December 20, 2014

Local snowboarder heads to nationals

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By Kim Howard
Observer staff

The first time Dylan Peters, 13, went snowboarding he spent most of his time falling down.

Four years later, the Williston Central School eighth grader has a first-place regional competition win freshly tucked into his jacket and is headed to the men’s snowboard division national championships of the Jeep Terrain Park Challenge.

His greatest hope for this weekend’s competition at Sugar Bowl in Lake Tahoe, Calif., is just to “have fun,” he said.

“It would be cool to win, but I’m going to be the youngest one there so I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Dylan said after school Tuesday.

His age didn’t stop him last month, however. Dylan “blew away the competition,” according to a press release issued by the Jeep Terrain Park Challenge, even though he was the youngest of 16 competitors at the Feb. 25 regional championships at Sugarbush.

“I was really surprised because I wasn’t expecting it,” Dylan said. “I just had fun in it.”

The snowboarding competitions consist of two runs out of which the judges pick a competitor’s best. Speed is not a factor – lucky for Dylan, as his 95-pound frame is unlikely to move as fast as the bodies of men in their late teens and early twenties. Instead competitors are judged on the tricks they perform and how cleanly they land their jumps in runs that last 90 seconds to two minutes.

Dylan, who is on the Bolton Valley snowboarding team, goes snowboarding three or four times a week to practice, including nights. He also enjoys soccer and eating, and said with a halting laugh that his favorite subject in school is chess.

“I like literature class I guess,” he begrudgingly acknowledges.

In his snowboarding future, Dylan hopes to master rodeos — “a flip when you’re spinning and doing a back flip,” Dylan explains – and “corks,” short for “corkscrews,” he said.

A corkscrew is a “spin 540 or 720 (meaning one and a half or two full rotations) and you’re going sideways so it’s not fully a back flip but you’re not up straight; it’s off-axis spinning,” he said.

Dylan’s mother, Sue Peters, said her son has always enjoyed being in the air.

“It’s kind of part of his personality, so we’re kind of used to it,” she said. “He loves trampolines, loves to jump off of things. As a toddler, this would be the child flinging himself off the swing set as far as he could go….I always say he’s an adrenaline hound.”

Dylan said he has never hurt himself snowboarding – to which his mother required him to knock on the wood table before him.

“I try not to watch very much,” she said.

But Peters will accompany her son on Thursday as they head to California for the competition, where Dylan can do what he loves.

“I like spinning and flipping a lot,” he said. “And doing crazy stuff (like) going off big jumps and hitting big rails.”

[Read more...]

Budget was too taxing, some say

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By Kim Howard
Observer staff

Mud season this spring in Williston may be a little messier than usual as the community faces last week’s local school budget defeat. Residents largely point to tax bills as the reason for the rejection as school officials meet this week to decide next steps.

Williston’s proposed school budget was one of only17 defeated out of 250 statewide on Town Meeting Day, The Associated Press reported last week. In 2003, the only other year in this generation of voters to see a Williston school budget fail, 43 school budgets were voted down. In Chittenden County, Milton and Winooski were the only other communities last week that did not pass their proposed school budgets.

The budget for Champlain Valley Union High School was passed by 57 percent of the voters of Charlotte, Hinesburg, Shelburne and Williston. The local budget was rejected by 56 percent of Williston voters.

A number of random people questioned by Observer staff said they didn’t feel well informed about the issues so weren’t sure why the $15.9 million proposed local school budget didn’t pass. Those who did hazard a guess overwhelmingly came up with the same response.

“I think it’s mostly a message that they’re trying to send to the town in general that enough is enough with taxes going up,” said Paula Borah, who’s lived in Williston almost 18 years.

It’s tough for people to support budgets that go up faster than people’s salaries, Borah added. The proposed school budget was an overall 7 percent increase; actual per-pupil spending was a 6.1 percent increase.

Members of the Williston parent-teacher organization Families as Partners wondered if voter turnout also may have contributed to the budget’s defeat, according to minutes from last week’s FAP meeting.

Voter turnout was not wildly atypical, however. Of Williston’s registered voters, 24 percent cast ballots last week. The 10-year average in Williston is slightly higher than 29 percent.

Two years ago Williston passed the local school budget by 12 votes. Last year it passed by 69.

‘AFFORDING THE SCHOOL WE WANT’

Chittenden South Supervisory Union Superintendent Elaine Pinckney, a Williston resident, said there could be wide-ranging reasons the budget didn’t pass. Questions at town meeting about the school budget included the status of teacher contract negotiations, teacher contributions to health care, and the number of school administrators. Pinckney said she’s heard no single overriding concern.

“I don‘t think what you’re hearing in the community is ‘we’re unhappy with this school, we don’t think it’s doing a good job,’” Pinckney said. “I think what you’re hearing is ‘were having trouble affording the school that we want.’”

Parent Annie O’Shaughnessy, who has children in seventh and ninth grades, seemed to share that sentiment as she was looking for a movie in Passport Video last Friday night. O’Shaughnessy said her family moved to Williston nine years ago because Williston offered the best program for students with special education needs of any town in Chittenden and Addison counties. The support was so strong, neither of her kids required services beyond fifth grade, she said.

“So to find out that this town is no longer supporting the school district and its budget is really shocking to me and surprising,” O’Shaughnessy said. “And I feel a little embarrassed by how little I know about it. It just never occurred to me that a school budget wouldn’t pass in this town.”

Yet she said she can understand why the budget failed.

“I don’t think I can afford to live here next year, period, because I’m a single person now and single people can’t live here,” she said. Among residents, she added, “I think there’s a lot more feeling of protecting what they have and not feeling able to take any more taxes because they’re already stretched.”

Rep. Mary Peterson (D-Williston), a member of the Ways and Means Committee, suggested Williston’s school tax rate may already be less than what was advertised before the vote. Early tax estimates were based on a state base tax rate of 90 cents. The House of Representatives passed a rate of 89 cents last month; Peterson said though the rate must still pass the Senate and the governor, she cannot imagine either would propose a higher rate “unless something really unforeseen happened.”

With a reduced state base rate, the local school tax rate drops to about $1.75 – roughly a $20 savings per $100,000 of a home’s value. For a home valued at $300,000, that’s a $60 smaller school property tax bill.

WHAT’S AHEAD

The first regularly scheduled Williston School Board meeting after the budget vote was scheduled for Wednesday night, after the Observer went to press. Officials said they expected dates for additional meetings, and potentially the next vote, would be set at that meeting.

CSSU Superintendent Pinckney, who was district principal in Williston when the budget failed in 2003, said the conversations ahead may be difficult.

“At the same time that obviously people are saying ‘cut the budget,’ there are people out there who don’t want the budget cut who will be upset if the budget is cut in areas they don’t want cut,” she said.

When the school budget failed for the second time in 2003, Pinckney said board members and administrators had a meeting with the people “leading the charge” to vote against the budget.

“If there’s anything I learned, it’s do that sooner,” Pinckney said this week. “The thing is, this time I don’t think there’s a group out there. I think people individually went to the polls and said ‘too much.’”

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Landfill debate moves to Montpelier

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By Kim Howard
Observer staff

The controversy over a proposed landfill in Williston has jump-started discussions on solid waste at the state level.

Introduced late last month, Senate Bill 136 would create a group to study current state law and best management practices for solid waste facilities.

“It seemed to me that after 15 or 20 years since the last time there was a full evaluation (of solid waste management) that it was time to go back and look at where we are,” Sen. Ginny Lyons, D-Chittenden County, the bill’s co-author, said last week. “… Every time we recycle plastic or reuse something, we’re saving gallons of fossil fuel energy and that’s a strong interest in my committee – how do we conserve what we’ve got?”

Lyons is chairwoman of the Senate Natural Resources and Energy committee, where the bill currently is under consideration. She also was a member of the Williston Selectboard in 1992 when the town board signed a contract with Chittenden Solid Waste District agreeing to host the proposed landfill. Lyons noted Senate Bill 136 arose out of discussions she and Reps. Jim McCullough and Mary Peterson had with a local citizens’ group opposed to the landfill proposed for Redmond Road.

If the bill passes this legislative session, the Agency of Natural Resources would be required to convene a work group, which would include citizens, by July 1, with a report due to both the house and senate committees on natural resources and energy next January.

“I would think they’re going to want to look at where all the landfills are, how they’re regulated, guidelines for establishing new landfills… what are the lining requirements for landfills, are they still effective … All those things people have been concerned about during the dialogue of the Williston landfill they would probably want to look at for the state in general,” Lyons said.

Both Tom Moreau, general manager for the Chittenden Solid Waste District, and Craig Abrahams, a spokesman for a citizens’ group opposed to the landfill, welcome the bill.

“So many communities I’ve been reading about and talking to, there’s so much more involvement at the state level than here in Vermont,” Moreau said this week, noting that the Agency of Natural Resources changed little in the state’s comprehensive solid waste management strategy in 2006, the last time it was updated. By state law, the agency is required to update the strategy every five years.

Moreau questioned the proposed makeup of the work group – the proposal does not appear to include representatives of either of Vermont’s current landfills – and he questioned if Vermont’s population of 650,000 is big enough to muscle industries to take responsibility for disposing of product packaging. The legislative bill requests a report on the costs and benefits of such a “cradle to grave” approach.

Abrahams, a representative of VOCAL – Vermont Organized Communities Against Landfills, is enthused about the bill.

“Our ultimate goal would be waste reduction, increased recycling, focus on zero waste,” Abrahams said. “The three of those put together pretty much negate the need for any landfill.”

The group also wants to understand why state regulations don’t require a certificate of necessity for new landfills.

“Our hope is that this crazy unnecessary proposal is killed,” Abrahams said, meaning a new Williston landfill.

Lyons doesn’t anticipate that would be the working group’s recommendation.

“I don’t expect that we would see a recommendation to have a moratorium put on all landfills in the state,” Lyons said. “But it very much could affect the operation of the Williston landfill and the waste district,” from how waste is collected to the amount of land used each year and over time.

Lyons said she hopes the bill will move to the full Senate by Friday in order to receive best consideration in both the House and Senate this term.

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New bagel place to open in old donut shop

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Long-time bagel baker opens his own place

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Bagels have been a big part of Steve Durgin’s life.

The Williston resident has cooked them, served them and helped set up restaurants that sell them. Now he’s going to open his own bagel place.

Bagels Plus will be located in Taft Corners Shopping Center, taking the space where Koval’s Coffee, a long-running coffee shop, operated before closing in 2005. The new restaurant is tentatively scheduled to open in May.

Durgin said his eatery will combine a bagel bakery and a cafe. It will have the capacity to produce thousands of New York-style bagels a day and a menu diverse enough to tempt customers to stay a while.

He hopes to attract both patrons who want to grab a quick dozen bagels and those seeking a sit-down meal.

“It’s going to be a friendly atmosphere where you can bring your family and sit down and have a breakfast or a lunch,” Durgin said. “Also, if a person wants to come in and buy four or five dozen bagels and bring them to work, we’ll be set up for that.”

The menu will offer several flavors of bagels topped with many kinds of cream cheese. Other offerings will include muffins, sandwiches and soups. Salads will be served seasonally. A children’s menu will be available.

Bagels Plus will have seating for 23 customers. Customers will order and pay for their food at a cafeteria-style counter.

Durgin, 41, has been in the bagel business most of his adult life. He started in 1983 right after graduating high school, working at GT Bagel Factory across from St. Michael’s College. When the Bagel Factory’s partners split four years later, he went to work for one of them in a Stowe bagel shop.

In 1994, Durgin got a job with Burlington-based Brueggers. He worked in the corporate office, and traveled around the country to help open more than 150 new bagel outlets.

He continued to work for Brueggers until 2000 when he started an auto detailing company. But over the past few years he also kept his hand in the bagel business, working at the Bagel Market on Susie Wilson Road in Essex.

Durgin, however, had long dreamed of owning his own place.

“I was at a point in my life where I wanted to try to do this on my own,” he said. “What I explained to my boss is I didn’t want to be 60 years old and look back and say, ‘What if this would have worked?’”

Koval’s attracted a loyal group of customers during its 19 years of operation. Patrons sometimes lingered for hours, sipping coffee and chatting.

Durgin said his place will have its own atmosphere, but he would like the old restaurant’s patrons to return.

“I’m hoping to get them back,” he said. “If they want to sit there and have coffee and have something to eat and do some work and plan what they want to do for the day, by all means. I’m still going to have the people coming in and getting breakfast and taking off. On the weekends, I’ll probably have more families.”

Bagels Plus will be open seven days a week. Hours will be 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays, 6:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Saturdays and 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday. Durgin may adjust hours to meet demand.

He will spend the rest of this month and the next readying the restaurant. He plans to open by mid-May.

The new business represents a big leap for Durgin, who has worked for others for more than 20 years. But he figures it is the right kind of eatery to fill a gap in Williston’s ever-growing menu of restaurants.

“It’s a big step. It’s a scary step,” he said. “But I’m looking at the big picture and saying there are no bagel places in Williston.”

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Church recalibrates plan for new facility

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By Greg Elias
Observer staff

With its original plan receiving a cool reception, a local church has downsized a proposal for a giant new facility in Williston.

Essex Alliance Church filed new plans on Monday that reduce the size of the original 168,000-square-foot building on Vermont 2A. The new proposal calls for a 141,500-square-foot facility that would still be one of the largest structures in town.

The Development Review Board will consider the revised proposal at a meeting Tuesday night.

Essex Alliance has outgrown its church on Old Stage Road in Essex. So last fall it proposed building a new church on a 54-acre site midway between Taft Corners and the intersection of Industrial Road. The original plan called for a sanctuary that seated 1,833 and parking for 611 vehicles.

But the Development Review Board and neighbors were alarmed by the sheer size of the facility.

“The scale is not appropriate for the area,” said DRB member Cathy O’Brien at a November public hearing. “It’s way too big … this is just enormous. I don’t think I could vote for a project of this scale.”

Fellow board member Scott Rieley likened the structure’s size to Wal-Mart. The building as originally proposed would have been half again as large as the Williston Wal-Mart’s 114,000 square feet.

Neighbors said the additional traffic generated by the new church would make it impossible to enter and exit their driveways and streets by further clogging already heavy traffic along Vermont 2A.

The new plan proposes about 16 percent less interior space. It calls for three low-slung, two-story structures connected by enclosed walkways.

The complex will include a 1,800-seat “worship auditorium,” church offices, a nursery and a cafe. It will also have a gymnasium and athletic fields.

Next week’s meeting will determine whether the new plan makes enough changes to address the town’s concerns.

Some Development Review Board members had suggested the original structure be broken up into several buildings arranged in a campus-like setting. The new plans appear at least in part to address that concern.

Planning staff members said they would prefer a parking garage rather than a traditional lot with hundreds of spaces. The new plan still shows a standard parking lot, albeit with 11 fewer spaces.

The Rev. Scott Slocum, lead pastor at Essex Alliance Church, could not be reached for comment. But the church’s Web site said the review process will shape the size of the facility. It also responded to comparisons with Wal-Mart.

“Our new home will certainly not be mistaken for a ‘big box store’ by any means,” the site says.

The proposal must navigate both town and state approval processes before anything is built.

On the town side, the project must obtain conceptual approval before moving on to preliminary and final reviews.

It is also subject to Vermont’s Act 250 land-use law. A few years ago, a 50-unit subdivision named Brandywine was proposed at the same site. The project, which was approved by the town, was denied an Act 250 permit because it was located on prime agricultural soils, said Williston Zoning Administrator D.K. Johnston.

According to its Web site, the church is hoping Williston will receive growth center designation under a new state program that encourages dense development in designated areas. The program eases Act 250 requirements for buildings like the church that fall within a growth center.

Even if Williston’s application for growth center status is approved, Essex Alliance Church would still be subject to Act 250 review, said Town Planner Lee Nellis. But he said the church would automatically become eligible to pay a mitigation fee to offset its impact on agriculture.

Essex Alliance Church was formed 40 years ago. It is a member of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, an evangelical Protestant denomination with national offices in Colorado Springs, Colo.

The Development Review Board will consider the church’s new plans on Tuesday, March 27. The meeting, which takes place at Williston Town Hall, begins at 7:30 p.m.

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Domestic assault case trial months away

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By Kim Howard
Observer staff

A trial for a Williston man accused of aggravated domestic assault is at least five months away, a Vermont District Court judge said last week.

Kaseen Smith, 31, of Williston, pled not guilty last month to charges of aggravated domestic assault, aggravated sexual assault, domestic assault and sexual assault. He also pled not guilty last Friday to a charge of attempting to disarm a law enforcement officer. A former Williston Recreation basketball coach and father of eight, Smith is being held without bail at Chittenden County Regional Correctional Facility.

Chief Deputy State’s Attorney Rosemary Gretkowski told Vermont District Court Judge Mark J. Keller last week there was a binder of paper evidence and a box of video and audio tape evidence available for the defense’s review.

Defense attorney Harley G. Brown III said though his client wanted to deal with the charges “the sooner the better,” the tentative April trial date was too soon.

“There’s just no way I’ll be ready for the case a month from now,” Brown said. The number of felony charges and the size of the case would require far more time to appropriately prepare a defense, he said.

“Mr. Smith, we have a conflict,” Keller told the defendant, who had been escorted into the courtroom in handcuffs and leg shackles. “People in your position want to have a speedy trial.”

Smith, who wore jeans and a red sweater with black, white and grey stripes over a t-shirt at his hearing, has been in jail since Feb. 23.

“The way it is right now, the people on that side, the prosecutors, their people have read all the documents,” Keller told him. “They put together the case.”

If the trial were only a month away, Keller told Smith, one deputy state’s attorney may be told to devote all of his or her time to that case, and would have resources to support those efforts.

“The advantage will be on their side,” Keller said.

In order to do the “bare minimum necessary,” Keller told Smith, his defense lawyer must read through all of the materials, talk to witnesses, record depositions and make a number of other preparations – all of which require time.

“And unfortunately Mr. Brown has to eat regularly, which he, as you notice, has done on a regular basis for a number of years,” Keller continued. “He’s also handling other cases. He can’t afford to devote 100 percent of his time to your case.”

“That’s the problem with having an assigned lawyer,” Keller said. “If you had $100,000, you could say to the lawyer ‘I want you to devote all of your time to my case and nobody else’s.’”

Realistically, the judge said, the case would not go to trial until August at the earliest.

Keller asked Smith if he understood the conundrum, to which Smith replied “yes.” Keller asked if it was OK to move more slowly for a better-prepared defense, to which Smith also replied “yes.”

Smith is scheduled to next appear in court for a status conference on April 27 at 10:30 a.m.

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Teacher contract negotiations remain quiet

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By Kim Howard
Observer staff

Local teacher contract negotiations for the new school year are still underway, and little information is available on progress. But a year-old report from a neighboring school supervisory union may offer hints on where the talks are headed.

The current contract for Chittenden South Supervisory Union (CSSU), of which Williston schools and Champlain Valley Union High School are a part, expires at the end of June. Since November, school board representatives and members of the Chittenden South teachers’ association have been discussing the components of a new teacher contract that would take effect July 1.

The current contract includes 47 pages of definitions and agreements on everything from number of teaching days and professional development benefits to sick leave and grounds for termination.

Neither school board members nor teachers are allowed to discuss the details of the talks, a common ground rule in negotiations.

“The possibility exists if you let the general public become aware of where certain things are positioning, all of a sudden constituents on both sides become involved in the process and put pressure on specific items,” said Earl Walters, a former chair of the Williston School Board. [Disclosure: Walters’ wife is an employee at the Williston Observer.] Since, in Walters’ experience, contracts must be accepted in their entirety and not as each piece is decided, he said, at any given time one part of the agreement may change.

“You don’t want to get the constituents on one side or the other – the teachers or the public – to get excited about one piece of the agreement that may go away.”

In general if initial negotiations fail, a mediator is called in to assist. If mediation fails, a fact finder is hired to review the points of discrepancy and provide recommendations based on research on other school districts. At that point, the fact finder’s report is public information.

Chittenden East Supervisory Union had to make use of a fact finder last year after initial negotiations failed. That fact finder’s report may provide clues about the kind of information likely to be considered in CSSU negotiations. Chittenden East, part of Chittenden County, includes the communities of Bolton, Huntington, Jericho, Richmond, and Underhill and Mount Mansfield Union High School.

The two costliest components of the current Chittenden South contract are salaries and health insurance, both of which are addressed in detail in the Chittenden East fact finder’s report.

Salaries

The Chittenden East fact finder’s report indicates salary settlements in the county have been declining.

“The first few years of this decade saw relatively generous salary settlements within Chittenden County,” the report reads. “…While settlements of 5 percent or more were seen in a few districts in 2005-06…no such high numbers have been seen since then. … the multi-year figures appear to be more in the area of 4 percent (or less) rather than 4.5-5 percent.”

CVU High School and Williston teacher salaries have increased 4.55 percent each of the last three years, the same as the rest of Chittenden South. The Chittenden County average over the same period is 4.66 percent. The average salary this year for a full-time teacher in Williston schools is $60,924; the average CVU High School teacher salary is $57,768. The discrepancy is related to experience, according to Cindy Koenemann-Warren, CSSU director of personnel: 95 percent of Williston teachers have a master’s degree or higher; at CVU 89 percent do.

CSSU teachers are paid based on a combination of educational background and amount of professional experience. Newly hired teachers with only a bachelor’s degree and four or fewer years of experience earn the bottom salary (currently $36,167). The top salary listed in the contract ($72,334) is for teachers with at least 17 years of experience and either more than 30 college credits beyond a master’s degree, or 60 college credits beyond a bachelor’s degree.

Health insurance

The Chittenden East fact finder’s report states the author, Lawrence E. Katz, does not believe a fact finder should recommend changes to health insurance premium allocations that are significantly different from county averages; such a change, he wrote, should be “part of the give-and-take of the bargaining process.”

“In this world of cost sharing, 80-20 percent allocations may soon become the norm,” the report says. “At present however, the evidence presented herein indicates that 90-10 percent allocations are still more prevalent, particularly within Chittenden County… Although higher employee shares are now found in some of the more urban out-of-county settings (Barre, Montpelier and St. Albans), the same is not true of the Chittenden county ‘urban’ districts … Nor is it true of most of the rural out-of-county districts.”

CVU High School and Williston teachers contribute 10 percent of the premium cost of either a single, two-person or family insurance plan. The current county average is 11 percent, with the teachers’ share increasing slightly next year, according to data from CSSU. CSSU teachers may elect to forego coverage and instead receive payments: single plan payments are $700; two-person plan payments are $1,200; and family plan pay payments are $1,500.

Outside the contract

Teacher, staff and administrator salaries and benefits make up about 74 percent of local school budgets, according to Bob Mason, Chittenden South Supervisory Union chief operations officer.

Salaries for principals and supervisory union administrators are not set by contract, but instead are based on the previous year’s job performance, according to Mason. For the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2006, the average administrator salary increase was 6.7 percent. Respective school boards sign off on administrator salaries under their jurisdiction.

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Residents sue town, district over landfill

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By Kim Howard
Observer staff

A group of Williston residents has filed a lawsuit against the Town of Williston and the Chittenden Solid Waste District regarding a planned landfill.

Thirty-seven plaintiffs living and owning lots on Ledgewood Drive, near the site of the planned landfill on Redmond Road, are seeking to invalidate a 1992 agreement in which town officials promised the town would host a regional landfill. The group represents 20 households, according to Craig Abrahams, one of the plaintiffs and a member of Vermont Organized Communities Against Landfills (VOCAL), a local citizens’ group.

Steve Casale, president of VOCAL, left a voicemail at the Williston Observer offices clarifying the group itself is not party to the lawsuit.

“Whereas we are sympathetic with the cause of this independent group of homeowners and wish them well in their fight to prevent this unnecessary and toxic landfill siting, this is an independent group and VOCAL is not involved with it,” Casale said in his message.

The 11-page complaint, filed in Chittenden Superior Court in Burlington, was served to the defendants on Monday, Abrahams said.

Williston Town Manager Rick McGuire said he expected the lawsuit, which he already has referred to town lawyers.

“We defend any lawsuit that’s filed against the town,” McGuire said. He said he has no sense of how much the suit will cost the town to defend.

Chittenden Solid Waste District General Manager Tom Moreau said the waste district will defend the lawsuit “vigorously.”

“The Chittenden Solid Waste District depended on this Host Town Agreement as we proceeded through spending a fair amount of money” in the planning of a landfill, Moreau said. “We expect the town will live up to its word.”

Some of the suit’s arguments “seem weaker” than others, Moreau said. Overall, however, he said the suit “seems more against what the town did as opposed to what the district has done, if you look at it.”

The lawsuit seeks a judgment that the “Purchase and Sale and Host Town Agreement” and amendments – the legal contracts around the planned landfill – is “illegal, against public policy, contrary to settled Vermont law and void,” the complaint reads.

By signing the Host Town Agreement, the lawsuit says, the Town has delegated municipal authority to the solid waste district, provided the solid waste district with a tax exemption for the landfill site, and failed to include a termination date or period review provision of the agreement – all of which, the suit alleges, are illegal, against public policy or contrary to Vermont law.

The plaintiffs allege their interests will be affected by the proposed landfill due to the proximity of their land, the suit says. It further alleges the following direct effects on plaintiffs: adverse health effects, increased noise, traffic, air pollution and aesthetic impacts.

The plaintiffs also alleged the agreement signed by the town was “not authorized at a duly warned town meeting,” according to the suit. Voters in Williston approved the signing of the Host Town Agreement in 1992.

Abrahams said “this specific lawsuit does not seek financial damages at this time.” What the complainants want, he said, is to void the Host Town Agreement.

“Today’s Selectboard should have every opportunity to argue and fight this landfill if they so choose,” Abrahams said. “The Host Town Agreement prohibits the current Selectboard from protecting its own citizens.”

Abrahams said the plaintiffs plan to see the lawsuit through “to the end.”

“If that means multiple appeals over many years,” he said, “that’s what we intend to do.”

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School budget cuts ahead

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2003 budget cuts still felt

By Kim Howard
Observer staff

The Williston School Board will plow ahead this week with cutting the school budget rejected by Williston voters earlier this month. As the community weighs in, the board may hear about the fallout of the last failed budget in 2003.

For the next three weeks, school administrators and board members will meet every Thursday at 6 p.m. at Williston Central School to hear community concerns and make decisions about what to scale back. Board chairwoman Darlene Worth said by the next regularly scheduled board meeting – Wednesday, April 11 at Champlain Valley Union High School – she expects to have the new budget. The date of the second vote is expected to be set this week, but likely will be in May.

The enormity of the task ahead for the board and school administrators was clear at last week’s regularly scheduled board meeting.

“We know we’re going to lower the budget; we just don’t know how,” Williston School District Principal Walter Nardelli told the board.

“You can easily get into the numbers so far that it doesn’t look like education as usual in Williston,” Nardelli said. Finding the balance between protecting student programs while also responding to the public’s vote will be a challenge, Nardelli told them.

Earlier in the meeting, the school district’s literacy and math coordinators reported the results of the New England Common Assessment Program tests students took last fall. While overall Williston students outperformed state averages, boys lag behind girls significantly in reading and writing and students from economically poorer households lag behind their peers in all subject areas – a trend consistent at the state and national levels.

“We have some very needy students,” Nardelli said, referring to those statistics. “If we start cutting all resources, we’re not going to be addressing those needs.”

Finding the mark

Board members struggled to determine how much the budget must be cut in order to win public support.

The failed budget came in at $15.9 million, 7 percent higher than the current budget. In actual new spending, the proposal reflected a 6.5 percent increase due to recommended accounting changes. (Medicaid expenditures, for example, were listed as expenses for the first time this year, even though there is an equal amount of revenue.)

Champlain Valley Union High School saw a 4.98 percent budget increase pass this year. CVU High School is the only school in the supervisory union, other than Williston’s schools, without declining enrollment.

“People thought their taxes went up quite a bit last year,” School Board Chairwoman Darlene Worth said at last week’s meeting. “Now they’re seeing all this new building in town – the police and fire station – and they don’t want to see our increase.”

“I feel like (the increase) has got to be under 6 percent, that’s what I was hearing,” board member Holly Rouelle said.

A six percent increase would reduce the proposed budget by roughly $300,000.

What to cut

At the same time the public has asked for budget cuts, Chittenden South Supervisory Union Superintendent Elaine Pinckney said last week, there are people who won’t want those cuts. That was the case in 2003, she said, the last time Williston saw a school budget fail.

That year the community went to the polls a total of four times before the budget passed. The more than $350,000 cut from the budget had a lasting impact, according to Pinckney, who was district principal in Williston in 2003.

“Up until that time we had grade five to eight world language,” Pinckney said. Fifth grade foreign language offerings were cut that year, and have not been reinstated. “The research is clear the earlier you start (with a foreign language), the more effective you are.”

Interest in foreign language classes continues to increase, with some classes having more than 25 students – not ideal for new language learning, Pinckney said.

A part-time librarian position also was cut that year and not reinstated, Pinckney said

“ What that has resulted in is one day a week there isn’t a librarian at Allen Brook School,” she said. “You can check out a book, but there are no research services or book talks.”

The School Board sliced the budget by $140,000 the first time after the budget failed in 2003, resulting in a proposed increase of 4.7 percent. Other cuts that month included a part-time enrichment teacher, field trip transportation, a part-time special education secretary, two hours/day for an Allen Brook School receptionist, one hour a day for discipline staff, and the after-school ski program.

That budget passed by 21 votes in April 2003. Some residents petitioned for a revote, citing rising property taxes and discontent over school budget supporters targeting parents for a get-out-the-vote campaign. The May re-vote failed by 194 votes.

The board then went back and cut an additional $217,500 – a 2.8 percent budget increase, but a drop in per-pupil spending given rising enrollment. That budget passed in June by a healthy margin.

Of the cuts made that year, Pinckney said, the enrichment teacher and disciplinary staff time have been added back in the last three years. The ski and ride program was moved to the town recreation budget.

Not only programs and services will be on the proverbial chopping block this year. Since no teacher contract is signed for the next budget year, Chairwoman Worth said scaling back anticipated increases in that area is “an option.”

The proposed budget indicates roughly 6.5 percent additional monies were set aside under “instructional programs” for salaries and benefits.

“We’ll be listening for what our community members are saying,” Worth said.

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Teacher salary increases lag behind other professions

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Beginning teachers saw big jumps

By Kim Howard
Observer staff

Editor’s note: On Town Meeting Day, Williston’s school budget was defeated. School officials have said salaries and benefits – which comprise roughly 74 percent of the school budget – and special education account for most of the increases. Over the coming weeks, the Observer will look at each of these areas in detail in preparation for the school budget vote anticipated in May.

 

The average increase of local teachers’ salaries from 2000 – 2005 was consistent with or lagged behind other Chittenden County professions requiring college degrees, an Observer staff analysis has found. However, in the last two years, local teachers’ collective salary increases outpaced those of the preceding five years.

From spring 2000 to spring 2005, Champlain Valley Union High School teachers collectively saw average salaries rise 15 percent and Williston public school teachers collectively saw an increase of 20 percent, according to data provided by the Chittenden South Supervisory Union. (Collective increases are not the same as individual increases as different teachers were working each of those years.)

During the same time period, elementary and secondary school teachers throughout the greater Burlington area rose 17 percent, according to Observer calculations. Calculations were based on federal Bureau of Labor Statistics data from 2000 and May 2005 – the most recent data available for the Burlington area for all professions. Elementary and secondary school administrators’ salaries increased roughly 21 percent.

Among other professions in the same time period in the greater Burlington area, health care practitioners overall saw average salaries rise 23 percent; managers saw average salary increases of nearly 25 percent; computer and math-related occupations saw increases on average of 28 percent; and occupations in the life, physical and social sciences saw increases of 35 percent.

“I’m not surprised that you find that teachers’ salaries have lagged behind other professionals with comparable educational credentials, though I don’t know the specific data you’re referencing,” said Michael Long, a teacher at Colchester High School and chief negotiator for the Colchester Education Association. “But that sounds consistent with the data I’ve seen in the past.”

Jobs not requiring college degrees overall saw smaller pay growth for the same time period. Those in installation, maintenance and repair jobs saw salaries rise on average 7.6 percent; administrative support jobs saw roughly 16 percent increases; those in sales overall saw 19 percent increases; and those in production occupations saw a 20 percent increase.

Collective increase grows

The growth in Williston teachers’ collective salaries since 2005 outpaced their increases in the preceding five years. Williston public school teachers collectively saw an increase of 23 percent from the contract ending June 2005 to the contract that ends this year.

CVU High School average teacher salaries collectively increased roughly half that amount, 12.3 percent.

The discrepancy may be that Williston is seeing more experienced teachers hired when others leave, according to a supervisory union official.

“There could have been hiring changes,” said Chittenden South Supervisory Union Human Resources Director Cindy Koenemann-Warren.

When a teacher leaves the district, Koenemann-Warren said, the new teacher who is hired likely has a different level of experience and education, and therefore is paid differently.

“Sometimes it works to the board’s advantage as more senior teachers retire, and sometimes it doesn’t,” she said.

Changes in individual teachers’ educational levels also could change the collective salary increase, Koenemann-Warren said. Teachers with only a bachelor’s degree are paid less than teachers with a master’s degree, for example.

Beginning salaries up

Individual teacher salary increases vary widely over the last seven years (which represents the last three local teachers’ contracts). Two individual CVU High School and Williston teachers with more than 35 years of teaching experience saw salary increases of roughly 28 percent since 2000 – a number that appears consistent with, or slightly behind, growth in other occupations requiring college degrees looking at federal data from the early part of this decade.

By contrast, two teachers with less than four years of teaching experience in 2000 and only a bachelor’s degree saw salary increases of 60 percent and 68 percent over the last seven years. Those teachers pursued graduate credits (one earned a master’s degree) during that time period.

Koenemann-Warren said those increases are typical for that time period for beginning teachers who pursued advanced degrees.

Christopher Hood, a CVU High School teacher and president of the Chittenden South Education Association, the organization representing local teachers and involved in current contract negotiations, said two things explain those increases in beginning teacher salaries.

“One, in our last contract cycle, every (Chittenden South Supervisory Union) school had their own salary schedule,” Hood said. “It was the desire of the CSEA but also the district itself, to unify the district on one salary schedule. Within CSSU we only have one salary schedule now, meaning you’re compensated equally regardless of which school you’re teaching in.”

Chittenden South Supervisory Union includes schools in Charlotte, Shelburne and Hinesburg in addition to CVU High School and Williston schools.

“In addition, in an ongoing effort to continue to make CSSU one of the most attractive places to work in Chittenden County, we were able to raise the initial first year teacher’s salary,” Hood said. “We wanted to be as attractive as other Chittenden County towns to first year teachers. We were behind other Chittenden County schools so we made a concerted effort to raise the starting salary to attract people to our district. And I would point out we have been successful in attracting very qualified candidates who recognize this district as an exceptional place to work and to teach.”

Long, of the Colchester Education Association said, attracting qualified candidates is important.

“I think it’s important to compensate professionals well for the skills and training that they have,” he said. “Surely parents and communities would want to have the best teachers possible in their classrooms. … Just as we wouldn’t want medical care on the cheap, we shouldn’t want education on the cheap, either.”

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