July 23, 2019

Recipe Corner (12/23/09)

Crowd pleasers

Dec. 23, 2009

By Ginger Isham

We have a few fish lovers in our large Isham family and they are scattered. Any kind of beef is welcomed, and I guess that is because the family comes from generations of farmers. One of the following recipes is for those who like seafood and the other is for those of you who prefer the beef.


Seafood Casserole

(From Gooseberry Patch “Holidays at Home” cookbook)

1/2 cup each of chopped green pepper, onion and celery

8 ounces mushrooms, sliced

1/2 cup butter (can use less, or use just olive oil or mix the two)

2/3 cup flour

1/2 teaspoon minced garlic

pinch of salt

1/4 teaspoon paprika

dash of red pepper

10-ounce can of cream of shrimp soup

2 cups milk

16 ounces crabmeat

2 pounds raw shrimp, peeled

8-ounce can water chestnuts

2 tablespoons soft butter

1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese

1/2 cup breadcrumbs

Sauté the onion, pepper, celery and mushrooms in butter. Stir in the flour and cook for a minute. Add seasonings and stir in soup and milk. Cook until mixture thickens. Remove from heat. Combine the crabmeat, shrimp and water chestnuts and put in a 2-quart casserole. Pour the sauce over all and sprinkle with mixture of butter, cheese and breadcrumbs. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes. Serves 8.


Meatballs with Cranberry Glaze

2 pounds of very lean ground beef

1 cup crushed corn flakes

1/2 cup parsley

2 eggs

2 tablespoons soy sauce

dash of pepper

1 tablespoon minced onion

1/3 cup ketchup

16-ounce can of jellied cranberry sauce

12 ounces of chili sauce

1 or 2 tablespoons brown sugar

1 teaspoon lemon juice

Mix the beef, eggs, corn flakes, parsley, soy sauce, pepper, onion and ketchup. Gently form into 1-inch balls. Place them into a large, glass, greased baking dish. Heat and stir the rest of the ingredients in a saucepan and pour this sauce over the meatballs. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 to 45 minutes. Serve as an appetizer or on top of rice or noodles. You may substitute another meatball recipe that is a family favorite.


Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah! Happy New Year!


Ginger Isham lives with her husband on a fifth generation family farm on Oak Hill Rd.


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Liberally Speaking (12/23/09)

Despite its flaws, pass the bill

Dec. 23, 2009

By Steve Mount

Democrats are in a fine mess now. The public is watching closely to see what kind of health care reform the Democrats can actually pass. Even with sizable majorities in both houses of Congress, the 60-vote majority needed to stop debate in the Senate has been hard to find.

Part of the problem is one of the Democratic Party’s strengths — the fact that it is a large tent, happy to encompass a wide diversity of opinion and position. This does, however, make the party vulnerable to dissenters.

A major problem recently has been Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson, who threatened to hold up the health care bill unless he managed to have anti-abortion language added. Despite the opposition of many Democrats, Nelson had his way.

Independent Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman is another problem. He was, of course, a long-time Democrat, but defected from the party to run as an independent when primary voters managed to knock him out of the running for his seat as a Democrat in 2006. He has since been something of a curmudgeon, becoming an unknown quantity. Will he stick with his previous statements or will he allow his position to shift with the political winds?

The job of a senator is to take how he feels about the issue at hand and combine that with how his constituents feel and his party’s platform. These three interests are often competing, and for Sens. Lieberman and Nelson, along with some others who have been on the fence, such as Maine Republicans Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, the pull of one interest can sway their statements, their negotiations, their votes.

The problem, from my perspective, is when things are this close (close, of course, being a relative term, since there are more than enough votes for the full-on health care reform bill, complete with consumer protections and a public option — the closeness is in that insane cloture vote), the vote of one senator can trump what’s right, what’s best for the country.

I understand former Gov. Howard Dean’s frustration, and his call for the health care bill, in its current stripped-down form, to be defeated by those who support true reform. I listened to his arguments with a wide-open mind. His suggestion is to kill the bill and use the reconciliation process, a special process for budget bills, which many have argued the health care bill can reasonably be considered, to pass something closer to what the House passed in November.

The biggest problem Dean has with the current bill is that it does nothing to combat the monopoly that the insurance industry has over the health care industry. In fact, it plays into the insurance industry’s hands by requiring the uninsured to buy insurance or face fines. The uninsured cannot choose a government-run plan, because there isn’t one. The insurance industry loves this bill. The people want real choices, Dean says, and with this bill there are no choices.

He feels the real reforms in the bill, such as the elimination of pre-existing conditions, funding for wellness and prevention programs and support for community health care centers, should be pulled out, placed in a separate bill and passed on their own.

He also must feel, considering his former job as chairman of the Democratic National Committee, that the current bill will be a blow to Democrats in the 2010 elections — given the majorities Democrats have, we should be able to accomplish more. Will the voters give the Democrats another chance to get the work of government done?

Despite my deep respect for Gov. Dean, and the appeal of his suggestion, I don’t think Democrats should take the advice. The current bill is sorely lacking in many areas, but one thing is agreed upon by all left-wing commentators: This bill, as it is now, will save lives. Yes, it will add undeserved profit to the insurance industry; but in the end, people who otherwise would have died will live.

We can blame many, perhaps even most, of the problems with the bill on the necessity to accommodate the single, contrarian senator. But despite that, we do have a bill that does something substantive, something real and good. It gives the Democrats something to hang their hats on in 2010, even if it is not what all of us would have liked to see.

The bill should be supported, it should be passed, it should become law.


Steve Mount has been a Williston resident since 1996. He is a software engineer at GE Healthcare and is devoted to his family, his country and his Constitution. You can reach Steve at steve@saltyrain.com or read his blog at http://saltyrain.com/ls.


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Right to the Point (12/23/09)


Dec. 23, 2009

By Mike Benevento

Published in 1949, George Orwell’s “1984” foretold of a dystopian world that could exist in 1984 if nations kept marching toward ever-increasing centralized government control. In the novel, an oppressive regime — led by Big Brother — asserts complete dominance over its citizens. Protagonist Winston Smith vainly attempts to break free of the totalitarian government’s control but the all-knowing state wins out in the end.

Orwell did not write the tale as a prediction of the future. For him, the world of 1984 could possibly exist if the evil of the 1940s — especially in the repressive Soviet Union — was allowed to grow unchecked.

Along the same line, let’s take a peak at the United States 50 years after 1984 to see what the future may hold for our country — if things keep progressing as they have been. Although a multitude of changes are coming, I’ll concentrate on only a few due to column constraints.

By 2034, increased spiritual awareness, hybrid automobiles, judicial activism, legalized marijuana, sky-high national debt, rising economic and military threats by China, expensive college education, open borders and overcrowded prisons will be commonplace and easily acceptable to the public.

It took until around 2020, but the tech-savvy American public finally awoke to the true dangers of radiation. Oh, Americans already knew about the harmful effects of nuclear and solar radiation. But it took longer to comprehend the impact of radiation from cell phones, wireless Internet communications and cordless phones. When the medical community finally proved beyond any doubt their connection to the massive increase in brain tumors, the public demanded new technologies that minimized their damage.

In 2034, the United States no longer treats terrorists as ordinary criminals. The kid gloves came off after nuclear weapons from Pakistan and Iran fell into the wrong hands. When major cities in the United States suffered nuclear and dirty bomb attacks, the federal government reversed the Obama administration’s strategy of assigning enemy combatants the same rights as ordinary American citizens.

Health care nationalization started in December 2009, when Democrats passed comprehensive health care reform. The nation’s health care system no longer is the envy of the world. Despite the bureaucrats’ best effort, socialized medicine continues to deteriorate under centralized command. As predicted, higher prices, waiting lists, long lines and rationing exist for many health services.

If that was not insulting enough, allegedly in an effort to stem health care costs, the federal government — just like Big Brother — mandates peoples’ actions. Consumption of meat, soda, fast food and junk food are highly discouraged by government’s sin taxes on these unhealthy food choices.

Note: Given America’s culture of death, not surprisingly the only “health care” services not in short supply are abortion and euthanasia. No waiting lists, no rationing, no restrictions whatsoever. (The government naturally gravitated toward those two tools as an excellent way to optimize the size of the population.)

By 2034, Medicare and Social Security expenditures have seriously drained the federal government’s coffers. Without any significant changes, the two will continue to grow dramatically until they bankrupt the country. As more people retire, the equation becomes even more out of balance. Privatization — even if only partially — is finally considered by Washington as one of the solutions.

By 2034, the United States and most all other nations are slouching toward a New World Order. Under this organization, government dominance of the economy is geared for economic equality for all — essentially a redistribution of wealth. Over the years, the United States has willingly sacrificed its sovereignty until it now retains little authority over even its own destiny. The One World Government oversees that.

Climate justice actions cause some of the largest drags on the United States economy during 2034. Americans spend almost 2 percent of their income to help reduce carbon emissions throughout the world. Surprisingly, Americans find themselves trapped by treaties signed 20 years earlier, when activists declared global warming was a manmade phenomenon.

Born out of that consensus, reparations and mitigation strategies have an enormous negative impact on the economy. The developing nations demanded reparations from the United States and other “rich” nations because they were “affected” by “manmade” warming.

Earth’s inhabitants eventually realized that the planet naturally warms and cools over time and the sun’s radiation has the greatest impact on temperature changes. Only then did Americans discover that one of the key goals of the global warming crowd is transferring wealth from rich nations to poor ones under the guise of fighting climate change.

Big Brother will be quite proud.


Michael Benevento is a former Air Force fighter jet weapon systems officer. He has a bachelor’s degree in Military History and a master’s in International Relations. Mike resides in Williston with his wife Kristine and their two sons, Matthew and Calvin.


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Letters to the Editor (12/23/09)

Dec. 23, 2009


Act wisely with lead

Just before my first birthday, my parents bought their first home: an 850-square-foot, two-bedroom, eight-window house. And it was a stretch for them.

Several years later, my sister came along and my bedroom became ours. I slept next to the window and she slept opposite me. At some point in elementary school we had our usual physicals, complete with blood tests, and my parents learned that both of us had dangerous levels of lead in our blood. My levels, sleeping next to the window with the chipping paint, were significantly higher than my sister’s.

My parents promptly had all the windows removed and replaced with new, lead free ones. Only eight windows, but I’m sure it was still a stretch.

The neighbors of Old Creamery Road got their test results back recently. And there’s lead in the local stream at levels dangerous for both livestock and you and me to drink. The samples taken closest to the North Country Sportsman’s Club are highest.

Did my parents have absolute proof that the windows were the problem? No. But they acted because the health and safety of their girls were in danger. They set a good example for the Sportsman’s Club. Where there’s a risk to public health and you have an opportunity to take steps to minimize that risk, you do so with haste.

It is both the child in me who remembers my parents’ frantic worry and the environmentalist in me who has committed to a toxin-free world who urge the Sportsman’s Club to take action, clean up and stop using lead shot.

Jessica Edgerly, Community Organizer, Toxics Action Center


Thanks for your prayer cloths

Your generous coverage of project Pocket Prayer Cloths for Our Troops (“Knitting project ties citizens to soldiers,” Oct. 1) was like a pebble tossed into a placid pond … the ripple reached far and wide.

Seventy-seven identified knitters from Chittenden County, south to Brattleboro and north to Orleans in Vermont, some in Florida, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Missouri and two visitors to Vermont (one from Scotland, one from England) either knit or crocheted prayer cloths. Their work and the work of 50 anonymous donations of finished cloths enabled us to deliver over 2,300 prayer cloths to Daneen Roy, Family Readiness Center coordinator at the Vermont National Guard.

Thanks for your help.

Patricia G. Coleman, Our Lady of Mount Carmel Faith in Action Group, Charlotte


[Read more…]

Guest Column (12/23/09)

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays — It’s the season of the bleeding heart

Dec. 23, 2009

By Edwin Cooney

About 10 days ago, someone sent me an e-mail (complete with attachment) showing Christmas trees with the insistence that “… These are Christmas trees, not Hanukkah Bushes, Holiday Trees or Allah Plants. These are Christmas Trees.”

OK, OK already — I hear you! I get it that you want to be wished a Merry Christmas. OK, “Merry Christmas” and may you have many more merry Christmases with trees and nativity scenes and Santa Clauses and all that good stuff! So, why all the fuss?

The answer is simple. Some politically-oriented “Christmas traditionalists,” convinced by those who insist that they hate “liberal victim-hood,” believe that Christmas has become the victim of deadly attack by left wing socialist secularists — of course. Hence, Christmas must be saved.

As for who will save Christmas? Why, patriotic Americans, that’s who! I know George Washington, Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson resisted celebrating Christmas back in the 18th century, seeing it as a “bloody British” holiday, but many facts are disconcerting. Even though Washington, Franklin and Jefferson didn’t much like Christmas, they can still be considered true patriots. They might even have preferred to wish you “happy holidays!”

The surface issue is, of course, old-fashioned religion, but the cause is good old-fashioned merchandising. Nothing wrong with it; it’s as genuinely American as apple or cherry pie. The sad part about it, however, is that it’s a culture war at Christmas time — nothing more! A “Merry Christmas wish” is good. A “Happy Holidays wish” is pretty close to evil.

Tell me true now: When you receive a Christmas greeting from JCPenney, Nordstrom, Chevron or your bank, don’t you feel warm and cuddly all over?

If someone wishes you “Merry Christmas” and someone else wishes you “Happy Holidays,” does either wish to do damage to your personal dignity, political freedom or religious beliefs? Are you incapable of having a Merry Christmas during your Happy Holidays?

Emotionally, I’m a traditionalist. I love Christmas and leave it to my sensibilities as to what degree I allow commercialism to affect me. I love Baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the Three Wise Men and “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” (my favorite Christmas carol alongside “Joy to the World” and “O Holy Night”). I love the Christmas tree, the cookies and the Christmas punch. (Here, you can have my eggnog — drink all the eggnog you want — I’ll stick with the brandy.) I love Santa Claus, hugs and other possibilities under the mistletoe, but I don’t see the preservation of Christmas as a moral issue. Nor indeed should it be a political one.

Of course, no American institution as popular and profitable as Christmas can be entirely exempt from politics. However, as one who loves politics and many politicians, I’d like to see politicians and talk show hosts both on the right and the left take the season off. They should be home with their families generously imbibing and distributing Christmas and/or holiday cheer. Christmas is, after all, the season of the bleeding heart. To celebrate the Christmas season or holiday time is a free choice. I know government subsidizes Christmas by paying workers even when they’re on holiday, but shucks, private CEOs also get paid for doing exactly nothing on both Christmas and New Year’s Day.

Christmas is a season to give and to receive in joy, not in political resentment. (I know political resentment is a “joy” to both the left and the right, but some joys are more appropriate than others depending on the season). Christmas or holiday season is a time for love and laughter. If someone wants to refer to his or her tree as a Christmas tree, or as an Allah Tree or a Hanukkah Bush, how does that lessen the value of what I call my tree?

If Uncle Henry wants to call his evergreen tree his “Drinking Tree,” with good cheer, let him. Even better, join him under his “Drinking Tree” and have a hot chocolate if that’s what you want.

Let this holiday season be about goodwill and good wishes. Let it be about the comfort and satisfaction of others. Never mind either Christmas commercialism or religious pomposity. Allow others to be as secular or as religious as they choose. Forget about others’ attitudes in comparison to your own. Cheer their hopes, especially when their hopes are about them and not in the least about you. If someone wants to celebrate another religion or no religion, offer him or her your blessing.

How about this idea for a Christmas or holiday project: Offer everyone around you, regardless of their political or spiritual faith, the most splendid gift within your power to grant them. Extend to them and expect them to extend to you the willingness to be your friend.


Edwin Cooney is a national political and historical columnist.


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Board makes cuts in CVU budget (12/23/09)

Taxes likely to increase

Dec. 23, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

The Champlain Valley Union High School Board agreed Monday to reduce the school’s proposed budget by more than $600,000, ensuring several services — including transportation and the school’s learning center — will see substantial cuts next year.

The board expressed support for a 1.75 percent increase over the current budget, bringing next year’s proposed CVU budget to $21.39 million. The board may agree to a smaller increase next month depending on further cuts the administration may propose.

“It’s taken a good, considerable effort to get to that number,” board chairwoman Jeanne Jensen said.

While the budget increase is less than originally presented, property taxes will likely climb next year. Chittenden South Supervisory Union Chief Operations Officer Bob Mason said the Vermont Tax Commissioner’s estimate for the state property tax rate, which funds education, for next year is a 2.5 percent increase over the current rate. The proposed increase in the CVU budget would add to the tax rate percentage, he said.

Mason told the board the tax rate is not set in stone, as it will not be voted on by the state Legislature until early next year.

To alleviate the tax rate, the board is considering allocating money from the school’s reserve fund, typically used for emergency purposes. The board will have more than $500,000 in the reserve fund beginning next year, and members discussed using $225,000 of that to minimize the tax increase.

If the board agrees to use money from the reserve fund, the property tax rate increase would be roughly 3.5 percent when combined with the state’s estimates. According to Mason, taxes on a $200,000 home would increase by $84.

That number does not include any tax increases from the Williston School District budget or final numbers from the Common Level of Appraisal, an equation used by the state to equalize the values of homes across Vermont for school funding purposes. Mason said after the CVU School Board meeting that it’s safe to say the increase will continue to climb.

Board members said they were disappointed to hear about the property tax increase and the cuts necessary to minimize that increase. CVU’s baseline budget — the cost of opening the doors next year if no services are added — was nearly a 4 percent increase due to a number of factors. New transportation and technology assessment values at the CSSU level hit the high school particularly hard, adding more than $1 million in expenses.

“I do feel we got hammered this year,” Jensen said of the assessment changes.

Principal Sean McMannon has proposed a number of cuts at the high school. They include cuts in transportation, a one-year extension for replacements of technology equipment and reductions in the school’s learning center. Athletics and co-curricular activities will also see reductions. McMannon warned the board Monday that any further cuts could negatively affect essential services.

But the board asked McMannon to look for $50,000 more in cuts to alleviate the tax increase. He plans to present more information next month.


Board members react

Board member Jeff Parker said he was torn looking at the proposed cuts in services at CVU and the property tax increase.

“I really don’t know if I can sell (the budget),” Parker said. “But I can’t sell shorting the kids.”

Joan Lenes, another board member, said she believed voters would support a higher budget increase than 1.75 percent. Even though it’s been a tough year for many citizens, she said CVU is a stabilizing force for many.

“This school is the soul of the community in many ways,” Lenes said.

Board member Mike Bissonette, on the other hand, supported additional cuts. High numbers of unemployment and high taxes are hitting residents particularly hard this year, he said.

“We need to try to give our taxpayers a break,” Bissonette said.

The CVU School Board is set to vote next month on the final budget that will be brought to voters in March. The board’s next meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 11 at CVU.

[Read more…]

Food Shelf prepares for move (12/23/09)

Dec. 23, 2009

The Williston Community Food Shelf will complete its move from Maple Tree Place to the Taft Farm Village Center the first weekend in January, immediately following the New Year’s holiday. As a result, the Food Shelf will shut its doors for two days next week.

On Thursday, Dec. 31 and Saturday, Jan. 2, the Food Shelf will be closed. It will be open on Tuesday, Dec. 29, but only pre-packaged bags will be available as organizers pack up for the move.

Food Shelf officials plan to move all shelves and equipment the weekend of Jan. 2. A reopening is scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 5. The Food Shelf’s new location will be on the first floor of the three-story office building on Cornerstone Drive, at 300 Cornerstone Drive, Suite 115.

Once it reopens, the Food Shelf will resume its normal schedule of 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Thursdays and Saturdays.

The Food Shelf also continues to offer new books from the Children’s Literacy Foundation. The hope is that children will be able to receive the books as gifts during the holiday season. The Food Shelf received 250 books last week, thanks in part to Swift House students at Williston Central School.

Student Josh Klein, along with his mother Abby, organized a fund drive to pay for the donation of books. Some of the books will likely be available after the holiday season, as well.


— Tim Simard, Observer staff


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Boulevard chosen for Circ (12/23/09)

Williston segment: Four lanes, 40 mph speed limit

Dec. 23, 2009

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

Transportation officials have picked a lower-speed, less noisy alternative for the Circumferential Highway in Williston.

Called the “Circ A/B Boulevard,” the design differs markedly from the originally proposed project, a four-lane, limited-access highway from Interstate 89 in Williston to Vermont 117 in Essex Junction. It would have featured interchanges, a broad, grassy medium and a 50 mph speed limit.

The new plan is for a four-lane boulevard divided by a raised concrete median. The road would have at-grade, signalized intersections and a 40 mph speed limit.

The boulevard, one of numerous options outlined in the draft Environmental Impact Statement released more than two years ago, was chosen mainly to reduce the impact on wetlands, said Ken Robie, project manager with the Vermont Agency of Transportation.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers have expressed concerns about the Circ’s effect on environmentally sensitive areas, particular the forested wetland north of Mountain View Road.

The boulevard alternative directly impacts 22 acres of wetland, about 12 acres less than the original design. Less wetland is affected because of the boulevard’s smaller footprint and because the highway alignment has been shifted eastward, Robie said.

The boulevard’s lower speeds will create less noise, a concern for homeowners in the nearby Brennan Woods and South Ridge subdivisions.

“The faster you go, the more noise you make,” Robie said.

The option is similar to what the Williston Selectboard had sought, although it wanted interchanges at U.S. 2 and Mountain View Road rather than signalized intersections. Robie said interchanges would have had a greater impact on wetlands and been more costly.

The Circumferential Highway as first proposed decades ago was a 16-mile suburban bypass running from Williston to Colchester. Only the middle portion in Essex has been constructed.

Work was set to begin on the Williston segment in 2004. But environmentalists sued to stop construction, arguing that an environmental study completed in the 1980s was out of date. A federal judge’s ruling forced the state to complete a new Environmental Impact Statement that looked at dozens of alternatives. Among the options considered was a plan to widen Vermont 2A rather than build a new highway.

Sandra Levine, senior attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation, offered muted praise for the boulevard alternative.

“I would say we’re pleased the transportation agencies have abandoned the original design for the Circumferential Highway,” she said. “It’s still unclear that an entirely new road is justified.”

Environmental groups have long argued that the Circ would encourage sprawl and fail to speed traffic. Levine noted that the state’s own study shows that the new highway will reduce travel time between Williston and Essex by an average of just 4 minutes.

Environmental groups say unlike the A/B route, the wetland impact of widening Vermont 2A would be negligible. But state and federal highway officials argue that it is impractical — or downright impossible — to widen 2A.

The project would involve acquiring pieces of dozens of properties and overcoming the objections of the town of Williston and the village of Essex Junction. The opposition in Essex Junction is particularly problematic because the village controls its stretch of 2A. It would take an act of the state Legislature to trump the village’s opposition, which transportation officials think is unlikely.

Meanwhile, it is unclear if the latest alternative will be accepted by the Army Corps of Engineers or environmental groups.

The Army Corps is still considering whether the Circ meets federal Clean Water Act standards, under which highways can be permitted only when they are the “least environmentally damaging practical alternative.” Officials at the Army Corp’s office in Essex did not immediately return a telephone message.

State and federal transportation officials have said they anticipate further appeals by environmental groups that could again delay construction — even if the Circ wins all required permits. Levine was noncommittal about whether the latest design would pass muster with the Conservation Law Foundation. She said she first wants to see the rationale for choosing the boulevard over other designs.

It will be at least two years before any asphalt is laid on the Williston segment of the Circ, Robie said. Even if federal agencies approve the project, new or amended state and local permits will be needed. Then engineering work and detailed plans have to be completed.

The choice of a preferred alternative isn’t even the last word from state and federal highway officials. A final Environmental Impact Statement is expected early in 2010 spelling out the rationale for choosing a boulevard, Robie said. Then the Army Corps must approve the project before the Federal Highway Administration can issue a record of decision that clears the way for federal funding.

“There’s been no official decision yet,” Robie said. “Everything is still up in the air as far as final approvals.”

[Read more…]

Officials: Support staff reduces costs (12/23/09)

Dec. 23, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

In recent School Board budget meetings, parents and community members have asked the same question: Does Williston have too much support staff?

At the Dec. 15 budget forum, parent and South Burlington kindergarten teacher Abby Klein questioned the necessity of teacher assistants in Williston. At a November budget meeting, questions were raised in regards to the high number of paraeducators within the school district. Williston employs 69 full- and part-time paraeducators and 21 teacher assistants. While other school districts of comparative size have fewer support staff, the Williston administration defends its numbers and say one of the reasons Williston’s per pupil costs remain lower than similar districts is because of the support staff.

“We offer a lot of education for the dollar,” District Principal Walter Nardelli said at last week’s budget forum.

The support staff fulfills a variety of responsibilities, ranging from instructing students in one-on-one settings to performing clerical work.

Even so, many school districts are reducing the staffing levels of paraeducators, and some don’t even have teacher assistants, according to Karin Edwards, director of student support with the Vermont Department of Education. Edwards said the reductions are typically made to save money in the school budgets.

Schools in Rutland and in Lamoille County, for instance, have resorted to classroom and special education teachers sharing teaching duties, thereby eliminating the need for some paraeducators.

“There’s a real growing awareness that we have too many paraprofessionals out there,” Edwards said, adding that Vermont has one of the highest rates in the country of paraeducator employment.


By the numbers

In Williston, paraeducators work within the classroom and individually with special education students, according to Bob Mason, Chittenden South Supervisory Union chief operations officer. Each teaching team, which spans four grades, has two or three paraeducators. Other paraeducators work in the district’s math and language labs.

Paraprofessional salaries and benefits cost $1.2 million and make up 7 percent of the school’s annual budget. Only full-time paraeducators receive benefits. The 21 teacher assistant salaries in Williston make up a little less than 2 percent of the budget, or roughly $282,000. Salaries and benefits for Williston’s 53 classroom teachers make up more than $11 million of the $16.23 million budget.

Nardelli said the high number of support staff is actually more cost efficient for education. According to cost per pupil figures provided by the Department of Education, it costs $12,220 each year to educate one student in Williston. That’s lower than all other elementary and middle schools in CSSU.

Compared to school districts of similar size, Williston’s per pupil costs also remain lower. In South Burlington, it costs $13,500 to educate a student; Essex Junction’s costs are $12,615 per student. Both school districts have lower numbers of paraprofessionals than Williston at the pre-kindergarten through eighth grade level: 47 paraeducators work in South Burlington and 36 work in Essex Junction, both full-time and part-time.

Nardelli attributed Williston’s lower cost-per-pupil figures to the district’s larger number of support staff. He explained in a recent interview that Williston’s house system gives the district a different education model than most other schools — one that actually promotes the use of a larger number of support staff.

Edwards, of the state’s Department of Education, confirmed Nardelli’s position.

Calling Williston a “decentralized model,” Nardelli said the district has fewer administrators and teachers than typical schools of its size. Consequently, class sizes are high compared to similar districts — typically 22 to 25 students per teacher depending on the house — while adhering to state standards of 25 students per classroom.

Paraeducators and teacher assistants are vital in helping teachers instruct students and allow for more one-on-one learning and extra help, Nardelli explained. Many paraeducators, in particular, work in special education to aid students on individualized education programs and help students improve their New England Common Assessment Program test scores.

“We have a very cost-efficient model here,” Nardelli said.

Nardelli admitted the added support staff is a tradeoff for having fewer teachers, but “we want our resources at the student level,” he said.

Employing more support staff than teachers is cheaper, as well, Nardelli argued. He said the salaries of two paraeducators and one teacher assistant equals the cost of one teacher with benefits. The district also receives state aid for special education paraprofessionals. For those that spend one-on-one time with students in special education programs, more than 50 percent of their time is reimbursable through state aid.

Paraeducators and teacher assistants in Williston are mainly college-educated and many are certified teachers, Nardelli said. For some with those qualifications, it’s a way to “get a foot in the door” for a teaching position in Williston or CSSU, he added.



Officials in South Burlington and Essex Junction say they’ve made efforts to reduce reliance on paraeducators. Amadee Denton, fiscal coordinator with South Burlington, said her district has reduced seven paraeducator positions in the past several years due to budget concerns.

Essex Junction eliminated four positions in the last four years because of budget constraints, and may cut more, according to Erin Maguire, executive director of student support services with Chittenden Central Supervisory Union.

“I continue to contemplate whether we need to look at that again,” Maguire said.

During last year’s school budget discussions in Williston, when the district needed to make significant cuts, one teacher assistant and two paraeducators positions were cut. The School Board has not discussed the possibility of staffing cuts this year, as the district’s proposed budget increase, at 1.05 percent, is lower than in previous years.

Nardelli has praised the hard work of paraprofessionals and teacher assistants in Williston during many board meetings this year and said their efforts in the schools only helps.

“They are integral in the education of our students,” Nardelli said. “They allow our teachers to do what they do.”


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War hits home for Williston family (12/23/09)

Father will be deployed to Afghanistan

Dec. 23, 2009

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

When your spouse is a soldier soon leaving for Afghanistan, there is a time to worry and a time to put it out of your mind. On the cusp of Christmas, Jennifer Lunna for now has picked the latter.

“You know, I’m really not thinking about it,” she said. “I’m thinking about the holidays and getting through that. The emotions are really like a raw nerve, so we haven’t talked about it as a family.”

Her husband, Sgt. Maj. Stephen Lunna, will depart next month for his second deployment to Afghanistan.

The couple and their two children, Cassandra, 13, and Shania, 10, talked about how they will cope with his yearlong absence during an interview Friday at their Williston home.

The kids sprawled on the couch while Zorah and Thunder, their Labrador retrievers, curled up on the floor nearby. (Two other children from Jennifer’s prior marriage, Sierra and Veronica, were not present.)

Prior experience — Stephen served in Afghanistan during an 18-month deployment in 2005-06 — and two years advance notice this time have made preparations for the current assignment a little easier, the couple said. Still, there’s nothing routine about heading to a war zone and leaving your family behind.

“I’m not as stressed about this one as I was the first one,” Stephen said. “I feel confident of Jennifer’s ability to handle anything and everything that comes up.”

But he acknowledged that he’s been trying to tie up loose ends — will the snowplowing service clear the driveway? Does she have the plumber’s number? — before he leaves.

Stephen Lunna is among the roughly 1,500 Vermont National Guard members headed to Afghanistan, the largest deployment since World War II and one that includes 10 soldiers from Williston. He is scheduled to depart for training Jan. 10 before heading overseas.

Like Lunna, many of his fellow soldiers have been there before. At least half of Vermont National Guard members going to or already in Afghanistan are on their second deployment, said Capt. Kate Irish, a Guard spokeswoman.

Circumstances have changed for the better since Stephen’s first deployment. Back then, they lived in Jeffersonville, an isolated town that was a long way from stores and services.

They had a dial-up Internet connection, so sending e-mail was problematic. Stephen instead stayed in touch by using a cheap cell phone.

The couple agreed in advance that he would tell Jennifer everything, leaving no room for her imagination to roam. But she avoided watching television news and shielded the children from alarming war reports.

“It was easier last time because I kind of cocooned them,” she said.” I’ll try the best I can (this time), but they’re more aware of things.”

This deployment will be eased by the family’s more central location and increased support services for military families.

For example, Cassandra and Shania are in a group for military children at Williston Central School. Shania said she is not sure talking about her dad’s military service with other kids helps.

“It makes me think about it more,” she said softly. “I get scared.”

During the last deployment, the couple tried to help their young children by hanging up a map of Afghanistan to show them where dad was stationed. They also sent a package filled with their toys to Afghan children.

With another deployment looming, Jennifer said the children have “been a little on edge, both around each other and with us.”

The family is bracing for the inevitable disruption when Stephen leaves. Jennifer has told her boss that she can no longer work the late shift at her job as an X-ray technologist at Northwest Medical Center in St. Albans.

Shania noted that when she and her sister miss the after-school bus, they will no longer be able to bum a ride from dad, who normally works across the street at the Williston Armory. Even the dogs’ routine will change: Jennifer won’t let them hop into bed before she rises in the morning, as Stephen does.

Barbara Purinton, an assistant with the Family Readiness Program at the Williston Armory, said many military families face similar challenges. In addition to what she hears from soldiers through her job, Purinton has firsthand experience: Both her daughter, Caitlin, and her husband, Charles, have been deployed overseas. Caitlin was in Kuwait from 2004-05 and Charles was in Iraq from 2005-06.

Prior deployments can help, Purinton said, but knowing what to expect can also create unhappy anticipation.

“In a way, it’s easier because you know what needs to be done to be ready,” she said. “But it’s harder because you know how long it is and how hard it is when they are away from home.”

Unlike the many part-time Guard members being deployed, Lunna, 50, had made the military his career. A towering man with the requisite closed-cropped hair, he has served in the Vermont Army National Guard for 27 years, rising to the highest enlisted rank.

He comes from a long line of military members. His father, mother and uncle all served during World War II. His sister and cousin were enlisted during the Vietnam era. Five family members now serve in the Vermont National Guard.

Stephen said when he leaves he will most miss the little things about family life, such as watching television together and going to the kids’ soccer games. Now that they have high-speed Internet service at home, he plans to stay in touch via online video transmitted between his laptop and the computer back home.

The couple’s effort to keep their sense of humor despite having their life upended came into sharp focus as they talked about the sacrifices of military families.

“All the hard work is with Jennifer,” Stephen said. “I leave and I have everything taken care of for me. Someone feeds me, someone clothes me, someone washes my clothes for me.”

“He’s a little baby!” his wife interjected, laughing.

“She is now a single parent having to deal with twice as much of the effort,” Stephen continued. “So it’s all her. The families are the ones that have to work hard when we deploy.”


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