Monday, October 20, 2014

Burlington College Selling Much of Its Lakefront Campus

Posted By on Mon, Oct 20, 2014 at 11:35 AM

Interim president Mike Smith reviews the development plans for the Burlington College property. - ALICIA FREESE
  • Alicia Freese
  • Interim president Mike Smith reviews the development plans for the Burlington College property.
Burlington College is planning to sell all but seven acres of the lakefront campus it acquired just a few years ago. Interim president Mike Smith said in an interview Monday that the school needs money from a sale soon in order to survive. 

After what he described as a "deep dive" into the school's finances during the last several weeks, Smith said he came to the conclusion that absent an immediate infusion of cash, "Burlington College is not a viable ongoing entity." He determined that it would likely need to undergo a "soft closure," starting next year.

The college, which currently has $11.4 million in debt, plans to sell 25 acres, including the land closest to Lake Champlain, for $7 million to a local developer, Eric Farrell, who intends to build a large housing development there. Under the deal, Farrell would assume the $3.5 million debt that Burlington College owes to the Catholic diocese for the original purchase of the property, and he would provide the remaining $3.5 million in cash to the college. The two parties expect to sign a memorandum of understanding on November 1.

As part of that agreement, though, Smith said he'll give land-conservation groups 60 days to beat Farrell's price, in which case he'll sell it to them. "Eric supposedly put his best price there and if a conservation [group] comes in and does it and beats it, they got it." Asked why he settled on 60 days, Smith responded, "We have a cash-flow problem, and we have to close it." 

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As IBM Offloads Chip Biz, GlobalFoundries Pledges to Retain Vermont Jobs

Posted By on Mon, Oct 20, 2014 at 8:00 AM

IBM's Essex manufacturing facility - FILE: MATTHEW THORSEN
  • File: Matthew Thorsen
  • IBM's Essex manufacturing facility
Updated at 12:58 p.m.

Fifty-six years after International Business Machines came to Vermont, the multinational technology behemoth is on its way out the door.

IBM announced Monday morning that it plans to transfer its semiconductor business to GlobalFoundries, a California company wholly owned by the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. Included in the deal are IBM’s Essex, Vt., and East Fishkill, N.Y., research and manufacturing facilities, which GlobalFoundries quickly pledged to keep open “for the foreseeable future.”

“While it’s almost impossible for any business to make open-ended commitments, we can say that we have no plans to reduce the workforce at this time,” said GlobalFoundries spokesman Travis Bullard. “This is a growth announcement for GlobalFoundries as we intend to extend job offers to nearly all of the employees in the acquired businesses, adding more than what is currently 5,000 jobs to our payroll.”

The deal, which must be approved by federal regulators, will provide GlobalFoundries with “thousands” of IBM patents and “world-class technologists,” the companies said in a joint statement, and will provide Big Blue with an exclusive source of server-processor chips for the next 10 years.

The terms of the agreement, nearly a year in the making, reflect how badly IBM wanted to rid itself of its chip division, which lost $700 million last year. The company will pay GlobalFoundries $1.5 billion, minus $200 million in working capital, to take the unit off its hands. 

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Sunday, October 19, 2014

Deal Struck: School Resumes in South Burlington Monday

Posted By on Sun, Oct 19, 2014 at 10:42 AM

South Burlington teachers outside the high school last week - MARK DAVIS
  • Mark Davis
  • South Burlington teachers outside the high school last week
South Burlington schools will be open Monday after striking teachers reached a tentative agreement with the school board on a new contract late Saturday night.

Details of the agreement were not released. Mediator Joseph McNeil issued a statement late last night saying that a marathon negotiating session on the third straight day of talks had yielded a deal. Teachers and board members will both have to vote to approve the agreement before it becomes official. It was not immediately clear when those votes would occur.

"Until the association's membership and the board ratifies the tentative agreement, they are unable to share any details as to the terms of the agreement," McNeil wrote in a brief statement. In all, the parties spent 29 hours negotiating and speaking with McNeil to reach the agreement.

Neither the board nor the teachers released any information or statements.

The first strike in the district's history began last Tuesday, with teachers saying the district was not offering an adequate health care plan, among other grievances. The gap initially appeared to be large. The board said it had offered teachers $1.9 million in new compensation — including health and pay — while the union sought $2.6 million.

Roughly 2,400 students saw classes cancelled last week. Sports and extracurricular activities resumed on Friday. 

Gov. Peter Shumlin said the work stoppage demonstrated that teachers strikes should be outlawed, and that educators, like many state employees, police and firefighters, should go to binding arbitration with a neutral third party if they cannot reach an agreement.

“When you see what's going on in a community like South Burlington, the people that get hurt are the kids, the moms and the dads who suddenly have no place for their kids to go during the day," Shumlin said, according to Vermont Public Radio.

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Saturday, October 18, 2014

Champlain College Welcomes New President

Posted By on Sat, Oct 18, 2014 at 7:26 PM

Donald J. Laackman at his inauguration ceremony - MATTHEW ROY
  • Matthew Roy
  • Donald J. Laackman at his inauguration ceremony
Champlain College’s new president, Donald J. Laackman, told the crowd at his Saturday inauguration that the school is on the brink of greatness and will continue to educate students for professional and life success.

“Your presence today reinforces our commitment to realizing our ... vision for Champlain College to be the finest small professionally and globally focused college in the United States,” he said in the Argosy Gymnasium. “The boldness of this vision has captivated me since I first considered the possibility of leading Champlain College.” 

Several hundred people were on hand for the ceremony and speech.

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Renewable Energy Conference Draws Hundreds

Posted By on Thu, Oct 16, 2014 at 5:49 PM

Karl Kemnitzer and his solar-powered bicycles. - MATTHEW ROY
  • Matthew Roy
  • Karl Kemnitzer and his solar-powered bicycles.
Past the solar-power displays, wedged between a Ford gas-electric hybrid car and an exhibit on geothermal power, Karl Kemnitzer was showing off his two solar-powered cargo bicycles on Thursday in the crowded exhibit hall at the Sheraton Burlington Hotel and Conference Center.

He popped a solar panel off one and pointed to a box. "This big blue thing here, that's the battery," he told a one of a group of curious onlookers at Renewable Energy Vermont's conference and expo.

Kemnitzer, of Hartland, said he built his bikes for practical reasons: The electric bikes supply some of the power for his 35-mile roundtrips into White River; pedaling does the rest.

One of the bikes bore a sticker that read: "This bike climbed Mt. Washington."

There are only a few dozen solar-powered bicycles in the world, Kemnitzer said. He doesn't sell them but would consider making a few more. "I'm here to let people know this is possible," he said. "I'm not the only one doing this."

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Milne's Brain Freeze Makes 'Daily Show'

Posted By on Thu, Oct 16, 2014 at 10:59 AM

We were surprised that neither Stephen Colbert nor Jon Stewart picked up on Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Milne's fresh cow-pie-tossing campaign ad last week.

But it turns out the good people at Comedy Central are paying attention to Vermont, after all. They simply chose another bizarro campaign moment from Milne's growing catalogue of gaffes.

Last night's 'The Daily Show with Jon Stewart' ended with a clip of Milne stumbling to remember where he was born during last week's debate on Vermont PBS.

"Third generation, born in Vermont," Milne said, then paused awkwardly to amend his statement: "Ah, take that back, I was born in Brooklyn."

In all, it's been a banner week for mocking Vermont politicians. Numerous media outlets, including the Washington Post, and random people on the internet had a good old time skewering some of the lesser-known candidates, their outfits and the crazy things that they had to say during the Vermont PBS debate.

Everyone still convinced there's no such thing as bad publicity?

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Shumlin Ramps Up Campaign Spending

Posted By on Thu, Oct 16, 2014 at 9:44 AM

Gov. Peter Shumlin's reelection campaign spent nearly a quarter-million dollars in the past two weeks, according to a new report filed Wednesday — ten times more than his next closest competitor. 

The vast majority of the two-term Democrat's $236,000 in spending went toward television advertising. In the first 15 days of the month, he paid $160,000 to run the ads, $44,000 to produce them and another $22,000 on polling. 

Neither Republican Scott Milne nor Libertarian Dan Feliciano bought a single commercial. The former spent nearly $18,000 during the two-week period, while the latter spent just $3,451. 

The two leading candidates in the race for lieutenant governor also amped up their spending. Incumbent Republican Phil Scott spent more than $73,000 — $50,000 of which went toward television advertising and nearly $18,000 to mailings. His Progressive/Democratic opponent, Dean Corren, spent $45,000 — $35,000 of it on television, radio and online advertising. 

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

South Burlington's Mackenzie Steps Down

Posted By on Wed, Oct 15, 2014 at 6:53 PM

Pam Mackenzie
  • Pam Mackenzie

South Burlington City Council Chair Pam Mackenzie resigned today.

“It is my understanding that Pam has a very attractive professional opportunity out of state that she has accepted,” Kevin Dorn, the South Burlington city manager, announced in a news release. “On behalf of all of our city staff I want to wish Pam the very best of luck in her future endeavors and thank her for her leadership and service to the community."

In a letter of resignation addressed to Dorn, Mackenzie wrote, "Unfortunately, I can no longer devote the time required to do my job as Chair, and member of the South Burlington City Council."

She thanked Dorn for his leadership and noted that her resignation was effective today.

It was just last March that Mackenzie was reelected to the council, beating challengers for a three-year term to keep control of the body in the hands of a more conservative faction. She has been a contentious figure at times in a city where politics have been polarized, with suburban-style conservatives clashing with residents who hold more liberal views.

Seven Days recently reported that the state attorney general's office is still investigating an allegation that Mackenzie violated the law through a political action committee she formed to influence local elections.

Mackenzie could not be reached for comment.

The council can appoint Mackenzie's replacement, who would serve until March, when voters will elect a candidate to finish out her term. The council plans to meet soon on the matter.

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Burlington City Councilor Proposes City-Owned Gas Station

Posted By on Wed, Oct 15, 2014 at 2:14 PM

  • File
The cost of gas in Chittenden County is "absurd," according to Burlington City Councilor Max Tracy — which is why he wants the city to consider opening its own station to sell gas to the public at a more reasonable rate.

The Progressive councilor plans to introduce a resolution to explore the idea at next Monday's council meeting.

For several years, residents and public officials alike — including Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — have bemoaned the price at the pumps in the Burlington area, which is sometimes more than 25 cents per gallon higher than in places like Rutland. They've pointed a finger at several large gas dealers that dominate the region, arguing that the lack of competition has kept prices high. 

Sanders, who held a hearing in Burlington two years ago to discuss the problem, has suggested the same solution.

It’s not unprecedented. At least one city, Somerset, Ky., has set up municipal-run stations to address a similar situation. An NPR story about the decision quoted one critic who described it as part of a "socialist movement," but the Republican mayor who set the plan in motion said it has successfully reduced gas prices. 

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

South Burlington Teachers Strike

Posted By on Tue, Oct 14, 2014 at 2:57 PM

Teachers picket outside South Burlington High School Tuesday. - MARK DAVIS
  • Mark Davis
  • Teachers picket outside South Burlington High School Tuesday.

South Burlington teachers picketed outside the district's five schools this morning as a long-feared strike — the first in the district's history — began with little hope of an immediate resolution.

After months of negotiations, the school board and teachers' union failed to come to an agreement on teachers' pay and health benefits.

It is not clear how much progress can be made this week. There are no bargaining sessions scheduled and the teachers say the school board must make the next move.

According to union copresident Richard Wise, the board's chairwoman, Elizabeth Fitzgerald, is out of town until Thursday. The board is scheduled to meet then to discuss the negotiations.

That isn't soon enough, say teachers, who sent the board a new contract proposal over the weekend.

"We've suggested that in the information world, where you can Skype and there are lots of ways to connect, that there are a number of ways she can be there," said Wise, who has taught in South Burlington for 30 years. "Hopefully, we'll hear something after Thursday."

The school board yesterday released a statement saying they had offered teachers "significant concessions," including a health plan more generous than ones that most taxpayers enjoy.

But in order to keep their existing "premier" health care plan, teachers were asked to make some concessions to offset its increasing costs, including taking a lower pay increase, and boosting teachers' contributions to their health plan, the board said. The board said it also sought to shift some salary to less-experienced teachers, to ease the burden of the health plan for teachers who make less.

"This is not the exchange, it's not single-payer, it's not speculative, and it's far more generous than many of the plans the taxpayers in our community enjoy," Fitzgerald said in a prepared statement.

But teachers offered no concessions to offset the higher costs of keeping their health plan. In all, the board said, it has offered teachers $1.9 million in new compensation, while the union is seeking $2.6 million, and refusing to contribute any more to their health plan.

"The 'crisis' that the [union] is claiming has been manufactured and is unnecessary," Fitzgerald said in a prepared statement. "They are willing to put the students' education and activities at risk despite the fact that the board has demonstrated significant compromise."

In the past two years, South Burlington residents have seen their property taxes rise 13 percent, the board said. The offer teachers gave the board last week was the union's first counteroffer since June, the board said.

The schools are already scheduled to be closed on Friday. Roughly 2,400 students and their families are waiting to hear when their normal schedules will resume.

Passing motorists, including some students, honked and waved to show support for picketing teachers all morning, Wise said. More than 200 teachers were on the picket line first thing in the morning, Wise said. At the high school, their ranks had thinned to about 10 by lunchtime.

Wise said the teachers would be working in shifts to maintain a visible presence outside all of the district's schools through the end of the normal school day.

"People are feeling very united," Wise said. "We're prepared to go as long as we need to."

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