BARRE TOWN — The letter school directors agreed to write barely 24 hours after voters rejected another proposed school district merger, 2,106-1,262, on Tuesday is expected to be short and sweet.
It will have to be.
School directors agreed they don’t have time to craft a voluminous report defending the current governance structure in the two-town, three-school Barre Supervisory Union. Even if they did, Chairwoman Alice Farrell said members of the state board probably don’t have time to read it.
“Whatever it is we do present to them, it has to be down and dirty because that’s the way they’re functioning,” Farrell said. “They’re not going to take a whole lot of time to read an epistle, it’s going to have to be … bullet points.”
The state board is nearing its Act 46-imposed deadline for finalizing a plan to deal with a list of unmerged districts that got a little longer in the wake of Tuesday’s voting. School Director Chris Hull acknowledged Barre Town’s options for influencing those deliberations are limited.
“There’s not really much we can do at this point other than to possibly pen some sort of statement or letter to the state board kind of supporting what our voters did at the polls,” Hull said, noting the statutory deadline for submitting a meatier proposal lapsed nearly a year ago.
With the state board scheduled to discuss the failed merger of the Barre, Barre Town and Spaulding High School districts when it meets next week, School Director Victoria Pompei said submitting something in advance of Thursday’s daylong session was imperative.
Pompei suggested the letter focus on the local board’s belief that the current system meets the goals of Act 46, not whether it complies with the plain language of the three-year-old law. She argued the existing board delivers equity, educational excellence, efficiency, transparency and affordability, and shouldn’t be changed.
Though they are separately run, Pompei said all three Barre schools are already working together, have enrollment that is high by Vermont standards and boast per-pupil costs that are among the lowest in the state.
Pompei said Barre Town built its centralized middle and elementary school in 1966, and Barre shuttered its neighborhood schools in favor of one big new one in 1995.
“We were ahead of the curve of Act 46,” she said.
Hull expressed a similar sentiment.
“Our supervisory union is doing a lot to comply … with Act 46,” he said. “I feel like we’re doing what they want us to do and we’re proficient.”
School Director Rebecca Kerin-Hutchins said she believes size might also matter. In terms of enrollment, the Barre, Barre Town and Spaulding districts are considerably larger than most of the other districts the state board has already provisionally agreed to merge.
“I think that’s another argument we can make,” said Kerin-Hutchins, who campaigned against the merger and spent all day Tuesday at the polls encouraging voters to reject it.
Farrell said the latest lopsided “no” vote was also worth mentioning in the letter.
School Director Jay Paterson agreed.
“We should emphasize the idea that we have done this three times, that people were informed … (and) they made a very clear indication … that they would like to remain as is,” he said.
Resident and longtime merger critic Dottye Ricks said she feared the three failed votes would not be enough to dissuade the state board from imposing the merger, and she encouraged members to play up the argument the districts already meet the expressed goals of the law.
Many other school districts have made that same argument — most in thick reports complete with charts and graphs to underscore the point. In most cases it hasn’t worked, and school directors acknowledged they were far from certain a letter that was the product of a 30-minute conversation would be more persuasive than reports that took months to draft and were submitted on time.
That uncertainty was evident throughout Wednesday night’s meeting, as board members said the potential for a forced merger made discussions of everything from board goals to next year’s budget premature.
“Should they still decide to force us (to merge), which I think is wrong on a lot of levels, what’s ‘Plan B?’” Hull asked.
“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” Pompei replied.
BARRE — A former state lawmaker and one-time gubernatorial candidate has been hired to take the helm of Capstone Community Action.
Sue Minter’s hiring caps a nationwide search that quietly began after Dan Hoxworth resigned for personal reasons in April, and ramped up when the vacancy was finally advertised in September.
Rubin Bennett, chairman of the board for the organization, announced Minter’s hiring as executive director on Thursday. The organization got its start as the Central Vermont Community Action Council in 1965.
“We are thrilled to have Sue Minter leading this organization which is so vital to the well-being of our communities and thousands of Vermonters,” Bennett said in a prepared statement.
Most recently the president and CEO of Special Olympics Vermont, Minter was the Democratic nominee for governor in 2016. The three-term Waterbury lawmaker was appointed as the state’s deputy secretary of transportation in 2011 and following the historic flooding that accompanied Tropical Storm Irene that year, she was designated the state’s Irene recovery officer. Minter was promoted to secretary of the agency in 2015, but left the post later that year to run for governor.
Bennett said Minter’s depth of experience in organizational leadership, community and economic development, professional planning and policy made her an early front-runner in the national search that ended with her hiring.
“Sue (Minter) is committed to economically vulnerable Vermonters as demonstrated in her public service tenure,” Bennett said. “Her bold leadership in response to Tropical Storm Irene required teamwork, innovation and collaboration. These are core values of this organization over its 53-year history.”
Bennett said that was the view of a hiring committee that included a mix of front-line staff, administrative personnel and board members. He said Minter was among six semifinalists who were interviewed and three finalists who were interviewed a second time.
In the end, Bennett said, the choice was obvious.
“Sue (Minter) is exactly the right person to be leading Capstone at this important moment,” he said.
Minter, who resigned her post at Special Olympics of Vermont in September, said she is eager to start work at Capstone next month.
“This is a tremendous opportunity and an honor to lead this vital organization,” Minter said. “Capstone’s purpose of empowering individuals and families to rise out of poverty and giving voice to members of our community who are disadvantaged is crucial.
“In the face of division and retrenchment of our federal government, local community action is more critical than ever,” she added.
Minter, who lives in Waterbury Center with her husband, David Goodman, has degrees from Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Minter is scheduled to start work at Capstone on Dec. 3 — eight months after Hoxworth announced his resignation. In the interim, Colleen Lafont and Sarah McMullen have been serving as co-executive directors. Both Lafont, chief financial officer, and McMullen, deputy director of operations, are longtime members of Capstone’s administrative team.
MONTPELIER — Older residents of the Capital City are exploring creating a “village” to help the elderly age gracefully in place.
The “Village Model” makes it possible for elderly people to remain independent in their homes with the help of community support, a network of volunteers and trusted service providers.
The idea for a village in Montpelier is based on the original model in the Beacon Hill neighborhood of Boston in 2001, started by a committed group of seniors who wanted to remain in their own homes. It has mushroomed into a national organization, Village to Village, that helped spread the word and organize communities in hundreds of cities and towns. Villages already established in Vermont include Mount Mansfield Villages and Lamoille Neighbors.
These villages provide a range of community and social services, such as transportation, health and wellness programs, home repairs, social activities and educational opportunities. Villages also provide access to vetted and discounted service providers and reduce the overall cost of care.
In Montpelier, the idea for a village began with resident Erica Garfin. At age 68, Garfin said she was starting to realize there were some things that she could no longer do easily, and would have to start thinking about adapting to aging in her home.
“I knew about this from the work that I used to do before I retired,” Garfin said. “I was an independent consultant in human and social services, and quite a bit of that work was in the world of aging and disabilities.
“I had heard about the village model several years earlier, and it always seemed like such a great idea,” Garfin added.
Garfin said it led to a series of community discussions about “successful aging” a year ago, and the formation of the Montpelier Village Group.
“For many of us, what brought us to those discussions was thinking about having our own elderly parents,” Garfin said. “It’s one thing to think about a theoretical model. But as I began to get older myself, it was no longer theoretical. If I was smart, these were things that I had to think about for myself.”
Fellow member Andrea Stander decided to measure interest for the Montpelier Village Group with a survey during Tuesday’s election at City Hall, and gathered more than 150 written responses and another 60 online.
“Based on the demographics that we’ve seen, there’s about 3,000 people in Montpelier who are over 50,” Stander said. “So, we thought we would try to get 300 surveys filled out. We’re thinking we’re going to get a lot more than 300 responses by the time we’re finished.”
Stander noted that unlike other downsizing groups in the city, the Montpelier Village Group is not a brick-and-mortar building project, although she didn’t rule out the prospect.
“It’s a network of people, a support organization that is geared to identifying and seeking to provide a range of support and services,” Stander said.
“The last time I looked, there’s 200 to 300 of these villages around the country and there are other groups in Vermont that are also exploring this idea,” Stander continued. “So, we’ve been meeting about once a month since last February and looking at this idea of forming a village in Montpelier.
“Everybody who is part of the group is 50 or older. We’re interested in addressing the issues that we’re facing already — some of us are facing it in terms of caring for our parents and some of us are looking at it ourselves. It’s about how do you create a social network that can help people get help when they need it, in an affordable structure?” she added.
Stander said the group has been having discussions with various provider organizations, such as the Vermont Council on Aging, Montpelier Senior Activity Center, Onion River Exchange and village churches that have their own self-help groups.
“People want to stay in Montpelier, and for the most part they want to stay where they are,” Stander said. “A lot of the people in the group own their homes, and others like me rent.”
Stander said the group set a deadline for the end of the year to return completed surveys.
To complete a survey or receive updates about Montpelier Village Model, email firstname.lastname@example.org
To learn more about the national Village to Village model, visit www.vtvnetwork.org
“On a week when a record number of Americans went out to exercise their constitutional right to vote, we must not take for granted the service our veterans paid to ensure that we could.”
Editorial — A4
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