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Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Seven Days Countersues Burlington School District in Records Case

Posted By on Tue, Aug 14, 2018 at 1:36 PM

The Burlington Technical Center is located at Burlington High School. - FILE: OLIVER PARINI
  • File: Oliver Parini
  • The Burlington Technical Center is located at Burlington High School.
Seven Days has filed a countersuit against the Burlington School District seeking attorney fees and other costs accrued during a public records dispute.

The newspaper originally filed a public records request in June for the district’s resignation agreement with Adam Provost, the former Burlington Technical Center interim director. Provost resigned in January, citing medical reasons, after he spent months on administrative leave, WCAX-TV reported at the time.

When members of the media or citizens request public documents, government entities typically either release the documents or explain why, under the law, they will not.

In this instance, the school district notified Provost of Seven Days’ records request. Through an attorney, the former school administrator consented only to the release of a redacted version of the agreement, the district said in documents filed in Vermont Superior Court in Burlington. The district, which took the position that the full record should be released, then took Provost to court — and also named Seven Days as a defendant. The district wants a judge to review the records and determine whether the agreement should be released in full.

Filing a lawsuit against a news outlet seeking records is highly unusual, as is asking a judge to decide, at that stage, which information is public.

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Monday, August 6, 2018

UVM President Tom Sullivan to Step Down Next Summer

Posted By on Mon, Aug 6, 2018 at 11:52 AM

  • File: Oliver Parini
  • Tom Sullivan
University of Vermont president Tom Sullivan announced Monday that he will step down next summer after seven years in the top job at the Burlington campus.

Sullivan will take time off to write a book, and then will return to UVM as a full-time faculty member. The president, who earned $438,000 last year, is 69.

With fundraising efforts going better than anticipated, Sullivan decided he was ready to leave the president's office in the Waterman building, he said in a press release and a letter to his colleagues. He wrote:

When the Board of Trustees extended an offer to serve as UVM’s president in February 2012, I was asked the length of time I could envision for this presidency. I knew the University was planning a major comprehensive fundraising campaign and the Board wanted its next president to lead a successful campaign. Now with the University’s comprehensive campaign crossing over its campaign goal of $500 million, one year ahead of schedule, UVM is poised for its next era of reaching even greater academic expectations and aspirations. The time is right!
The search for Sullivan's replacement will begin immediately with the goal of hiring a new president by March, Board of Trustees chair David Daigle said in a press release Monday.

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Thursday, August 2, 2018

Walters: Scott Names New Vermont Education Secretary

Posted By on Thu, Aug 2, 2018 at 5:11 PM

Gov. Phil Scott and soon-to-be Education Secretary Dan French - JOHN WALTERS
  • John Walters
  • Gov. Phil Scott and soon-to-be Education Secretary Dan French
Gov. Phil Scott announced at a press conference Thursday that he has chosen Dan French as Vermont's next education secretary.

French, 55, a longtime educator who has served at every level of the state public school system, will begin on August 13.

He began his career as a high school teacher in Canaan, Vt., and moved up to school principal and superintendent in the same district. French served as superintendent of the Bennington-Rutland Supervisory Union from 2007 until 2016, when he became coordinator of the School Leadership graduate program at Saint Michael's College. He lives in Manchester Center.

French replaces Rebecca Holcombe, who resigned with only a few days' notice on April 1. The state Board of Education received a total of 14 applications for the position, and forwarded three finalists to the governor in late May. When asked why it took him more than two months to choose among the three, Scott cited two factors: "First, it was an important decision," he said. "And second, we had to get through the legislative session," which extended into late June.

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Monday, July 16, 2018

Burlington Council Allocates Funding to City Childcare Centers

Posted By on Mon, Jul 16, 2018 at 8:48 PM

  • Matt Mignanelli
The Burlington City Council has dished out its first full round of grants to daycares and preschools, approving $455,000 in spending as part of the city’s Early Learning Initiative, an effort to help make early childhood education more accessible and affordable.

The Sara Holbrook Community Center and Greater Burlington YMCA got $150,000 and $130,000, respectively, for capital campaigns as the YMCA buys a new building and Sara Holbrook prepares for a renovation. Those two programs will create at least 58 new preschool slots, according to the proposal approved by the council.

The Burlington Children’s Space, the Janet S. Munt Family Room, Pine Forest Children’s Center, Robin’s Nest Children’s Center, and Ohavi Zedek Full Circle Preschool also got awards, ranging from $5,000 for Full Circle to $75,000 that the Children's Space will use to purchase its building.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Burlington School Board Blocks Construction of Preschools

Posted By on Wed, Jun 13, 2018 at 12:28 AM

Burlington Superintendent of Schools Yaw Obeng - JAMES BUCK
  • James Buck
  • Burlington Superintendent of Schools Yaw Obeng
The Burlington School Board ordered Superintendent of Schools Yaw Obeng to halt construction plans for two new preschool buildings after a divisive discussion that went on for more than an hour Tuesday night.

The board voted 7-3 in support of a resolution that directed Obeng to stop spending money and stop developing plans for the proposed South End and North End preschool centers after parents and taxpayers complained that the projects were pushed forward without voter approval.

Supporters, including Obeng, had countered that the buildings were within the scope of a $19 million school improvement bond, framed largely as funding for deferred maintenance, that voters approved at the polls in 2017.

The resolution mirrored the view of critics who said they want more time to consider the addition of two new structures to the district’s already large real estate portfolio, which includes 10 school buildings.

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Monday, June 11, 2018

Walters: David Mears to Leave Vermont Law School

Posted By on Mon, Jun 11, 2018 at 3:31 PM

  • Contributed Photo
  • David Mears
Former state environmental conservation commissioner David Mears is leaving his post as director of the Vermont Law School's Environmental Law Center effective at the end of June. Mears said he wants to pursue other options in environmental advocacy, but his rather sudden departure comes shortly after VLS president Thomas McHenry announced an unspecified number of layoffs and cutbacks.

Mears was a faculty member at VLS from 2005 to 2011, when then-governor Peter Shumlin named him commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation. In 2015, Mears left state government and returned to the school. Last August he was named head of the Environmental Law Center, which is a key part of the school's mission and appeal. E&E News, an online outlet for energy and environmental news, first reported Mears' resignation.

Mears dwelled on the positive for himself and the school, but hinted that the cuts played a part in his decision. The latest round of layoffs was announced on May 30.

"I wasn’t planning on this," he said. "It was a decision I reached in the last month."

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Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Vermont's School Merger Plan Gets Mixed Reviews

Posted By on Wed, Jun 6, 2018 at 1:09 PM

  • File image
The most contentious phase of Act 46 got underway last Friday with the release of a highly anticipated plan for the 95 school districts that didn’t merge under the 2015 law.

Act 46 was designed to encourage — and, if necessary, force — school districts to form larger, more efficient units. Since it passed, 157 districts have voluntarily merged into 39 new units. Many state officials have deemed the law a success, pointing to anecdotal evidence that mergers have saved money and expanded educational offerings.

But Vermonters in some communities remain staunchly opposed, believing mergers will undermine local governance by replacing school boards with a single, multidistrict board and ultimately result in the closure of small schools.

The 95 districts that did not merge had to submit alternative proposals to the state last December, which the Agency of Education considered before making its recommendations.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2018

With Fewer Students, Chittenden County School Faces Closure

Posted By on Wed, May 16, 2018 at 4:42 PM

After years of shrinking enrollment, Underhill ID elementary school could close in the fall of 2019.

The school's 88 students would transfer to Jericho Elementary or Underhill Central under a plan proposed Monday night by Chittenden East Supervisory Union superintendent John Alberghini.

The final decision would be up to the board of the Mount Mansfield Modified Union School District, which operates schools in Bolton, Jericho, Richmond and Underhill. No date has been set for a vote.

The proposed closure of the prekindergarten-through-fourth-grade school comes as Gov. Phil Scott and other leaders pressure school boards to deal with steadily declining enrollment statewide, and the growing cost of maintaining small schools.

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Monday, May 14, 2018

Some Councilors Cry Foul As Obeng Gets Residency Exemption

Posted By on Mon, May 14, 2018 at 11:01 PM

  • File: Molly Walsh
  • Yaw Obeng
Updated on May 15 at 1:51 p.m.

The Burlington City Council agreed to allow Superintendent of Schools Yaw Obeng to continue living outside of the city — but not before reigniting a lengthy debate about residency requirements.

The council voted 9-3 to extend the residency exemption for Obeng, who settled in South Burlington from Canada when he took the job in 2015. This time the measure extends the residency exemption indefinitely — "as long as Dr. Obeng holds the position of superintendent," according to the resolution.

Some city department heads are required to be Burlington voters, which means they must live in the city. Obeng contended on Monday that his family's suburban setup met the requirements for a "hardship exemption" under city ordinance.

The first vote, when he took the job, triggered controversy as Burlingtonians argued that Obeng should be subject to the same taxes and policies he implements as superintendent. On Monday, some spoke up with similar concerns.

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Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Walters: Team Scott Defends School Savings Estimates

Posted By on Wed, May 9, 2018 at 4:37 PM

Tax Commissioner Kaj Samsom - JOHN WALTERS
  • John Walters
  • Tax Commissioner Kaj Samsom
Officials in Gov. Phil Scott's administration are defending his school funding plan in the wake of an unfavorable review from legislative experts.

Scott's plan involves using $58 million in one-time money to keep property tax rates level in the new fiscal year, and enacting a five-year plan to trim school costs. The administration estimates the savings at $300 million over five years.

But on Tuesday, the legislature's Joint Fiscal Office issued an analysis that said Scott's plan dramatically overstated the potential savings — and none of the savings could be counted on with certainty.

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