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Denebola » Alex Gershanov http://www.denebolaonline.net The Award-Winning, Official School Newspaper of Newton South High School, Newton, MA Fri, 17 Jun 2011 02:00:19 +0000 en hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.0.2 Homosexuality: Battling hate, raising hope http://www.denebolaonline.net/2010/12/06/homosexuality-battling-hate-raising-hope/ http://www.denebolaonline.net/2010/12/06/homosexuality-battling-hate-raising-hope/#comments Mon, 06 Dec 2010 11:50:38 +0000 Alex Gershanov http://www.denebolaonline.net/?p=5096 How do you turn a message of hate into a means of support? How do you confront a group fed by publicity, without giving them more attention?

These were the questions set before Wayland High senior Carter Paul and friends when he learned that the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) was to picket Wayland’s Islamic Center of Boston on December 3. The WBC, an extremist group based in Topeka, Kansas and known for its explicit anti-gay messages, toured Massachusetts with signs reading “God Hates Fags and “America is Doomed.

With their final destination being Framingham High’s production of the Laramie Project, the church group made several demonstrations around the state, including this Wayland mosque.

As a counter-measure, Paul helped organize a Facebook group that began as a protest to the WBC but soon transformed into a fundraiser that amassed 1200 dollars in donations to the groups the church opposes.

“I initially thought that it was just going to be me and four friends, he said, “but then it kind of exploded.

Nearly 120 Wayland students, mostly seniors and juniors, showed up Friday morning from 7:50 to 8:20 am waving signs of tolerance and asking for donations.

“It started out as a counter-protest, but the ideology behind it changed, Paul said. “Counter-protesting would validate that they have an argument, so we changed it to a fundraiser in which we got signatures from people who wanted to donate [to the groups the WBC opposed].

Paul recognized that merely protesting across the street from the extremist group would only give them the media attention they sought.

Using the fundraiser method, which he adapted from University of Illinois: Chicago student Jason Connell, he and fellow organizers raised 1200 dollars which they will split evenly among three groups: the International AIDS Foundation, the Islamic Center of Boston, and The Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Youth Group Network of Massachusetts.

The donations will be made in the name of the Westboro Baptist Church.

Paul collected six, doubled-sided pages of signatures that he will attach to a letter thanking the WBC for “protesting in the Boston area and giving the Wayland students an opportunity to help.

Though students had to miss the first block of school to make an appearance at the rally, no cuts were enforced. According to Wayland senior Mere Riley, Wayland High’s dean of students was there along with several other teachers to make sure that everyone was safe.

“Everyone was really hiked up and excited about showing their support, Riley said. “There wasn’t any negativity.

The following day, the WBC made an appearance at Framingham High’s evening production of the Laramie Project, an account of a homosexual college student who was beaten and left to die in Laramie, Wyoming.

The showing sold out and went off without a hitch, despite the WBC’s presence.

Coincidentally, the same church group planned to picket South’s 2005 production of the Laramie Project, but did not make a presence at any of the three showings. Had they come, South’s Gay-Straight Alliance was prepared to stage a counter-protest as well.

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Stembridge warns against Montreal trip http://www.denebolaonline.net/2010/11/02/stembridge-warns-against-montreal-trip/ http://www.denebolaonline.net/2010/11/02/stembridge-warns-against-montreal-trip/#comments Tue, 02 Nov 2010 10:50:51 +0000 Alex Gershanov http://www.denebolaonline.net/?p=4930 Plans for a five-day, senior graduation trip to Montreal fell through earlier this month after students were informed of the tour’s possible dangers.

South’s administration found a representative from S-Trip!, a Canada-based student tour company, distributing materials at school without permission and asked her to leave. Without enough South students signed up, the company moved on to other schools.

Principal Joel Stembridge was speaking to students in the senior commons when a representative from S-Trip! walked in, passing out pamphlets on the Montreal tour.

“That person had not received permission from the office to be in our school or to distribute materials, Stembridge said. “I was concerned¦[and] wanted parents to know that it was not a Newton South approved trip.
According to Stembridge, several past student trips to Montreal ended in unfortunate circumstances.

“[Former principals] Michael Welch and Brian Salzer had written letters to parents over the past 10 years [concerning the trip] and I took some information from them, he noted.

In an email he sent out to parents, Stembridge referenced one year when 22 students were assaulted at a Montreal bar, another where a chaperone was arrested at the Canadian border for drug possession, and a third where four South students were evicted from a hotel at night without any accommodation.

While none of these trips were sponsored by S-Trip!, the email was enough to warn parents about the dangers of newly-turned 18-year olds in Montreal. Some were concerned that the legal drinking age in Canada being 18, students would have open access to bars and night clubs.

“When my mom read the email, senior Grant Henderson said, “she didn’t know anything about the company but was confused why they were coming to school and encouraging us to go on a trip where we would drink. She didn’t think it was safe.

Though S-Trip! is a Canada-based company, it recently began inviting students from the United States to participate in its programs as well. It allegedly has over 200 students signed up for the trip from across Massachusetts.

South students were first introduced to the idea in late October, when an S-Trip! representative entered the school and spoke with a group of students in senior commons. Passing out fliers, she recruited some of the students to help her spread the word about the tour.

Senior Jeremy Einhorn was initially excited about the program and offered to help, but later felt unsure about the program’s safety.

“They were really aggressive – they would call me all the time during school and text me, he said. “I told them I heard stories about them such as people getting in trouble and arrested on their trips but they said they were different than other Montreal trips, because they weren’t specifically about drinking.

Einhorn said he understands why the school would not want to be affiliated with such a trip, but raised the point that some students will likely take a post-graduation trip to Canada anyways.

“I think kids are going to go and there’s no stopping that, and I think if we had gone as a trip it might have been safer, he said.

One such student is senior Elena Origlio who originally planned to go to Montreal with S-Trip!, but later heard of past student experiences with organized Canada trips and changed her mind.

“I don’t want to go with a sketchy company, she said, “but my friends and I are planning to go to Montreal [by ourselves] anyways.

Along with nighttime entertainment, the S-Trip! brochure also promised tours of Old Montreal, Universities, Museums, and theme parks. The entire trip, accommodations and meal plans included, would have cost roughly 600 dollars.

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New food options installed by January http://www.denebolaonline.net/2010/11/02/new-food-options-installed-by-january/ http://www.denebolaonline.net/2010/11/02/new-food-options-installed-by-january/#comments Tue, 02 Nov 2010 10:25:32 +0000 Alex Gershanov http://www.denebolaonline.net/?p=4943 After nine months of uncertainty, tense negotiations, and back and forth bargaining, new and varied food options for students are just around the corner.
The School Committee and the School Nutrition Workers Association have finally settled on a food service agreement, allowing Whitsons School Nutrition to take over all food operations in Newton beginning January 4.
Whitsons promises to offer more lunch and breakfast options, as well as to employ all Newton cafeteria staff, including those laid off earlier this year.
“Our agreement is to offer the staff that were laid off positions if they have an interest in returning; we will be glad to welcome them into the family and train them, Whitsons director of marketing Holly Von Seggern said.
According to Von Seggern, the company will install equipment and retrofit the cafeteria over December break. Though she hopes Whitsons will deliver all promised food options by students’ return in January, she mentioned a challenge will be training all current cafeteria staff to meet company requirements.
“One of the biggest deals with transferring over to a different food service provider is making sure all the team members know how to prepare the food, she said.
After the switch, students will enjoy multiple food options, including burritos, quesadillas, pizza, grilled foods, sandwiches, wraps, salads, a snack bar, and a hot entrée varying day-to-day. The proposed menu will provide nearly twice the options currently available to South students. Main courses will still cost $3.50.
The improved menu comes with a hitch, however. Though all current and former cafeteria employees are promised a job within the new company, their wages will be reduced – some dramatically.
Cafeteria manager Linda Cloonan worries that what Whitsons promises about her salary may not prove entirely true.
“I want to make sure I’m going to get what I’m promised, she said. “They told me I’m going to get 91 percent of my [current] pay, but from the figures I’ve seen it seems more like 70 or 60.
In a Memorandum of Agreement between the School Committee and Whitsons, the manager is promised pay for 8 hours a day and 194 days, equaling 91 percent of Cloonan’s previous salary.
Cloonan explained, however, that her work day is typically 7 hours, not 8, and that the 194 days listed includes 11 sick days, which she receives payment for only if unused. With those considerations taken into account, she will earn only 75 percent of her current pay.
Her coworkers will likely face the same cuts; meanwhile, their obligations to support their families will remain unchanged.
On the other hand, the cafeteria workers will now be eligible to receive unemployment checks during their off-seasons: holidays, vacations, etc.
“They tell us that we are now allowed to collect unemployment whereas with the city we couldn’t, Cloonan added.
Head of the negotiating team for the School Committee, Jonathan Yeo, believes that all groups benefit from the new contract.
“This is a win-win situation for all the parties I think: the employees get to keep their jobs if they desire to and we provide a transition for them on the benefits issue, he said. “We also get a better food service program and get very large savings to the school budget.
Last year’s food program ran on a million dollar deficit every year. By privatizing the food service program, the city will save three quarters of a million dollars this year and next, Yeo says, and become self-sustaining in its third year.
“[Last year's] program was losing a million dollars a year which is a million dollars we can’t use in the classroom, he said.
Von Seggern explained that Whitsons is able to reduce cost and increase efficiency by relying on long-lasting relationships with suppliers to receive high quality yet less expensive ingredients.
Newton’s contract with Whitsons will last for three years, and then be up for reevaluation and open for bid to outside companies.
While Yeo and Von Seggern are enthusiastic about the switch, Cloonan and the cafeteria staff worries about the effects it will have on their jobs.
“It’s less pay and less hours, Cloonan said.
In the mean time, her staff is having difficulty managing the cafeteria, Cloonan says, as the future looks uncertain and workers are using up more and more of their sick days before Whitsons takes over.
“Everyone is sad about it, she said. “Basically our lawyer even told us it’s not a good deal; they’ve tried to take care of us as best they could for the next three years, but after that, it’s not going to be a good job for anyone.

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North keeps spirit despite tragedies http://www.denebolaonline.net/2010/10/28/north-keeps-spirit-despite-tragedies/ http://www.denebolaonline.net/2010/10/28/north-keeps-spirit-despite-tragedies/#comments Thu, 28 Oct 2010 11:00:17 +0000 Alex Gershanov http://www.denebolaonline.net/?p=4783 Despite recent troubling events including the death of one student and the arrest of another, Newton North’s students maintain high spirits as the school year progresses. Aided by support from the school’s guidance department, North students feel that their community has grown stronger over the course of these events.
The school suffered two traumatic incidents in the past two months, spurring action by the guidance department both times. In the first, North senior Adam London lost control of his car traveling down a wet and winding Newton road and slammed into a tree on August 23. Despite efforts by rescue crews and hospital staff, Adam could not be revived. North opened prior to the beginning of the school year to offer students a place to gather, talk, and grieve.
Just over a month later on October 1, a current North senior and a 2010 North graduate were arrested and charged with murder in connection with a shooting of a 29-year-old Waltham resident. North’s guidance department was on hand the following Monday to work with students who needed to discuss the incident.
North senior Sasha Land believes that students are coping well with the events and have had a lot of support from each other and the guidance department.
“[Both of the incidents] are pretty traumatic, especially for our grade, she said. “We’ve had two students die, two faculty die, but I think it has brought us together. Our grade has been through a lot, but the guidance department is very understanding of what’s going on and the effect it has on students.

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RMV puts profit before road safety http://www.denebolaonline.net/2010/10/28/rmv-puts-profit-before-road-safety/ http://www.denebolaonline.net/2010/10/28/rmv-puts-profit-before-road-safety/#comments Thu, 28 Oct 2010 10:04:52 +0000 Alex Gershanov http://www.denebolaonline.net/?p=4789 You just turned 16 and a half and got your license. Congratulate yourself.
This is a momentous occasion if not a milestone in your life. Not only have you earned the freedom to get from place to place by your own volition, but you have earned yourself a dainty little spot within the RMV’s cash crop, otherwise known as licensed teenagers.
A bureaucrat’s dream, the RMV licenses kids for driving 50 feet, backing up, and doing a three-point turn.
Then, surprised that these fit and able drivers, such as yourself, are killing people on the road in record numbers, they impose fines that make you wish you had never gotten your license. And while you cringe reading your suspension notice, the RMV cashes a fat check, smirking at the success of its clever trap.
Gotcha.
Consider the fines associated with a speeding ticket for a person under age 18.
For the sake of example, let’s take a situation that is just oh so familiar to me. You got pulled over on the Mass Pike. Your ticket reads 75 mph in a 65 mph zone. Disregard the fact that the only time the Pike moves any slower is during rush hour.
First you pay the speeding ticket – $100. In a week’s time, you get a suspension letter alerting you of two attitudinal-retraining courses you have to take (1984 anyone?) – $150. Next, after waiting 90 days, you pay $500 for your license re-instatement fee.
Afterwards (no you’re not done yet), you pay somewhere along the lines of $80 to retake the permit test and driving test. That last value is vague, as it is nearly impossible to obtain any definitive piece of information from the RMV website, and three different sources describe three different prices. Hence, an average.
Five and eight is thirteen, carry the one and¦ your total is: ridiculous. Carrying a JOL, the minimum speeding ticket will cost you over $800.
And that’s before your already blasphemously high insurance rates go up after your good neighbors at Allstate hear about your little hiccup.
But why? Why such high fines, why such a merciless grip on our lives? The RMV will say, “It’s for prevention! Fair enough. But why is there a need to prevent anything in the first place?
Granted, young drivers have always been the most likely to get into car accidents, but this no-tolerance speeding policy has only been in effect for a few years.
How can the RMV declare it is supporting safe driving when it licenses kids for performing maneuvers a ten-year-old could do were he tall enough.
The driver’s test does not adequately assess a person’s driving ability, as experience tells me. Half of my friends should not be allowed on the road altogether. Several of them openly admitted it to me!
The question, then, is how can the RMV allow these student drivers, who endanger themselves and everyone around them, to whip two-ton blocks of steel all over the state.
Oh right, their conscience is cleared by the fact that they enforce “preventative measures in the form of ludicrous fines. Meanwhile, they conveniently profit off these teenagers and their parents, who aren’t already under enough financial burden trying to send their kids to college.
The ethics of it are all wrong. Make the driver’s test harder. The way you create a safer driving environment is by constructing a test that takes either experience or inherent-skill to pass, not a 40 hour drivers-ed course, through most of which you slept.
Suddenly, the drivers who are getting into the majority of speed or skill-related accidents are not driving. Those with adequate skill and who are less likely to crash in the first place will still be able to pass the test. Could it be? A responsible alternative that not only saves lives but saves your parents some money?
Why hasn’t anyone proposed this earlier, you might ask. How come the U.S. has one of the easiest driving tests in the world? Because that’s what makes the RMV the most money, and that’s what the RMV likes.
Don’t kid yourself, newly appointed driver – the road is not your oyster, and you are not invisible to police (even if you’ve gotten lucky once or twice). They will find you, they will fine you, and the RMV will keep raking it in.

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Petition drafted to improve school lunch http://www.denebolaonline.net/2010/09/30/petition-drafted-to-improve-school-lunch/ http://www.denebolaonline.net/2010/09/30/petition-drafted-to-improve-school-lunch/#comments Thu, 30 Sep 2010 11:05:01 +0000 Alex Gershanov http://www.denebolaonline.net/?p=4615 To the misfortune of many South students, a budget cut of $500,000 has cut this year’s lunch menu from 11 options to five. Though a private company, Whitsons New England Inc., was selected in late June to oversee food services in Newton Public Schools, negotiations between the School Committee and the School Nutrition Workers Association have yet to be resolved. Whitsons cannot take over before the two parties reach an agreement.
Students are disappointed that with the budget cuts many of their favorite lunch options have been removed. In particular, South’s cafeteria no longer offers breakfast, a deli/wrap bar, a self-serve salad bar, a separate snack bar, and rarely offers the French-fry-burger option.
Many students are also disappointed that there are few or no vegetarian options available.
“Being a vegetarian in America is no rarity, senior Lauren Johnstone said. “It is unfair that I am unable to eat whenever I forget to pack my own lunch.
Attempting to bring more options to the table, Johnstone wrote a letter to Rob Clickstein, the district lunch program director, and plans to send it to him if the situation does not improve. She also created a Facebook group to raise awareness of the issue and to spur action.
“I drafted the cafeteria reform letter into a petition as well, she added. “If this new company does not come through, I have plenty more signatures to get, including the 350 of [students who joined] the Facebook group. I plan on continuing the reform.
It is uncertain when the School Committee’s negotiations will be over and hence uncertain how long the cafeteria will be offering these interim period food options. Clickstein declined to comment about the status of negotiations or when Whitsons will begin to manage the cafeterias. He added only that he is aware of parents’ and students’ concern over the current system.
Unsurprisingly, equipped with $500,000 fewer than previous years, the current cafeteria staff is struggling to offer a variety of options to students.
“[After budget cuts], the menu I was given has the same choices every day for a whole week, South cafeteria manager Linda Cloonan said. “We are trying to add to that; we’ve been trying to change it up and do the best we can.
Cloonan operates with a staff of only seven this year, as compared to last year’s staff of 12. The only way to save the $500,000 demanded of them by the School Committee, Cloonan explained, was to lay off workers and reduce the menu. She added that she simply does not have the staff to operate a cafeteria equivalent in value to last year.
While the budget cuts may intend to save money, the lack of options has resulted in fewer students buying lunches as well. Cloonan explained that last year’s sales were approximately 500 lunches a day, and this year’s current sales are approximately 425. Over 180 days, if each lunch has an average cost of $3.50, the program is losing over $45,000 in sales, thus furthering the system’s deficit.
Many faculty members, including Principal Joel Stembridge, miss the self-serve salad bar the most.
“I’m disappointed that we’re starting the year this way; it wasn’t anyone’s intention to start with a lower level of service to the students, Stembridge said. “But that’s the result of the size of the staff going from 12 to 7; they can’t possibly maintain the same level of service with half the staff size.
Students, on the other hand, are most concerned about the lack of a morning option. Many students depended on South offering breakfast, especially those commuting to school from Boston.
“For the past two years, I ate breakfast at school because I didn’t have the time to wake up, get ready, and catch the bus,” senior Kyla Kouadio said. “ever since they cut funding, “I’ve been less attentive in classes and always hungry.”
In response to student demands, several groups including Turnaround and the Senior Class Officers have begun selling healthy options for breakfast.
“It’s a great opportunity to raise money for our class as well as meet the needs of the students who need to buy breakfast at schools,” Senior Class Office President Sophia Zarsky said.
In addition, it is still unclear what options Whitsons will provide once they do take over. Due to the confidentiality of the negotiations process, officials are hesitant to definitively comment on any details.
“I saw a list last year of what [Whitsons] was offering at a School Committee meeting, Stembridge said. “I think it was greater than the number of options than we had last year.
While this sounds appealing at first, Stembridge was uncertain that this would remain the same.
According to him, some of the money that was allocated for Whitsons was used to fund the current food program. Thus, it is unclear whether or not they will be able to provide the same value they had originally intended.
When Whitsons does take over, however, the current staff’s positions may be in jeopardy.
“When the new company comes, we will have to interview for our jobs and the pay rate would be significantly lower.
Cloonan predicted that her wage would be cut roughly 40 to 45% and that less of her staff would be eligible for health benefits while working for Whitson.
Johnstone hopes that the School Committee will be quick to make a decision regarding food service and provide better lunch options.
“I think the most important thing is to add more vegetables and healthy yet appetizing food, she said. “Too often have kids come up to me, especially since my public attempt at reform, telling me there was nothing they wanted to eat so they got chips or a Rice Krispie treat. Students need healthy options to make the right choices.

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2010 may be the last year for South cafeteria staff http://www.denebolaonline.net/2010/06/10/2010-may-be-the-last-year-for-south-cafeteria-staff/ http://www.denebolaonline.net/2010/06/10/2010-may-be-the-last-year-for-south-cafeteria-staff/#comments Thu, 10 Jun 2010 12:07:06 +0000 Alex Gershanov http://www.denebolaonline.net/?p=4465 The debate over cafeteria privatization, raging for nearly five months, has yet to produce any definitive answers for the Newton Public Schools (NPS) cafeteria staff.

By the end of the year, South’s 12 cafeteria staff may lose their jobs.

Chair of the Negotiating Committee, Jonathan Yeo, says that the School Committee hopes to see new developments within the next two weeks.

The question of privatization first arose when the city began looking for ways to minimize costs and maximize worker efficiency. Their efforts began after the economic recession caused a financial crisis in Newton.

To remedy the situation, the School Committee passed a tighter budget, seeking to reorganize certain aspects of Newton schools, particularly the food distribution program.

The NPS cafeterias cumulatively run at a deficit of nearly $1 million a year. The new budget aims to remove this monetary strain from the school system.

“The program needs to be reduced by $520,000 to meet the budget, Yeo said. “So one way or another, we will do that – either by reaching an agreement with the union to outsource or reorganize the program or reducing staff and costs.

Recently, the city released a Request for Proposal that allowed potential private food service providers to bid for the job.

According to School Committee member Reenie Murphy, the School Commitee is considering four companies for privatization: Chartwells, Aramark, Whitson, and Sodexo. Each is a well-known, national food service provider.

Neither the School Committee nor the union representing the city’s cafeteria workers are permitted to reveal the details of any negotiations. Thus, the cafeteria workers are kept virtually in the dark and unaware of whether or not they will have a job come September.

Some of South’s cafeteria staff have worked at South for 30 years, and most are mothers.

Yeo mentioned that despite the union’s efforts to publicize the struggle, there has not been much support one way or the other from the community.

“We get comments on many issues: class size, security cameras, whatever, he said. “But we have had very few comments on this issue.

In the considerations of the School Committee to privatize the food distribution program, several questions arise.

Some students are concerned that a completely new staff–one that does not necessarily have any connection or dedication to the school–may have a negative impact on the school in terms of attitude.

The current workers have developed friendly relationships with South’s students, and it is unclear how an entirely new staff, likely to be paid minimum wage to meet the budget requirements, will interact with the student body.

It is also uncertain whether or not privatization will be beneficial at all.

Head Custodian Ernie Peltier, who has dealt with privatization struggles before, explained that often, private companies offer low introductory prices and then raise them over the years.

Yeo said that such would not be the case, however, because he is confident that a well-written contract would prevent that.

It is still too early to tell what decision will be made, according to Yeo, but privatization is not the only solution. He says that there is a chance that the current food program can be reorganized, but that it would still most likely require staff cuts.

How severe those staff cuts would be, Yeo says, is too soon to tell.

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Political Awareness week enlightens students about issues: Creem vs. Rudnick Senatorial Debate http://www.denebolaonline.net/2010/06/10/political-awareness-week-enlightens-students-about-issues-creem-vs-rudnick-senatorial-debate/ http://www.denebolaonline.net/2010/06/10/political-awareness-week-enlightens-students-about-issues-creem-vs-rudnick-senatorial-debate/#comments Thu, 10 Jun 2010 12:04:38 +0000 Alex Gershanov http://www.denebolaonline.net/?p=4471 The two current state senate candidates, Charles Rudnick and Cynthia Creem, met at South on May 19 to debate current political issues. The candidates were invited to speak as part of South’s Political Awareness Week held May 19 to 21.

Both Creem and Rudnick consider themselves progressive democrats, focusing on issues such as protecting civil liberties and protecting gay marriage rights. Creem described herself as a candidate that “looks forward, makes change, and champions that change.

Key concerns that Rudnick wishes to address if elected to senate are promoting transgender equality, eliminating wasteful state spending, and making the Massachusetts Department of Probation (MDP) more transparent. Rudnick feels that the MDP is inefficient and does not allow enough exposure and public scrutiny.

When asked about the issue of legalizing gambling within Massachusetts as a source of state revenue, both candidates agreed that gambling is a short-term solution with a negative long-term impact. Rudnick believes that casinos tend to attract people who are financially unstable, thereby “negatively affecting those who are least able to gamble.

In response to the recent John Odgren trial in Lincoln-Sudbury, where a 19-year old with Asperger’s syndrome was sentenced to life for stabbing a classmate to death, Creem said “our judiciary system doesn’t look closely at the people who commit crimes. She believes that more concern needs to be placed on cases involving mental health issues.

Rudnick, in addition, believes that there needs to be more focus placed on the independence of the courts. “The legislature consistently infringes on the judiciary, he said.

Both candidates agreed, furthermore, that certain legisulatre reform needs to be made.

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Café negotiations pose legal questions http://www.denebolaonline.net/2010/05/21/cafe-negotiations-pose-legal-questions/ http://www.denebolaonline.net/2010/05/21/cafe-negotiations-pose-legal-questions/#comments Fri, 21 May 2010 10:05:28 +0000 Alex Gershanov http://www.denebolaonline.net/?p=4260 In the midst of ongoing negotiations with cafeteria workers, some tension has risen between the Newton Public School Custodians’ Association (NPSCA) and the School Committee over the ‘Ëœbargaining in good faith’ component of their meetings.

The School Committee sent out a Request for Proposal (RFP) form on April 22 which invited private companies to offer proposals and bid on the food service management contract.

Bargaining in good faith refers to the duties of both parties to meet and negotiate at reasonable times with willingness to reach an agreement without undermining one another.

Alan McDonald, the lawyer representing the NPSCA, believes that sending out an RFP in the middle of negotiations is contradictory to this concept.

“We don’t think good faith bargaining can occur in the face of a subtle school budget or an RFP that asks potential bidders to enter their bids on parameters that really need to be negotiated, he said.

McDonald noted that the NPSCA asked the School Committee to withdraw the RFP but that they have not yet done so. He also mentioned that the NPSCA reserved the right to compile legal charges on the grounds that the RFP violated good faith bargaining agreements.

“In my view, the School Commitee is prohibited from [releasing the RFP] while negotiations are ongoing, he said, “and if the School Committee goes forward with [the RFP] without having completed the negotiations process, it would be unlawful.

The School Committee, however, does not believe it is violating any laws or compromising good faith bargaining. Chair of the Negotiating Committee Jonathan Yeo attests that currently, the RFP is strictly a means of gathering information.

“We continue to bargain in good faith, he said. “We have a variety of proposals and we haven’t made any decisions in terms of privatization; it’s just gathering information to see what proposals we get.

Both parties hope to reach a quiet resolution to these concerns and continue with negotiations.

Despite initial hopes of settling on a contract by May, negotiations have taken longer than expected and will continue through June, possibly leading into the summer.

“[There will be] a lot of activity in May and June, Yeo said. “We hope we will reach a decision with [the NPSCA] in the next two months.

While negotiations continue behind closed doors, the cafeteria workers in question are worried about their job security.

“[The atmosphere is] terrible; everyone is under a lot of stress, South cafeteria manager Linda Cloonan said.

To maintain good faith bargaining, the school committee and the custodial union which is responsible for the cafeteria staff cannot disclose details of the negotiations. While doing so prevents leakage of sensitive information, it also creates a stressful and uncertain waiting period for the cafeteria staff.

“[We are] not going to find out anything about it until the last day of work, Cloonan said. “It just adds to the stress when the union doesn’t give us details on their exact plans.

The cafeteria workers, some of whom have worked at South for 30 years or more, have hung fliers in Newton schools, written newspaper columns, and been on local news stations to raise awareness about their struggle.

Cloonan, demonstrating the staff’s hopefulness, remarked that most people have not started looking for new jobs. Instead, they are looking for ways to reduce the nearly million dollar deficit that the Newton Public School cafeteria system acquires every year.

“The women are trying to get together as to ways to save and meet the School Committee in the middle to bridge this million dollar gap, Cloonan said.

NPSCA Vice-President Ernie Peltier agrees that there are still options to keep the current cafeteria staff, and that “it’s a 50-50 chance [for privatization]. Peltier mentioned that he had collected the signatures of over 1000 Newton students, all demanding that privatization be avoided.

The RFP invites companies to bid for a one-year contract for the 2010-2011 school year. Peltier noted that at least 16 companies showed interest in the RFP.

Among many technicalities, the RFP describes the characteristics and requirements of the companies looking to attain a contract. Among those are the cost of meals and their nutritional values.

Yeo said that it was difficult to predict how the food choice would change if a private company were hired. He said, however, that the RFP requires a substantial choice in menu for students and that the incoming company would have to conform to that.

Other requirements of the company are that it has served a public school district a minimum of five years without any deficit. The company must also have successfully served at least three districts, with one or more being a minimum of six schools and 4000 students.

Company proposals are due by May 20 and if privatization occurs, a contract is scheduled to be awarded by June 24. The new company’s contract will begin July 1.

Still, what option the NPSCA and the School Committee will end up agreeing on is uncertain. If complete privatization does not occur, some current employees will still likely lose their jobs.

“Next year’s budget that has been approved by the School Committee has $520,000 less for food services, so one way or another we need to cut $520,000 from the food service program, Yeo said. “If that’s reducing employees, we will have to do that.

McDonald remains confident that the NPSCA will negotiate thoroughly and reach a favorable agreement.
“We will continue to work hard to reach an agreement that we can live with and that doesn’t completely emasculate the terms and conditions of employment, he said.

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Zilles to lead NTA after close election http://www.denebolaonline.net/2010/05/21/zilles-to-lead-nta-after-close-election/ http://www.denebolaonline.net/2010/05/21/zilles-to-lead-nta-after-close-election/#comments Fri, 21 May 2010 10:04:17 +0000 Alex Gershanov http://www.denebolaonline.net/?p=4263 After serving eight years as the Newton Teachers’ Association (NTA) president, Cheryl Turgel will step down on July 1 and hand the presidency over to Newton North teacher Mike Zilles.

Zilles won the election against Turgel in a 51 to 49 percent split on May 6.

Many in the union, particularly Turgel, did not expect Zilles to run for NTA president.

“I was surprised because he had no previous experience with the NTA, Turgel said.

Zilles explained that he hoped to lead the organization to new heights.

“I decided to run because there was a lot more we could do as a union and I wanted to contribute to that, he said.

Despite his limited history with the union, Zilles intends to bring a certain degree of change to the NTA. He begins his term after a year of much negativity towards the union and will attempt to revive what he feels may be the union’s slightly tarnished reputation.

“I want people to see what we teachers do is for the benefit of students, Zilles said. “There has been a lot of bad press towards the union.

Zilles will likely have a difficult job ahead of him but he remains confident about the opportunity to bring about change.

Among other plans he has, Zilles hopes to create a better organizational structure within the union and improve the involvement of all union members.

One of his main goals is to send a positive message to the community, mainly that “teachers are advocating not simply in their own interests, but in the students’ interests.

History teacher Marcia Okun agrees that it was a difficult year for teachers, and that Turgel is not to blame.
“It’s not all her fault; there has been a lot of teacher-bashing from the outside, she said.

She feels, however, that the NTA has not always done a good job or presenting itself to the public in an “informative and enlightening manner.

Both opponents campaigned prior to the election, sending out informational fliers and speaking at Newton schools. Zilles, relatively unknown before his campaign, explained it was important for him to first build a wide base of supporters. He visited every school and “kept people informed about what [he] was doing.

Ultimately, two elections were held, the second following shortly after the first. The results of the first election were very close and speculation existed that voting rules may not have been followed as strictly as would be desired in some schools.

The NTA decided that to avoid controversy and a split opinion in the NTA, a second election would be in everyone’s best interests. The second election provided more accurate results and designated Zilles the winner.

Turgel is hopeful that Zilles will be an effective leader but worries that the NTA will “go through a rough patch with no experience.

Zilles plans to take the momentum he has built during the campaign and move forward from there.

“[Turgel] did a good job, and we will take the involvement of people in the election and build on that, he said.
Okun is hopeful of Zilles’ performance as president but not necessarily certain.

“Change can mean anything, she said. “There are bigger issues that he is going to have to react to–he’ll have no choice.

In her eight years as NTA president, Turgel accomplished much for the union. She advocated for high teacher salaries and improved benefits and maintained a healthy relationship between the School Committee and the NTA.

Her most recent success was in ratifying a teacher contract between the NTA and the School Committee. The negotiations process was difficult due to budget constraints on the city, but Turgel pulled through with an acceptable contract to both parties.

Teachers and the NTA, despite some uncertainty, are waiting to see how Zilles will affect the NTA agenda and represent the union.

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