Hearst Connecticut Media. May 26, 2021.

Editorial: CT lavishes former UConn presidents with cushy jobs

You’d never know this state is often in financial straits by the way its flagship university spends wildly on some of its faculty, namely its former presidents.

Thomas C. Katsouleas quit in March after two years as president of the University of Connecticut — and was rewarded with a $339,000-a-year teaching gig, with tenure. But that’s not all.

He’ll be making as much as another UConn president-turned-professor, Susan Herbst. They’re both guaranteed pay equal to that of the highest faculty member outside of UConn Health, where salaries and benefits can go into the millions. That means hefty raises if UConn hires a superstar at more than the former presidents are earning.

Can Connecticut really afford such sinecures? No. But the state never seems to learn.

In fact, the high compensation of UConn presidents-turned-faculty is hardly unique. The state had 372 people making more than $300,000 a year when fringe benefits were added in, according to Transparency.ct.gov records from fiscal 2018. (From that date forward, state compensation records stopped being quite so easy to search.) Total compensation for this $300,000-plus crowd — salary plus fringe benefits — was $180 million.

And yet UConn officials complained mightily to the legislature two months ago about having to pay expensive employee fringe benefits — at the same time UConn’s president was getting ready to cash in on his lucrative teaching deal. “These are not costs that we created or have any control over,” the UConn officials said in a prepared statement.

It’s interesting that UConn is now bitter that the state failed to put aside money for these benefits. Did state employees complain when their union agreed to this in the mid-1990s? No. According to a 1995 Courant story, a state budget official said, “The unions have always been willing to sacrifice the pension contribution to fend off cuts in benefits.”

In his brief tenure, Mr. Katsouleas sometimes acted as if the state had a bottomless treasury. He promised free tuition for families making less than $50,000 — without telling his bosses, the Board of Trustees. The program was later paused. He also announced he was cutting tuition increases by half, also without consulting with his bosses.

And now he gets to teach for nine months of the year at a salary of $339,000. Who can blame him for ditching the president’s job? Who wants the pressure of running a university — with the lawsuits and the money problems — when you can lecture students at a nice wage?

So maybe the state should change the contract with future UConn presidents. How about cutting the clause that gives them sweet jobs as a tenured faculty member at exorbitant pay when they quit?

Postscript: Keep an eye on those other promises too. As of last year, former UConn President Harry Hartley was making $257,878 a year in retirement at his home in Florida. At least it’s under $300,000.


Portland Press Herald. May 26, 2021.

Editorial: Free meals do wonders for students, their schools

Maine’s Legislature should not hesitate to pass a bill from Senate President Troy Jackson to provide breakfast and lunch with no strings attached.

Schools send buses to pick up kids because they can’t learn if they’re not there. They keep the heat on in classrooms because it’s tough to focus in the cold.

And if a student doesn’t have the right supplies, the school provides them – because otherwise it would be impossible to do the work.

Yet when a student comes to school hungry, not enough is done to make sure they get the nourishment their body and brain need to get the most out of their school day.

Under a bill before the Legislature, that would no longer be the case. L.D. 1679, from Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, would use state funding to ensure that every student at every school in Maine is offered free breakfast and lunch – no strings attached.

The bill recently passed through its committee with bipartisan support and now faces votes in the House and Senate. Lawmakers should not hesitate to approve the bill – frankly, it is impossible to understate what a positive effect it will have on the health of students and their ability to achieve their potential.

We’ve seen it happen before. Last year, as a result of the pandemic, every school in the U.S. received a federal waiver to provide meals to every resident 18 and under. Before that, some schools in Maine, where 1 in 6 children struggles to get the nutrition they need, have for years offered universal free meals through a federal program for high-poverty schools.

Giving out free meals to every student who wants one removed the stigma that has historically come with getting free lunch. It gives parents struggling to feed their kids a break. And it eliminates the wasteful cost of administering a income-based lunch program.

It casts a wider net, too, helping out all those students whose household incomes do not qualify for the traditional free lunch program but whose families still struggle to pay bills and stock the cupboards.

In the end, a universal meals program serves more meals far more effectively, at a lower local cost. It gets healthy meals into the hands of more students, relieving stress on themselves and their parents, and allowing them to take on the day along with the rest of their classmates.

It makes for happier, healthier, more engaged students, and better schools for everyone.

Without Jackson’s bill that could all end. We could go back to an income-based program, where students who get free lunch are either bullied, something students told legislators they see regularly.

We could go back to a system where kids skip meals because of the stigma, or to lessen the burden on their cash-strapped parents. Where thousands of hungry kids miss meals because their parents make just a little more than poverty level. Where money is wasted on administration when it could put an extra cook in the kitchen, turning out healthy meals from local ingredients.

We could go back to a system where “lunch can be the worst part of the day for someone,” as one student told lawmakers.

Or we could establish for the long term a system that truly nurtures and supports students as they work through their day – one that shows them how important their well-being and success is to the community around them.

It should not be a hard choice.


Boston Globe. May 20, 2021.

Editorial: Raise a glass to takeout cocktails

Last year, the Legislature temporarily allowed restaurants to sell to-go cocktails with takeout food. With the law scheduled to expire soon, lawmakers should extend the measure.

As an emergency pandemic measure last year, Massachusetts temporarily legalized takeout alcoholic drinks at restaurants so that diners picking up a pizza could grab a margarita too. Mayhem ensued: Drunken-driving accidents skyrocketed, the competition drove mom-and-pop package stores out of business by the dozens, and drunk mobs generally brought life to a standstill.

Wait, what’s that you say? None of those awful things actually happened? Massachusetts relaxed one of its panoply of onerous liquor restrictions, and the sky did not, in fact, come crashing down?

Yes, it’s true: A law designed to help restaurants and make life a little bit easier for a frazzled public during the lockdowns did just that. With the emergency provision due to expire in June, the Legislature should extend the allowance for takeout booze. Doing so would aid restaurants, which face a long post-pandemic recovery, while giving more choices to consumers.

The restaurant industry has been among the sectors more severely affected by the pandemic’s economic fallout. Nationwide, a recent report estimated that roughly 10% of all restaurants have permanently shut down since March of last year. In Massachusetts, the figure is higher: About 23% of all restaurants — or 3,400 establishments — have closed.

Takeout alcohol sales proved crucial for the survivors. For Cape Cod’s The Talkative Pig, selling takeaway cocktails was a lifeline. “In August of 2020, that summertime on Cape Cod, we had 10% liquor sales when we had no one in our dining room, and that saved us,” Jeffrey Mitchell, the owner of the Chatham restaurant, told the State House News Service of the cocktails-to-go sales. “That money was able to keep our doors open as we went into the winter and people left the Cape.” Christopher Almeida, the beverage director at The Tasty in Plymouth, who’s been advocating for the measure, told the Globe this week that many restaurants he’s reached out to have confirmed that sales of takeout drinks account for anywhere from 10 to 15% of total sales.

The temporary measure is tied to the coronavirus state of emergency, which is slated to end June 15. As Beacon Hill leaders ponder which pandemic-era relief regulations are worth keeping post-crisis, extending restaurants’ ability to sell alcoholic beverages to-go is a no brainer. The struggles of restaurateurs will not magically go away on June 15, or by the end of the year, for that matter.

Cocktails to-go have become widespread nationwide, with 38 states allowing takeout drinks. Most of those regulations are set to expire. But 11 states, including Texas and Florida, plus the District of Columbia, have already codified the relief measure into law, according to the Distilled Spirits Council.

In Massachusetts, Senator Diana DiZoglio cosponsored a bill to extend the sale of takeout drinks for two years. DiZoglio has also filed an amendment to the Senate budget that would extend the rule. Whatever the vehicle, this is a sensible measure that lawmakers should pass before June 15. As the state economy reopens, it must do so carefully to avoid squandering the small economic gains realized so far. Restaurants, in particular, cannot afford to lose any more revenue streams. And consumers who enjoyed the option to buy drinks with takeout shouldn’t lose it simply because that’s the way it was before.


Boston Herald. May 25, 2021.

Editorial: Paying workers to return a sorry turn

Our forefathers must be rolling in their graves.

No matter which corner of the globe they hailed from, those who came to these shores were drawn by the premise that hard work and perseverance could better their lives, and the lives of those around them.

Americans are famous for our work ethic, our “we can do it” attitude. Success stories often start with tales of juggling multiple jobs.

Unfortunately, the concept of getting the job done — any job — seems to be a casualty of the coronavirus pandemic. Now, we apparently need to be bribed to re-enter the workforce.

This week’s budget debate on Beacon Hill includes an amendment proposed by State Sen. Ryan Fattman, which calls on the state to offer $1,200 “Get Back to Work” bonuses.

Fattman’s proposal would split the $1,200 bonus into three payments: $400 upon verification of securing a job; another $400 after six months of employment; and another $400 after a full year of continuous employment.

There was a time when the incentive to get back to work was the need to pay rent, buy food and other necessities.

Several states are also offering employment bonuses aimed at easing the labor shortage. This, just a year after millions filed for unemployment as their places of businesses temporarily or permanently shuttered and lines for food banks stretched for miles.

Arizona is offering $2,000 for eligible people who return to work full-time and $1,000 for those working part-time. The state is also ending federal unemployment benefits in July, according to Business Insider.

Gov. Doug Ducey said in a press release that the state was aiming to pay people to work, rather than “paying people not to work.”

And that’s the problem.

The $300 a week federal unemployment benefit, on top of state benefits, offers financial incentive for a “we can do it, just not now” attitude.

As the Herald reported, “We have employers who just tried to hire back past employees who were laid off, and they turned down the job because there’s a whole lot of incentive to spend the summer at the beach,” said Jon Hurst of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts. “They’re happy at the beach, and they’re happy taking benefits until Labor Day.”

Gov. Charlie Baker has said he won’t opt out of the government’s $300 weekly addition to state jobless aid before its Sept. 6 expiration.

Fattman is essentially pulling an Arizona.

But he shouldn’t have to.

Baker and other state leaders have worked to help businesses stay afloat during the pandemic, from providing assistance grants to small businesses to industry-specific grants and recovery plans.

The governor even launched a program for employers to book blocks of vaccine appointments for their workers, or request mobile vaccine popups on site.

His administration’s done everything but order Ubers and lunch for returning workers.

It’s up to workers to seal the deal.

We can’t imagine the outrage that grocery store workers who toiled to keep shelves restocked during last year’s rolling shortages, while dealing with fractious customers — unvaccinated — must feel to see others getting paid to stay home.

If anyone needs a boost, it’s them, and all the other essential workers who literally kept the lights on during the pandemic.

A note of caution to those anticipating a chill, government-subsidized summer: Gravy trains stop eventually.


Lowell Sun. May 26, 2021.

Editorial: Teacher makes case for statewide sex-ed guidelines

A totally irresponsible act or a calculated ploy?

That’s a question only the Dracut High School teacher placed on administrative leave for distributing “a highly inappropriate survey” in class can answer.

We can’t imagine this unnamed male teacher could have imagined any other response than the one that occurred.

If he didn’t, he’s as naïve as the students he supposedly believed required education on this third-rail subject.

Dracut Superintendent of Schools Steven Stone took action after learning that one of his educators distributed a survey titled the “Sexual Temperament Questionnaire,” which appeared in the 2015 best-selling book “Come as You Are: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life.”

According to the website for publishing company Simon and Schuster, the book, a New York Times bestseller, “used groundbreaking science and research to prove that the most important factor in creating and sustaining a sex life filled with confidence and joy is not what the parts are or how they’re organized, but how you feel about them.”

A copy of the questionnaire, obtained by the newspaper, includes two sections, titled “Inhibitors” and “Excitors,” which include graphic statements and questions.

After each statement, the questionnaire participant, on a 0-4 scale, is asked to pick a number that bests represents them; the higher the number, the closer the resemblance.

The numbers are then tabulated to determine the questionnaire participant’s sexual temperament — how sensitive they are to sexual inhibitors and exciters — and where they fit in statistically among others who have taken the questionnaire.

As expected, the questionnaire created a social-media stir, with differing opinions on the teacher’s decision.

The absence of a statewide policy on what sex education in public schools should include invites incidents like the one that’s now embroiled Dracut.

According to Megara Bell, director of Partners in Sex Education, Massachusetts is among a handful of states that doesn’t require sexual health education to be medically accurate, age appropriate, or inclusive.

A bill that’s been passed twice by the Senate but stalled in the House could remedy that critical omission.

First-term Lowell state Rep. Vanna Howard is among the lawmakers that support the Healthy Youth Act, which again will be taken up in the current legislative session.

It would provide medically accurate, age appropriate sexual health education regardless of gender, race, disability status, or sexual orientation.

Supporters say statewide standards for comprehensive sexual education would help protect students from contracting sexually transmitted infections.

Specifically, the bill’s language would require school districts to cover a wide range of topics in sexual health classes, including sexual development, benefits of abstinence or delaying sexual activity, prevention of sexually transmitted infections, forming healthy relationships, skills to recognize and prevent dating violence, and age-appropriate information about gender identity and sexual orientation.

The curriculum would be medically accurate, which the legislation defines as supported by peer-reviewed research conducted in compliance with accepted scientific methods and topics suitable for children based on developing cognitive, emotional and behavioral capacity typical for an age group.

Previous versions of this bill allowed parents or guardians to review instruction materials beforehand and remove their children from the program if they wish.

Lawmakers have filed the Healthy Youth Act for the past 10 years; it received the Senate’s approval in 2017 and 2020.

The Dracut sex-questionnaire uproar strengthens the case for the necessity of the information this bill would impart.

Maybe that was the motivating factor behind this teacher’s unilateral act of educational disobedience, designed to highlight a critical need that both the state education establishment and Legislature have failed to address.