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Vermont Democratic US Rep. Peter Welch to seek Senate seat

Vermont’s sole member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Democratic Rep. Peter Welch, announced Monday that he will run for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy.

Welch’s decision comes a week after the 81-year-old Leahy’s announcement that he will not seek reelection to the seat he first won in 1974.

Democrats are clinging to a slim majority in the Senate, and the 2022 election could change that.

“It’s just a critical moment in our democracy and in our country,” the 74-year-old Welch told The Associated Press on Monday. “Are we going to continue to make progress facing climate change? Are we going to fight for reproductive rights and racial justice? Are we going to help working families?”

If elected to the Senate, Welch would be giving up the seniority he has earned during his years in the House, where he said he has proved he can work across the aisle.

“The way you get things done in Washington is by building coalitions,” he said. “What I’ve demonstrated in the state Senate and in Congress is to continue to reach out and work with anybody who wants to help solve problems that are affecting all of us. It is the way forward.”

Welch promised to continue to fight to ensure working families have access to child care and paid family leave. He said he also would work to pass a Green New Deal to protect the environment, lower the cost of health care and prescription drug costs, ensure that women have control over their own health care decisions and protect voting rights and American democracy.

Welch was in the Capitol during the insurrection on Jan. 6, when a violent mob loyal to President Donald Trump stormed the building in a failed bid to overturn Trump’s 2020 presidential election loss to Joe Biden.

“After that happened and the House was cleared, 147 of my colleagues voted to overturn the election,” Welch said. “That’s never happened in our history where violence was used and there was an effort to stop the peaceful transfer of power.”

Shortly after Welch announced his candidacy, Vermont’s independent U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders endorsed him, saying he “has the knowledge and experience to hit the ground running as a strong advocate for Vermont’s working families.”

The decisions by Leahy and now Welch will create the first open seats in Vermont’s three-member congressional delegation since 2006, when Sanders moved to the Senate and Welch took his seat in the House.

Welch, who during his years in the House has been consistently one of Vermont’s top vote-getters, would have an instant advantage over other potential candidates.

Vermont’s popular Republican governor, Phil Scott, has said he is not interested in running for the Senate. It’s unclear whom the state GOP will find to run for either the Senate seat or the House seat, but the party chair said many Vermont residents want a fresh face in Washington.

“Peter Welch is a relic of the past, and now is the time for Vermonters to choose a candidate with an eye on the future, and Vermont Republicans will provide voters with options for a future that works — not one that continues us down the path of Welch’s ‘Imperiled Democracy,’” Vermont GOP Chair Paul Dame said in a written statement on Monday.

Vermont has never sent a woman or a member of a racial minority community to Washington. Several female politicians have been floated as possible candidates for the vacant seats, but the only person who has said publicly that she was considering making a bid for the House is Democratic state Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale, who is part Indian.

If Welch is elected to the Senate, he’d be 75 when he joins. He wouldn’t comment directly on whether that would set him up to be a one-term senator.

“I have to get elected to a term before I talk about any future term,” he said.

Welch, of Norwich, was first elected to the U.S. House in 2006.

During his years in the House, he has worked for energy efficiency, cutting the prices of prescription drugs, investing in infrastructure and expanding broadband into rural areas of Vermont and the country.

As of this year, Welch served as a chief deputy whip of the House Democratic Caucus and a member of the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee.

In the House, he has served on the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, the Committee on Energy and Commerce and the Committee on Oversight and Reform.

Welch was born in Springfield, Massachusetts. He moved to Vermont in the early 1970s after graduating from law school. He served as a public defender and founded his own law firm.

He was elected to the Vermont Senate in 1980 and became the first Democrat elected as Senate president pro tempore in 1985. He was reelected to the state Senate in 2002 and served in that role until he was was elected to the House four years later.

The Unitarian Church of Montpelier was holding a Gratitude Circle on Sunday afternoon. Attendees shared what they were thankful for and tied their note on a tree.

Expressing gratitude

Superintendent search
Barre gets a jump on superintendent shuffle

BARRE — Members of the Barre Unified School Board have positioned themselves near the front of what is expected to be a crowded class when it comes to searching for a new superintendent.

In Barre the job was posted, the deadline has passed, the applications are in hand and a broad-based committee was scheduled to meet for the first time late Monday afternoon in keeping with an aggressive schedule that could result in the job being offered and accepted by the end of the year.

Barre’s search is entering a key phase even as members of the Washington Central School Board were just told their own search for a superintendent will play out in a “seller’s market” at a time when several other districts will also be shopping for new educational leaders.

Some, like the two-town, three-school Barre District and the Brattleboro-based Windham Southeast Supervisory Union, are already actively looking. Others, like the Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union, soon will be. On Monday, the RNESU Board announced Superintendent Jeanne Collins will be retiring in seven months.

Five Vermont superintendents — including Chris Hennessey in Barre and Jen Miller-Arsenaualt in Washington Central — are currently working on interim contracts that will expire June 30, 2022.

Jeff Francis, executive director of the Vermont Superintendent’s Association, said Monday interim superintendents also include John Tague in the Franklin West Supervisory Union, Andrew Haas in the Windham Northeast Supervisory Union and Mark Speno in the Windham Southeast Supervisory Union.

Collins joins Harwood Superintendent Brigid Nease in announcing her plans to retire and Springfield Superintendent Zach McLaughlin won’t be returning next year.

Francis said he knows of at least one other superintendent who will be leaving — pushing the total number of districts that will be in the market for superintendents to nine.

That isn’t unprecedented, but Francis said it is “on the high side” in recent years. There were six such vacancies this time last year and 12 the year before that.

Both Barre and Washington Central were on the latter list. Both districts hired first-time superintendents who began work in the middle of a pandemic and resigned part way through their multi-year contracts.

In Barre the search got off to an early start. The board there opted not to invest time or money in a consultant and has let Human Resources Director Carol Marold take the lead.

The deadline for applicants was Nov. 14, and Marold said Monday seven people applied.

One of them is Hennessey, who indicated when he was promoted from co-principal of Barre City Elementary and Middle School to interim superintendent that he is interested in the latter job long-term.

Nothing has changed, Hennessey said Monday, confirming he is among the list of applicants that will be reviewed by the screening committee.

Marold said that list includes a mix of in-state and out of state applicants — some with experience as superintendents and others principals looking to advance their administrative careers.

Though the time frame is admittedly tight Marold said filling the position before the end of the year isn’t outside the realm of possibility.

Washington Central is taking a different approach. The search there began with a search for outside help — and the subsequent hiring of consultant Mike Deweese.

A retired superintendent, Deweese briefed the board on a plan that will play out over the next few months.

Urging them to “trust the process,” Deweese warned the Washington Central board there are a number of other superintendent vacancies and he didn’t expect an avalanche of applicants.

“Folks are being pretty selective in where they choose to work,” he said, noting there are only about 250 people with the necessary endorsement to serve as a superintendent in Vermont.

Miller-Arsenault is one of them. However, unlike Hennessey in Barre she hasn’t publicly expressed interest in the superintendent’s job she agreed to fill for the rest of the school year. That doesn’t mean she won’t apply, it just means it isn’t clear she will and may be content to return to her long-time role as the district’s curriculum coordinator.

Miller-Arsenault is the second interim superintendent in Washington Central since Bill Kimball resigned the job he held for seven years in 2019. Kimball was replaced by Debra Taylor on an interim bases and last year Taylor was replaced by Brian Olkowski.

New to Vermont, the district and the job, Olkowski agreed to resign in August — a little more than a year into his two-year contract. Olkowski was paid $135,960 — the amount he would earned had he completed the second year of his contract — under a board-approved separation agreement.

Miller-Arsenault was tapped to replace Olkowski on an interim basis and Deweese told the board it could be in a position to interview finalists for the job, which hasn’t yet been advertised, by mid-February.

david.delcore @timesargus.com

Washington Central
Washington Central board sets budget parameters

EAST MONTPELIER — Earlier this month the Washington Central Unified Union School District made the final $155,000 payment on the voter-approved bond that financed a major upgrade to the U-32 Middle and High School campus 20 years ago.

However, while the district just shed the debt service associated with the bond it doesn’t appear that will have a favorable affect on the bottom line of a budget that is still in its infancy.

Debt service will drop by $155,000, according to the budget’s first draft. However, that savings would be neutralized by a plan to boost the district’s annual appropriation to its capital projects fund by the same $155,000.

The budget approved by voters in Berlin, Calais, East Montpelier, Middlesex and Worcester on Town Meeting Day included a capital fund transfer of $725,000. The first draft of the budget that would be presented to those same voters in March contemplates that transfer swelling to $880,000. The difference is the $155,000 on principle and interest the district has been paying on the bond, but no longer needs to.

That likely creates some wiggle room for the School Board, which has asked administrators to prepare a budget that reflects a 3% increase.

It isn’t a hard cap, but members general agreed 3% was a reasonable starting point, even if one would have preferred to limit the increase to less than 2% and another would have comfortably considered a 5% increase.

To put that in perspective, the current year’s budget calls for spending just under $35 million. A 2% increase would boost spending by $700,000, 3% would allow for a $1.05 million increase, and 5% would pad the budget’s bottom line by roughly $1.75 million.

Based on current staff and wage increases reflected in recently negotiated contracts and projected benefits, the district’s personnel costs would climb by more than $800,000. Nearly $675,000 is a wage-related increase for those employed at the district’s six schools and its central office. The balance is from benefits, including a projected 5.2% increase in health insurance that would add more than $35,000 to that expense.

That assumes no savings associated with staff turnover or any increases associated with hiring new positions.

It’s a “level service” budget that retains the bond payment, by re-purposing the money and transferring it to a fund to cover future capital improvements.

Responding to feedback from some of the roughly 20 residents who attended a community engagement forum, the board has asked administrators to consider enhancing the district’s music program, outdoor education options, and food service initiatives including farm to table.

Interim Superintendent Jen Miller-Arsenault said administrators will develop a budget that responds to the requested 3% cap, and take an “a la carte” approach to the proposed initiatives that would give the board the ability to incorporate one, some or all of them in a budget they are weeks away from approving for the pre-K-12 district.

Among other things, the board has asked administrators to develop a contingency plan to reduce expenses if the tax increase associated with the spending proposal turns out to be prohibitive. Key figures, including the district’s equalized pupils, the common level of appraisal in each of its five towns and the projected dollar yield aren’t yet available.

david.delcore @timesargus.com

There was a special Session of the Senate on Monday to discuss draft proposed Bill 21-1038 to turn mask mandates over to municipal authorities. Protesters were outside the Statehouse on Monday morning.

Mask mandate proposal


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