• CW Editor Bruce Mohl on NECN Broadside with Jim Braude

    Bruce Mohl
    CW Editor Bruce Mohl was a guest on NECN’s “Broadside” with Jim Braude on March 4th, to talk about patronage in the probation department.  Bruce Mohl and Jack Sullivan recently published an investigative report on the lack of oversight at the probation office and recent debate about how to reign in commissioner John O’Brien and his hiring policies.  Mr. Braude also noted CommonWealth’s recent coverage of pension reform legislation, covered by Michael Jonas in the Winter 2010 issue of the magazine. 


  • CW’s Jack Sullivan on Carr show


    CommonWealth senior investigative reporter Jack Sullivan appeared on the Howie Carr Show on WRKO (AM 680) on Monday at 6:08 p.m. to talk about patronage at the state probation service, the focus of a recent story on CommonWealthmagazine.org. Carr, the talk show host and Boston Herald columnist, wrote a column in the Boston Sunday Herald about the Anzalone case that CommonWealth featured and  examined the issue more deeply on his radio show. He and Sullivan took calls from listeners for about a half-hour.

    Listen to Jack Sullivan’s complete appearance on Howie’s show here.

  • New Bedford shows off its cultural revival

    New Bedford Standard Times

    City leaders exercised their bragging rights Friday as the Massachusetts Cultural Council came to town along with guests from “Gateway Cities” across the state.

    They came to the former Star Store — now UMass Dartmouth’s primary arts campus — to see how New Bedford took all of the talk about building a cultural economy downtown and actually did it.

  • Commentary: College decision too often based on flawed criteria

    Patriot Ledger
    If you’ve been to college recently, or you’re the parent of a student, you know how planning for college has become a bit like the game show The Price is Right. The rules can be confusing, the price is hard to guess, glitter and glamour distract, and you’re just hoping the payoff will be big.

    But unlike the game show, students and parents are playing with their own money.

  • Paying for college

    WFCR – Paying for College

    MHERST, MA (wfcr) – The average American college student graduates with $23,000 of debt. That’s according to a new report from the public policy think tank MassINC. Tony Broh, a co-author of “Planning for College”, says it can’t be stressed enough: families need to start saving whatever amount they can as soon as a child is born.

  • Study: Families need more financial info

    The State News

    The report, released by Massachusetts-based policy think tank MassINC, found the complexity of investing money and finding ways to pay for a college education are lost in a muddle of intricate, yet insufficient information.

    Tony Broh, a higher education consultant and the study’s co-author, said information available to students and their families about ways of paying for higher education is presented in a way where they do not take the overall investment into account.

    Broh said he came up with the study’s findings by using publicly available information, such as information that might be found on a lending agency’s Web site.

    He said although the study dealt only with private and public colleges and universities in the state of Massachusetts, its findings have national implications.

    “College is not about making a living,” Broh said. “It’s finding out how to live your entire life. All of that’s important, but with the price of tuition fees … getting higher and higher all the time, it’s increasingly becoming more important as a financial consideration.”

    Broh said the lack of information is inherent in colleges and universities, lending agencies and state and federal governments.

    The problem, he said, is that throughout the past 30 years, opportunities to pay for college have become increasingly scarce.

    “What happened, I think, is colleges, and I should say lending institutions and the government, didn’t understand the responsibility they had to treat college applicants as a consumer and to think of them in the same way as someone who’s buying a house or a car,” Broh said.

    MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon said she had not seen the report and could not comment on it specifically.

    However, she said the process of figuring out ways to pay higher education costs can be a confusing process. MSU specifically, she said, takes measures to increase cost transparency, such as a “budget calculator” that can be found on the Office of Financial Aid’s Web site.

    “We’ve tried to use a lot of Web-based tools to (help) families understand programs that are available,” Simon said. “We’re constantly trying to (be transparent).”

    Simon said it is possible that federal financial aid forms, such as the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), also need to be simplified for students and their families.

    Samantha Ayscue, a social relations and secondary education senior, said she does not feel there is an adequate amount of information about methods of paying for college for students and their families.

    Such information is needed, she said, especially with tuition costs increasingly on the rise.

    Ayscue said work could be done on all levels to make the process more transparent, such as increasing awareness of financial aid and scholarship opportunities on the college level. She said making key Web sites more concise also might help.

    “I’ve used the Office of Financial Aid’s Web site for scholarships, but some were from like 2006,” Ayscue said. “They need to update stuff like that and just make it more accessible.”

  • The Boston Redevelopment Authority’s Money Machine

    The BRA’s Money Machine – Fox 25

    In last year’s mayoral election, Mayor Tom Menino’s challengers zeroed in on the powerful Boston Redevelopment Authority, claiming the agency is out of control and should be abolished.

    Both Menino and the BRA survived, but now after the election a little-known legal maneuver by the BRA has been uncovered.

    It’s being called the BRA’s never-ending money machine.

  • You win, you’re fired

    CommonWealth magazine

    In mid-June last year, Gov. Deval Patrick and legislative leaders seemed to be tripping over each other to heap praise on a pension reform bill that the governor had just signed. “Welcome to a day we’ve been waiting for for a decade or more,” Patrick told a roomful of lawmakers, aides, and reporters, according to the Boston Globe. “Today we answer the public’s call for real reform to our pension system,” said Senate President Therese Murray. House Speaker Robert DeLeo chimed in, calling the bill “a giant step.”

    But all the self-congratulation may have been a little over the top.

  • Money Machine

    CommonWealth magazine

    Every time one of the condominiums at Flagship Wharf in the Charlestown Navy Yard changes hands, the Boston Redevelopment Authority takes a piece of the action.

    Unit 723, for example, has been sold five times since it first went on the market in 1993, including once by former Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra. The BRA collected almost 4 percent of the initial sale price and 2 percent every time thereafter, for a total of about $50,000. For all 200 luxury condominiums in the building, the BRA pocketed an estimated $4.5 million in so-called resale payments, an amount that will keep growing as long as the building remains standing and the units keep turning over. In essence, Flagship Wharf is a never-ending money machine.

  • City employees cash in on Boston’s affordable housing program

    Fox 25

    How would you like to live in a luxury condo development on Beacon Hill and pay only $161,000 for a unit, a fraction of what your well-to-do neighbors paid? Or live on the edge of Boston Harbor, with skyline views, for just $148,000, less than half of what your condo is actually worth.

    Housing bargains like these can be yours if you get lucky in the city’s Inclusionary Development Program.

  • All aboard

    CommonWealth magazine
    Sen. Steven Baddour, the co-chair of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Transportation, was ticked off. The five members of the new Massachusetts Department of Transportation board of directors had been invited to appear before a November oversight hearing called by the committee. Only one showed up. The Methuen Democrat made it clear he wasn’t happy. “I wish more of them were here this morning, so I could say this to their faces,” he said. The committee rescheduled the group for a December hearing. But less than 24 hours before that session was slated to begin, again only one board member had agreed to appear, leading frustrated lawmakers to postpone the hearing yet again.

    The MassDOT board of directors is now the public face of transportation reform in the Bay State. Board members’ reluctance to show their faces early on to lawmakers who are anxious to discuss transportation issues made for an inauspicious start. The recent board no-shows at legislative hearings no doubt had something to do with the chilly reception some board members would have received.

    Expectations for the new department, a merger of nearly all the state’s transportation-related agencies, are running high. Worn-out roads, decrepit bridges, and almost daily snafus on bus, subway, and train routes have commuters at their wit’s end. Deferred maintenance and repairs are prompting big concerns about safety, especially at the debt-riddled MBTA. And Massachusetts doesn’t have enough money to deal with any of it.

  • Affordable housing

    CommonWealth magazine

    Bowdoin Place, with its red brick and concrete façade and dark wood trim, sits in understated elegance at the back of Beacon Hill in the shadow of the State House. Some condominiums there are assessed for more than $1 million, and two-bedroom, two-bath apartments rent for $5,000 a month.

    But not everyone who lives there is wealthy. Like all residential developments built in the city since 2000, Bowdoin Place was required to set aside a percentage of its units as affordable housing under an executive order issued by Mayor Thomas Menino and administered by the Boston Redevelopment Authority. The goal was to make room — even in luxury-residence buildings — for middle income and upper middle income Bostonians who couldn’t otherwise buy into the American dream. At Bowdoin Place, that meant 19 condos that normally would sell for $500,000 to $750,000 went for less than half that amount through a lottery open to anyone who met the BRA’s income guidelines.

  • Youth populations drop 1.2M in Northeast, Midwest

    “It’s certainly an indicator of some concern because robust economics need a diverse workforce,” says John Schneider, executive vice president of MassINC, a public policy group in Boston. “We here certainly have been raising alarm bells about the declining population of our young adults for … years.”


    The number of children in Massachusetts has fallen almost 5% since 2000, but the declines are not happening in all parts of the state. “The Greater Boston region can compete anywhere in the world for jobs, innovation, productivity,” Schneider says, “but there are huge areas of New England that have not been able to diversify and are struggling to connect with new economic opportunities.”

  • Housing policies leave cities behind

    Housing policies leave cities behind

    By Benjamin Forman

    For decades, building affordable housing has been the “fix” for declining neighborhoods in the state’s older industrial cities.  But shoring up distressed blocks with affordable housing has done little to make these neighborhoods attractive again.  If anything, it’s probably had the unintended effect of concentrating more poor families in areas where jobs have become increasingly scarce. 

    Because  housing resources are severely limited, state housing policy has focused on ensuring people have a roof over their heads.  The prioritization of affordable housing is correct.  But it does not explain the reluctance to recognize the limitations of affordable housing development in communities with declining neighborhoods, and the need for another pool of resources to address the unique challenges cities with these conditions face.

  • State’s Mill cities need smart investing

    Mill cities need smart investing

    Mayors from the state’s older mill cities converged on Beacon Hill last week to advocate for a reform bill. 

    At a time when all communities are grappling with tight budgets, this may seem like just another call for more money in disguise.  But these leaders are supporting innovative ideas that could provide real economic stimulus. 

  • Grade the Teachers

    A good teacher equals a good school year. Not always, but far more often than not. Ask any parents of an elementary-grade child how the school year is going, and it won’t be long before you’ll hear them rave about – or bemoan – the teacher their child has been assigned to. There are teachers who are duds, who can find a way to drain the fun out of a unit on dinosaurs for second-graders. And there are  those with a gift for reaching the eighth-grader slouched in the back of the classroom with a penchant for eye rolling. These teachers can bring life to Poe’s fascination with the dead, or deliver just the right contemporary analogy to make sense of the War of 1812.

  • Term paper trafficking

    CommonWealth magazine

    Despite laws in Massachusetts and 16 other states, lawsuits, honor codes, and even sophisticated plagiarism-detection software, college students continue to buy term papers and other academic material from individuals and companies that have built a thriving business out of cheating.

    Websites with names like Papergeeks.com, 15000papers.com, Schoolsucks.com, and echeat.com advertise easy access to recycled and “customized” term papers with catchy slogans like “Download Your Workload” and “It’s Not Cheating, It’s Collaborating.”

  • Teacher Test

    CommonWealth magazine

    In 1966, the federal government released a seminal report titled Equality of Educational Opportunity. Written by James Coleman, a prominent sociologist, the report attempted to get at the various influences on student performance in American schools. The study, widely known simply as the Coleman Report, concluded that “only a small part of [student achievement] is the result of school factors, in contrast to family background differences between communities.”

  • State of the unions

    CommonWealth magazine
    ”Governor Patrick, Anti-Labor.” ”Governor Patrick, Anti-Public Safety.” That was the 411 from Arlington and Medford police officers lined up more than 200 strong in front of Arlington’s Town Hall in late June. There wasn’t any chanting or marching, just plenty of signs doing the talking on a damp and chilly evening. The reason behind the impressive turnout wasn’t much of a mystery. Already ballistic over the governor’s support for replacing uniformed police with civilian flaggers on some road construction details, municipal police officers were facing a second hit to their wallets, losing pay increases for pursuing degrees in criminal justice under the so-called Quinn Bill.

  • Missed opportunity – CommonWealth Magazine

    CommonWealth magazine

    In the wake of the indictments of former state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson and former House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, a State House under siege by a fed-up public recently fashioned the first major ethics reform in 30 years. The legislation increased penalties for ethics violations and corruption, severely limited lobbyist activities, clamped down on gifts and freebies for lawmakers, and increased the enforcement powers of the secretary of state, the attorney general, and the State Ethics Commission.

  • Public Records – CommonWealth Magazine

    A law designed to shine a bright light on the inner workings of state and local government in Massachusetts is instead leaving much of the bureaucracy in shadows, if not total darkness.

  • Career Change – CommonWealth Magazine

    Three years ago, Dan Ladd of Lincoln closed up a real estate law practice and went back to school. Faced with a slow business climate and a desire for a skill he could take overseas, the former lawyer is now in training to be a veterinary technician.

  • T Steps Up Concrete-tie Inspections

    MBTA officials are stepping up inspections and ordering commuter rail engineers to throttle back for safety in areas where the railroad tracks are held down by crumbling concrete ties.

    It is the latest problem with defective ties along two of the Old Colony commuter rail lines south of Boston. About 11,000 people ride the trains into Boston from Middleboro and Kingston every weekday.

  • Rail Fix Plan on Track

    The MBTA said Monday its plan is on track to close the commuter rail line between Bridgewater and Middleboro starting Wednesday to replace deteriorated rail ties.

    MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said the agency will run replacement buses between the Middleboro and Bridgewater stations of the Old Colony rail line to Boston. The inbound buses will be leaving 20 minutes ahead of the scheduled train departure times.

  • City Says Red Sox Must End Open Bar

    City regulators say they plan to order the Boston Red Sox to stop offering an open bar as part of a $1,000-and-up packages for some of Fenway Park’s most coveted seats.

    Daniel F. Pokaski, chairman of the Boston Licensing Board, said the team will be told to “cease and desist” the practice but apparently will not face further sanctions, unlike other bars and restaurants that have temporarily lost their licenses for similar infractions of the state’s 25-year ban on happy hours and open bars.

  • Menino’s long ride

    CommonWealth magazine

    On a Wednesday morning in May, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino throws a neighborhood party in a small South End park. It’s a sparkling, lilac-scented day, the kind that makes Bostonians feel good about the decision not to decamp to one of those Southwestern cities with great weather and $100,000 homes. Everyone is smiling — at the sun, at the toddlers scooting around the jungle gym, at the City Hall workers serving up free Dunkin’ Donuts coffee and pastries. Women with strollers mingle with retirees and youth workers. Neighbors talk about planting radishes.

    As the mayor steps out of his black Chevy Tahoe, in the first of many stops that day, he causes only a slight stir in most of the park’s corners. One woman wants a picture of him with her babies. A man with a shock of white hair buttonholes him to discuss efforts to spruce up an overgrown city park. “Oh, yeah,” says Menino. “You wrote me a letter.”

  • Getting to yes

    CommonWealth magazine

    Plan ahead, people! That’s the mantra Greg Bialecki, the state’s secretary of housing and economic development, drums into his audiences when he goes on the road to talk about zoning reform. For nearly two years, he’s crisscrossed the state telling local officials that they’re not doing enough to plan where homes, schools, shops, and industrial plants get built — a lack of coordination that is hindering the state’s ability to attract jobs, build affordable homes, and keep residents from fleeing to more affordable climes.

    “There hasn’t been a lot of thought and planning as to where things are going,” the secretary says. “So the experience of people all over Massachusetts has been [that] what gets built seems almost random to them.”

  • Back tracking

    CommonWealth magazine

    Stephen Wiles leaves his New Bedford home at about 6:15 each weekday morning to drive to Middleborough to catch the commuter train to Boston. He’s been riding the rail five days a week for about five years, so he knows the route and its bumps and sways well. Lately, he’s noticed some jarring patches on the stretch near the Middleborough-Bridgewater town line.

    “It’s quite rough,” says Wiles, one of the 10,000 riders on the MBTA’s Old Colony lines every day. “One evening in particular it was quite bumpy.”

  • School reform snubs students

    School ‘reform’ snubs students

    At the event sponsored by the Massachusetts Institute for a New Commonwealth (MassINC), Reville previewed parts of a Patrick administration legislative package.  It will include raising the cap on charter schools under certain circumstances and the mechanics for creating Readiness Schools, the centerpiece of the governor’s action agenda for education.

    The proposals suffer from the adult-centric incrementalism that has marked so many establishment attempts at reform. 

    Reville said reform’s slow pace is not due to lack of leadership on Beacon Hill, but failure to achieve consensus on issues like charter schools.  He doesn’t grasp that leadership is the precursor to consensus.

  • Charter schools important but only part of the solution

    Education consultant Jeff Howard on Thursday compared those fixated on the promise of charter schools to a homeowner convinced his house is cold because the furnace is broken. The homeowner spends a small fortune on a new furnace but still doesn’t get any heat. Only then does he realize the problem was an empty oil tank.

    News that Gov. Deval Patrick supports lifting the cap on charter schools in the state’s worst performing districts is a good sign that he sees their value in closing the achievement gap between students who are poor and those who are not. But the focus on this relatively new tool shouldn’t slow efforts to sharpen the ones we already have.

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