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Graduations Well Under Way; Simsbury Cops Find Pipe Bomb
Graduations are held at Miss Porter's School and Ethel Walker. Avon officials trim their budget. And Simsbury cops find a roasting chicken along roadway with a pipe bomb stuffed inside.
Here is a round-up of some of the news stories from Farmington Valley written by Courant reporters over the past week.
ΔBudget Gets A Trimming: A divided board of finance last Monday proposed a new, $70.3 million spending plan that calls for a 3.84 percent tax increase. After meeting with the school board and the town council, the finance panel voted 5-2 to cut $382,000 from the proposal voters rejected the previous week. Cuts from the original $72.5 million budget that the finance board first proposed now total almost $2.2 million.
Voting in favor of the proposal were Chairman Tom Harrison, James Speich, Brett Eisenlohr, William Hooper and Thomas Gugliotti. Opposed were Catherine Durdan and Margaret Bratton.
The proposal calls for the board of education to absorb 75 percent of the cuts, and Superintendent Richard Kisiel said that anything new in the schools next year would come at the expense of existing programs. After the initial $72.5 million budget was criticized at a public hearing, the finance board trimmed it to $71.5 million before sending it to voters. That $71.5 million budget called for a 5.75 percent tax increase and was rejected May 14. The $70.7 million budget rejected by voters June 4 called for a 4.5 percent tax increase.
A public hearing Monday will allow the public to present its opinions on the latest proposal. Following that hearing, the board of finance will have one more chance to adjust the proposal before it goes to the final referendum on June 25.
ΔBids For Boiler Replacement Received: Officials hope to replace the asbestos-ridden 46-year-old boiler at Roaring Brook School by the end of September. Two bids for the boiler replacement and asbestos removal will be opened June 20, said Blythe Robinson, assistant town manager. "We're concerned it wouldn't make it through another winter," Robinson said of the two-unit boiler. "The abatement can be done in the last couple weeks of August and the boiler can be put in right after that." The town plans to pay for the boiler out of the 2008-09 budget, which has not yet been passed.
A public hearing will be held Monday on a $70.3 million proposal, the third the finance board will be sending to referendum this budget season. Two previous proposals failed at referendum on May 14 and June 4.The town has included $250,000 in the 2008-09 budget for the boiler replacement and asbestos removal, and will earmark roughly $153,000 for the following year for the project. "We can't wait for summer to put the bid out or else we'd never get the work done," Robinson said.
ΔMiddle School Recognized As Tops: Canton Middle School boasts a dynamic faculty, involved parents and students who score consistently well on state standardized tests. But those aren't the only reasons the school was named Connecticut's Middle School of the Year.
Equally important are the intangibles that can't be measured on an exam. "CMS is a cutting-edge school that is exemplary in every way," wrote Norma Posocco, an official with the Connecticut Association of Schools, which announced the award last month. It's something eighth-grader Julia Kuhlberg feels every day. "We're a little community here," she said. Teachers, administrators — "we all work together as a team."
When science teacher Marsha Jorgensen tells people she teaches middle schoolers, the news is sometimes met with a look of pity. Early adolescence is a time of roiling emotions and a fragile sense of self; adults who venture into the middle school trenches are often viewed as saints. "But I just love it," Jorgensen said. "I don't see the turmoil. ... Most of the kids are able to handle the challenges and they know there is always someone here they can talk to."
ΔFoundation Hosts Fundraiser: The Canton Education Foundation is hosting a fundraiser for the schools June 18 and also is giving residents the chance to honor teachers by buying certificates.
A portion of all sales at the Panera Bread at The Shoppes in Farmington Valley between 5 and 8:30 p.m. on June 18 will be donated to the foundation. High school students will play live music, and prizes will be auctioned off. The group is also selling "CHEER" awards for school teachers, staff and other employees. The minimum donation is $10, and all proceeds go toward educational grants.
ΔRally Held To Spread Awareness: STAND, a student anti-genocide coalition, hosted a Genocide Olympics at Farmington High School June 10. The rally's goal was to spread awareness and honor the 500,000 who have died in Darfur.
Deacon Arthur Miller from the Hartford Archdiocese Black Ministry Division spoke about racially motivated murder during the civil rights era and the genocide in Darfur. Miller was a friend of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old boy killed in 1955.
ΔGraduation At Miss Porter's School: The night before the senior young women of Miss Porter's School received their diplomas, Hannah Johnson waited patiently at a ceremony to receive an honor never before awarded in the school's 175-year history.
Hundreds of students and parents in the main auditorium June 5 rose and cheered as Johnson, 17, formally accepted an offer to attend the West Point military academy in New York at the end of June. She is the first student from the all-girls boarding school to attend the academy. "It was really overwhelming, kind of, at first," said Johnson, one of roughly 200 women to be accepted this year. "It was just, like, crazy that everyone stood up for me."
On the morning of June 6, she and 83 other graduating seniors at Miss Porter's lined up in pristine white dresses to get their diplomas. It was the last time their head of school, M. Burch Tracy Ford, would lead the farewell in her 15-year tenure before she retires. As Ford said goodbye to the Class of 2008 and to the school, she urged the graduates to consider the Peace Corps, for which she worked in Senegal after college. She also praised her students for proving wrong the notion that men are naturally more successful than women. "So much for the old bromide that girls need to be with boys to be prepared for the real world," she said. "You all know better." The graduation ceremony also had special meaning for Casey Beaupre, an 18-year-old senior who was diagnosed with leukemia in December 2006 and has undergone treatment since then.
ΔMural Painting Brings Students Together: About 30 high school students are bringing the Roman Colosseum, the Great Wall of China, the Taj Mahal and the Seine River to town. The once bleak tunnel connecting the Farmington River Trail underneath Route 4 is being transformed into a colorful window on the world by students from Farmington and New Britain high schools who volunteered to paint a mural that depicts walls as dividers and rivers as connectors between people. The tunnel, used by joggers, walkers and cyclists, connects sections of the historic rail-canal route and on a figurative level it will connect Farmington with the global community, said Farmington art teacher Marela Zacarias, who is guiding the students through 20 two-hour painting sessions that began March 26.
Eighteen students from New Britain High School and 13 from Farmington High School take turns coming after school two days a week and Saturday mornings. The project began in the classroom nearly six months ago with research and sketches; then the Farmington Highway and Grounds Department primed the tunnel walls. Now students are applying the first layers of colored paint over the white paint that covers the gray primer. By the end, they will have used some 35 gallons of paint, said Zacarias.
ΔTown Attracts Medical Complex: The town is attracting what most officials would salivate over — an industry that provides significant tax revenue without overusing municipal services. For Farmington, that means a medical corridor. Next to the UConn Health Center on Route 4 is the beginning of what will be a five-building medical complex called the Farmington Medical Arts Center.
So far, two large buildings are full of doctors' offices from regional medical groups and Hartford hospitals. Next door, two more buildings are under construction and the developer is planning a fifth. Most Farmington Valley towns are debating how best to grow their commercial tax base to lessen the burden on residential property owners. Farmington has figured it out. According to members of the Connecticut chapter of the American Planning Association, the sexiest kind of development is a large office operation that has a lot of equipment that will provide plenty of real and personal property tax revenue.
ΔSelectmen Ask State To Fund Paths: The board of selectmen voted last Monday to ask the state to fund a road for cyclists and pedestrians from the town to Hartford in an effort to bolster tourism and alternative modes of transportation.
The East Coast Greenway, a paved road from Maine to Florida, now reaches some Connecticut towns but has gaps heading toward Hartford. The money — an unspecified amount — must be authorized by the state. The state has set aside $12 million for similar projects. The nature-friendly paths are better for the environment, but also help bring in millions of dollars in tourism revenue for Connecticut each year, said Bruce Donald, president of the Farmington Valley Trails Council.
To bolster Simsbury's case, Donald proposed that the town request funding along with neighboring Bloomfield and Hartford.
Doing so would let the local governments "go at it as a region," he said.
ΔPolice Finds Explosive Device Stuffed In Chicken: As bomb scares go, this one might be the most unusual for local police. A motorist on Powder Forest Drive June 6, noticed what looked like a whole chicken — the kind bought at grocery stores for roasting — with a pipe bomb stuffed inside, police said Monday. When they arrived on the scene around 9 a.m. officers found the roaster had an improvised explosive device where the fowl's innards should have been. Hartford Police Department's bomb squad was called in to detonate the device.
With the chicken and bomb taken care of, police are left to investigate who's responsible for the strange incident.
Police Capt. Matthew Catania would not describe the bomb, but said it was "capable of causing harm to a person."
Anyone with information is asked to call Det. Sgt. Fred Sifodaskalakis at 860-658-3140.
ΔGraduates Told To Make Good Decisions: Rudy Moliere gave a resounding high-five to his sister as he watched his daughter, Jenel, graduate from the Ethel Walker School last Sunday morning.
Behind him, dozens of students' families and friends filled the big white tent at the all-girls school with cheers as each of the 38 seniors received their diplomas under a blistering sun.
"This is the best time of her life," Moliere said, grinning, adding he would give this advice to his daughter: "Don't forget to have fun." But, before they received their diplomas, the commencement speaker encouraged them not only to make good decisions, but to rectify their poor ones.
ΔLooking Beyond The Bake Sale: Kris Barnett and Sheila Gschwind are foot soldiers in the endless struggle to raise money for the public schools. They've whipped up cookies for the PTO bake sale, chased down donors for the silent auction, peddled pricey wrapping paper and directed students to collect thousands of pennies to help pay for a new playground.
Now these two mothers, along with other education boosters in Simsbury, are setting their sights significantly higher: They have launched a campaign, complete with a professionally produced marketing video and what amounts to a schoolhouse version of naming rights, to raise $1.5 million.
That's a lot of cookies — and it may explain why Barnett and Gschwind, like supporters of cash-strapped public school districts around the nation, are looking beyond the bake sale.
"We've scaled up," said Kevin Welner, director of the Education in the Public Interest Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder. "Even schools in well-off areas are holding major fundraisers. I doubt the endowments are going to rival Yale's, but they are using a lot of the same tactics."