Guilford High to hold program on concussions

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
Jan. 31, 2008

GUILFORD — With awareness of the long-term problems that head injuries can cause student-athletes on the rise, Guilford High School will hold a concussion management program tonight.

The event is primarily aimed at parents, Athletic Director Chip Dorwin said, and is open to the public, not just Guilford residents.

The concussion management program will take place at 7 p.m. in the Guilford High School library.

Dorwin said he does not think the school has seen more concussions in recent years, but knowledge about head injuries has increased.

“I don’t think there are more problems, but I think we’re more aware that a kid may be acting normal but their brain isn’t,” he said. “It used to be where, ‘Can you count backwards from 100 and are your eyes dilated’ and so forth, and they answer all the questions and they say, ‘OK, you’re OK to go.’”

Five years ago, Guilford became the first public school system in the state to require all athletes to take a neurological assessment called ImPACT, which stands for Immediate Post-concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing.

Students take the test on one of the school’s computers before playing sports to obtain baseline data on brain functioning. Then, if a student suffers a head injury, he or she takes the test again to see if there has been any change.

“You’re able to compare the normal baseline brain function with the post-head injury brain function, and if there is a significant difference, then we know those kids should not go back into competition or practice,” Dorwin said. Depending on turnout, some parents may have the chance to try out the ImPACT software tonight, he added.

A concussion is a problem with the brain’s function that is caused by a blow to the head or shaking of the head, according to ImPACT’s Web site. Symptoms include confusion, forgetfulness, clumsy movements, loss of consciousness, headache and nausea.

Dorwin said that parents sometimes object to their children being asked to sit out, which is one reason to have the informational session.

“(If) there’s a big game coming up, and maybe the kid is looking to play in college and there’s a college coach coming down, and we’re saying, ‘Look, your son can’t play today,’ sometimes they forget the importance of what we’re doing,” he said. “People need to understand that these are serious injuries that, if they aren’t treated properly, could have some pretty serious effects for kids in the future.”

The scheduled speakers for the program are Michael Eldridge, the high school’s trainer; Robert Nolfo, a doctor with Guilford Pediatrics and the school district’s medical adviser; and Mark McCarthy, director of the Elite Sports Medicine Concussion Program in Farmington.

Guilford High School Principal Rick Misenti said the athletic department is “proactive” on informing parents and students about concussions. Misenti, who is in his first year as Guilford’s principal, said that his former schools in Florida did not have any similar concussion programs.

“I think it gives them a first-hand knowledge from qualified physicians to define what a concussion is and what the effects of a concussion can be and the symptoms for a concussion as well,” Misenti said. “It really enables parents to monitor their child’s health away from the school as well.”

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Guilford grade school pupil disciplined after bomb note

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
Jan. 30, 2008

GUILFORD — A Melissa Jones School student will be disciplined after the student left a note on a school bus that mentioned a bomb.

The bus driver found several notes, which also included what school officials called inappropriate language. Officials quickly determined that there was no threat, police and the school’s principal said.

Principal Paula McCarthy said she called police for assistance, but after looking at the notes, she was able to identify the student who wrote them.

McCarthy described the child as a “very young student.” Melissa Jones serves kindergarten through fourth-grade students.

“It was totally unfounded and there was no threat to students or staff or the school,” McCarthy said. “We just wanted to be extra careful.”

She said the school resolved the situation Friday and officials spoke to the student’s parent. The school will take disciplinary action against the student, she said.

McCarthy said she does not know of any similar incidents at Melissa Jones in the past. Last year, Guilford High School had to be evacuated several times after officials found notes with bomb threats there. Deputy Police Chief Jeff Hutchinson said Tuesday that the police department has not made any arrests related to those incidents.

Hutchinson said the police department advises the schools in bomb threat situations, and the superintendent or principal makes the decision of whether to evacuate the building.

“We rely on the school’s decision in that process — they determined that it was children’s writing; there were no specifics (in the note),” he said. “It was the end of the day, nothing happened, and it wasn’t necessary to evacuate it.”

Rail station parking plan delayed

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
Jan. 30, 2008

GUILFORD — Despite an overflowing parking lot at the town’s Shore Line East train station, funding for the construction of additional parking areas has been delayed until at least 2009, according to town officials and the South Central Connecticut Regional Council of Governments.

The $1.3 million project was scheduled to start construction in 2008, but is now set for the 2009-2010 fiscal year, according to SCRCOG documents. The work, to add 150 new parking spaces on the north side of the train tracks, was originally supposed to take place in 2006.

First Selectman Carl Balestracci said state Department of Transportation officials told him that there is not enough funding to start work on the project now. The price tag is made up of federal and state dollars run through the DOT’s Transportation Improvement Program.

“The plan is still on the table,” Balestracci said. “As soon as they get approval for the funding, we’ve been assured that they’ll move on it as quickly as possible because this is a priority, or it’s been stated it was a priority by the governor.”

DOT officials did not return calls for comment Tuesday.

Balestracci said that the station’s parking lot, which has about 250 spaces, is often at capacity on weekdays. When the lot is full, some commuters park on a nearby area covered with gravel and bark, which Balestracci said is Amtrak property.

“Off and on, there’s been a problem there — Amtrak doesn’t want the liability of having people park on their property,” he said.

Guilford’s train station, located on Old Whitfield Street, opened in November 2005. Creating a residential area around the train station is the cornerstone of the Town Center South plan, which the Planning and Zoning Commission approved in September.

Balestracci said that representatives from the town, SCRCOG and a company consulting with DOT have begun meeting to discuss a traffic study for the area around the train station. He added that additional parking spaces would solve some of the traffic problems in the area.

“(The lack of parking) makes it difficult at the present time for those people who are regular commuters,” he said. “The parking lot … would make for a much more user-friendly station.”

School district, teachers in arbitration over contract

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
Jan. 25, 2008

NORTH BRANFORD — The school district and the North Branford Federation of Teachers have been unable to reach an agreement on a new contract and are in arbitration, Superintendent Robert Wolfe said this week.

The teachers’ contract expires June 30. Wolfe said that the parties have been in negotiations over a new contract for about a year.

Phil Palma, the president of the North Branford Federation of Teachers, declined to comment.

Wolfe said he cannot discuss specific differences between the school district’s and the union’s contract proposals.

“There’s a fair number of unresolved issues,” he said. “In most contracts, the major issues are salary and benefits.”

The two sides held a mediation session with a state Department of Education mediator Dec. 12.

When they were unable to reach an agreement, the mediator declared an impasse, “which then sends it back to the state and puts us into a cycle for arbitration,” Wolfe said.

In arbitration, the two sides and the Department of Education each appoint an arbitrator to represent them. One arbitration meeting has already been held, and a second is scheduled for Monday.

“As you go into arbitration, both sides are going to present their last best offers and then on each issue the arbitrators make a decision as to which one they’re going to grant,” Wolfe said.

He added that, although there has been no formal agreement, he believes both sides are looking to approve a three-year contract beginning July 1. The current contract went into effect July 1, 2005.

After the arbitrators settle on an award and file it with the town clerk, the Town Council will have 25 days to approve or reject it, Wolfe said.

If the council rejects the award, it goes to another arbitrator.

The three-year contract that ends June 30 does not include annual percentage-based salary increases for teachers, but sets out a schedule for raises. For the 2005-06 school year, teachers earned a range of $35,566 to $73,922. That increased to a range of $37,111 to $77,134 for this school year, based on college degrees and experience with the school district.

The Board of Education also pays about 85 percent of health care benefits and teachers pay about 15 percent, according to the contract agreement.

Fonicello family sells 9-acre parcel

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
Jan. 25, 2008

GUILFORD — The Fonicello family, which ran one of Guilford’s best-known agricultural businesses until last January, has sold a chunk of property off of Long Hill Road to Guilford Holdings Inc., a Delaware-based company.

According to warranty deeds filed with the town clerk, several members of the family sold the property late last year for a total of about $2.75 million. The land, at 315 Long Hill Road near Hubbard Road, covers about 9 acres and is assessed as a farm use, according to the town’s online property information and map database.

Arthur Fonicello, one of the sellers, did not return calls for comment. Other family members could not be reached. Guilford Holdings Inc. has a Guilford address on the deed documents, but does not have a listed telephone number.

The family closed its longtime Boston Post Road business, Fonicello’s Garden Center, in January 2007. At the time, rumors swirled that grocery chain Trader Joe’s might buy the site, but the empty garden center still sits next to the Big Y supermarket.

Town Planner George Kral said no plans have been filed with the Planning Department for development of the Long Hill Road property. But he added that he has talked to the purchasers “casually” and they have indicated plans for an office building on that site.

The long, rectangular piece of land — which sits across Hubbard Road from the Arkwright factory — had been in the Fonicello family since at least 1952, according to town records.

Ex-teller charged in $180G bank theft

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
Jan. 23, 2008

NORTH BRANFORD — A North Haven woman is facing charges that she took about $180,000 in about a year’s time from the Northford Wachovia branch, where she worked as a teller and vault manager, police said Tuesday.

Catherine Sullivan, 37, of Hansen Farm Road in North Haven, turned herself in at police headquarters Tuesday afternoon after detectives obtained a warrant for her arrest on a charge of first-degree larceny, a Class B felony.

Police and bank officials are accusing Sullivan of taking cash from the bank’s vault and trying to cover up the discrepancy by withdrawing $70,000 from an elderly woman’s account.

Sullivan told police she had rewrapped some stacks of bills that were supposed to include all $20 bills so that there were $20 bills on the outside and $1 bills on the inside, and then kept the stacks in the vault. When the money was sent to the Federal Reserve in Boston, officials there reported a discrepancy of $111,720.

According to Detective Sgt. Ken McNamara, Sullivan told him she took a total of $144,000, but bank officials say they are missing $181,720 including the money withdrawn from the woman’s account.

Sullivan could not be reached for comment. She had worked for Wachovia for about 12 years and earned $39,693 a year, becoming the vault manager in October 2006, according to police. McNamara said she had no prior criminal record.

Police said they believed Sullivan bought a car with part of the money.

Andrew Conlin, a fraud investigator for Wachovia, reported the missing money to police in December, according to a police report. A bank official had found that the Northford branch at 1409 Middletown Ave. was not sending in vault inventory forms, even though the official had asked Sullivan to do so. The official scheduled a vault audit for Nov. 7, and discovered a $70,000 cash withdrawal at 3:09 p.m. on Nov. 6.

The bank closes at 3 p.m., McNamara said, and the customer whose account was involved had not signed the debit slip. Conlin told police that it is against Wachovia’s policy to give out large sums of money without approval from the verification unit in New Jersey.

The customer, an 81-year-old woman, also told bank officials that she only banks at Wachovia’s branch in New Haven, not in Northford, according to the report.

After meeting with Sullivan on Nov. 9, officials fired her, police said.

McNamara said Sullivan allegedly withdrew the money from the woman’s account to balance the vault because she knew the audit would reveal a shortfall of funds.

McNamara said it appears Sullivan has spent whatever money she allegedly stole. Sullivan posted $35,000 bail Tuesday afternoon and is next scheduled to appear in Superior Court in New Haven Feb. 5.

Barbara Nate, a corporate spokeswoman for Wachovia, said the bank plans to pursue prosecution to recoup the alleged theft. She added that the bank has already “made whole” the elderly woman’s loss.

Nate said Wachovia’s hiring process includes a criminal background check and fingerprinting of any potential employee.

Polling Institute gives Quinnipiac a national face

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
Jan. 21, 2008

HAMDEN — Quinnipiac University political science professor Scott McLean winced when he watched MSNBC-TV host Chris Matthews criticize polling firms — citing Quinnipiac’s by name — for getting it wrong in New Hampshire.

Plenty of pollsters lost credibility for predicting Barack Obama would comfortably beat Hillary Clinton, but McLean knew the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute wasn’t one of them.

“Quinnipiac wasn’t even polling in New Hampshire, and yet Chris Matthews associated that term, the word Quinnipiac, with polling,” McLean said. “It’s good that when people think about polls and elections, they think about Quinnipiac, but the difficulty is that when polls are wrong and Quinnipiac was smart enough to stay out of it, they can still get connected with, ‘Oh, it’s another poll and they’re not to be trusted.’”

The Polling Institute continues to be one of the country’s best-known poll sources. As Connecticut voters wait to cast their primary ballots on Feb. 5, the firm is keeping up with the flurry of numbers on the Democratic and Republican presidential contenders.

The Quinnipiac University Polling Institute has been surveying Connecticut residents for 20 years, and since 1994 has steadily expanded the number of states it covers. Now, the institute’s poll numbers are routinely cited by national news sources reporting on state and presidential elections.

Douglas Schwartz, the director of the poll, said that during primary season and the months leading up to a presidential election, the institute is “under the microscope.”

“Our bread and butter really is elections,” Schwartz said. “That’s what we’re most known for … not just how the races turn out, but also what’s driving voters.”

Many pollsters professed a “mea culpa” after saying Obama had a double-digit lead over Clinton, who won the primary by about 3 percentage points.

But with wide-open races in both the Republican and Democratic fields, the pundits and voters continue to rely on a multitude of poll numbers in the run-up to the 24 state primaries on Feb. 5’s “Tsunami Tuesday.”

Quinnipiac doesn’t poll in New Hampshire, in part because it is “just a really tough place to poll,” Schwartz said. Instead, it focuses on six states — Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida — and on national and New York City-specific questions.

Schwartz said he has several theories about the difference in the New Hampshire polls released on Jan. 6 or 7 and the election results on Jan. 8. One possibility is that the pollsters stopped too early, missing a late surge for Clinton.

The best example of what pollsters try to avoid is the 1948 presidential election, when many people predicted a victory for Republican Thomas Dewey over President Harry Truman. At that time, Schwartz said, the polls ended too early — but in 1948, it was weeks too early. These days, a 24-hour gap may have made the difference between the New Hampshire poll numbers and the election results.

To improve results, the institute uses a computer program to randomly generate the phone numbers it calls rather than relying on phone listings which exclude many people. The analysts also use different methods to decide who to include as “likely voters.”

“We want to get our elections right, otherwise we’re going to lose credibility with the public,” Schwartz said.

In November, the Polling Institute moved into a new building on West Woods Road in Hamden, nearly doubling the number of polling stations for interviewers to use. The larger space means the institute can do more and longer surveys and include a larger sample size, which should make the polls more accurate.

In addition to election surveys, the institute holds general polls in each state it covers about every other month, asking questions about the favorability of public officials and voters’ feelings about important issues.

“The demand is so high, from the media, from the public — they want to know what’s going on in the primaries and we’re trying to do (different surveys) simultaneously,” Schwartz said. Right now, he added, the institute is focused on polling in Florida, New York and New Jersey.

Quinnipiac employs nine full-time staff members and about 200 part-time interviewers in the Polling Institute. Many of the interviewers are students studying marketing or political science, Schwartz said.

The institute averages about one poll a week, he added. Recently, he said, interviewers have been asking questions about general election match-ups — pitting the leading Democratic and Republican candidates against each other — and who voters plan to support in the primaries, among other topics.

McLean, the political science professor, took 14 students to New Hampshire last semester as part of an honors seminar. The class spent the week leading up to primary day in Manchester, N.H.

He said he thinks reporters and the public should try to view polls as “a snapshot in time,” rather than predictors of the outcome of an election.

“I think it’s a tribute to the trustworthiness of the Quinnipiac poll that it wasn’t willing to go into New Hampshire, which is a very difficult place to be accurate and a very difficult place to get the most accurate reading of the electorate here,” he said.

Mark Bouchard, a Quinnipiac junior, worked for Clinton’s campaign while in New Hampshire with McLean. He said that, despite the media’s focus on poll numbers, the voters he spoke with did not seem to put much emphasis on them.

“They didn’t really even mention the polls — they were just talking about how they were just going to keep looking into the candidates and their issues and stuff, and then they were going to make the decisions,” Bouchard said. “I was out just talking to the voters, and I had a very good feeling about election day.”

Nicole Colomonico, a senior from Hamden, said many people recognized the Quinnipiac name because of the polls.

“That was pretty much the number one way that people recognized Quinnipiac,” Colomonico said. “Mostly, we were known for the Polling Institute.”

Bouchard added that Clinton, who attended Yale Law School, had some nice words for the students when they had the chance to talk to her at a campaign event.

“When we met Hillary, we said, ‘We’re from Quinnipiac,’ and she said, ‘Oh, that’s a good school,’” Bouchard said. “So she knows about us — we’re on the map in the political headquarters.”