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Act 46 tie goes to Barre, state board backs merger

BARRE — When it comes to the freshly failed merger of the two-town, three-school Barre Supervisory Union the state Board of Education cast what amounted to a tie-breaking vote on Thursday. Merger it is!

Ten days after Barre voters overwhelmingly approved the Act 46-inspired merger for the second time in two years only to see their counterparts in Barre Town handily reject it for a third straight time, the state board finally weighed in.

Breaking its silence on the local merger that produced mixed results at the polls last week, the board provisionally agreed to impose it as part of the broader statewide plan it is scheduled to adopt when it meets on Nov. 28 in St. Albans. The vote was 9-1, and judging from the board’s discussion a change of heart isn’t likely.

Even John Carroll, who cast the lone dissent, said he wasn’t fazed by the promise of a petitioned re-vote in Barre Town, which was described as a “ploy” earlier in the meeting.

The petition was filed on Tuesday by Barre Town resident and outspoken merger critic Dottye Ricks and will require Barre Town voters to revisit last week’s vote at a special election that will likely be scheduled Jan 8.

With the state board readying to vote on a motion supporting the merger of separately run pre-K-8 school districts in Barre and Barre Town, as well as jointly owned Spaulding High School, a worried Ricks interjected.

“But you haven’t discussed the re-vote,” Ricks said, before promptly being ruled out of order by Chairwoman Krista Huling.

Before the vote, Carroll circled back to the issue raised by Ricks and erased any doubt she may have had that the petitioned re-vote was consequential to the board’s deliberations.

“We’re under no obligation to append our action based on some (future) vote,” Carroll said, noting the board’s decision to defer discussion of the Barre Supervisory Union until after last week’s vote was a “courtesy.”

“The fact that somebody has called for a re-vote is fine and interesting but has no bearing on our work here,” he said.

Huling agreed, noting the state board let school officials in Barre choose when to schedule the election, notwithstanding its preference to have the question answered earlier.

Huling later noted the board had previously consulted with the Secretary of State’s Office and confirmed that the petitioned re-vote must proceed as required and could conceivably make a difference it Barre Town voters meet the high bar of reversing last week’s election results.

If that happens, Huling said, the merger would be eligible for tax incentives – a 20-cent rate reduction spread over four years – and transitional assistance available to districts that voluntarily merged and could retain articles of agreement that were negotiated by a committee of city and town residents.

While many predicted there was no way the state board wouldn’t compel the merger of supervisory union that includes two comparably sized elementary schools both feeding the same union high school, some in Barre Town – Ricks included – were hoping for a different result.

They argued the comparatively large size of the three districts involved, collaborative efforts that are already underway, and town voters’ repeated and decisive rejection of both earlier proposals should make a difference.

They didn’t.

Though Carroll remained troubled by the prospect of overriding local votes the rest of the board said the split decision in Barre was notable as was the fact a majority of voters in the supervisory union supported the proposed merger at every step in the process.

Huling said she was also struck by the fact the supervisory union’s $14 million budget – one voters rarely see and have no say over – was larger than the budgets for either elementary school or Spaulding High School. That, she said, was less than transparent – a goal of Act 46 – even if if was a signal the districts are working together.

After provisionally agreeing to impose a more complex merger in the Orleans Central Supervisory Union, the discussion about what to do with Barre and Barre Town was comparatively short.

Earlier in the day the board heard from school officials from both communities, as well as from Ricks and other residents. Like last week’s results it was a mixed bag.

While Rick and Mark and Kristin McCarthy all worried local control and fiscal independence would be lost if the merger was approved, fellow Barre Town residents Paul Malone and Marcia Biondolillo suggested it was the natural next step in an evolving educational relationship.

Malone, who serves as chairman of the Spaulding board, said he was confident one board would be better suited to oversee pre-K-12 education in the district, and Biondolillo said a Barre merger would be painless because of work that has already been done.

“We are sort of the poster child for Act 46,” she said.

Members of the Barre and Barre Town boards sent dueling letters and offered differing opinions about the merger during a brief presentation that set the stage for the state board’s tie-breaking decision.


jebcas / Jeb Wallace-Brodeur / Staff Photo  

Touching up

Wilson Bedoya, an artist with Evergreen Architectural Arts, paints the ornate ceiling of the Cedar Creek Room on Thursday in the State House. The historic chamber is getting a major facelift during a month-long project.

Wheels for Warmth
Wheels for Warmth raises $64k

MONTPELIER — This 14th annual Wheels for Warmth event brought in more than $64,000 that will be used as home-heating aid for low-income Vermonters.

The event, which takes place around the state during the last weekend in October, also provides tires for those in need by way of tire donations and gets worn tires out of the waste stream. Donated tires are inspected by the Department of Motor Vehicles to make sure they are safe for driving for a full season.

Richard Wobby, coordinator of the event, said words alone couldn’t begin to express his gratitude for the event’s results and to those that made the event happen.

“Each year I wonder how it could even be possible to raise the bar forward, but somehow it always seems like we pull together and make that happen,” Wobby said.

He said this year’s event brought in $64,000, over 1,900 tires were sold and over 2,700 tires were recycled. Over its 14-year lifespan, Wobby said the event has recycled over 33,000 tires, nearly 21,000 tires sold and over $496,000 raised for emergency fuel assistance programs throughout the state.

Gov. Phil Scott started the event when he was a state senator. Scott said he remembers watching the success of the Karen Kitzmiller Memorial Winter Coat Drive in Montpelier and thinking what he could bring to the table to help Vermonters.

“I thought about all the tires that I had in my garage, in my basement that were still good, still viable. … I didn’t have the time to sell them and I thought there must be others who have the same problem that I have and there were,” he said.

Scott, a Republican, said they raised about $10,000 that first year and its grown ever since.

The money raised is going to three organizations that offer fuel assistance to low-income residents. Capstone Community Action in Barre will get about $27,000, BROC Community Action in Rutland will get about $20,000 and Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity in Burlington will get about $12,000.

Brian Tagliaferro, director of resource development and grants at Capstone, said Wheels for Warmth is “a real team effort that demonstrates an incredible impact on our communities in a lot of different ways.”

Tagliaferro said you see a sense of relief and excitement on the faces of families when they come and buy affordable tires for the winter. He said moments like that demonstrate how important this event is.

“We all know that winter is a challenging time for many folks in our state, but Vermonters shouldn’t have to choose between such things as heating their home or feeding their families,” he said.

Tagliaferro said the money raised by the event will be used to help heat the homes for over 1,000 people in central Vermont.

Tom Donahue, chief executive officer of BROC, said people care about each other in this state.

“And that’s the big difference here. My grand kids are sixth generation Vermonters and the one thing that I can see generationally is how we take care of each other. And fuel and keeping each other warm during these really difficult winters is one of those things that’s critical,” Donahue said.

He said programs like Wheels for Warmth make a significant difference in the lives of those that live in the state. He said the sad news is that there are people in situations who need this type of assistance, but the good news is that assistance is there for them.


No major changes, one Cabot-sized regret as state board readies for final Act 46 vote

BARRE — It’s still written in pencil, but the print is much bolder than it was two weeks ago as the state Board of Education is now one motion away from adopting a plan for dealing with districts that didn’t merge under Act 46.

Acknowledging their work could be challenged in court, the board made a couple of lingering decisions Thursday, cleared up some procedural problems and set the stage for adoption of the statewide plan, slated to take place at a Nov. 28 meeting in St. Albans.

Dozens of school districts around the state, including several in central Vermont, inched closer to mergers the board appears poised to compel.

While the Barre and Orleans Central supervisory unions were fresh additions to the list, there are a number of others and none of them were let off the hook during Thursday’s daylong meeting at the Barre Elks Lodge.

Stowe and the Elmore-Morristown Unified Union school districts almost escaped after being unexpectedly added to the list of districts the board has provisionally agreed to merge last month.

A motion to reconsider that decision was offered and failed on the strength of Chairwoman Krista Huling’s tie-breaking vote.

Offered the opportunity to revisit other past provisional decisions, board members showed little inclination to go down that path.

John Carroll was the exception, though his view that public votes opposing mergers should be respected by the board didn’t enjoy much support.

As a result, the five-town, six-school Washington Central Supervisory Union was among the central Vermont districts that inched closer to a forced merger.

Washington Central, which is anchored by U-32 Middle and High School and includes elementary schools in Berlin, Calais, East Montpelier, Middlesex and Worcester, would be merged into one district under the plan the state board is prepared to adopt.

Neither the Twinfield Union School District or the Cabot School District will be merged. Barring an unexpected change, both pre-K-12 districts — longtime partners in the Washington Northeast Supervisory Union — will be assigned to the Caledonia Central Supervisory Union.

Asked to think about what they might change, some board members said the Cabot decision was at the top of the list.

“I feel like we left Cabot hanging,” said John O’Keefe, describing a school system on “life support” with problems the statewide plan is ill-equipped to solve.

“Of all the decisions we made that’s the one … that I’ve second-guessed when it comes to did we do what’s in the best interest of kids?” he said.

Huling and board member Oliver Olsen agreed.

Like O’Keefe, Huling said she received a “please close our school” plea from a Cabot parent and had to tell her: “That is a local decision.”

Huling described Cabot’s story as “heartbreaking.”

“They cut their art, they cut their music, they cut their gym — they are down to kids that are fleeing out of the school,” she said. “Kids are taking choice and getting out, kids that have money are leaving and those who cannot are left behind and it’s not fair. It’s not right.”

However, Huling said Act 46 can’t cure what’s ailing Cabot.

Olsen said he was “deeply troubled” by comments he’s seen from school officials in Cabot that misinterpret the state board’s provisional decision to leave the district intact.

“Our plan should not be viewed as an endorsement of the status quo in Cabot,” he said. “I don’t think anybody on this board thinks the status quo is acceptable (or) desirable or … more importantly that it meets the goals of Act 46.”


jebcas / Jeb Wallace-Brodeur / Staff Photo  


Jake Campbell, from Treeworks, installs a wreath on a lamp post Thursday in downtown Montpelier. About 60 wreaths are being hung for the holidays this year.


“(Democrats) need to continue to come together, focus its message, and start developing solid candidates. Democrats, including Dean, have long been criticized for being too passive, too soft and too compassionate when the chips were down.”

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Members Show

3-floor fine art and craft extravaganza. 4-6 p.m. Studio Place Arts, 201 N. Main St., Barre, 479-7069.