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Local
Act 46
Barre board endorses 'forced merger'

BARRE — A shotgun wedding wasn’t their preference, but Barre school commissioners are urging the state Board of Education to pull the trigger on an Act 46-inspired school district merger, notwithstanding the objections of their counterparts in Barre Town.

Proving two can play the letter-writing game, school commissioners unanimously agreed Monday night to send one of their own to the state board, which is poised to make a threshold decision regarding what should become of the two-town, three-school Barre Supervisory Union starting next July.

The state board’s daylong session at the Barre Elks Lodge on Thursday is expected to produce a final draft of a plan for dealing with school districts that were unable or unwilling to voluntarily merge under the three-year-old law — Act 46 — that encouraged and incentivized such alliances.

Now Act 46 could actually compel them, prompting both local school boards to swiftly shift into letter-writing mode following Barre Town voters’ third straight rejection of a proposed merger.

Days after Barre Town school directors agreed to request a reprieve in writing, Barre school commissioners endorsed a “forced merger” — one that would bring both communities’ pre-K-8 school districts, as well as jointly owned, but separately run Spaulding High School, under the purview of one new board.

Chairwoman Sonya Spaulding said the Barre board should make the case for a three-district merger she argued is in the best interest of students and taxpayers from both communities.

“I feel strongly that we should merge,” said Spaulding, who arrived at Monday’s meeting, letter — and election results — in hand.

Spaulding said she didn’t relish the prospect of an “arranged marriage,” but took some solace in the fact the twice-defeated merger consistently enjoyed the support of a majority of voters in the two-town supervisory union.

That was true two years ago when Barre voters approved the merger, 2,069-694, only to see it fail in the Barre Town, 1,611-2,108. Despite the decidedly different results, Spaulding noted a clear majority of voters in both communities supported the failed merger, 3,680-2,802.

The same was true last week when Barre voters approved a modified version of the earlier merger, 1,887-567, and it failed, 1,262-2,106 in Barre Town. Though both communities needed to separately approve the merger for it to pass, the combined results, 3,149-2,673, showed a majority of the those who cast ballots on Election Day supported the proposal.

Though nearly 1,900 more Barre Town voters cast ballots in the two November elections – 956 in 2016 and 914 last week – the combined results reflect solid support for the merger, 6,829-5,475.

Even if you factor in the results of the re-vote that was petitioned by town voters in the wake of the 2016 election – a majority of votes cast for the merger since it was first proposed – 7,311 – comfortably exceeds those cast against it – 6,634.

Spaulding referenced those results in a letter that asks the state board to: “… honor the majority of the voters in both communities” and impose the twice-failed merger.

Even without the tax incentives that would have accompanied a voluntary merger, Spaulding said there are good reasons to support a shift in governance structures that would make one board responsible for all students from pre-school through high school.

“I can see the benefit of looking at things with a bigger lens,” she said.

The letter Spaulding drafted on the board’s behalf, acknowledged the Barre districts meet many of the goals outlined in Act 46, but indicated there is room for improvement.

“We feel one merged district would provide greater flexibility to manage, share and transfer resources,” she wrote, adding that while the districts as they are currently composed are fiscally responsible: “… a merged district would provide more efficiencies, economies of scale and a greater opportunity for transparency and accountability.”

Though the letter signed by the board contends the Barre districts are providing “an outstanding education at a great value,” it acknowledges the opportunity to “do more” on both fronts.

“As a merged district, we believe we can provide more equitable and richer educational opportunities at the modest cost our communities have come to expect,” it states.

Spaulding said crafting the letter required some “restraint” given the unflattering and unwarranted portrayal of the city and its school system by some town residents in the run-up to last week’s election.

“It’s sad and frustrating, but we’ll move past it hopefully for all of our students because I think all of our students can benefit from working together and finding a way to cooperate,” Spaulding said, expressing a sentiment shared by others on the board.

“We’ll take the high road and hopefully the state Board of Education will agree with us,” she added, predicting Thursday’s state board meeting should go a long way toward answering that question.

david.delcore @timesargus.com


Local
Appeal launch to feed dairy herd in winter

WILLIAMSTOWN — A GoFundMe appeal has been launched to help a Williamstown dairy farm save its herd from starvation this winter.

Critter Meadows Family Farm on Gilbert Road is in desperate need of $30,000 to buy hay for its 90 head of dairy cows to feed them through the winter.

The appeal comes after a series of major disasters for the Paquin family in recent years, leading up to a crisis as cold weather sets in.

In 2014, the cow barn burned, killing 59 of the 117-strong herd with another 30 cows dying two weeks after from respiratory illnesses associated with the fire.

Soon after the fire, Dan Paquin suffered a traumatic brain injury in a tractor accident that has also left him suffering from seizures.

Running the farm fell to his wife, Merri, and their daughter, Jasmin, 29. Merri Paquin has had to devote much of her time caring for her husband while also trying to run the farm and a home cleaning business.

A drought through much of this year has meant less haying for the cattle that has left the farm short of feed through the winter. Other recent medical problems for the family include their son, David Paquin, 36, who suffered a leg injury in a logging accident but is expected to recover, and Merri Paquin who is dealing with kidney stone problems.

It has been a long road to recovery for the family after the barn fire with finding other places to milk their cows, and rebuilding the barn and the size of the herd.

But the lack of feed has left the family farm struggling. The family is unable to sell or give away the herd because falling milk prices have meant there is a glut of dairy cows in the industry.

For the same reason, they’re unable to find anyone interested in slaughtering the herd because of a similar high inventory of cows in the market. Neither can the family simply abandon the herd because of state regulations.

Merri Paquin was in tears Tuesday describing the mounting toll the stress and anxiety on her and the family struggling to make ends.

A friend, Sandy Vitzhum, has come to the rescue helping to launch a GoFundMe appeal to raise funds for the family. It costs $350 per cow to feed them through the winter, so the appeal target is $30,000 for the family’s 90-head herd.

The community has rallied to the meet the family’s needs before — the barn was rebuilt with volunteer help, mostly from South Barre Christ Church.

Most taxing for Merri Paquin is her husband’s seizures which require her to be vigilant in providing constant care.

“It’s awful, he can’t work, he has like only 9 percent of his cognitive ability left,” she said. “I also work on the farm, and as a family, we take him out with us and care for him.”

Paquin said the farm has been an organic dairy farm since 1996; and since 2006, a member-supplier of Organic Valley, a Wisconsin-based, family-owned dairy farm cooperative, the largest in the nation.

But even Organic Valley was limited in the help it could provide. Paquin said the farm offered to subsidize some of the feed Critter Meadows Farm needed but said the money would have to be repaid within two months.

“I talked with them last week and they have a feed program but it’s not an emergency feed program,” Paquin said. “They let you buy hay according to your milk check.

“They offered to let me buy 15 round bales of hay at $80 a bale and then you have to pay trucking, so it’s almost $100 a bale. But I would have to repay it in two months, so it would actually make my situation worse,” she added.

The Department of Agriculture said Paquin also was responsible for the welfare of the herd and cannot abandon it, despite her financial difficulties.

“The state told me that they have a drought-assistance program for feed in the state of Vermont but in order to utilize it you have to have been in drought for nine months in a row,” Paquin said. “I’ve done so much research and been on the phone constantly with so many people.

“I knew we were going into a problem, and it’s not something happened overnight, and I’ve been trying to figure out a solution for over two and a half months,” she added.

To contact Paquin with offers of help, call 917-2326. To continue to the GoFundMe appeal, visit www.gofundme.com/help-save-critter-meadows-farm.

stephen.mills@timesargus.com


Local
Montpelier police chief supports regional 911 center

MONTPELIER — Support for a regional emergency dispatch center in central Vermont has come from Montpelier Police Chief Tony Facos.

In a letter to be presented to Montpelier City Council on Wednesday, Facos addressed the proposal by the Central Vermont Public Safety Authority to coordinate dispatch service to improve response times and reduce overall costs of current services in Montpelier and Barre.

Facos noted that Montpelier Police Department has participated in exploring options and ideas and supported the vision of regionalization, supplied data, made staff available for meetings, interviews and dispatch center observations. and provided professional opinions on emergency communications and public safety.

“While this document will not directly answer all of the questions that city councilors, our partners and the community may have, it will serve to highlight our collective thoughts on the CVPSA,” Facos wrote. “First of all, we do believe that in Vermont, a true regionally supported approach to public safety services is the future.”

Facos said his department saw many advantages to a regional dispatch center. They include:

– Better coordinated response of emergency personnel to the public and first responders in need.

– Improved recruitment and retention of qualified staff by providing more career opportunities, competitive salary and benefits, continuous training and staff development, and enhanced technology that is financially out of reach of individual communities.

– Coordinated planning, funding and management of a needed fire and EMS regional radio infrastructure replacement and upgrade for central Vermont, requiring a bond vote of between $1.2 million to $1.6 million, although it’s not clear which community would take the lead on a bond vote.

– Greater potential for success when applying for public safety grants.

– And improved governmental relations between communities beyond public safety.

“It is important to note that we do support a single site location if the CVPSA were to assume control of dispatch,” Facos said. “There are definite benefits to being co-located that could significantly improve our current dispatch operations.”

Facos said a single dispatch center would require a minimum of two or more dispatchers at all times and would provide “multiple event, situational awareness in real-time.” There would also be improved management of radio and telephone traffic and more support during difficult calls and events, and catastrophic situations.

His department did not support any reduction in dispatch personnel “as we feel all dispatchers will be needed for mission success,” Facos said.

Until the site for a single location dispatch center is decided, Facos said both dispatch centers should remain in service, integrated within the police stations, with full operational support and physical and personnel security.

Facos said tasks still to be completed included site selection, building design and equipment, implementation time and identifying funding and operational and personnel planning.

Facos said each city should decide on its own if service levels would be worth the investment in the CVPSA plan.

stephen.mills @timesargus.com


Josh Kuckens / Staff Photo  

Cleaning up

Snow sprays from a plow clearing a path along Route 2 in Middlesex on Tuesday. The storm was blamed for scores of accidents, including a fatal crash, around the state on Tuesday.


Local
Morton ordered held without bail

BARRE — A Montpelier man will remain held without bail in his attempted murder case.

A bail review hearing for Tyreke Morton, 19, concluded Tuesday in Washington County criminal court with Judge Kirstin K. Schoonover ruling Morton will continue to be held without bail. Morton pleaded not guilty to two felony counts of attempted murder in November 2017.

If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of life in prison. Morton is being held without bail at Northern State Correctional Facility in Newport.

Tuesday’s hearing was a continuance of the hearing started Friday where Morton’s attorney, Dawn Seibert, of the Defender General’s office, argued her client should be released to a facility run by Spectrum Youth & Family Services in Burlington. Morton wouldn’t have been at the facility 24/7, so Seibert said she had multiple people willing to supervise Morton when he was not at the facility. She said she wasn’t contesting that the evidence against Morton was great, but argued his defense would revolve around his diminished capacity at the time of the incident. She said outside that incident, where Morton experienced a psychotic episode, many people would testify that Morton is a “good kid.”

Washington County State’s Attorney Rory Thibault argued for Morton to stay behind bars because no conditions of release would guarantee public safety. Thibault said if not for the fortunate intervention on the victim’s part this likely would have been a double-murder case instead of two attempted murders.

The victim testified Friday she believed Morton would have killed her and her 3-year-old son if she hadn’t been able to get her and the child out of the house by crawling out a window.

“At this point, the court releasing Morton today would be taking a roll of the dice for public safety that would be unwarranted and unjustified based upon the evidence presented,” he said.

Schoonover sided with Thibault, saying while Morton may be well regarded by his friends and family, and appears to be a different person than the one that is accused of attempted murder, the incident that Morton was said to be involved in was “horrific.”

She ordered Morton remain held without bail.

After the hearing the victim told The Times Argus she was happy Morton will remain behind bars. She broke down in tears during the hearing when her and her son escaping the home was discussed.

Detective Sgt. Michael Kamerling, of the Vermont State Police, said in his affidavit a family fight was reported on Center Road in Calais shortly before midnight in November 2017.

The caller told police his mother had called him screaming that she was in danger. The caller told police Morton was at the woman’s residence and was out of control. Kamerling said the victim then called 911 and reported Morton had stabbed her.

Kamerling said Morton was found at the scene and when police searched him they found a piece of glass that was 6 inches long and 4 inches wide. The victim was found in a home across the street from where Morton was located and Kamerling said she had a stab wound in the upper right part of her chest. He said the woman’s 3-year-old son was with her and he was covered in blood, but he appeared to be uninjured.

The victim told police Morton had been living at her home on and off for the past week and a half. She told police he started acting strangely. The victim said she was on the phone talking to a family member about Morton’s behavior when he knocked on her door, opened it and stabbed her in the chest with a steak knife. The victim then fled the home with her son.

Morton’s case is an unusual one because in July it was moved over to the family court in an attempt to have the case accepted into the state’s youthful offender program. On July 1 the youthful offender law, which had been used for those under the age of 18, expanded to include those who are 18 to 21 years old.

Those in the program are placed on probation and supervised and treated by the Department of Corrections and the Department for Children and Families.

Once a motion is filed seeking youthful offender status, the case automatically moves from criminal court to the family court, becomes confidential and remains confidential unless a judge decides the case isn’t appropriate for youthful offender status. If the case is found inappropriate, it goes back to criminal court.

Because Morton wanted a bail review hearing, the case had to be moved back over to the criminal court because Schoonover said her reading of the law didn’t give her the ability to amend conditions of release or bail in family court.

Thibault argued Morton should have withdrew his motion seeking youthful offender status if he wanted a bail review hearing and was prepared to take the matter up with the state Supreme Court until Morton was ordered held Tuesday.

During Friday’s hearing, Seibert said Thibault was “on a crusade” to roll back the youthful offender law. Thibault took exception to this, and issued a news release Tuesday.

In the news release, he said his office “is supportive of juvenile justice reform” He said the office had 19 cases in the youthful offender program last year. After July 1, 36 cases either sought or were brought into the youthful offender program. Those 36 cases include Morton’s attempted murder case and cases involving sexual assault.

“As our office, and others, continue to identify gaps or ambiguities in the law we will strive to inform the legislature and other stakeholders and seek positive changes,” he said.

eric.blaisdell @timesargus.com


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"We do love our heroes. And we might need them right now more than ever. Stan Lee is an American hero who will certainly span the ages. We are lucky he has been part of our universe — flaws and all."

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