Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Welcome to Difficult Decision Land

Family Resource Center director Amy Waterman
makes a plea to preserve the school-based
centers.
On Tuesday evening the Board of Education voted to cut the Family Resource Center program in half, and approve a mitigation plan to account for a loss of $230,000 in Alliance Grant funding as a result of major cuts in the State of Connecticut budget.

Middletown was viewed as a city that suffered the least of many in the state cuts, but the loss of several hundred thousand dollars in grants for programs that serve the city students and families most in need has proved disastrous for a program which provides school readiness and fights the effects of poverty.

Newly-elected Board member Sean King called it "a terrible pill we're swallowing with this adjustment."

"At this time, the adjustments made by the administration minimize, as much as possible, the impact of those cuts," King said.

"It's one of the most emotional decisions I've had to make in the last two years," Board chair Chris Drake said.  "This is not something we enjoy doing.  When campaigning we always talk about being able to make difficult decisions.  Welcome to difficult decision land."

The Board of Education, by law, had to deliver a finished budget to the city in May.  The city passed the budget shortly thereafter.  However, the State, which should have passed a budget in June, did not actually make a budget decision until the end of October, and that budget was filled with drastic cuts for Connecticut cities and schools.

What's more, the new Superintendent Michael Conner, began his term at the beginning of November just as several new members were elected to the Board, all dealing with an inherited budget based on expectations that proved inaccurate because state legislators refused to make difficult decisions on a timely basis.

The Board passed a financial mitigation plan for the loss of Alliance Grant funds which includes savings by not hiring six classroom interventionists, scratching the Ministerial Alliance, not filling positions for two home visitors and cutting the tenure of twenty-two classroom interventionists who will be asked to leave their positions on May 2 instead of the mid-June end of school.

These cuts allowed the Board of Ed to preserve some of the programs that address the needs of the most at-risk students, but at a curtailed level.

Grants coordinator Natalie Forbes presented options for trimming the Family Resource Center budget.  The two Family Resource Centers provided integral services for students and families at Farm Hill School and Macdonough Elementary.

"The families and children absolutely have a need for these services," Forbes said.  But she indicated that the $100,000 was not enough even to pay for the salary and services at Macdonough.  As a result, program director Amy Waterman will lose her job, and will be offered a position as a classroom teacher in one of the city's schools.

Grants Coordinator Natalie Forbes describes the dire options.
Waterman described the Family Resource program during the public session portion of the meeting.

"It has served as the bridge that so many students need for successful entry to school," Waterman said.  "In a district with so many vulnerable families, this should be one of our priorities."

In the end, the Board of Education voted for a Family Resource Center which would preserve the FRC at Farm Hill school, and would hire a family resource specialist to work part time at a satellite program at Macdonough.  The Macdonough program would be augmented by a home visitor preserved in the Alliance Grant mitigation plan.

No one on the Board offered consideration of petitioning the Common Council and the mayor to backfill the approximately $60,000 needed to preserved the Family Resource Center, or the approximately $400,000 needed to avoid the cuts necessitated by the Alliance Grant cuts.  The city has a $24 million "rainy day" fund.

In fact, Conner warned that the current cuts are only an indication of cuts to come as the state struggles with revenue shortfalls.  With a $400 million dollar shortfall already indicated for this budget year in the state, Conner suggested that more cuts were possible.

"We're probably going to have to come back in 60 to 90 days to come up with another mitigation plan," Conner said.


Vigil at First Church in Middletown: Remember Lost Lives, Stop Gun Violence


VIGIL for Sandy Hook,
Thursday, Dec. 14, 2017, 7pm

First Church 
190 Court St. Middletown, CT




First Church in Middletown hosts a Vigil for Sandy Hook at 7pm on Thursday, December 14, at First Church. There we will hold space for grief and light candles, remember the day of the Sandy Hook tragedy, and ring church bells.

 
Marking the fifth anniversary of the tragic Newtown shootings, First Church joins a nationwide Gun Violence Memorial event  in partnership with Women Against Gun Violence, Newtown Action Alliance, the Brady Campaign, Violence Prevention Coalition, and many other groups as we remember all victims of gun violence and showing our continued support for sensible gun laws.

Come in support of this vital issue and remember that day in Sandy Hook. First Church in Middletown, 190 Court Street, Middletown, CT, 860-346-6657






Monday, December 11, 2017

Justin Wilkie, Recently Hired United Way Development Director, Dies in Car Accident

Though he was in his post for fewer than six months, Justin Wilkie, the development director for the Middlesex United Way, had made lots of friends, and left a lasting impression on those he met.  Sadly, Wilkie, 30, died tragically in an automobile accident on Saturday.

His funeral will be held Thursday, December 14, in Manchester where he lived and grew up.


Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Book Sale at Russell Library this weekend!

The Friends of the Russell Library is offering their last book sale of the season this coming weekend. The hours of the book sale are:

Friday December 8th from 10:00am - 6:00pm;

Saturday December 9th from 10:00am - 2:00pm;

Sunday December 10th from 1:00pm - 4:00pm.

Not only are there wonderful bargains to be found in books, but the prices for CDs and DVDs are too low to pass by. Where else can you buy a movie for $2.00?

This sale also features those titles that did not get sold at the Holiday Book Sale last month, offered at discounted prices lower than the already low prices for which they were priced last month! Come and find last minute gifts for the holidays!

The next Friends Book Sale is not until March 2018. Now is the time to stock up for those long winter evenings when you want to curl up with a nice cuppa cocoa and a book...

Mark your calendars for the next season of Book Sales, beginning in 2018:
  • March 9, 10, and 11
  • April 13, and 14
  • May 11, and 12
  • June 8, and 9
  • September 7, and 8
  • October 12, 13 and 14
  • Holiday Sale: November 16, 17, and 18
  • December 7, 8, and 9

Great bargains are also available online with the Friends of the Russell Library Amazon store!

The Avery Ensemble Performs this Saturday at Russell Library

This Saturday, December 9th, at 1:30pm, The Avery Ensemble will perform in the Hubbard Room of the Russell Library.

First Prize Winner of the 2016 American Prize in Chamber Music,  the Avery Ensemble is a piano quartet joined frequently by guest vocalists and instrumentalists. Avery's performances have been praised by Audiophile Audition as 'marvelous,' and by the Classical Voice of New England as 'committed. . . excellent. . . amazing and persuasive. . . . . simply outstanding.' Recent engagements include appearances as guests of the Chamber Music Society of Central Kentucky, the Rossmoor Music Association in New Jersey, Coe Hall in New York, the Meadow Ridge Concert Series in Connecticut and the Auditório Jurerê Classic in Florianopolis, Brazil. Avery Ensemble was the focus of an article in the Summer 2016 issue of Chamber Music America's Chamber Music Magazine.

The program for this concert includes pieces that would have been heard by audiences during the years of World War I. 

"The tragedy and barbarism of the Great War marked the end of the previous age, and this turbulence was expressed successfully in the explosion of art music produced in that decade-- a 'licking of the bowl,' scraping the last possibilities of what tonal harmony could offer before abandonment. The challenge of exhaustion from the previous age was met in response with unbelievable invention and creativity, exemplified in the following works:
Faure Sonata no. 1 for cello and piano, op. 109 (1917) -- 19 min
Janacek Sonata for violin and piano (1914) -- 16 min
Reger Piano Quartet no. 2, op. 133 (1914) -- 35 min "


This concert, and many other programs, are sponsored by The Friends of the Russell Library. You can support the programs at the library by buying a book at this weekend's Friends' Book Sale.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Teen Circus-Theater Auditions for "As You Wish!"


Circophony Teen Circus announces open auditions for ages 12 to 19 for As You Wish!, an original circus theater response to The Princess Bride.
Auditions are December 12 & 19 at Oddfellows Playhouse in Middletown, and the production will run March 1 – 10, 2018.
Auditions will be held from 6:30 to 9 pm on both Tuesdays – participants should plan to attend just one of the two evenings and stay until 9 pm. Please arrive by 6:15 pm so that you will have your registration completed and be ready to begin at 6:30.
Circophony is an ongoing teen circus program which is run collaboratively by ARTFARM and Oddfellows Playhouse. Auditions are open to anyone regardless of circus or theater experience. Actors, dancers, acrobats, jugglers, singers, circus performers, athletes and other adventurers between the ages of twelve and nineteen are welcome. Everyone who attends the audition and commits to the rehearsal and performance schedule will be cast into the show.  
As You Wish! will combine theater and circus in a unique original performance responding to the iconic film and novel The Princess Bride. Teens auditioning are asked to prepare a short solo (one minute maximum!) showcasing your particular talents. Additionally, the audition will include improvisation, movement, acrobatics and text. Dress to move and be ready to have fun.
Rehearsals begin January 2 and will be Tuesdays and Thursdays, 6 – 9 pm. As You Wish! will run March 1 – 3 & 9 – 10 at Oddfellows Playhouse, which is located at 128 Washington Street, Middletown. Tuition to participate is $250, but some financial aid is available.

As You Wish! is created and directed by ARTFARM Executive Director Dic Wheeler, with Circus Direction by Allison McDermott. Dic is the founder and former director of the Children’s Circus of Middletown – heading into its thirtieth season next summer -- and is a director, performer and teacher of theater, circus and Commedia dell’ Arte who has worked in the United States, Europe and Asia. Allison is a graduate of the New England Center for Circus Arts Pro Track program, and teaches and performs throughout New England.
Please pre-register for one of the two audition evenings by contacting info@oddfellows.org,  calling (860) 347-6143, or going to www.oddfellows.org.  
If you have questions about the program or about the auditions, contact  dic@art-farm.org.


Monday, December 4, 2017

Common Council Approves Acquisition of Oddfellows Playhouse Building

The Common Council tonight approved a proposal to take ownership of the Oddfellows Playhouse building on Washington Street.

The Oddfellows Playhouse began 41 years ago, with a $250 grant from the city. It first used a building slated for redevelopment, the Oddfellows Building.

Its current building, at 128 Washington Street, is appraised at $660,000.

About 20 people came out in support of the proposal, including multiple current and former members of the board of directors.

The Council gave its unanimous support as individuals during its discussion and in its vote.

Grady Faulkner noted his gratitude to Oddfellows for its work with children, "[Oddfellows] had the opportunity, the will, the skill, to teach young people how to deal with difficult things in life."

Phil Pessina proclaimed his support, "I'm a very visionary person, ... when I see the young people expressing themselves, I see a bridge ...to the North End ... from Oddfellows to the galleries, to Buttonwood, and tying it all in."

Several council members, especially Seb Giuliano, regaled the audience in Council Chambers with fond memories of their own theatrical performances.  Others, like Rob Blanchard, simply voted "yes".

Further details need to be determined, including whether management of the building will be through the Planning, Public Works, or the Arts and Recreation Department.

In exchange for ownership of the building, the city would be responsible for its maintenance. The Oddfellows Playhouse would rent the building for half of the available time, for $1 per year. The city envisions renting the building to other arts and theater organizations.

"Gus" Gecewicz Honored By Common Council

 Gus Gecewicz, was honored by the Common Council for his work with youth sports. He coached a variety of boys and girls teams for 50 years in the Catholic Youth Organization. He not only did the coaching, but also provided the organization to support the teams. 

Councilman Sebastian Giuliano highlighted his fundraising efforts, reading from the resolution. 
As everyone in Catholic youth sports knows, if there’s no money, there’s no team. Gus has worked to ensure that the kids had uniforms, equipment, and even basketball hoops. He has been involved with everything from asking priests and local businesses to donate to help organizing fishing tournaments to raise money. He even participated in running liquor raffles until he was informed by the police that he ought to go in another direction because that was illegal. To his credit, he was told that after he convinced the police station to buy two books worth of tickets. 
Coach Gecewicz was modest in his remarks, crediting his own coach for inspiration and teaching him how to coach.

Friday, December 1, 2017

It's A Man's World

COMMENTARY BY JOHN MILARDO
Milardo is a former Middletown City employee and union officer.

The United Public Service Employees Union (UPSEU) Local #6457, the City of Middletown’s Director/Supervisor’s bargaining unit, has filed a grievance on behalf of a female Human Resource Manager working at the Board of Education. The Union and City have an active bargaining agreement which contains a Labor/Management Reclassification Committee.

The purpose of the Committee is to allow members a means of having their jobs reviewed due to changes. There are other City Union(s) who have similar language in their respective bargaining agreement(s). The UPSEU Management Study Committee is comprised of two (2) members appointed by the Union, two (2) members appointed by the City and one (1) alternate member mutually chosen by the other members who may be an employee but not a Union member. The City’s Human Resource Director is the Chairperson of the Committee and one (1) of the City’s Committee members. (UPSEU Agreement: http://www.cityofmiddletown.com/content/117/121/161/1875/default.aspx )

If the Committee agrees that an individual is eligible to be heard after meeting certain criteria, it then is presented to the Management Study Commission and then Common Council for a vote.

Additionally, the City’s Human Resource Director (according to contract language) must support the Committees recommendations to the Common Council members. In the past, the Common Council has decided all job reclassifications are to be lumped together for a single vote for approval or rejection. At the November 6, 2017 Special Common Council meeting, there were three (3) UPSEU member positions which were recommended for upgrades.

The only problem - there were four (4) UPSEU positions the Management Study Committee recommended for upgrades. What happened to the fourth(4th) ? According to City of Middletown Human Resource Director Thomas Tokarz, the BOE’s Human Resource Manager position was removed from the Common Councils agenda because the City’s General Counsel Sub-Committee (GCC) recommended it be re-examined. Now the “show” begins. (video of Directors meeting. Begin at minute 24:10, to hear Director Tokarz’ remarks) http://middletown.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=728 Director Tokarz was grilled by Councilmen Thomas Serra, Sebastian Giuliano, Phil Pessina, Linda Salafia, Gene Nocera, and Carl Chisem regarding why the BOE Human Resourse position recommendation was not on the agenda.

As one can see on the video, he had a difficult time answering how this position did not receive an upgrade, and why it was not brought forward. There is no legitimate answer why, with more duties, certifications, and laws to follow than Mr. Tokarz’ position, the female employee is three (3) pay grades lower than his. There also was no good answer of why he is recommending no wage increase for her position!

In defense of Mr. Tokarz, I believe he was given marching orders to kill her upgrade by someone higher up on the food chain. The Human Resource Director’s supervisor/boss is the Mayor of Middletown, Daniel T. Drew.

The Management Study Committee voted 5-0 in favor of all four (4) UPSEU position upgrades to go before the Common Council for a vote. The Committee voted on deletions and/or additional duties for each of the job descriptions, as well as what salary grade they should be placed in. Why was this one person singled out? The City cannot say it is about the position not the person. If that were the case, she would be in the same salary grade or higher than Mr. Tokarz, not three (3) pay grades lower.

The Management Study Committee, just as the Human Resource Department, uses what is called the “Maximus Study Report” for analyzing and grading employee duties and salaries. This report has been utilized for many years to grade every City position. No matter how you slice and dice it, her position should at the minimum, equal to her male counterpart. Somehow the City will attempt to make claim the BOE position has somehow lesser value than Mr. Tokarz. Of the four (4) UPSEU positions the Management Study Committee unanimously agreed to support for upgrades, two (2) were male, one (1) is vacant, and the fourth (4) is a female. One of the males is also Middletown’s Democratic Town Committees chairman, and the other is a Dan Drew supporter.

One can only surmise the new hire for the vacant position will be a Dan Drew supporter too.

I believe it’s called “pay for play”. As a past Union president for the managers (I negotiated this contract Article), I can tell you the Management Study Committee was adopted in an attempt to create a fair and even handed job reclassification tool. The Mayor and the Common Council members are to have no input during Management Study Commissions hearings. The Union hoped to form a Committee that would help stop favoritism, discrimination, and other politically motivated actions. After this fiasco, I guess we were wrong!

What transpired during the Common Council meeting is a clear violation of the labor agreement. First, the City’s Human Resource Director did not support the decision of the Committee as so ordered in the bargaining agreement. Secondly, there is no language in the contract which stipulates anyone other than the Management Study Commission to review and vote on their recommendations before they go to the Common Council for a vote. Third, The Commissions recommendations did not go directly to the Common Council for a vote. Why was the Board of Education Human Resource Managers position (a City job which works for the BOE) sent to the General Counsel Sub-Committee for re-evaluation?

The GCC is not part of the contractual protocol. The recommendations of the Management Study Committee are to go directly to the Common Council for a vote…..no place else!

The Common Council has tabled the vote on BOE’s Human Resource Manager because they had difficulty believing the answers they received. The City’s Chief General Counsel, Brig Smith stated in a Hartford Courant article, that he was eager to have the grievance heard at the State of Connecticut’s Labor Department where he has yet to lose a case. I guess City Attorney Smith already knows that Mayor Drew is going to respond negatively to the grievance.

The Mayor is the Step 1 hearing officer of this grievance and could stop all of this nonsense from happening. After all……Mayor Drew claims to be labor friendly and all for equal rights. Or, is he showing that he believes that the glass ceiling should not be broken for having women receive equal pay for equal work.

The Chief General Counsels statement regarding going to the State and never losing a grievance is very disheartening. I would think, the City Attorney would be a person an employee/Union could turn to if there was a case of discrimination, or other work policy violation. Instead, he has a line drawn in the sand daring employees to open their mouth if they are unfairly treated, bullied, or harassed. He holds a position of power which could end all of the above-mentioned, but chooses to intimidate employees instead.

Why bother having Zero Tolerance and Sexual and Other Harassment Policies! The Mayor and Chief Counsel can eliminate unnecessary legal actions by employees who have legitimate issues. Instead they are daring people to use legal recourse. There are clear violations on the City side.

The only thing I can conclude, regarding why a female employee at the Board of Education is not being paid the same as her male counterpart, is gender discrimination, or Union affiliation!

The bargaining agreement stipulates all disputes should be settled at the lowest possible level. In this instance, that would be by Mayor Drew. Not doing anything to stop this discriminatory issue speaks volumes about the Mayor. Actions, or in this case, inactions, speak louder than words!

Thursday, November 30, 2017

City seeking Arts Advocacy Awards nominees

The city  presents an Arts Advocacy Award annually to an individual or group who has significantly contributed to the cultural and artistic enrichment and/or has shown extraordinary support and initiative for the arts in Middletown.

The Middletown Commission on the Arts is seeking public input on nominations for the award. The nominee(s) need not live in Middletown but should be an individual or group that has made an outstanding impact on the arts in the city.

Suggestions, which should include the sender's town and information about the nominee, can be emailed to Arts Coordinator Stephan Allison at Stephan.Allison@middletownct.gov by Dec. 15.
The MCA will be presenting its award honoring this year's recipient in a local ceremony coinciding with National Arts Advocacy Day March 20 to 21 in Washington, D.C.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

This Weekend at The Buttonwood Tree

Eric Mintel Quartet: Charlie Brown Christmas Special!

From the White House to the Kennedy Center to the United Nations and beyond, the Eric Mintel Quartet has been thrilling audience of all ages with their electrifying Jazz for over 25 years. Eric was a featured guest on Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz on NPR, The Eric Mintel Quartet has opened for Dave Brubeck at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia, appeared on the QVC television network and has been featured in many jazz and newspaper publications. Come see them live November 30th when they kick off the holiday season with a Charlie Brown Christmas Special. Playing the music of Vince Guaraldi for the Charlie Brown cartoon, and some original tunes. Featuring Eric Mintel on piano, Nelson Hill on saxophone, Jack Hegyi on flute and Dave Mohn on drums. Reservations are strongly suggested

November 30th | 8-10pm | $18

Story City Troupe

Story City is a troupe of storytellers based in the Hartford, CT area and trained by Matt Dicks, one of The Moth’s champion storytellers. Story City Troupe uses The Moth Formula: all are true, personal stories, often funny, sometimes amazing, poignant or ironic and based on a single theme for the evening. The troupe members range in age from their 20’s to their 70’s, proving you can come up with a good story at any age.
You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll identify!

December 1st | 8-10pm | $10


Eric Lee & Kim Hoffman Double Bill

Raised in rural upstate New York, Eric Lee’s earliest introductions to music were the sounds of his mother’s piano and the songs of John Gorka, Bob Dylan, and Jackson Browne. He began studying classical violin and traditional Irish fiddle at the age of nine, and was soon performing and recording with local artists. The music of Eric Lee is a chimera of genres and influences; an ever-evolving world of sonic exploration with stand-alone melodies always at it’s core. His new EP traverses a range of emotion, from the unbridled joy of love in “Miles Above the Ground” to the wrenching pain of Eros in “To Write you a Song”; the unflattering honesty of coping with loss (“Life Without You”) to the cosmic petition to the ancient powers in “Hands of Fortune.”

 Kim Hoffman is known to many for her sweet back up violin playing for several local musicians.   On December 2ndKim will bring her guitar and vocals to share some of her original songs.  Be prepared to laugh, think, and be touched as she shares stories and songs of some of her life’s  observations and adventures!   You may even get to hear the violin!



 December 2nd | 8-10pm | $12



 Change It Up Art Reception


This Month’s Artist, Kathleen Curran Smits is adjunct faculty at Quinnipiac University and Manchester Community College teaching computer graphics and digital design. She is an instructor and curriculum developer for a veterans oriented vocational program through CPTV called the Institute for Advanced Media.
Kathy paints landscapes in oils and has developed abstract digital art based in photography. She has been accepted into regional and national exhibitions and won awards. Her work is in private collections across the country, in Canada and Australia. Currently she is represented by the Pandion Gallery on Fisher’s Island in the summers. Kathy serves as Vice President of the Art League of New Britain and is an associate board member of the American Artists Professional League in NYC.



December 3rd | 3-5pm

Visit buttonwood.org for more info/reserve seats
Call 860.347.4957
TBT is located next to It's Only Natural Market at 605 Main Street, Middletown


Wednesday Wildlife: The Foxtrot

A long-time reader sent us the below video of a fox in our city.  This was filmed with a motion-activated game camera over the Thanksgiving weekend. 

The Eye would like to make city wildlife stories and pictures a regular feature. If you have a story or photo of wild animals in our city, please share (middletowneye@gmail.com).