In the news
A Science Friday venture into why valleys are often cooler than the high summits above. A2
Mother charged with obstruction of justice in son’s sexual assault case. A3
A look at what’s happening around the Washington Central Supervisory Union. B8
SPA resident artist Anne Sarcka will discuss her paintings of local quarries in the Rock Solid XIX show and provide further discussion about her process in her studio upstairs. 3:30-4:30 p.m. Studio Place Arts, 201 N Main St, Barre, email@example.com, 802-479-7069.
MONTPELIER — The Montpelier-Roxbury Public Schools Board has agreed to hire another teacher because the addition of a one student at Main Street Middle School exceeds the district’s student capacity for sixth grade at the school.
News of the need came at a meeting of the board at Montpelier High School Wednesday when Superintendent Libby Bonesteel asked for approval to make the hire of a full-time teacher through the rest of the school year as soon as possible.
“Currently our grade six is at the cap size for the policy that we have, and we have a family that wants to enroll with a sixth- and eighth-grader which will put us over the edge, both this year and ... next year in seventh grade and the next year after that in eighth grade,” Bonesteel said.
“Bonesteel noted that the middle school lost a few students this year to “more private endeavors” but the school also gained an additional 35 student over the summer.
“So our middle school is at max capacity right now and like I said, as soon as the family signs their paperwork we will be over the limit in sixth grade by one student,” Bonesteel said, adding that her request was a one-to-one ratio.
Bonesteel noted that the school didn’t have the space needed to add another student, but she said Facilities Director Andrew LaRosa is looking at the configuration of classrooms to see how the addition of another student in sixth grade could be accommodated. It’s expected that the new student would go into the sixth-grade class with more space, the board was told.
Bonesteel was also asked whether the eighth grade could be moved to Montpelier High School, or if the fifth grade could be moved to Union Elementary School, to make more room at the middle school.
Bonesteel said the suggestions could not be considered because of capacity at all three schools, with enrollment only expected to grow.
The board and the city of Montpelier, in particular, has a very good challenge on its hands with capacity issues right now,” Bonesteel said, referring to expected student increases at a time when many school districts are experience declines in enrollment and are being forced to merge into unified districts under Act 46.
Board member Steve Hingtgen stated the obvious concerning the cost to hire another teacher because of adding one student in sixth grade at the middle school.
“It does create a little budget issue which is that one additional student doesn’t actually pay for another teacher,” Hingtgen said.
“We do have a very healthy fund balance,” Bonesteel said, to inform the board the money was available.
Fellow board member Andrew Stein also questioned whether the school district could justify hiring another teacher just because of the addition of another student.
“We have a policy for a reason — that’s the answer,” Bonesteel said.
Board chairman Jim Murphy agreed.
“We set class-size limits for a reason and to some degree its arbitrary, but you’ve got to have a trigger point where you make a decision,” Murphy said.
Bonesteel noted that class sizes in other grades would also be an issue in future years.
“Next year, in seven, eight (grades) for this grade six bubble that’s coming through, we will be over class size, regardless of this situation right now,” Bonesteel said.
There was also discussion about both optimal and maximum class sizes, but the board was told the school already had exceeded optimal class sizes.
The optimal range for class size is 18 to 22 students while the maximum class size is 25 students.
Bonesteel said the sixth-grade student had not yet enrolled, but added that the school district was ready to advertise the teacher position immediately if the board agreed to the teacher hire.
While it might be difficult to hire a teacher in the middle of the school year, Bonesteel said she expected that an existing teacher who had just had a child or a recent graduate were good possibilities.
Bonesteel said consideration of the hire concerning licensure would have to be checked to be sure the teacher would meet the needs of the school.
Stein noted that the cost of the new hire would not be an issue because he said the school district is carrying a fund balance of about 5.5 percent of the total budget this year.
Board member Michele Braun the school district would see a 2-cent drop in the school district’s overall 8-cent merger-incentive property tax rate reduction following its merger with Roxbury Village School in 2017.
The merger incentive drops by two cents a year over four years. But board members acknowledged the fund balance is expected to still be healthy in the next financial year.
The board agreed it would have to warn the request for expenditure for the additional teacher at the middle school at its next meeting before they could authorize Bonesteel to advertise the position.
BURLINGTON — A federal judge ruled Thursday that a Williamstown felon, facing a charge of illegal possession of firearms during a domestic assault case, is mentally incompetent to stand trial in U.S. District Court.
Douglas W. Bedell, 57, had pleaded not guilty in federal court in Burlington in February to a charge of being a convicted felon in possession of firearms. Magistrate Judge John M. Conroy ordered a competency evaluation at the Federal Medical Centers in Devens, Massachusetts.
Federal Judge Christina Reiss on Thursday, after hearing testimony from a doctor at FMC Devens and reviewing various reports and filings, ruled Bedell was unable to participate in his defense and was incompetent to stand trial.
Reiss said she was postponing signing a final order to give the defense two weeks to further contest the finding.
Unlike with two murder charges and two attempted murder charges that were dropped by Chittenden County State’s Attorney Sarah George, the federal court oversight continues. George wanted to leave the release of those defendants to Vermont’s mental health commissioner. One shooting case has been taken over by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Attorney General T. J. Donovan took over another involving one dead and one seriously injured. The fourth charge involving a fatal stabbing on Church Street remains under review by Donovan’s office.
Bedell will remain in federal custody and his case will be monitored by Judge Reiss as Bureau of Prison doctors determine the best route for him.
If and when Reiss signs the final order, Bedell will be taken to a federal prison with a medical facility to determine whether his competency can be restored, court records showed.
He will be subject to annual reviews by the court until he is ruled competent and that a release plan designed to protect the community and Bedell — acceptable to a federal judge — can be put into place.
A forensic report from Aug. 5 by a psychologist for the Federal Bureau of Prison in Devens, Massachusetts, determined Bedell’s conceptualization of the charge against him is impaired, and “his ability to engage in meaningful and production discussion and planning with his attorney … remains significantly compromised, Assistant U.S. Attorney William B. Darrow said in court papers.
Three evaluations for Vermont state courts between 2015 and 2019 also have found Bedell incompetent.
Bedell is prohibited from possessing any firearms because his criminal record includes convictions for obstruction of justice in 1992 and breaking and entering in 1982, both in Washington County, according to the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which joined the investigation.
Five firearms and 1,643 rounds of ammunition were found in a storage area at Bedell’s Washington Road home by Vermont State Police when they responded to a domestic assault complaint on Dec. 12, 2018, court records show.
Two days later a sixth firearm, a 12-gauge shotgun, along with ammunition, a marijuana grow operation in the basement, and multiple video cameras inside and outside the home that might have captured the confrontation were seized under a search warrant, records show.
Troopers William Phelps and John Gildea found Stephanie Blaise bloodied and sobbing at the scene on Dec. 12, 2018, and she reported she had been hit with a glass bottle, records show. They noted Blaise also reported that Bedell had tried to kill her several times in the past.
Blaise, who also had been staying at the home for several months, reported that when she tried to call 911, Bedell knocked the cellphone from her hand, records show.
When she ran upstairs to try to make another 911 phone call, Bedell shut off the power to the home and disabled the second phone, ATF Special Agent Eric Brimo reported. Blaise reported that Bedell shouted a death threat that included an expletive, Brimo said.
Bedell later threatened the two troopers and said multiple times he would find where they lived and would kill them, Brimo wrote. An ambulance took Blaise to the hospital for stitches to close the wound over her eye, records show.
The five guns initially recovered from a false wall in the bathroom were a 9-mm semiautomatic pistol, a 40-caliber semi-automatic pistol, a .22-caliber revolver, a 12-gauge shotgun, and a .223 caliber rifle,
In the domestic assault case, Jonathan Weker, of Montpelier, has found Bedell incompetent and insane with persecutory delusions, Darrow said in court papers. He said Bedell was contesting that finding in state court.
In an earlier case, Weker found Bedell sane, but was incompetent due to a bipolar disorder, Darrow wrote.
Bedell goes by several names, including Doug Bedeau and Franklin Bedell, court records showed.
BARRE — Officials urge residents to be cautious when hiring someone to work on their homes as a St. Johnsbury man continues to pick up home improvement fraud charges.
Ryan E. Kimball, 34, pleaded guilty earlier this month to two felony counts of home improvement fraud and a misdemeanor count of violating conditions of release. Kimball will be sentenced on Nov. 26 where he faces a sentence of two to six years, all suspended, and the state will argue for two years to serve while James Lamonda, Kimball’s attorney, will argue for a lesser to-serve sentence.
Kimball has admitted to taking $10,000 from an East Montpelier woman for a roofing job he never completed. He also admitted to taking $1,596.38 from a Montpelier resident for a siding project that he also didn’t finish.
Police said Kimball has been cited for home improvement fraud for incidents in Sheffield, Lunenburg and Danville. On Tuesday police said Kimball had been cited for another incident of home improvement fraud. This time in Craftsbury.
Assistant Attorney General Chris Curtis said his office receives complaints about home improvement fraud regularly. Between 2012 and 2018 he said his office received nearly 800 consumer complaints regarding home improvement services.
“The claimed losses by Vermont consumers totaled $4.4 million,” Curtis said.
That’s just a fraction of the actual losses residents dealt with because Curtis said residents may have reported their incidents of fraud to local police or their state’s attorney’s office instead of contacting the state Attorney General’s office.
“There’s no one place in all of state government where all of these complaints can come in. So the complaints that we see are really just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what actually gets reported,” he said.
Curtis said this is an important issue that needs to be dealt with and his office along with the Office of Professional Regulation support a proposed bill that would create a registry for home improvement contractors. The bill, S.163 which has passed the state Senate and is in committee in the House, would require proof of insurance for such contractors and it would require a written contract before work can take place.
Curtis said what he typically hears from those reporting home improvement fraud is they had no way of knowing if a certain contractor was legitimate. He said right now there is no list of contractors, nothing more than the contractor’s word that they have insurance and sometimes no contract for the work.
He said while some Vermonters may be more comfortable with a “handshake deal” for work, both contractors and consumers are better protected with a written contract.
It appears some of Kimball’s victims were older Vermonters. Mary Hayden is the director of development and communications at the Central Vermont Council on Aging. Hayden said people try to target older residents for scams because they are sometimes more isolated that younger Vermonters and might not have friends or family to support them in order to make sure they aren’t being scammed.
She said her organization urges people to get three or four estimates from different contractors as well as references that can be called. They should also get a certificate showing the contractor’s insurance is current, she said.
Hayden said the council keeps a list on file of reliable contractors and also urges people to check with Allen Lumber in Barre because they also know trusted contractors.
For the felony convictions Kimball was using Front Porch Forum to find people looking for a contractor for home improvement work. Michael Wood-Lewis, the CEO and co-founder of the forum, said, “It’s awful when someone takes advantage of people in this way.”
Wood-Lewis said he couldn’t give much detail because he doesn’t want people trying to skirt around it, but the forum does have some safeguards in place to help protect people from getting scammed. But he said if someone really wants to take advantage of someone they will. When that happens he said that person gets blocked from the forum.
“We always encourage people to seek references. The more you can do on that front the better. So if someone gives you three references go ahead and call them. And then maybe try to find through those conversations another (reference) that the person doesn’t recommend,” he said.
Wood-Lewis said in the online world as soon as you get a degree of success with attracting people, not long after you’ll start attracting those trying to do something devious.
“Whether it’s political trolls or people trying to scam people. So we work very hard here to try and maintain an open platform where neighbors can talk freely among each other, yet one that is as safe as we can make it,” he said.