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Education

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

Opinion
Walters: David Mears to Leave Vermont Law School

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

David Mears - CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
  • 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
  • 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

education1-1-96e1bb13f5169814.jpg
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

Yaw Obeng - FILE: MOLLY WALSH
  • 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

Opinion
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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Thursday, May 3, 2018

Opinion
Walters: Scott Talks Compromise But Stands Firm on School Finance

Posted By on Thu, May 3, 2018 at 5:57 PM

Finance Commissioner Adam Greshin and Gov. Phil Scott - JOHN WALTERS
  • John Walters
  • Finance Commissioner Adam Greshin and Gov. Phil Scott
In his first public remarks about the school funding plan unveiled by his administration this week, Gov. Phil Scott on Thursday urged lawmakers to "take the time" to fully consider his plan, despite the fact that he waited until very near the end of the session — and talked of finding common ground with lawmakers, even as he stood firm on his goal of preventing any increase in property tax rates.

And he made what's sure to be an unpopular suggestion with lawmakers: that the legislature extend its session through the month of May and into June, if necessary, to finish work on his proposal. How unpopular might it be? During a Tuesday hearing of the House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Kurt Wright (R-Burlington) suggested extending the session by a week or two. Before he could finish his sentence, he was drowned out by a chorus of groans from his colleagues.

"I think we should take the time needed to make sure we're comfortable with this," Scott said. "I've been here in this building at times into mid-June ... We have an issue in front of us that we need to address."

Failing that, Scott suggested sending most of the legislature home and keeping the key committees in the Statehouse to work through the plan. "It's just a question of managing the issues and the people, as well," he said.

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Opinion
Walters: Gibbs vs. Smith in the Thrilla in Montpilya

Posted By on Thu, May 3, 2018 at 2:19 PM

Jason Gibbs, left, and Shap Smith - DIANE SULLIVAN
  • Diane Sullivan
  • Jason Gibbs, left, and Shap Smith
Update, 4:27 p.m.: Dave Gram has confirmed that Shap Smith and Jason Gibbs will debate at the Statehouse. The matchup is set for Friday morning at 9, and will air live on WDEV Radio. Get your popcorn ready!

A Twitter battle erupted Wednesday morning between former House speaker Shap Smith and Jason Gibbs, Gov. Phil Scott's chief of staff. The dispute, over the governor's school funding plan, may end in a broadcast debate between the two as soon as Friday morning.

It began with a tweet from Smith, outlining his problems with the Scott plan.

That drew a quick response from Gibbs:


WDEV's Dave Gram quickly stepped up, offering an hour of his daily 9 a.m.-to-11 a.m. call-in program on Friday. Smith agreed; at last word, Gibbs was still checking his schedule.

Smith declined further comment until the debate is scheduled. In an email, Gibbs remarked, "I’m confident the dialogue will show that the plan is sound ... Having someone with Shap’s experience and political pedigree test the proposal in the public square will be very helpful."

On Fridays during the legislative session, Gram broadcasts from a small lounge area outside the Statehouse cafeteria. If the debate actually comes off, it might attract a sizable in-person audience in addition to WDEV listeners. It would be aired live and would be available via WDEV's livestream service.

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Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Labor Relations Board Dismisses Former UVM Prof John Summa's Grievance

Posted By on Tue, May 1, 2018 at 4:46 PM

John Summa - FILE: MATTHEW THORSEN
  • File: Matthew Thorsen
  • John Summa
Updated 5:54 p.m.

An economics professor who claimed he was unfairly denied reappointment at the University of Vermont for teaching left-of-center ideas has lost his challenge of the school's decision.

The Vermont Labor Relations Board dismissed the grievance filed by former UVM lecturer John Summa last Friday, finding that he did not "demonstrate that his academic freedom rights were violated," according to its written decision.

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Friday, April 27, 2018

Opinion
Walters: Team Scott Turns Up the Heat on Lawmakers

Posted By on Fri, Apr 27, 2018 at 5:25 PM

Gov. Phil Scott - FILE: ALICIA FREESE
  • File: Alicia Freese
  • Gov. Phil Scott
Facing a recalcitrant Vermont legislature, Republican Gov. Phil Scott's administration issued a blistering press release Thursday that accuses lawmakers of fiscal irresponsibility and putting "partisan politics ahead of progress" — while also demanding that lawmakers adopt the governor's ideas for reducing the cost of public schools.

At the same time, Senate leaders sent the governor a letter pleading for constructive action to avoid a veto session.

The gubernatorial press release, issued Thursday evening and entitled, "The Lesson of Squandered Savings for Teachers, Taxpayers & Kids," was written by Scott communications director Rebecca Kelley. She began by castigating lawmakers for "failing to take full advantage of the opportunity to save $26 million each year" by negotiating teacher health care benefits on a statewide basis — a proposal Scott floated in April 2017, and which the legislature rejected.

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