utility for both supply and distribution as CL&P and UI purchase power from suppliers twice a year, passing costs on to residential and business users.

World Energy and similar outfits now act as the “middle men” in an industry that once was strictly regulated on price, but now is subject to wild swings. Taking advantage of deregulation, the brokers are now the auction experts who go out and find the best price for a city or state government. They take their profits from the generator-supplier-distributor chain before it reaches users.

Jonathan Harvey, a World Energy government relations official based in Washington, D.C., informed the City Council that his company makes its money through “performance fees” in a procurement process that knows no state or national borders. He assured the councillors that “there is no direct cost to you.” According to World Energy its “online reverse auction platform” saves customers “an average of 11% compared with traditional paper-based approaches to energy procurement.”

While World Energy’s credentials impressed the city councillors, the proposal has been brought forward by the city administration without the customary requests for proposals and bidding process that would normally be part of a multi-year municipal contract. That will inevitably be brought up before a vote is taken on this particular proposal.

Council Majority Leader Michael Trueworthy asked how World Energy came to New Britain. Apparently, the Stewart administration has not shared anything with the Council, including Trueworthy who with Bielinski meets with the Mayor on a routine basis to discuss city business. Harvey, accompanied by Connecticut Marketing Director Bill Thibodeau, would only say that his company is knocking on the doors of Connecticut city and town halls because it has just won a State of Connecticut contract to provide procurement for state agencies.

A recently released press release from the company’s website confirmed the state deal: “We are pleased that the State of Connecticut has selected us as its online energy procurement solution, which we view as further validation of our position as the leading provider to U.S. government agencies at both the state and local levels.”

The proposal to authorize the Mayor to enter a five-year contract with World Energy Solutions deserves a thorough review and discussion by the Council. No matter what the outcome of engaging an energy broker, the discussion should also re-open Ald. Platosz’ original plan to give New Britain aggregator status, empowering the city not only to seek fairer rates for itself but creating a municipal “pool” whereby residents could realize savings too. Absent a state law that protects consumers from spiraling rates, New Britain needs to be an aggregator of its own power with or without World Energy’s services.

Legislators Will Seek Immediate Repeal of Law Allowing Watershed Lease To Tilcon

Posted in city politics and government, environmental protection by nbpoliticus on August 11, 2007

New Britain’s Democratic legislators are expected to move quickly to repeal a recently enacted law sought by Mayor Timothy Stewart to allow the lease of watershed to Tilcon, Inc. for its quarry operations on the New Britain-Plainville border.

At issue is Public Act 07-244 signed into law by Gov. Rell in July that allows the city to change the use of watershed land to “allow for the lease of 131 acres.” The approved legislation would allow New Britain to enter into a long-term lease with Tilcon, Inc. valued at $15 million — an estimated $375,000 per year over 40 years. This is the amount cited by Stewart, but not much more is known about the proposed deal since it has been kept under wraps at City Hall until the 11th hour move to get the special legislation last June. The adopted legislation contains provisions inserted into the amendment by New Britain lawmakers that requires Tilcon to restore the leased land “for a public drinking water reservoir” and “the surrounding land for reforestation.” The measure, however, drew sharp editorial criticisms three times in The Hartford Courant, the latest coming on August 10. The editorials asserted that the legislative “rat” allows the lease of watershed at the expense of environmental protection.

Allowing Tilcon, Inc. to lease the land also brought opposition from Hickory Hill residents at an August 7th “Night Out” meeting attended by State Senator Don DeFronzo, 24th District State Rep. Timothy O’Brien, Stewart and others officials.

Complaints at the Hickory Hill Night Out meeting prompted Mayor Stewart to back away –at least temporarily– from a Tilcon lease deal, despite the likelihood that his own Water Department has been discussing the lease behind closed doors for months — without notification to residents, the City Council nor legislators.

Pointing fingers at the Democratic lawmakers for the legislation without owning up to making the request himself, Stewart told residents they needed to petition the city on the issue and he would considering complying. The call for a petition may have allayed concerns of some residents according to an August 8th Herald story, but Stewart gave no assurances that the lease to Tilcon would not occur.

State Rep. O’Brien, writing on his blog last week, has weighed in on the late-filed bill that would permit a lease to Tilcon in confirming his plans to repeal the special legislation.

“Approving this legislation in the first place was a tough call. It was presented to the New Britain legislative delegation in the hectic final days of the legislative session because – we were told – the city had just recently been informed of the need for legislative approval and that a delay of the matter to the 2008 session – which I would have preferred – would completely deny the city the opportunity for $15 million in non-tax revenue.”

O’Brien said Democrats, during the last days of the 2007 session, “decided the best course of action, rather than keeping the city from even considering the idea, would be to place very strict requirements” on a Tilcon lease proposal, including their insertion of public hearings and environmental guarantees before the lease arrangement could move forward.

“After having now heard the concerns of people who live in the neighborhood around the proposed site and after learning more of the facts about this proposed deal, Senator DeFronzo and I have decided that this proposal, as a whole, is not in the best interests of the city, said O’Brien. “The Mayor has placed the onus on the neighborhood residents to prove that this deal should not go forward by saying that they should collect petition signatures before he will decide to reject this deal. But the neighborhood opposition to the city’s plan with Tilcon is already very clear.
And that is why Senator DeFronzo and I are doing just what the neighborhood is asking us to – we are acting to repeal this law.”

The Stewart Administration’s interest in completing a lease with Tilcon may not be over despite Stewart’s questionable posturing in front of residents on August 7th.

Tilcon’s interest in acquiring a lease is represented at the city and state levels by Jay F. Malcynsky, a prominent New Britain Republican, whose firm, Gaffney, Bennett and Associates, is one of the state’s most influential lobbying firms. Malcynsky has close ties to Republicans in the Mayor’s office, the Governor’s office and considerable experience working with Democratic legislators. Late last week Malcynsky was reportedly still trying to get the measure back on track.

Senator DeFronzo and Rep.O’Brien, however, are adamant that the measure allowing a lease to move forward needs to be rescinded at the earliest opportunity. They are convinced that the Stewart administration misrepresented facts about the Tilcon deal prior to the votes they cast for passage.

Subsequent efforts to allow a lease of watershed will get the full hearings and legislative oversight that they deserve. Meanwhile, the relationship between Stewart and New Britain’s lawmakers couldn’t be frostier.