A New England Grain Renaissance

“There is a world of difference between fresh and commercial flour,” said Andy D’Appollonio, the owner of Still River Farm in Coventry. A difference that can best be described with one word, according to D’Appollonio, taste.  “It’s more robust,” D’Appollonio, who started growing wheat on his farm six years ago. “The bread is brown, crusty with large air holes, it’s a big difference.”  D’Appollonio is part of a grain renaissance in New England. Small, grain farms like his have popped up across the Northeast, especially in Maine.  “Bakers want it fresh,” D’Appollonio said. “When you buy local you can ensure

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Five Changes for Nursing Homes That Are Here To Stay

The COVID-19 pandemic has turned the long-term care industry on its head after causing the death of 3,856 residents — more than half of the total number of deaths statewide, according to the state Department of Public Health figures. It’s unlikely that nursing homes will be the same. Here are five changes that are likely here to stay. 1. Lower occupancy, more competition, better care On average, nursing home occupancy declined 15 percent across Connecticut from January to September 2020, according to data reported by the state. That decline does not come from deaths alone.  “Consumers confidence in the model of

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Yale New Haven Health Reports ‘Zero’ Cases of Flu Across its 6 Hospitals

From Greenwich to Rhode Island, there have been no diagnosed cases of the flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) in the Yale New Haven Health System this season. Typically, at this time of year, there are hundreds of cases across the six hospitals in the health system.  “As of last week, we still had zero flu cases,” said Dr. Tom Balcezak, the chief medical officer at Yale-New Haven Health. “It’s one bright spot, particularly for children who are hard hit by flu and RSV each year. Due to the precautions we’ve taken for COVID-19, there will be many fewer deaths of

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Legislation Frees Stay-at-Home Commuters from a $500 Million Tax Bill, But Bends Process

The state budget proposed by Gov. Ned Lamont calls for Connecticut to concede $500 million of tax revenue — the majority from households earning more than $100,000 each year — in an effort to relieve the added burden of double taxation from as many as 110,000 tax filers in the state. These Connecticut residents in normal years would have commuted out of state to work — mainly into New York from Fairfield County — but have been working at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Based on the current laws, known as convenience laws, these Connecticut residents would owe income taxes

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Federal Tax Case for Commuters a $400+ Million Question for Connecticut

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In 2018, 86,606 Connecticut residents paid $1.35 billion in New York state income taxes, according to the Empire Center. That was lost revenue for Connecticut – because the state credits residents for taxes paid out of state – but it also made sense. They commuted to New York, worked in New York, and were paid in New York.  In March 2020, that all changed.  With restrictions in place to limit the spread of COVID-19, thousands of workers who typically commuted across state lines were told to work from home.  As for their taxes? It’s now unclear which state has the

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Franklin-Based Forester Talks Managed Woodlands

“When you walk through a forest that’s starting to age it just doesn’t look good,” said Joan Nichols, a professional forester based in Franklin Connecticut. “It would be like if the entire population of the state of Connecticut was all 90, it’s not good for the individuals and it’s not good for the state.”  About 65 percent of Connecticut is forested. “Anywhere you drive you see trees, and everyone loves to learn about trees,” she said. “They love to learn about trees, about forest health…everybody thinks it’s great until we got to cut trees down. Some people have a mindset

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Social Isolation Takes its Toll on Vulnerable Youth, Doctors Say

As a matter of physical health, or at least mortality, COVID-19 has left children largely unscathed. Of the more than 7,000 associated deaths in Connecticut, just 5 were in young people aged 19 and under, according to the Department of Public Health. But the isolation required by the measures taken to slow the spread of the virus has left its mark on many of Connecticut’s youngest residents.  At Yale-New Haven Health there are more children admitted after suicide attempts, more children treated with severe eating disorders and more children coming in, period, according to Dr. Claudia Moreno, a pediatric psychiatrist

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Mobile Population Tests Phased Vaccine Strategy for Nursing Homes in Connecticut

At every nursing home in Connecticut in January, between 90 and 100 percent of residents received a COVID-19 vaccination, according to the state Department of Public Health, vaccinations that greatly slowed the spread of the virus within each facility. In the last three weeks of January COVID-19 cases reported in nursing homes declined by 66 percent, according to the state Department of Public Health. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has estimated that herd immunity requires about 75 percent of a population to be vaccinated. But as the state begins phase 1b of

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Environmentalists Tout Once-in-a-Generation Opportunity with Dam Relicensing on Connecticut River

Almost 60 years after the start of efforts on the Connecticut River to restore native fish, including Atlantic Salmon and alewife, environmentalists are touting a major breakthrough for migratory species.  Currently, three dams – Wilder, Bellows Falls and Vernon — in New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Vermont are up for relicensing by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and all of have critical roles in restricting fish passage up and down the longest river in New England.  “FERC recognized that there is an advantage to these dams being relicensed as a system,” said Andrea Donlon, a river steward for the Connecticut

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A Plan to Pay Student Loans of Connecticut College Grads Who Stay in State

Helping college graduates repay their student loans could be an answer to slowing the loss of population from Connecticut and to increasing the state’s tax revenue, according to State Sen. Kevin Witkos, R-Canton, ranking member on the legislature’s Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee . “We’ve continually invested in the brick and mortar of our state institutions, it’s time we support the brains and bodies of the people that are utilizing the buildings,” Witkos said in an interview with CT Examiner. The legislation, called “Learn-Work-Pay,” would help any Connecticut resident who attends one of the state’s public universities and then

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Environmentalists Return to Unfinished Work Cut Short by Pandemic

From updating the bottle bill to modernizing the electric grid, environmental advocates are looking at 2021 as a second chance to tackle legislation that got left behind in 2020. The Connecticut League of Conservation Voters spent Tuesday afternoon discussing the impending “waste crisis” facing the state as the largest trash-to-energy incinerator, the Materials Innovation and Recycling Authority (MIRA), is set to close in 2022. The conversation could almost have taken place one year ago as the majority of environmental legislation never made it to a vote during the shortened 2020 legislative session.  “A lot of environmental legislation stalled last year

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By Far the Most Important Lesson

Never begin reporting a story believing you know the ending. Throughout my seven years as a reporter, it is by far the most important lesson I have learned and one I often wish others would take to heart. Whether it is a routine municipal meeting, a new data set or a tip received, deciding the message before gathering all the facts and feelings from those involved will not yield a worthwhile, or precise, story. It will prevent you from asking the necessary follow up questions or being open to an alternative explanation. If you decide the message before you finish

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Goulart and Nolan Stake Different Directions in New London Race

After competing once before in a 2019 special election to fill the seat of then-State Rep. Chris Soto, who left to join the incoming Lamont administration, Democrat State Rep. Anthony Nolan and Republican Kat Goulart face off again to represent New London and the 39th District in the State House of Representatives.  Nolan, a father and grandfather, longtime New London police officer and 4-term city council member who won 51 percent of the vote in the four-way 2019 race, said he is hopeful for a second-term in Hartford. Goulart received 14.7 percent of the vote in that race. “I think I’m

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Adoptions Drop By Half as Connecticut Copes with COVID

Adoption days can brighten a month of work, said Judge Bernadette Conway, chief administrative judge for juvenile matters for the State of Connecticut. “We all used to fight over who got to do them because they were so much fun,” she said.  Often the courthouse is filled with balloons as family and friends gather, sharing sweets and excitement about a soon-to-be member of the family.  Such celebrations have been impossible unfortunately since policies were put in place to limit the spread of COVID-19. “The courts had to drastically reduce its work product in March and we have since worked very

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Streicker, Paglino Challenge Long-time Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro

Democrat Rosa DeLauro is running for re-election after representing Connecticut’s third district in Congress for the last 30 years. DeLauro faces Republican Margaret Streicker, an entrepreneur and single mother of four from Milford, and Green Party Candidate Justin Paglino, a physician and father of two from Guilford. After initial agreements in September by press aids, DeLauro’s campaign later declined to participate in this story. Streicker and Paglino, however, had a lot to say about why they think it’s time for a change in representation for the third district.  “I want people to understand that they have a choice. This is

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McCarty and Welch-Collins — By the Issues

In a rematch of the 2018 election, incumbent Republican State Rep. Kathleen McCarty faces Democrat Baird Welch-Collins in a race to represent Waterford and Montville in the Connecticut General Assembly. In their previous contest, McCarty bested Welch-Collins by 351 votes, 51.6 to 48.4 percent. After three terms in Hartford and six years on the legislature’s Education Committee, McCarty — who also served for 20 years on the Waterford Board of Education — said that her focus will remain on schools and students if she is re-elected.  “We are going to be more challenged to narrow the gaps in education that

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Local Residents Question Turf Field Proposal at Open Forum

LYME/OLD LYME — The need for an artificial turf field was the topic of a Lyme-Old Lyme Board of Education’s public forum on Wednesday night.  The project – which has been in the works for years – would cost the district at least $2.1 million and replace the current unirrigated, practice field with a 140,000 square foot artificial turf field with the lines for soccer, lacrosse, baseball and softball marked. The field would be placed above tubing components of the school’s geothermal wells, but would not cover the access point or pump.  Funding for the project would be drawn from

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Homeschooling, Pre-Schoolers, Charter Schools May Explain Drop in Public School Enrollment

Over the last year, 6,000 families joined the Connecticut Homeschool Network bringing the total number of families to about 15,000, according to Diane Connors, the organization’s co-founder.  “We’ve seen a large increase this year unlike any other that I’ve been involved with and I’ve been involved for decades,” Connors said. “We have thousands of new homeschoolers across the state.” According to Connors, more than 5 percent school-age children in Connecticut are homeschooled, up from 3.4 percent last year. At the same time, the state public school student population has dropped by more than 3 percent this year, according to the

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Finance Director Resigns After 4 Months with Region 4 Schools

ESSEX/DEEP RIVER/CHESTER — After less than four months on the job, Kelly Sterner, finance director of the Region 4 Public Schools announced her resignation.  “Our Finance Director, Kelly Sterner has announced her intention to resign from the position later this fall,” said Brian White, Superintendent for the Region 4 School District. “Ms. Sterner is committed to supporting the district through this period of transition.” Sterner’s resignation comes after a year of frequent turnover in the district. The last full-time business manager, Kimberly Allen, resigned in November of 2019 following the departure of the former Superintendent Ruth Levy and the Facilities

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Connecticut Schools Report Largest One-Year Drop on Record

Statewide the percentage students enrolled in public schools dropped by more than 3 percent, the largest one-year decline on record. For the last decade, Connecticut has reported annual declines of about 0.5 to 1 percent. “It definitely looks like we are seeing lower enrollment this year, lower than what we would have normally seen from one year to the next,” said Ajit Gopalakrishnan, bureau chief for the Connecticut Department of Education. “We don’t know as of yet what are some of the reasons for this … we know that we have seen declines in a lot of districts, not just

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$69 Million Deficit, Surprise Drop in Enrollment, Add to Labor Tensions at CSCU

The Connecticut State College and University system is facing a larger than expected $69 million deficit in fiscal year 2021 after a 15 percent decline in enrollment at its twelve community colleges added to a $52.5 million deficit at the four state university campuses. The drop undercuts conventional wisdom that lower cost and public unease with dorm life during the pandemic would boost community college enrollment in the fall, and underscores deepening tensions with organized labor to close the gap. “We are facing serious financial challenges. We are seeing reduced enrollment, reduced residence hall occupancy and at the same time

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Strong Gains Reported for Distance Learning in Low-Performing Districts Across Connecticut

One month into the fall semester, school officials report significant improvements in participation rates among public school students in disadvantaged districts enrolled in distance learning. Compared to this spring, when makeshift measures to resume education online lost about 70 percent students in New Haven, the state’s largest school district, during the last week of September reportedly just 6 percent of students learning remotely across Connecticut failed to participate in classes. These numbers are part of an effort by the state Department of Education to more closely monitor Connecticut’s 170 public school districts, in response to concerns that statewide efforts to

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Hartford Marathon and Fall Races Go Virtual

This Saturday Jennifer Zayas along with two friends will lace up for the 27th annual Hartford Marathon.  Unlike past years, she won’t be starting at 8 a.m. and she won’t finish under the Arch in Bushnell Park, steps away from the State Capitol. She expects to see just one fan on the course. Zayas will be heading out the door an hour early, running the entire 26.2 miles on the Farmington Canal Trail and relying on her husband for water, fuel and encouragement the entire way.  “Originally, I was signed up for the Chicago Marathon on the Autism Speaks team.

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Added Nursing Staff Can Save Lives, Report Shows, But Cost Remains a Hurdle

A higher ratio of staff to residents correlated in the first six months of the pandemic to fewer cases of COVID-19 in nursing homes across Connecticut according to a recent review by Mathematica of the state’s public health policy and practices. According to Mathematica’s final report published last week, the lower the ratio of staff hours to residents, the more the cases and deaths of COVID-19 in a nursing homes. “Staffing rating was highly predictive of the ability to limit the spread of COVID-19 in nursing homes,” the report states. “Nursing homes with a high staffing rating (4 or 5

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Needleman and Saunders Stake Positions on Coming Term if Elected

In 2018, Democrat Norm Needleman of Essex won the long-held Republican State Senate seat for the 33rd district by just 0.2 percent of the vote. This November he faces Republican Brendan Saunders of Westbrook in what may well again be a close race in a district that stretches from Clinton to Deep River to Portland.  For Saunders, who formerly pastored a Baptist church in Old Saybrook and currently works full-time at a hotel in Colchester, the number one reason he’s running is because he believes the district needs a voice in Hartford more representative of the district. “When I looked

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East Lyme Officials Debate Balance of Conservation and Development Before Wednesday Hearing

On Wednesday, the East Lyme Board of Selectman will host a public hearing to discuss the proposed plan of conservation and development first proposed in January. Since the prior plan was approved in 2009, several hundred units of multi-family housing have been added to town and many new businesses, including Costco Wholesale in the new Gateway Planned Development District.  “Our commercial zones are slowly being consumed by multi-family housing. If we continue on that same progression, what does that mean for East Lyme?” said Gary Goeschel, director of planning in East Lyme. “The community might be saying the growth is

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$500 Million in School Construction Grants Expected to be Approved in Special Session

In the second special session of the year, the Connecticut House and Senate will take up a bill to provide about $500 million in grants for school construction projects across the state.  “It’s a very skinny school construction bill, meaning that there is not a lot to it,” said State Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, co-chair of the appropriations committee. The bill contains grant funding to assist 11 school districts in either new school construction or renovation projects that have already been approved by local taxpayers and reviewed by the Departments of Education and Administrative Services. The 11 school districts are

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In Wake of Black Lives Matter, Advocates Press for Curriculum Changes in Connecticut Schools

As a mother, it’s what’s missing from the curriculum, far more than what is taught, that bothers Rashanda McCollum. “The story of Black Americans is not just oppression, there’s so much more that’s important,” said McCollum, the executive director of Students for Education Justice. “I’m frustrated as a parent because that’s what my daughter was taught.”  When her daughter was in elementary school she was assigned a project to research an influential person in Connecticut’s history. The entire class was told to choose from a list of 30 historical figures. According to McCollum, of those 30, just one was not

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Social Media Posts Spur Wave of Resignations as Police Accountability is Dropped from Special Session

Kevin Coughlin, director of communications for the Connecticut Senate Democrats, confirmed that revisions to the police accountability bill will not be considered in a second special session of the legislature planned for the last week of September. According to Andrew Matthews, attorney for the Connecticut State Police Union, the union and attorneys representing the legislature have developed 22 proposals over the past two months targeting areas of concern in the bill and places for potential change.   The Connecticut State Police Union has been in discussions with legislative leaders and supporters of the bill since it was signed into law by

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State Leaders Debate Spending to Bridge Urban-Suburban Achievement Gap

Both New London High School and Valley Regional High School spent about $16,500 per pupil in 2017-18, according to the state Department of Education. The schools are about the same size – with 568 and 583 students respectively – and are less than 30 minutes apart by car. And yet, every year students at the two schools have vastly different scores on standardized tests. In 2017-18, just 36.7 percent of students at New London High School met or exceeded the state standard in math. In the same year at Valley Regional, 59.1 percent of students met or exceeded the same

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