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Comment Archives: stories: News + Opinion: Education

Re: “Finances Put Burlington College's Accreditation at Risk

Anyone who wanted to know something of Christine Plunkett's "leadership" skills had only to look at her associations with the debacle that was the Gailer School, where Plunkett was in charge of the finances and where general mismanagement and financial mismanagement were the order of the day. One should note that mismanagement killed that school, which is nothing but a bad memory now. My association with Burlington College was brief, but very unpalatable. The school was in bed with several local politicos, including Jonathan Leopold of the Burlington Telecom scandal. The faculty, such as it was, was a revolving door of clueless souls who wandered in unknowingly to teach part-time, unaware of what they were in for. There are a few good students but most are people who attend Burlington College simply because they could pay the tuition, and no other college would admit them. The administrators had all carved out little fiefdoms for themselves and woe unto anyone who challenged their well-guarded turf. Christine Plunkett has no academic background (she is an accountant) and had no prior experience in being the president of a college or the head of a school. This was a recipe for disaster right from the start. The fact that it is such an extravagant disaster of such convolutions is somewhat surprising, though not entirely. If it were a sitcom it might be funny, but in real life not so much.

11 likes, 0 dislikes
Posted by Leonard Bast on 07/31/2014 at 6:28 AM

Re: “Finances Put Burlington College's Accreditation at Risk

Unfortunately, many people are in positions of leadership who got there based on criteria other than their competence. The continuing theme is board governance; Boards are made up mainly of people who enjoy the stature of serving on a board, but have zero interest in searching for a new CEO when the current one obviously lacks the necessary skill set. The problem is not bad CEOs, many try their best and simply lack the know-how, the problem is Boards that are stacked with people who rarely discipline or take action against lousy CEOs. Each one of us knows at least one CEO that should have been fired years ago, but most Boards will let companies go bankrupt before they'll search for a competent CEO.

13 likes, 0 dislikes
Posted by Penelope on 07/30/2014 at 8:37 PM

Re: “Finances Put Burlington College's Accreditation at Risk

As someone who has witnessed the leadership and financial management of Ms. Plunkett, I am not surprised NEASC's confidence is not bolstered by her handling of finances. While a farce of a budget is submitted to the board of trustees ever year, it is never followed. Ask any department head what their budget is for their department is and they can't answer, because every financial decision is made one by one by the administration. Money is spent without regards to objectives, budget constraints or the college’s ability to actually pay those bills.

Plunkett and her administration have haphazardly attempted to create alternate revenue streams. Before they even finish getting one started, they are off to the next. The result being half-baked programs and events that end in failure. The Music Program and the Mighty Mozart series just being the latest victims. Before that they established a Continuing Ed program and that was so badly marketed, the majority of the classes were canceled. They toured China and hired a recruiter to recruit Chinese students to the college, which contributed zero new students. The Institute for Contemplative Studies doesn't exist. Just to name a few.

The business office and admission office have literally been revolving doors under this administration. In recent month, a flurry of staff members have quit. The staff and faculty are afraid to speak out, because anyone who has either been fired or driven out. Incompetent staff members have not only made it through all the cuts, but have been promoted based on their status of as "friend" in the us vs. them environment that exist under her leadership

The ironic part is Ms. Plunkett masterminded the departure of the former president based on issues of morale and a culture of fear. I don't think morale and fear can get much worse there than it is now.

18 likes, 0 dislikes
Posted by btv-res2 on 07/30/2014 at 8:07 PM

Re: “Rubi Simon Has a Vision for Burlington's Library

If only we could bring coffee in there. That would change everything.

2 likes, 1 dislike
Posted by dolly on 07/03/2014 at 5:42 AM

Re: “Superintendent Shuffle: Why Vermont's Top Jobs in Education Turn Over So Quickly

I find it odd that so many people talk about leadership in terms of people in certain positions. Leadership is not the result of being in a position. Leadership is a choice whether or not you are in a leadership role. The abitly to assess challenges and opportunity to improve is only one part of the equation. Even a great leader can be encombered by those who are not brave enough to tackle the change we need to ultimately better prepare young Vermonters to support and reap the benefits of economic growth.

Those folks who opposed H.883 should spend some time talking to High School teachers. The teachers who are seeing the product of 9-12 years of education. They are less inhibited to tell the truth about the education system than administrators who have to be so politically correct.

Tenure doesn't equate to being a good leader. Keeping your head down to avoid conflict isn't leadership. It's self preservation. One the day after Memoial day, I shutter to think about the contrast between our leadership exhibited by our soldiers and people in leadership positions who are afraid of doing what's right.

1 like, 0 dislikes
Posted by Art Wolff on 05/27/2014 at 9:34 AM

Re: “Superintendent Shuffle: Why Vermont's Top Jobs in Education Turn Over So Quickly

Ah such beautiful irony. The author of an article about "not enough people" to work in education in Vermont is partnered with a person who is employed by Vermont Superintendents Association, the Vermont School Boards Association and the Vermont Principals' Association.

1 like, 0 dislikes
Posted by Tom A. on 05/23/2014 at 9:35 AM

Re: “Superintendent Shuffle: Why Vermont's Top Jobs in Education Turn Over So Quickly

You said it in the description of their jobs - superintendents coordinate special education, testing, transportation and make budgets.
With principals reporting to school boards and teachers governed by contracts negotiated through bargaining units, where does a superintendent's power lie?
We think of them as the heads of school systems, but the truth is, nobody reports directly to them and no one has to do what they say.
They're figureheads, they can be politicians, and they can move pieces of the budget to achieve outcomes they think are best.
But after careers in education, when they have their best ideas and are probably at their professional peak, they have control over bus schedules. Plus they go to - what did Jack McCarthy say - 150 night meetings per school year.
And when something goes wrong, whose name is always in the story? The superintendent's.
As opposed to innovative programs or year after year of crafting and meeting budgets. A superintendent is mentioned then only parenthetically.
It's not surprising that the number of people who see a superintendency as a desirable career move is dropping steeply.

4 likes, 1 dislike
Posted by Gene Cassidy on 05/22/2014 at 5:21 PM

Re: “Can Bob Rusten Solve the Burlington School Budget Problem?

Regarding the introductory paragraph in the side bar regarding Burlington Friends of Education, I think you are missing a long view on Burlington school budget votes. Yes, the Burlington School Budgets have passed every year. However, in the pre-Act 60/68 days, the Town Meeting Day Budgets were highly contested and often failed. Special elections, such as the one scheduled in June, were regular events. Burlington Friends of Education was active in these elections.

Posted by Michael Green on 05/17/2014 at 6:48 AM

Re: “Can Bob Rusten Solve the Burlington School Budget Problem?

Rusten refuses to comply with state statute that requires him to provide Council and the State Auditor with an evaluation of the City's financial management policies and procedures known as the Internal Controls Checklist. It was due on June 30, 2013, and is now 11 months delinquent.

24 V.S.A. § 1571(d) makes it clear that Burlington is required to “complete and provide to the select board [City Council] a copy of the document made available by the Auditor of Accounts pursuant to 32 V.S.A. § 163(11) regarding internal financial controls.”

Rusten says he did not know the checklist was required, and then he said he wouldn't do it because he is new. The questions on the checklist pertain to information about financial management that should have been the first questions asked of every city department, and staff in the Treasurers Office, on day 1 when he took the job. In my opinion, if Rusten is as meticulous and skilled as this article suggests, he knows the answers but does not want Council, the State Auditor, or the Public to know. Just as the school board is blamed for weak oversight, so the City Council is failing us by not demanding compliance with the law, by not demanding that the Mayor and CAO produce the Internal Controls Checklist. They have known about this, and they have accepted non-compliance.

The purpose of the checklist is for municipal officers to be sure they have sound accounting practices, i.e. strong internal controls. Of course, it is also in the best interests of taxpayer that this checklist be adopted and made public, like a report card. Here's what it says -- sound like something Burlington City and School District could use?

"[This] self-assessment checklist has been compiled to assist town managers, treasurers, and auditors to assess their town's internal control environment for accounting and financial reporting and to provide guidance in implementing controls where weaknesses are perceived. Your town's system of internal controls includes all of the policies and procedures needed to provide reasonable assurance that your financial information is reliable, that operations within the office are effective and secure, and that you are complying with applicable laws and regulations."

As required by statute (and because it makes sense), Council and School Board must fulfill their oversight responsibilities by insisting that the checklist be completed on time, and yearly. The checklist is on the State Auditor's website.

Lea Terhune

3 likes, 0 dislikes
Posted by Lea Terhune on 05/17/2014 at 12:27 AM

Re: “Failing Math: Getting to the Bottom (Line) of Burlington's School Budget Crisis

Excellent reporting. Thanks! This Board needs to reckon with its own inexperience, and undertake an extensive program of professional development to understand its proper role.

3 likes, 5 dislikes
Posted by Amy Werbel on 05/08/2014 at 10:42 PM

Re: “Failing Math: Getting to the Bottom (Line) of Burlington's School Budget Crisis

Voters, don't throw the baby out with the bathwater! Voting against the school budget is totally counter-productive.

Recent meetings make it really clear that the current board is going to make major changes. In the meantime the schools themselves are doing amazing work. They are a key ingredient in our strong local economy.

Defeating the budget wouldn't get rid of Jeanne Collins, it would lose us some incredible teachers who were attracted here by our superior schools and innovations.

3 likes, 8 dislikes
Posted by amchoor on 05/07/2014 at 8:19 PM

Re: “Failing Math: Getting to the Bottom (Line) of Burlington's School Budget Crisis

That this woman refuses to take responsibility for significant incompetencies and step down, and apparently is such a lousy supervisor that the turnover rate for finance directors and other key personnel is sky high, means she needs to be disciplined. If her contract does not allow her to be fired, how about demoted? How about a pay cut? If this is not the definition of badly run and incompetent management, what is? It would be nice to see her scrubbing floors, or doing something useful that helps save taxpayers money. This whole episode is completely disgusting, and I will be voting NO on school budgets until Jeanne Collins is gone.

9 likes, 3 dislikes
Posted by Penelope on 05/07/2014 at 4:16 PM

Re: “Failing Math: Getting to the Bottom (Line) of Burlington's School Budget Crisis

As usual, more bullshit. We aren't going to get anywhere until salaries and benefits are frozen.

8 likes, 3 dislikes
Posted by Dave Parker on 05/07/2014 at 12:47 PM

Re: “Lawmakers Consider Historic Overhaul of Vermont's Education System

yes, larger classes, higher student to staff ratio, and bureaucrats making decisions about students 4 towns away; sounds like the perfect way to leverage Vermont's enviable position as one of the few places to live in the US where local citizens can be directly involved with their town's politics.

as pointed out in this article, towns/districts already have the ability to cooperate and coordinate on expenditures without being mandated into closing local schools and bussing students away

1 like, 1 dislike
Posted by ryanunser on 04/04/2014 at 4:31 PM

Re: “Lawmakers Consider Historic Overhaul of Vermont's Education System

You wrote, "In the years since, Vermont has added supervisory unions and union high schools and middle schools, but today's 273 school districts are largely unchanged from the system developed in the 1890s." The rise of the supervisory union and the union high schools was a major change so it's contradictory to say that districts are largely unchanged from the 1890s. Consolidation may be a great and necessary change, but so far proponents have relied on the presumption that it will be better rather than real evidence.

2 likes, 0 dislikes
Posted by Tom Bisson on 04/02/2014 at 2:10 PM

Re: “The Old College Try: In Vermont, "Affinity Marketing" Targets Alumni

Here is the header of the SPAM email I received from Liberty Mutual. The email header is indisputable! UVM Alumni Ass provided member email addresses to Liberty Mutual and Liberty Mutual then sent SPAM email advertising directly from a Liberty Mutual email server

Received-SPF: pass ( domain of designates as permitted sender) clientip=

screenshot of email header (

1 like, 0 dislikes
Posted by GaryE on 02/17/2014 at 9:15 PM

Re: “The Old College Try: In Vermont, "Affinity Marketing" Targets Alumni

If a financial institution (e.g. bank) had done what Richard Bundy and the UVM Alumni Ass did they would have violated Vermont State law! Vermont Regulation B-2001-01 (
Article III, Section 11, (see page 28 in the PDF) explicitly states that:

Section 11. Limits on Disclosure of Nonpublic Personal Financial Information to Nonaffiliated Third Parties
A. (1) Conditions for disclosure. Except as otherwise authorized in this regulation, a financial institution may not, directly or through any affiliate, disclose any nonpublic personal financial information about a consumer to a nonaffiliated third party unless:
(a) The financial institution has provided to the consumer an initial notice as required under Section 5;
(c) The consumer has authorized the disclosure in writing or, if the consumer agrees, electronically.

1 like, 0 dislikes
Posted by GaryE on 02/17/2014 at 8:58 PM

Re: “The Old College Try: In Vermont, "Affinity Marketing" Targets Alumni

Amazing how disrespectful the UVM Alumni Association has been about this. The link will show you a legal message I received from Chase in January 2014. Notice that Vermont has outlawed affiliate marketing for banks!! If a bank did what the UVM Alumni did they would be in violation of Vermont law! Should Vermont's state university and colleges (e.g. Johnson State) take the position that this is illegal for banks but definitely okay and beneficial for academia?!
This is insane. Richard Bundy (CEO of UVM Alumni Ass) is a selfish, egotistical jerk who cares ONLY about his own career need (to generate revenue), and has zero respect for UVM alums. If he abuses alum along the way to meeting his personal financial goals then he cares not at all!

1 like, 0 dislikes
Posted by GaryE on 02/17/2014 at 8:40 PM

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