Public Hearing to Discuss DOL Layoffs

Department of Labor, (DOL) layoffs that will consolidate work centers while saving $16 million-to make up for reductions in federal funding-will be effective by the beginning of October, but a Connecticut-wide advocacy group is urging the state to slam on the brakes.

The Connecticut Parents Union has requested a public hearing on the layoffs and consolidations, which they worry will negatively impact low-income job seekers, and that’s a petition that they’ve taken all the way to the United States DOL. As of Thursday, they have one-set for 11 a.m. this Monday at the Capitol Building in Hartford.

“We need a public discussion on this,” said Gwen Samuel, an organizer with The Connecticut Parents Union. “This shouldn’t be happening in isolation from the people. This has a ripple effect on New Haven’s urban population.”

When the Connecticut DOL received word of reduced federal funding under the unemployment-rate based federal formula, it announced the elimination of 95 Department positions. The number of American Jobs Centers will be cut from 11 to 6, with Centers in Danielson, Bridgeport, Hamden, Harford, New London and Waterbury.

The state’s unemployment rate is currently 5.7 percent, compared to 2010-2011’s 9 percent.

The layoffs are effective as of October 1, due to collective bargaining provisions mandating six weeks’ notice.

“It is extraordinarily difficult to have to reduce staff, especially given the enormous contributions of these Department of Labor employees in getting Connecticut residents back to work during our long struggle to bring down unemployment in the state,” said Office of Policy Management Secretary Ben Barnes in a press release.  “We are all fully committed to helping these valuable employees find new positions in state government or elsewhere, as soon as possible.”

New Haven’s unemployment rate dropped from over 10 percent to 7.9 percent last year, according to Yale Daily News coverage. Currently, it’s at 7.6 percent, by the DOL’s own statistics. But the numbers don’t tell the whole story-people are still struggling to find work, Samuel says.

And a whole new influx of people will be entering the workforce from the correctional system, she says. That’s something that Governor Dan Malloy’s Second Chance Society-a slew of programs designed to better transition the former prison population into jobs-was designed to address, as activists have pointed out.

“I think some of these things were a posturing,” Samuel says. “Because this is contrary to that.”

That’s something that Russell Williams, a member of the NAACP who is running for President of the Connecticut Chapter, is stressing the most.

“How could they put out the Second Chance bill when in just a few months, there’s going to be a closing of offices of the Department of Labor?” Williams said over the phone. “We don’t know how it is that they intend to get results for those entering the job market. We need to put in place something that ensures compliance.”

Samuel and Connecticut Parents Union also worry about the issue of transportation. If centers are being consolidated, job seekers may have to travel to other municipalities to utilize DOL services. Public officials have already voiced what they say is a need to revamp the Greater New Haven area public transit system, with New Haven Mayor Toni Harp laying out a plan to restructure bus routes as part of a more comprehensive transportation blueprint.

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Community Forum Tackles Civil Rights at Length

Civil rights forum

With the Black Lives Matter movement holding anti-police brutality protests around the country and activists pushing to make systemic racism a major issue for candidates in the approaching 2016 Presidential election, residents in New Haven convened for a discussion regarding the next steps of what has been regarded as the modern-day civil rights struggle.

That will mean addressing not only the criminal justice system, but education, and poverty-among other issues impacting communities of color-panelists for “A Community Discussion on Civil Rights Issues: Black Lives DO Matter”, an event held last Thursday at the Paul UAME Church on Dwight Street.

The panel-consisting of New Haven students, parents, educators, a local journalist, and an NAACP member and state chapter presidential candidate-wrestled with education disparity, the meaning of the controversial “Black Lives Matter” slogan, and how to use the coming elections as an instrument for change.

The discussion started with a question pertaining to involvement-and how to get it from members of the community. From the perspective of Leroy Williams-a New Haven Public Schools administrator and a member of Mayor Toni Harp’s community policing task force-that starts with the school system and how engaged parents and students are with it.

He and other panelists consider education to be in many ways the movement itself.

“If you think education doesn’t have anything to do with civil rights, think of the struggle with segregation,” said former WYBC journalist Michelle Turner, who moderated the discussion.

But Connecticut’s schools are still segregated-just in practice as opposed to by law, panelists said. They pointed to the state’s test score achievement gap-considered an indictment of an education system that many say is leaving students of color behind as schools in low-income communities struggle with less resources.

“It’s not because they don’t have the same abilities as other students,” said panelist Rashanda McCollum, a New Haven resident and attorney for Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now. “They don’t have the same opportunities. They don’t have the same expectations.”

Williams emphasized the establishment of parent-teacher relationships in order to ensure consistent communication-a sentiment that was echoed by other panelists.

“I think you need to connect with people where they are, and not make it a thing where they have to add a lot to their daily routines,” said panelist Angela Carter, a web producer for The New Haven Register.

Tools such as social media can help, Carter said. She noted an initiative wherein which a line of adults in professional attire greeted students on the first day of New Haven’s school year.

“We need to do more of that,” she said. “That was promoted using Facebook and Twitter.”

To laughter, Turner asked how panelists felt the 2016 elections could impact communities of color.

“Every election cycle affects us,” Carter said. “We really have to pressure everyone running for President on the quality of education, quality of housing, jobs, equal pay, healthcare being affordable, and criminal justice.”

And it extends to local elections as well, McCollum said.

“What a lot of people don’t realize is what are equally important are local elections,” she said. “Those are the folks that directly impact your every single day life.”

Civil rights-minded voters need to keep an eye on initiatives that hold the potential to help impoverished communities, such as President Barack Obama’s College Promise Program-a proposal for two years of community college tuition coverage for “responsible” students-McCullum said.

“There have been a number of initiatives that have impacted communities of color,” she said. “We need someone who will provide or even go beyond the initiatives Obama has put into place.”

Most importantly, voters need to guide candidates on the ‘how’ aspect, as opposed to simply making demands as to ‘what’ the feel should be prioritized, Williams said.

“Don’t just say, ‘we want education-we want jobs’,” he said. “Come up with an agenda and at the right time, approach the candidates.”

For activists within the Black Lives Matter movement, the agenda-echoed recently by Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders-is around combating systemic racism. And that, panelists say, is an all-encompassing task that will touch everything from education, to criminal justice, to housing, to employment.

“Why are more children of color ushered into the prison system?” McCullum said. “Why are people of color having more trouble getting jobs, or loans for houses?”

While a criminal record is widely regarded as a significant barrier to employment and media coverage reported that drug sentencing laws tend to target blacks more than whites, despite the groups having similar rates of drug abuse. Meanwhile, black and Hispanic job applicants without a criminal record are less likely to receive a callback or job interview than a white applicant with a criminal record. 

That, panelists say, is the essence of the controversial Black Lives Matter slogan-one that has drawn the viral social media All Lives Matter response. And of course, the speakers addressed that discussion.

“I do recognize that all lives matter, but we need to address this institutional racism,” McCullum said. “it means my best friend’s son can be pulled over for whatever minor offense it may be, and not be fearful for his life.”

Williams had similar thoughts.

“I understand that all lives matter, but we have to understand that the playing field is not level,” he said.

Child Migrant Suit Seeks Right to Counsel

More than two-thirds of juvenile immigrants in deportation proceedings do not have an attorney, but the American Civil Liberties Union, (ACLU) of Southern California is pushing to establish the right to government-appointed counsel for defendants in removal cases.

The case s J.E.F.M. v. Holder-a class action lawsuit filed by the ACLU last July on behalf of eight juvenile immigrant plaintiffs. The complaint-stating that unrepresented child defendants in deportation proceedings are being denied their right to due process under the U.S. Constitution-was refiled in October last year when three more plaintiffs were added to the case. They range from ages 3 to 17.

Of more than 60,000 Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, (TRAC) reported pending deportation cases in 2014, over 43,000 involved a defendant who did not have an attorney.

The [Obama] Administration can fix this with a stroke of a pen,” said Ahilan Arulanantham, the ACLU attorney litigating J.E.F.M. v. Holder. “It isn’t a situation where Congress has stopped the President from doing something.”

The latest order in the case came April, with the Washington State District Court rejecting the Federal government’s motion to dismiss the case, rejecting the defendants’ claims of lack of subject matter jurisdiction and ripeness, as well as failure to state a claim.

Attorneys for several Federal government entities-including ICE and the Office of Attorney General Eric Holder-that are defendants in the suit argued that plaintiffs being represented by the ACLU should seek government-appointed counsel during their individual deportation proceedings. This claim was rejected due to the unlikelihood that the Board of Immigration Appeals would grant the petitioner their request, the Court said.

The appeals process itself would likely require the aid of an attorney, and even if they could enlist one, doing so would disqualify them from receiving government-appointed counsel, the order said.

“We remain optimistic that the judge will agree with us on its [the case’s] merits,” Arulanantham said over the phone. “Unfortunately, the government has tried to slow things down, and they’ve succeeded.”

Immigrant detainees facing deportation are notoriously unrepresented across the board, but TRAC found that an attorney-or lack thereof-is the “single most important factor” in determining the outcome of the case.

“I’ve seen a judge directly address a child who is 7, which is obviously a travesty of justice because they have no grasp on reality,” Arulanantham said.

In other cases, a child defendant may come into the courtroom with a guardian who is treated as informal counsel, he said.

“You’re giving legal power over them to someone who has no idea what they’re doing-no legal skills,” Arulanantham said.

In 2014, 85 percent of those without representation were deported, according to TRAC. That’s compared to the 73 percent of those with an attorney that were able to stay in the country.

Franco-Gonzales v. Holder-another ACLU-litigated case-established that immigrants with severe mental disabilities should have the right to government-appointed counsel because it was determined that “diminished faculty” inhibits their ability to defend themselves Pro Se.

“The government conceded in Franco that immigration statutes do not prevent them from paying for counsel,” Arulanantham said. “That interpretation is binding and inconsistent with the government’s position [in J.E.F.M. v. Holder].”

If the U.S. District Court were to rule in favor of the ACLU’s plaintiffs, there are a number of models under which government-appointed immigration counsel could be rolled out for deportation defendants, Arulanantham said.

One option is to contract with legal service providers that already assist low income immigrant defendants, he said. He noted that such programs already exist.

“The government is already paying or immigrant children,” Arulanantham said. “It’s just not paying for all of them.”

It can also create a public defender system, he said.

The government pays for a lawyer to prosecute children in all cases,” Arulanantham said. “You’re talking about agencies with millions of dollars, so the finances are really a red herring.”

When contacted about the case, personnel with ICE would not comment for this story.

Symphony Orchestra Labor Proposals Spark Outcry

The Hartford Symphony Orchestra is in the midst of labor contract negotiations, with musicians and management each playing a different tune.

A proposed 40 percent in “services”-that is, rehearsal slots and shows-for members of the Chamber Orchestra has drawn a backlash from the American Federation of Musicians, Local 400 as the symphony scrambles to chip away at a Hartford Courant-reported $1 million deficit.

Currently, the chamber orchestra performs the most services within the Symphony.

Under the existing agreement, the musicians are guaranteed a yearly minimum of 190 services-a number that would be reduced to 100 should management go through with its proposed contract changes.

Even with the current minimum, a Hartford Symphony Orchestra musician makes around $24,000 a year, says Joe Messina, President of Local 400. At 100? That knocks an employee’s annual salary down to $15,000.

“Obviously, even at $24,000, they have to supplement their income,” Messina said over the phone.

Many symphony employees teach in the latter half of the day to earn extra money, but the new contract proposals also include a provision mandating that musicians be available during daytime business hours, rendering other part-time jobs unfeasible, Messina said.

“Why do you need them available all day if you’re going to cut the number of services?” he said. “Now they might make up for it, but if you’re not knowing what you’re going to earn, then it makes it very difficult to commit to the symphony.”

Last April, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra formed an “alliance”-it’s not a merger because the two organizations still operate separately, but share a manager-with the Bushnell Theatre. The cornerstone of the agreement was a pledge to raise money that would go toward closing the deficit, according to Mike Pollard, a spokesman for Local 400.

But the money is not there. Messina says that the union was told that it “wasn’t forthcoming.”

“It seems like it has been more of the usual,” Pollard said. “The Board of the Hartford Symphony has not had an endowment drive in more than 20 years.”

In 2007, the Symphony got advice from consultants recommending that they raise money for their endowment, Pollard said.

Given, at that time, the economy was heading into a recession, but that exemplifies the need to build that fund, he said.

“The economy came back and the still have not had an endowment drive,” Pollard said. “At what point will it pit out again? That’s the whole point of the endowment, so that you can survive an unstable economy.”

As of now, the union continues to negotiate with management. Musicians held a protest in Hartford several weeks ago, but the issue regarding the 40 percent service reduction and revised availability requirements has not been discussed yet, Messina said.

Hartford Symphony Orchestra President and CEO David Fay responded to an interview request with an emailed statement.

“The Hartford Symphony Orchestra has been in the process of transforming its organization into a modern, financially secure orchestra that is providing programming to our patrons that they desire,” Fay wrote in the statement. “Our musicians are professionals, dedicated to their art, and we are hopeful to reach a new agreement with them that gives the organization the flexibility needed to fully implement the tenets of the new Strategic Framework adopted by our Board of Directors this past June, while allowing our musicians to do what they do best, perform. We are very optimistic about the future of the HSO and the musicians helping us bring it to its full potential.”

Ban on Early Grade Suspensions Signed Into Law

The state legislature has passed a bill that will prohibit the use of out-of-school suspensions at the preschool to second grade level.

Senate Bill 1053-introduced by the Education Committee and signed by Governor Dan Malloy on June 23-comes after a three-year period saw a spike in the number of out-of-school suspensions imposed on children under the age of 7 and amidst a growing outcry regarding the disproportionate impact the sanction has had on students of color.

“Research shows that excluding students from the classroom leads to a host of negative life outcomes,” said Sarah Iverson, Associate Policy Fellow at Connecticut Voices for Children, a child advocacy group that joined a chorus of proponents-among them educators and psychiatrists-in lobbying for the bill. “It’s rarely the right path to take.”

But it is one that was taken even with students at the youngest grade levels. Between 2011 and 2014, the number of out-of-school suspensions for children under the age of 7 jumped from 1200 to around 1600, according to data from the Connecticut Department of Education.

The Hartford school district led the way with 184 out-of-school suspensions during that period. The next highest was Waterbury’s 140, followed by 133 in Bridgeport. New Haven’s 67 was fifth from the top-just behind New Britain’s 77 out-of-school suspensions.

“The biggest predictor of a subsequent suspension is a suspension during their early years,” Iverson said. “They’re not even a deterrent to the behavior. It’s important to get to the root causes for the students misbehavior, especially at a younger age.”

Those root causes can be trouble at home-such as challenges related to poverty-learning difficulties, or emotional problems, she said.

“Students of color, students from poorer backgrounds, and special education students are more likely to be suspended,” Iverson said.

For students of color, two to three times more likely, in fact. The rate of suspensions-in-school or out-of-school-and expulsions for students in grades K-12 dropped from 9 percent to 7.5 percent between 2009 and 2014, but the rate for African Americans was 20 percent compared to 5 percent for their white peers. Hispanic students saw a 15 percent suspension/expulsion rate, according to the State Department of Education.

“It hurts them-there’s no positive benefit for a kid to be out of school,” said Glen Cassis, a former Hartford educator and Chair of the African American Affairs Commission. “It’s common sense.”

As to why the sanctions are imposed on minority students at a greater rate, Cassis says that that has a lot to do with what both schools and students have-or don’t have-at their disposal. Staff might not be trained to handle situations involving kids that are not “school ready”-possibly as a result of being deprived early childhood educational opportunities, he said.

“I think some schools are under-resourced,” he said. “It’s much easier to throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

But what typically prompts a student to be suspended? Cassis says that he has seen it all. Sure, there was one incident where a first grader tried to choke a classmate-one of the more severe cases-but many other situations were far more minor, he said.

“There have been issues if a kid talked back to a teacher, or if they don’t have the proper attire,” Cassis said.

Two thirds of suspensions or expulsions were for school policy violations, according to the Department. For related out-of-school suspensions, over 7,100 were administered to African American students-compared to 3,498 for whites. School policy violation-prompted out-of-school suspensions numbered 5,596 for Hispanic students.

As for the bill, Cassis sees it as a step forward, but he says that given the wider impact the sanctions have across the grade level spectrum, it could have gone further.

“My personal view is that it should be all the way up to the middle school,” he said.

Care for Kids Youth Day Draws Hundreds

motorcycle

If the clown, the magician, and the motorcycles are any indication of what New Haven residents can expect from the youth center Jayden’s House Founder Dawn Reed is planning to build in the city, she won’t have any trouble drawing interest.

Those things seem less likely, but the intended effect-getting kids engaged-will be certainly present in some form, Reed says.

And on Sunday afternoon, the carnival-style attractions had drawn several hundred kids to the green for a day of exercise, education, and fun. This was Care for Kids Youth Day, an event that was co-sponsored by the window safety-oriented Jayden’s House and Stars in the Making, a mentoring program for girls.

clown

The participants ate, played games-including kickball, a sack race, and touch football-and listened to an event-long soundtrack from the local 94.3 WYBC radio station.

“This event is an example of what we’re trying to do [within a community house],” said WYNB General Manager and radio personality Juan Castillo. “That’s what it’s all about-making a difference in the community.”

For Reed and the events other organizers, that difference means more than just a day of recreation and free food-they hope to provide New Haven’s youth with “positive” and “productive” outlets that keep them out of trouble, as well as an environment of support, they say.

“People talk about the crime in New Haven,” Castillo said. “People outside of New Haven think we’re doing nothing about it. The way you do something is you get to the young people. You change generations.”

Douglas Wardlaw, Vice President of New Haven Firebirds Society, echoed this sentiment. He and firefighters from the New Haven Fire Department were on hand, and the fire engines they brought along with them were a huge draw.

fire engine

In the spirit of Reed’s mantra of youth empowerment, Wardlaw said that he was hoping to turn kids onto firefighting as a potential career path.

“Every kid loves a fire engine,” Wardlaw said. “We’re trying to keep them positive when it comes to civil service. Hopefully, they can check out the engines and realize that they can be fire fighters.”

Fire Department Chief Allyn Wright filled in for Toni Harp in cutting the ribbon to kickoff the event.

“I try to make it so we’re mentors,” Wright said. “We, as firefighters, try to instill in them [kids] the importance of education.”

group

That’s an emphasis that has been voiced by Reed when it comes to laying the plans for the youth center, which she wants to equip with tutoring services, arts and crafts, and a comprehensive resource center for families in need. She hopes to set it up in a neighborhood where she feels the need is the greatest, and is working on recruiting sponsors and collecting donations.

Discovered Torso Linked to Homicide Victim

Another clue in a case of discovered body parts has been linked to homicide victim Ray Roberson, a homeless New Haven resident.

A human torso that was found in the abandoned 271 Crown Street property several weeks ago has been determined to be “most likely that” of Roberson. The New Haven Police Department got the word from the Scientific Services Division of the State of Connecticut Department of Emergency Services & Public Protection, and announced the update in a press release that was put out Monday by Public Information Officer David Hartman.

The case began when a city resident alerted a New Haven police officer to the presence of a pair of legs inside some thick brush just outside the State Street Rail Station at Court Street on the morning of July 15.

Then, police found a pair of arms-in a plastic bag under the Chapel Street Bridge near Union Avenue-in a followup search of the area. The arms were discovered missing hands.

State forensic tests linked the severed limbs to Roberson, who was reportedly last seen on May 20 of this year.

Authorities found the torso while searching the 271 Crown Street property, which shares a parking lot with 301 George Street-the former Salvation Army building that Roberson has been said to have spent time at.

Searches for additional clues throughout the case have involved personnel from The New Haven Police Department, the Metropolitan Authority, Amtrak, and the State Police, as well as cadaver-sniffing canines. So far, no suspect in the killing of Roberson has been named.