May 25, 2020

Winter a real snow job

Town exceeds plowing budget

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Back in January, it seemed this would be an easy winter for snowplow drivers.

Maybe next year.

Unseasonably warm and dry weather in December and early January soon gave way to record-setting snowstorms and below-zero temperatures. Though the nor’easter earlier this week produced little snow in Chittenden County, the area has easily exceeded its average annual snowfall.

Williston’s plowing budget has taken the hit. As of April 5, the town had spent about $97,000 on salt, $9,000 over budget, according to Public Works Director Neil Boyden.

Total plowing expenses tend to track salt usage, so it’s likely the town will exceed the town’s $369,792 annual winter maintenance budget.

Overtime costs for plow drivers are also running at or over the annual budget. So it’s no surprise that they are as ready as everyone else for this late-blooming winter to end.

“They’re sick of it, is the bottom line,” Boyden said. “You fully expect that for three or four months you are going to be ready to perform at a moment’s notice.” But by April, he said, drivers are ready to return to a more routine schedule.

The past three months have seen the second-largest snowstorm on record, another substantial storm in March and some smaller snowfalls in April. Those storms were punctuated by numerous thaw-and-freeze cycles that required salt to keep roads clear.

The snow season’s apex was the Valentine’s Day blizzard. Snow totals exceeded 30 inches in some areas, and 25.7 inches was recorded by the National Weather Service in South Burlington. It was the second-largest snowstorm ever for the area, exceeded only by a days-long storm in December 1969.

Another storm on St. Patrick’s Day this year dumped 13 inches of snow, according to the National Weather Service. Not including the most recent snow, 9.2 inches had fallen in April.

In all, 94.6 inches of snow has been recorded in the Burlington area this winter, exceeding by more than a foot the annual average of 81.2 inches.

The Valentine’s Day storm in particular taxed plowing crews in Williston. Some drivers worked 20-hour shifts, Boyden said. Plows broke down. Others got stuck.

The storm set a record for snowfall within a 24-hour period. But Mark Russell, assistant road foreman in Williston, said other storms have been tougher because they lasted longer.

Still, Russell, who has worked for the town for 11 years, said this winter’s unusual rhythm has been hard on drivers.

“It’s been different,” he said. “It was easy the first part. This part of the year shouldn’t linger on this long.”

Any more snow will put the town further over its plowing budget and force cutbacks in the town’s overall road maintenance efforts, Boyden said. In years past, the town has repaved fewer roads to stay within budget.

“As we continue to spend funds on winter maintenance, summer maintenance projects will get postponed,” Boyden said.

Bob Schiesser, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in South Burlington, said the forecast calls for warmer temperatures – and no more snow – this weekend.

He said as the days pass, snowstorms become more and more unlikely. And the long-range forecast is blessedly free of predictions for more white stuff.

“Looking to the horizon, I really don’t see any more snowstorms,” Schiesser said.

[Read more…]

Williston charter changes get Legislative approval

By Kim Howard
Observer staff

The Vermont Senate last week passed amendments to Williston’s town charter endorsed by voters in November. The governor’s signature is the last stop on the journey to a revised charter; the House of Representatives approved the revisions last month.

The most significant revision to the charter would safeguard the town’s ability to levy a local option tax. The local option tax is predicted to generate roughly 38 percent of the town’s current budget this year, reducing the local property tax burden. Should the Legislature repeal the state law allowing towns to levy local option taxes, Williston would still be able to levy the tax based on its charter.

The effects of the local option tax, however, are in flux due to changes in state regulations. Starting in January, some items formerly taxed are no longer being taxed. Items being delivered or shipped, too, will now be taxed according to destination. For example, an item bought in Williston and shipped to Colchester would not be subject to the tax since Colchester does not levy a local option tax. If that same item were purchased in Colchester and shipped to Williston, however, the tax would be imposed.

In 2002, Williston voters approved a 1 percent sales tax, and in 2003 Williston voters approved a 1 percent tax on rooms, meals and alcoholic beverages. In 2004, Williston voters reaffirmed their commitment to the 1 percent tax by a hefty margin: 1,938-321. The tax could be repealed by secret ballot.

Six additional changes to Williston’s charter were forwarded to the Legislature based on the work of a town charter revision task force.

One item would allow the town to impose contracts with its police and fire chiefs, enabling them to dismiss chiefs failing to meet expectations. Under state law a chief cannot be fired except in cases of egregious wrongs, according to Williston Town Manager Rick McGuire, making it difficult for town officials to ensure optimal performance of public safety officials.

The remaining proposed changes to the charter are as follows: eliminate the appointed positions of weigher of coal, fence viewer, and surveyor of wood and lumber – positions McGuire said are anachronistic; eliminate as elected positions the town agent, trustee of public funds and grand juror – positions that are no longer needed or whose duties have been assumed by town employees; change from elected to appointed the Cemetery Commission and Old Brick Church Trustees; clarify who opens town meeting before the moderator is selected; and add the ability for a vote to change the time town meeting starts.

Voters approved the original Williston charter in 2003; the state Legislature affirmed it in 2004.

[Read more…]

School intern under scrutiny

By Kim Howard
Observer staff

A college student intern at Williston Central School is being investigated by school officials on allegations of sexual harassment, and he is no longer working at the school.

A sixth-grader reported to a school official on March 26 that the man, a student at the University of Vermont, allegedly rubbed the girl’s shoulders and snapped her bra strap in the front of her shirt, the girl’s mother told the Observer in an interview. The mother also said that the man at a different time allegedly put his hands on her daughter’s hips and tried to pull her toward him. The mother did not allow the Observer to interview the daughter.

The Williston Observer does not identify victims or alleged victims of sexual harassment, so is not naming the mother to protect the girl’s identity. The Williston Observer also is not identifying the intern while a school investigation is underway.

Chittenden South Supervisory Union Superintendent Elaine Pinckney said she could neither confirm nor deny the nature of the allegations without a waiver from the student and the intern.

School officials notified police of the allegations, according to Williston Police Chief Jim Dimmick. However, Dimmick said this week that the information he’s received about the alleged incidents do “not rise to the level of a criminal investigation.” Dimmick also said he believes the school’s investigation should be completed before anyone makes any judgments.

Prior to press time, the intern did not respond to a request for comment sent to his university e-mail account.

Five students alleged the behavior of the intern caused a “hostile environment,” according to Chittenden South Supervisory Union Superintendent Elaine Pinckney. The students came forward in two groups on the same day, Pinckney said in an e-mail.

School officials removed the intern from the classroom the afternoon of the complaints. An investigation was begun immediately, school officials said at last week’s school board meeting, and Pinckney expects to issue written findings by the end of this week. By state law, Pinckney has 30 days from the date of the complaint to complete her findings.

“The remedy has already been implemented regardless of how I rule because he’s not there,” Pinckney said at last week’s School Board meeting. By mutual agreement, the intern will not return to the school no matter what Pinckney’s review of the investigation finds, she said. “This is a serious allegation that I will take serious time to review,” she said at the meeting.

In part Pinckney will need to review state harassment statutes. In 2004, Act 91 amended state statutes to define “harassment” as an incident or incidents that have “the purpose or effect of objectively and substantially undermining and detracting from or interfering with a student’s educational performance or access to school resources or creating an objectively intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment.”

“Sexual harassment” by state law is defined as conduct that includes “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal, written, visual, or physical conduct of a sexual nature when one or both of the following occur: Submission to that conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of a student’s education; Submission to or rejection of such conduct by a student is used as a component of the basis for decisions affecting that student.”

Pinckney will share her findings and a summary of the investigation with the parents of the students who made the allegations, she said in an e-mail. Those parents have the right to request an independent review if they are unhappy with the results or believe the school’s response was inadequate to address the problem. Pinckney said she will share the final outcome of the investigation with the University of Vermont, though federal privacy laws prevent her from sharing the full report.

School officials last week emphasized that college student interns and student teachers go through the same criminal background checks as all school employees.

Two parents told board members at last week’s School Board meeting they have concerns about the appropriateness of the intern program generally. Their concerns included allegations that a college student intern was solely responsible for an elementary school classroom for several weeks when a teacher was out for medical reasons. One of the parents also alleged that on two occasions her children were subjected to racial epithets when interns were present, and neither responded appropriately.

Williston School District Principal Walter Nardelli said he would need to investigate all three allegations, as it was the first he’d heard of any of them.

Champlain College, Johnson State College, St. Michael’s College and the University of Vermont all send interns and student teachers to Williston schools. Interns are at school a full year; student teachers are there for a semester. Between 12 and 20 students intern or student teach annually, according to Pinckney.

The University of Vermont internship program is scheduled to share information about its program with the school board at its next meeting, Wednesday, May 9, at 7 p.m. Board member Holly Rouelle said she’d like to learn more about the supervision of interns in the course of board discussions.

[Read more…]

Project could bring lower-priced homes to village

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

A local contractor wants to build a small subdivision in Williston Village that could feature relatively inexpensive homes in a town increasingly populated by pricy housing.

Talcott Estates would be located near the intersection of U.S. 2 and North Williston Road. The building site is on about 3 acres along Lefebvre Lane, a cul-de-sac off North Williston Road.

Plans filed with the town show the project would include nine units. They will be a mix of duplexes, townhouses and single-family homes, said Jeff Atwood, the property owner and developer.

The duplex would be in a 250-year-old farmhouse at the site, said Atwood, who plans to renovate a barn on the property for a carriage house that he would occupy. The remaining six units would be single-family homes and townhouses.

Atwood said he sees the project as filling a need for affordable housing. Some units could sell for as little as $230,000, though Atwood said he has yet to determine exactly how many homes would fall into the lower-price category.

“What the state needs right now is affordable housing,” he said. “It doesn’t need more $300,000 or $400,000 or $500,000 homes.”

Atwood said he is looking into an arrangement with Champlain Housing Trust that would help him develop the affordable units.

To be considered affordable, the total cost of owning a home – mortgage payment, insurance and property taxes – should be no more than 30 percent of a household’s median income, housing experts say.

Developments meeting the definition for affordable housing receive special consideration during the town’s development review process. Impact fees can be waived. Projects can also receive extra credit in phasing, which the town uses to limit the number of housing units built each year.

John Fairbanks, spokesman for the Vermont Housing Finance Agency, said it would take family income of $73,000 to afford a $230,000 home. He said state tax data shows the median family income in Williston is $76,000.

If the prices in Talcott Estates even approach $230,000, they will be less expensive than other new homes in Williston.

The median price for a newly built single-family home in Williston was $423,000 over the past two years, according to sales data shared by Fairbanks. No new condominium in Williston has been built during the same period that sold for less than $350,000.

Atwood has been a commercial painting contractor for 21 years. He owns Colchester-based Russ/Wood Decorating Inc.

Talcott Estates would be the first subdivision he has developed, Atwood said, although he is now working on a duplex conversion in Richmond.

Atwood is currently renovating the development’s farmhouse, with one portion of that building already occupied while the remaining work is completed. The barn conversion would take place next year, he said, with construction of the other units to follow.

The project must receive a subdivision permit from the town. The permit process includes three rounds of review: conceptual, preliminary and final. The initial hearing before the Development Review Board is scheduled for May 8.

Atwood acknowledged that an extended review process could drive up the cost of the homes. But he hopes the project will provide “a viable way to preserve an historic property for Williston as well as provide affordable housing for the state.”

[Read more…]

Potential school budget cuts: $300,000

Proposed new taxes could drop by half

By Kim Howard
Observer staff

Williston School District administrators last week shared a list of potential school budget cuts that could total $300,000 if all are implemented.

For a home valued at $300,000, those cuts—combined with a reduction in the Vermont state base tax rate—could mean a tax bill roughly $150 smaller than the bill expected under the budget Williston voters defeated last month (see table page 3). Reducing the proposed $15.73 million budget by $300,000 translates into a 2.2 percent residential school property tax rate increase, instead of a 5.1 percent tax rate increase, before income sensitivity reductions.

Not all of the potential cuts may be implemented. The School Board is expected to take final comments and make decisions about cuts at the April 5 board meeting at 6 p.m. at Williston Central School. Voters are scheduled to return to the polls to weigh in on the new budget on Tuesday, May 8.

About 40 parents and teachers packed into a meeting room at Williston Central School last Thursday night to learn more about special education services, teacher and staff pay, numbers and roles of paraeducators and teaching assistants, and the possible budget cuts.

Proposed cuts fall into two categories – those that were new to the proposed budget (or received more money than the current year’s budget) and those that represent cuts from the current budget.

Potential “new” cuts

About $75,000 could be saved by cutting eight line items that would have been new to the budget. The two biggest potential cuts financially include a half-time teacher to assist students in earlier grades who are struggling with reading, and a half-time school social worker who would assist low-income families with finding appropriate social services. The school’s current caseload precludes all students who need that assistance from being served.

Two potential cuts that drew clear opposing comments were foreign language supply funds, which have not seen an increase since 2003 despite rising enrollment, and a 10-percent time enrichment teacher who would teach advanced math students.

“To me it’s already a tragedy we don’t have world language in the lower houses,” parent Andy Patterson said.

Not adding more funds for supplies makes the classes that do exist less effective, Patterson said. Patterson also opposed cutting the 10-percent time enrichment teacher. Both of those line items equal less than $4,000.

“It just seems like there is so little for kids of high abilities,” he said, noting that enrichment is one of the parts in school that challenges his kids. “If you look at the scale of where the resources are, it’s so skewed toward lower level children.”

Parent Polly Malik said she agreed with Patterson.

“I feel that my daughter barely receives any enrichment,” she said. “Any enrichment she gets I provide it. It’s coming out of my pocket.”

Other potential cuts include a slight expansion of computer technology staff; and supplies for guidance and enrichment activities and design and technology classes. The latter budget has not seen increases for a number of years despite rising costs for lumber and other supplies.

Board member Holly Rouelle asked if consideration was given to cutting hours of teaching assistants.

“It feels like the supplies for design and technology and world language supplies are closer to the children than clerical paraeducators,” Rouelle said.

Williston Central School Principal Jacqueline Parks said those teaching assistants aren’t doing only clerical work, but also are working with small groups of students on class material.

Items new to the proposed budget that would not be cut include a part-time foreign language teacher, a part-time math intervention teacher, and funding for a mentoring program.

Potential cuts from current budget

The bulk of the potential $300,000 cuts come from the current year’s budget. Since January when the first budget was proposed, school administrators learned of voluntary changes in teaching staff, according to District Principal Walter Nardelli. Some teachers have indicated plans to retire, take leaves of absence or reduce their hours, all of which could reduce teacher salary and benefit costs, Nardelli said.

None of those changes are expected to affect class size, Nardelli said. Similar savings may be in store due to voluntary changes in administrative support staff. Nardelli noted the details of all personnel changes are confidential until they’re finalized.

Administrators also proposed paying new special educators less, meaning those that are hired have less experience. Special education transportation and changes in personnel also could mean cost savings.

“It does not mean there’s no increase in special education; there will be an increase,” Nardelli told the board and audience last week. “What we’re trying to do is be as efficient as we possibly can and still provide the services that are mandated.”

Eliminating several school bus runs also would save money, but the remaining runs would be longer, Nardelli said. The band bus that serves 15-20 students also could be eliminated.

Finally, administrators suggested cutting classroom supplies by $10 per student. The current budget allocates $90 per student for supplies.

Next steps

Four areas should be considered for potential savings in future years, Nardelli said.

Transportation represents $400,000 of the total budget, Nardelli said. Families as Partners discussed cutting buses and starting walking zones for those living closer to school; families who wanted to be picked up could pay. Nardelli said those kinds of changes should not be made quickly without studying the effects.

Moving some of the after-school sports programs to the town budget is another way to reduce the school budget, Nardelli said. In 2003, the after-school ski and ride program was moved to the town’s recreation department.

How classes are configured might affect costs. Getting the school hot lunch program to break even also could lead to savings.

The School Board’s next regularly scheduled meeting following this week is Wednesday, April 11 at 7 p.m. at Champlain Valley Union High School.

[Read more…]

Parent reactions mixed

By Kim Howard
Observer staff

Williston voters next month will face a school budget that’s $287,000 leaner than the budget they defeated last month.

The Williston School Board last Thursday approved a $15.69 million budget, a 4.88 percent increase over the current year’s school budget. The board will hold a public hearing on Thursday, May 3 at 7 p.m. at Williston Central School, five days before the May 8 vote, as required by law.

Due to the budget cuts, and an anticipated change by the Legislature in the state base tax rate, home-
owners can expect to see school property taxes go up a little more than 2.5 percent if the budget passes. The owner of a $300,000 home, for example, can expect a tax bill about $129 higher than the current year, before any adjustments for income sensitivity. That’s about half the increase taxpayers would have seen had the March proposal passed.

Before the cuts were made, some parents had asked the School Board to consider putting the same budget before voters next month. The School Board said that was not what the voters wanted given the margin by which the budget lost – 192 votes.

Parent reactions

Parents’ reactions to the cuts have been mixed.

“I think it was a good budget the first time,” said parent Jan Mazzone, who attended the last three weeks of budget meetings. “I don’t think it’s a better budget, but I think it’s the best budget they could come up with under the circumstances.”

Linda Longenbach, who also attended the recent meetings, said she thought the cuts were “balanced and measured.” Whether the cuts are enough to garner more than 50 percent of the vote, Longenbach said she doesn’t “have a pulse” on that.

What is important, she said, is the board’s stated commitment to look at four areas for future potential savings: the hot lunch program, sports programs, transportation, and class configuration.

Parent Dave Martel, who did not attend the budget meetings, said he does not want the stress of any additional taxes.

“To be honest with you, I don’t think I’m getting my money’s worth for our taxes as it is,” he said.

Parent Ryan Press, who attended the budget meetings, also has heard concern about increasing taxes, and she said she will not support the budget May 8.

“I feel that Williston is somewhat like Stepford in that we all smile and we nod and we all agree on everything,” Press said, referring to a fictional town in which wives are robotically submissive. “But I think there’s an underlying current of people who don’t agree but they don’t say that because they’re so afraid of being picked out or being singled out as ‘not one of us.’”

The cuts

Of the roughly $287,000 in cuts made, 37 percent were made in special education services. In the new budget, however, special education still will see about a $250,000 increase.

“I wouldn’t be putting these cuts out there professionally if I didn’t think we could live with them,” said Carter Smith, who oversees special education services for Williston schools. “I don’t like them, but I think we can live with them.”

The board did fund increases in supplies for foreign languages, design and technology classes and guidance and enrichment activities, and expanded computer technology staff by one hour a week. Those items totaled about $7,000.

An instructor for advanced math students will likely come from a staff member in the supervisory union, so while the 10-percent time position was not funded, student needs in this area will be met, District Principal Walter Nardelli said.

Also funded are a half-time social worker and a half-time one-on-one reading specialist to assist students struggling with reading. Those positions will be funded through federal Medicaid money.

Voluntary changes in personnel – retirements, leaves of absence or hour reductions – yielded roughly $89,000 in savings. The literacy coordinator will be reduced from an 80-percent time position to a 60-percent time position, and will refocus her efforts on first through fourth graders. Williston Central School Principal Jacqueline Parks, who has a background in literacy, will assume responsibility for fifth through eighth graders in this area.

Other cuts included elimination of the band bus serving 15-20 students in the mornings, a kindergarten bus run, and a regular school bus run. Student classroom supplies were reduced by $10 per student, leaving $80 per student in funds.

[Read more…]

New church passes first round of review

Downsized plan finds support, opposition

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

After hearing sometimes emotional testimony – both pro and con – the Development Review Board last week approved conceptual plans for a huge new church in Williston.

Essex Alliance Church seeks to build a 141,500-square-foot complex on 54 acres adjacent to residential neighborhoods on Vermont 2A between Taft Corners and Mountain View Road. The church has outgrown its current facility on Old Stage Road in Essex.

The church’s plans had been scaled back after the board concluded at an earlier hearing that the initial 169,000-square-foot proposal was simply too big. The new plan converted the original single structure into five smaller buildings linked by enclosed walkways.

But some neighbors who spoke at last week’s meeting said the complex was still out of scale with the surrounding area. Many of them complained that it would snarl traffic along heavily traveled Route 2A.

“It’s not the church we are against, let’s be very clear,” said Joachim Poetzsch, who lives in the Meadow Run subdivision near the site. “It is the enormity of the project.”

“I think it’s misplaced in this location,” said Carol Tandy, who also lives in Meadow Run. “I think with the scale of it, it would be nice out in the country.”

That remark drew a response from Rand Larson, who attends Essex Alliance Church and owns Vermont Eye Laser in Williston with his wife, Juli.

“Churches don’t belong in the country,” he said. “Churches belong where they can minister to people.”

Larson was among the many Essex Alliance churchgoers who crowded into the meeting room at Williston Town Hall. About 50 people in all attended the March 27 session, filling all seats and spilling into the hallway.

The Rev. Scott Slocum, senior pastor at the church, said in an interview that he informed parishioners about the meeting during Sunday services. He said those interested in going were given a chance to learn more about the project during a post-service meeting.

Some churchgoers spoke passionately about how the Essex Alliance had helped them.

“I have been going to Essex Alliance Church, and I have found a home,” said Fran Landis, who lives on Forest Run Road in Williston. “It would be such a blessing to have this church in my town.”

Landis said in an interview that when she was growing up the local church was one of the few places for teens to gather. She said the church’s extensive facilities would provide a similar benefit for Williston’s youth.

The church complex would include athletic fields and a recreation path, which would be open to the general public.

Williston resident Craig Revilla said he has attended Essex Alliance Church for 26 years. He said the church has helped his family and the community as a whole.

“I’m just looking forward to what the church can do for the people in my town,” he said.

But other residents living near the site said they were weary of the ever-increasing traffic on 2A, which makes it difficult to enter and exit their streets and driveways. They worried the church would only make things worse.

“Traffic is a major concern for us,” said Robert Coon, president of the homeowners’ association in Meadow Run. “This probably won’t increase traffic at peak hours. It will just extend it to other times.”
Mark Smith of Resource Systems Group, a traffic engineering firm hired by the church, said a previous study showed that weekend traffic along Vermont 2A on Sundays was light compared to weekdays. He said peak traffic occurs between noon and 1 p.m., after church services are completed.

Though scaled back, the church would still be by far the largest in Williston. An amphitheater would seat 1,800 worshippers. The complex would include a cafe, a children’s area and church offices. There would be parking for 600 vehicles.

In granting conceptual approval, the board required the church to conduct a complete traffic study. Another condition requires the church to include 20 units of housing.

That requirement was driven by the town’s application for growth center status. D.K. Johnston, the town’s zoning administrator, told the board that half of all future development within the growth center, an area that would include the church, must be housing.

Growth center status could also help the church because it eases Act 250 requirements.

The church project must undergo two more rounds of review – preliminary and final – by the Development Review Board. As of Tuesday, the town had yet to schedule the next hearing on the project.

[Read more…]

Local school budget support mixed

By Kim Howard
Observer staff

School board members and some voters expressed surprise last month when the Williston School District budget failed for only the second Town Meeting Day vote in at least a generation. Yet a closer look at Williston’s voting history shows, on the whole, a voting community largely split over school spending.

Secret balloting for town and school budgets began in Williston in 2001. With the exception of 2004, the year in which taxpayers saw revisions to the Act 60 state education funding law, the margins by which the local school budget has passed have not been enormous.

In the last seven years, Williston has voted 10 times on the school budget, including four times in 2003. In Vermont that year a record number of communities voted down school budgets, in part a symbolic vote of disdain for Act 60. Williston was no exception. While the second budget barely passed in April (a margin of 21 votes), some voters petitioned for a third vote. The May re-vote failed. The June vote – a 2.8 percent budget increase, but a drop in per-pupil spending given rising enrollment – passed by a healthy margin.

In half of Williston’s last 10 school budget votes (2001, 2002, April 2003, 2005 and 2006) the passing margin has been less than 100 people. In 2005 the budget passed by a mere 12 votes; last year the budget carried by 69 votes.

No comparisons can be made with Champlain Valley Union High School budget since votes among member towns – Charlotte, Hinesburg, Shelburne and Williston – are co-mingled.

As support for the Williston school budget has largely danced between the 45 and 55 percent marks, support for the town budget has been diminishing.

In 2001, the first year of secret balloting in Williston, roughly 70 percent of voters supported the budget. By 2005, voters supporting the budget had dwindled to just over 55 percent. The low mark was this year in which 53 percent of voters passed the town budget.

The anomaly is 2004, a year in which voters overwhelmingly supported all budget items, including a $2.6 million sidewalk bond. That year 77 percent of voters supported the town budget.

[Read more…]

School report: Intern

By Kim Howard
Observer staff

A Williston Central School investigation of a college student teaching intern found that his alleged actions do not meet the state’s legal definition of sexual harassment, according to a report summarizing the investigation.

In the school’s report, the intern denied any improper conduct, though the report does not conclude whether the alleged actions occurred. The intern was “permanently removed” from his assignment, the report says.

The Williston Observer is not naming the intern since the investigation concluded his alleged actions did not meet the legal definition of sexual harassment. The report included no names and listed the intern as “A-1.”

“While A-1’s [alleged] conduct obviously made some of the girls uncomfortable, the allegations do not meet the definition of harassment under the statute,” the report reads.

Under Vermont law, someone’s conduct constitutes sexual harassment only if either “submission to that conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of a student’s education” or if “submission or rejection of such conduct by a student is used as a component of the basis for decisions affecting that student.” The report says there was “absolutely no evidence anywhere” of the intern’s alleged conduct matching those criteria.

On March 26, five students brought complaints about the University of Vermont intern to school administrators. One of the complaints, for example, was that the intern massaged a girl’s shoulders and snapped the front of her bra strap, the report says. The report indicates five students expressed discomfort with the intern.

The intern said that while he touched one complainant on the outside of the arms and shoulders, he did not “make contact with bra strap,” the report says.

“He denied ever touching a student, but allowed that there are ‘tight quarters’ in the classroom and that students may walk into him occasionally,” the report says.

None of the employees or additional students interviewed as part of the investigation expressed concern about the intern’s conduct.

Jeff Wakefield, assistant director of communications for the University of Vermont, said university representatives are unable to comment on any action that has or has not been taken in a case like this because doing so would be a violation of federal privacy laws.

Chittenden South Supervisory Union Superintendent Elaine Pinckney left for vacation shortly after completing the report and could not be reached for comment.

CSSU Chief Executive Officer Bob Mason, who was not part of the investigating team, said that the sexual harassment statute is not the only avenue for addressing alleged inappropriate behavior by school employees. Mason emphasized he was speaking generally about school employees, and not specifically about the Williston intern.

Teachers’ contracts include procedures for dealing with inappropriate professional behavior, Mason said. For non-union employees, the employee handbook outlines expectations of professional behavior and the process by which compromises of those expectations are to be investigated. Employee training includes, Mason said, distinctions between what the “giver” and “receiver” of touch may find comfortable.

“What’s more important is the receiver,” Mason said. “If the receiver finds it uncomfortable, difficult, unsettling, then it’s uncomfortable, unsettling behavior.”

[Read more…]

Doyenne of decaf and doughnuts bids farewell

By Kim Howard
Observer staff

When Tom Spencer approached the register at Dunkin’ Donuts last Friday morning, manager Christine Jimmo welcomed him by name.

“Tom, your usual?” Jimmo asked him.

“Yep,” Spencer responded. Every day, even when there’s snow like on this April morning, he orders an iced coffee, he said.

When Scott Carter reached the register, Jimmo knew he’d want a cinnamon raisin bagel, not toasted. Carter said he goes to Dunkin’ Donuts only a couple of times a month.

“I think she remembers a lot of people,” Carter said as he left the store.

After a decade serving many residents and local business people their morning coffee at the Dunkin’ Donuts in Simon’s Plaza on U.S. Route 2, Jimmo completed her last day of work on Friday.

“I’m shocked that she’s leaving,” customer Kim Wieck said when she found out “Chris,” as many customers call her, was moving on to a new job. “I don’t know who can follow her. She knows her customers, that’s for sure.”

The line for coffee was unrelenting from 8 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. last Friday, and country music from WOKO 98.9 hummed out of the radio in the background. While some customers grabbed their goods and headed out without comment, a number of them chatted with Jimmo. As various customers left, Jimmo would tell a reporter that the last customer was a state trooper, or that another was a social worker. She didn’t know the names of all of the regulars, but she seemed to know about their lives. She said some of them know about hers, too.

Jimmo was born in Middlebury and raised in Burlington. She’s been married 35 years and has nine children and more than 30 grandchildren. She shy about her age of 65.

“I don’t hide my age from anybody,” she said. “You can hide it all you want, but it don’t change it.”

In her free time, she likes shopping, bingo, taking care of a two-year-old grandson, and attending tractor pulls with her husband. Boston Kreme doughnuts are her favorite; jelly is a close second. She’s not a fan of flavored coffee.

Jimmo was the first employee at the Williston Dunkin’ Donuts when it opened in March 1997, and Jimmo said she’s been manager there for eight years.

As manager, she had to work shifts if an employee didn’t show. Sometimes that meant she’d have as many as five or six weeks without a day off, she said. It was time to move on, so she took a new job with Thomson Prometric, a testing and assessment business in Blair Park.

“I probably would have moved on a long time ago, but I had a lot of really, really nice customers,” Jimmo said.

Customer Jon Ebel, who said he has come for coffee “every morning” since Jimmo started working there, asked Jimmo upon reaching the register Friday morning if she’d already given her employers notice of her impending departure.

“I’m going to miss my customers,” Jimmo told him.

“They’re going to miss you,” he responded.

[Read more…]