April 19, 2018

Despite efforts, schools struggle with achievement gap (2/18/10)

Feb. 18, 2010

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

It’s a problem that’s not going away.


    File photo
Tessa Tomasi, 11, pores over her test booklet while taking the statewide NECAP (New England Common Assessment Program) test at Williston Central School in 2006.

Williston’s economically disadvantaged and special needs students continue to struggle in key areas, as evidenced by yearly standardized test results. In recent years, the school district initiated programs to close the achievement gap between the student subgroups and their peers, but exam scores show little change.

Two weeks ago, the Vermont Department of Education released the fall 2009 New England Common Assessment Program scores. While Williston as a whole tested higher than the state average, it’s subgroups did not.

School district administrators reacted with disappointment to the news the achievement gap continues to remain. While certain individual students improved their scores from previous years, others did not or fell behind, said District Principal Walter Nardelli.

“The only thing I can say is that this is not easy work,” Nardelli said. “We would like to make some kind of improvement to show people we’re working on this and we’re serious about it.”

As required by the federal No Child Left Behind act, students in grades three through eight and grade 11 are required to take the New England Common Assessment Program tests, commonly referred to as NECAPs. The exams assess student proficiency in reading, math and writing. The tests occur each fall. Separate NECAP science exams take place in the spring. 

Not only do schools receive individual student results, but also obtain results based on key student groups.

According to the NECAP exams results, 48 percent of economically disadvantaged students tested proficient or higher in reading and 44 percent did so in math. The results represent a drop of 6 percentage points for reading and 3 percentage points for math compared to 2008 scores. Also, results are lower than state averages for the same subgroup.

In the area of special education, 25 percent of students tested proficient or higher in reading and 26 percent did so in math. Reading scores increased by 4 percentage points while math scores dropped by 1 percentage point from 2008. Results remain similar to state averages.

Ongoing problem

Since 2005, the Williston School District has failed to meet guidelines for certain student subgroups required by No Child Left Behind. The NECAPs determine whether a school satisfies these guidelines, known as Adequate Yearly Progress.

Last year, Williston failed AYP in reading and math for economically disadvantaged students on free and reduced lunch programs, as well as students on special education programs. As a result, the Department of Education deemed Williston a district needing corrective action. The department directed more funds and resources to the district. Williston started monitoring struggling students on a weekly basis to make sure they didn’t fall behind on reading and math.

Also, Williston began offering supplemental services outside of the schools for key students. As mandated by the state, the district now pays for student help at learning centers, such as the Stern Center for Language & Learning.

With the extra help the district receives, administrators believe improvements occurred despite the test results. Considering some individual student advancements, Nardelli hopes the district may finally meet AYP in reading or math. Last year, the district missed AYP by four students, he said.

“We’re really optimistic that we made some good progress,” Nardelli said.

While Williston’s scores in these subgroups remained similar to previous years or dropped slightly, it’s too early to tell if the district failed AYP for a fifth year, according to Gail Taylor, director for standards and assessments at the Department of Education.

“Of course, individual students improve, but when you look at the full number, it’s how many improved and how many did not,” Taylor said.

Taylor said AYP results for the fall 2009 exams would be ready by April.


With Williston waiting to hear about AYP results, Nardelli said the district continues to work with struggling students. Three full-time staff members serve as reading recovery specialists and plans include revamping the math program, including the purchase of new materials. A math recovery specialist will also be added.

“We’ve got more in place now helping with reading and math than we’ve ever had before,” Nardelli said.

Even as test results remain the same and even decline in some cases, the district’s focus stays unchanged.

“We want to have 100 percent of students test proficient or higher, but 100 percent is not an easy target to hit,” Nardelli said.


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Everyday Gourmet (2/18/10)

Lighten It Up

Feb. 18, 2010

By Kim Dannies

The light is changing and we are finally on the other side of winter. While there are still plenty of cold weather-comfort meals ahead, this is a great time to lighten up traditional recipes.

I experimented with my usual lasagna recipe on Super Bowl Sunday, and was amazed that reducing the fat and spiking the flavor made for a new family favorite. I combined sautéed onions, non-fat cottage cheese, creamy goat cheese, and egg whites to substitute for traditional ricotta cheese. I added a generous layer of wilted baby spinach. I cut the amount of ground beef in half and sautéed it in chunks, rather than pellets. Finally, I topped the lasagna with a combination of sharp Cheddar and Fontina cheeses rather than bland mozzarella. The result was insanely good and re-heated in the microwave beautifully.

Spinach & Goat Cheese Lasagna

Chop 2 medium onions and sauté for 15 minutes. In a prep bowl combine 2 cups non-fat cottage cheese, 4 ounces creamy goat cheese, 2 egg whites, and 6-minced garlic cloves. Add the onions and season the mixture, to taste, with kosher salt and pepper.

Prep: 18 ounces commercial marinara sauce; 8 ounces of burger, cooked chunk-style, drained; 6 standard lasagna noodles, boiled 8 minutes, drained; 3-4 handfuls of baby spinach, wilted; 1 cup, each, of shredded sharp Cheddar and Fontina cheeses.

In a 7”X11” baking dish coat the bottom with 6 ounces of the marinara sauce. Layer three lasagna noodles; spread half of the goat cheese mixture over the pasta, 6 ounces of marinara sauce, and all of the wilted spinach. Layer 3 remaining lasagna noodles. Spread the remainder of the goat cheese mixture over the pasta. Scatter the burger chunks and drizzle remaining marinara sauce all over. Top with shredded Cheddar and Fontina cheeses.

Cover lightly with foil and bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes or until cheese is bubbling.

Before serving, rest the lasagna for 5 minutes. Serves 6.

Kim Dannies is a graduate of La Varenne Cooking School in France.  She lives in Williston with her husband, Jeff; they have three college-aged daughters who come and go. For archived Everyday Gourmet columns go to kimdannies.com.


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Little Details (2/18/10)

Telephone scammers, slammers and crammers

Feb. 18, 2010

By katherine Bielawa Stamper

One of my less glamorous jobs involved answering a hotline at the Vermont Department of Public Service. From 7:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., five days a week, I investigated consumer complaints regarding utilities.

Unless you live off the grid, your utility is typically a provider of last resort. You can’t choose who delivers electricity, water or natural gas to your home. My tenure at the department precluded competition in telephone and cable service.

Customer complaints varied. Unresolved issues regarding billing, line extensions – expanding service to new construction – and quality of service were common. 

I remember a transplant from a major metropolitan area screaming into the phone because she couldn’t get cable television at her newly built home, carved into a Vermont mountainside at the end of a dirt road. Farmers, concerned about stray voltage stressing their cows, and a woman fearing electro magnetic fields emanating from the streetlight outside her window were among the folks I spoke with. Many callers faced utility shut-offs due to inability to pay. Negotiating reasonable payment plans consumed much of my time.  Whatever the issue, we were expected to treat each caller respectfully.

State legislators sometimes called on their constituents’ behalf.  One representative implored me to “get this constituent off my back”.

Mike Obuchowski, then Speaker of the Vermont House of Representatives, was a staunch advocate for folks he represented.  He always asked me to follow-up with his constituent and him. I remember a lovely older woman from Obuchowski’s district who called and said, “Mikey told me to call you.  He said you could help me.”  I helped Charlotte resolve a billing problem.

Mid-level utility staffers I negotiated with seemed like honest folks trying to earn an honest living.  Witnessing scams including “slamming”– unauthorized switching of long distance providers, “cramming”– unauthorized charge additions to bills, and the fall-out of exorbitantly priced 900 numbers, left me a little jaded regarding certain players in the telecommunications industry.

I scrutinize utility bills before paying and question seemingly inappropriate charges. A recent telephone bill precipitated a call to Fairpoint Communications, provider of my landline services.

After dialing the customer service phone number, I ignored invitations to visit their Web site, preferring to talk with a human.  Insisting on human contact, I hope, saves a few jobs that might otherwise be lost to “automation.”

I questioned a $0.75 charge for a supposed three-way call made at 6:05 a.m. on a Monday morning, stating no one in my family made such a call. Fairpoint promptly removed the charges.

Another more mysterious charge appeared for $7.58 from Teleseven LLC. The Fairpoint staffer was unauthorized to remove the charge. She provided me the toll-free number for ILD Teleservices, a third-party biller.

Slipping on my consumer advocate hat, I asked the Fairpointer, “Are you getting many calls about this company?”

“Yes, we’re seeing a lot of complaints about unauthorized charges from them,” she acknowledged.

I called the number for ILD Teleservices and, while on hold, searched the company on the Internet. BINGO. There were numerous references to their scamming behaviors.

An ILD Teleservices employee named “Mark” answered the phone in San Antonio.  I explained I was a former employee of a public utilities commission calling to complain about unauthorized charges on my phone bill.  It was clear Mark was used to such calls.  His response seemed a little too routine, almost scripted, as he agreed to remove the charges. 

I expressed my dismay that his company engaged in dishonest business practices. Seven dollars and fifty-eight cents adds up, especially for a company like ILD that processes approximately 120 million transactions annually. It adds up for customers too busy or too tired to scrutinize paper bills. It adds up for folks with online auto-pay who are less apt to review bills. It adds up for customers for whom English is not their first language and anyone who struggles – young or old – to manage their personal financial affairs.

Seven bucks is not a lot of money for me. Seven bucks times hundreds (or thousands) of customers – obtained in an unjust manner – lines the pockets of someone with a greedy idea.

“Mark” removed the charges but not until I informed him I planned to file complaints with the Federal Communications Commission and the Vermont Department of Public Service. I told him I was concerned about all of the other people his company endeavored to charge unfairly.

I filed complaints online with the regulatory agencies and, with thirty valuable minutes lost from my day, started to cook dinner.  My daughter looked up from her homework and said, “Mom, I was rooting for you all the way.” I guess that’s what you call a teachable moment.


Katherine Bielawa Stamper lives in Williston.  Reader comments are welcome at Editor@willistonobserver.com or LittleDetailsCol@yahoo.com


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Letters to the Editor (2/18/10)

Feb. 18, 2010


Town Meeting and elections will be held on Tuesday, March 2. Please note the Observer will not run any Letters to the Editor pertaining to the vote on Feb. 25, the week prior to the election.

All Letters to the Editor written in regards to Town Meeting and the March 2 election were to be received by Feb. 15, and appear in this issue of the Observer.

School Board explains budget

The Williston School Board, the administrative team and community members have been working to create a budget that is sensitive to difficult economic times while maintaining high quality programs for our students.

On Jan. 21, the Williston School Board adopted a budget for the 2010-11 school year of $16,478,314. This is a 0.18 percent increase to our operating budget and a 0.95 percent total increase, including the Early Learning Partnership tuition and interest. The expenses of the Early Learning program are recovered in the following two years.

Even with a very fiscally responsible budget, our school will be able to improve in several areas to continue to better the education of our students. Some examples of these improvements are: increased student access to technology, continuing to provide intensive training for math teachers K-8 as well as adding more instructional resources to our science program to improve student learning.

Recently, our school implemented a new Web site to further strengthen our communication for parents as well as students.

Williston schools continue to lead the way in providing cost efficient, high quality education with our per pupil spending at $12,649.

The School Board would like to thank the community members Polly Malik, Anne Smith, Kevin Mara and Ruth Magill, along with student Kyle Roy, who participated in the budget process. Their viewpoints were vital in developing this budget. The School Board would also like to thank the administration for always thinking first of the students and their education while still being extremely considerate of the taxpayers of our community.

We hope that our community will continue to recognize the excellent achievements of our school and support this budget. The Williston School Board, along with Jeanne Jensen of the CVU board, will host a budget forum on Thursday, Feb. 18 at 6 p.m. in the Williston Central School dining room.

Chairwoman Darlene Worth, Deb Baker-Moody, Laura Gigliotti, Holly Rouelle, Keith Roy, Williston School Board

Cost too high for NECAP scores

I applaud the Williston Observer for bringing to the community’s attention the poor student test scores at Champlain Valley Union High School. I am shocked, but not surprised, at those scores.

If the school (the teachers and the administrators) got grades, the grades would have been C for reading, F for math and F for writing (I don’t grade on a curve).

Considering the fact that over 15 percent of my family’s gross annual income goes to pay the school tax every year, I am more than upset — especially since the scores have gone down! Frankly, I don’t understand why there hasn’t been some sort of taxpayer revolt about this obviously poor use of the taxpayers’ hard-earned money.

Of course, the school administrators and the teachers’ union will simply say the problem is that they don’t have enough money. How much of my family’s annual income do they need? Is it 20 percent? Is it 25 percent? When will we finally admit that we are obviously wasting a good part of the money we are forced to give to the public schools?

I would love to be able to send my children to private a school where students are excelling, not just getting by. How can I do that when over 15 percent of my family’s annual income is already being taken from me to fund schools that produce these abysmal results? Unfortunately, looking at the declining CVU scores, I can’t afford to send my children to CVU, either.

J. Meyers, Williston

Williston ambulance a good idea

As a taxpayer, I have done some research into the proposed Williston ambulance service. Having done that, I fully support it.

This proposed ambulance service will not add any new expense to the town’s operating budget. It will be fully paid for by ambulance transport fees. Every year, Williston has nearly 800 ambulance transports, all provided by ambulances from other towns. Some folks are under the mistaken assumption these ambulance transports are free, but they are not. Each transport costs the individual, or his or her insurance, at least $450. A Williston ambulance service would keep that money here in our own town.

Currently, when you call an ambulance in Williston, the Williston first responders arrive within minutes. Then you wait for an additional period of time for the ambulance to arrive from another town. If traffic is heavy, you will wait even longer for that ambulance coming from another town. If you are having a life-threatening emergency, those lost minutes can make a difference between life and death. If you survive the medical emergency, the future quality of your life may be adversely impacted by the length of time it takes to get you into the ambulance and finally on your way to the hospital. Not to mention the time it takes for the first responders to transfer your information to the ambulance crew. Valuable time is lost. With a Williston ambulance service, you could be in the ambulance and on your way much quicker than you would when relying on an ambulance from another town.

Faster service and potentially better medical outcomes — all paid from fees which ambulance users now pay to other ambulance services. All this at no additional cost to the town’s operating budget. Sounds like a good idea to me.

Mary Carlson, Williston

Stop debating and support the ambulance

Ambulance, no ambulance, separate line item, ballot vote, add it to the budget, Selectboard debate and “back-door” Fire Department approach, let the voters have a say; WOW, what debate over a much needed public safety function for a town that really needs it.

Williston adding an ambulance service would add revenue to the general fund, thereby reducing taxes, which is a benefit to all of us. Williston is a community that needs an ambulance service for the benefit of care for the people who live and work here. The numbers support the added expenses and the proposal is a good one. We have been serviced for a long time by some really great EMTs from other communities who provide great care, but the time has come to move forward toward our own ambulance service.

If I could ask one thing of the voters of Williston, please take a moment to learn the facts about the proposal presented to the Selectboard. Call the Fire Department and ask some questions, attend one of the informational meetings held by the Fire Department or attend Town Meeting. Hopefully this will help you make an informed decision about adding this much-needed emergency service.

Barbara Young, Williston

Support ambulance

As both a Williston resident and physician, I am writing to ask your support for beginning an ambulance service here in Williston.  With our current system, I have been witness to fairly long wait times for out-of-town ambulances to respond to Thomas Chittenden Health Center, whereas the WFD EMTs arrive quickly.  Once one of the variety of different transporting ambulances comes on scene, information is transferred to this new team who then transports the patient to the hospital. This extra “hand-off,” per the Institute of Medicine, plays a role in increasing medical errors. Both the wait time and hand-off issues are addressed by having our own rescue service.

As for affordability, simple math documents that the number of calls times the representative insurance reimbursement will cover the costs.  Nobody can predict future payment trends but this is well addressed by the leasing of a rig rather than buying one.

This proposal seems well thought out, is affordable, and deserves our support.  Thank you.

Don Weinberg, MD, Thomas Chittenden Health Center, Williston

Say no to budget

As a taxpayer, I am urging voters to say NO to our budget

Every year, the Williston Fire Department comes to the town asking for more money. First it was paid staff, then it was a new fire station, last year it was a new fire truck and this year it’s a new ambulance and additional staff. How deep are our pockets?  

In the past couple of weeks, WFD has been presenting voters with information about the ambulance proposal. We’ve read the same information in local papers.  

Some information as initially given was misleading and incorrect. Many townspeople reviewed this and did their own research. Only after people at a recent forum pointed out inaccuracies did WFD change its published presentation as evidenced on their Web site. When Chief Morton was asked about the accuracy of his budget, he acknowledged some figures were incorrect, some expenses budgeted too low, and could cost as much as 30 percent more. 

Williston Selectboard made the decision to take away our vote and put this into the budget, based on incorrect information they were given by WFD. If WFD is asking the town to add this service, shouldn’t they have put in the time and thought to make sure the budget as presented was accurate and correct? If WFD was going to put out public information, shouldn’t it have been factual and not misled the Selectboard and voters? 

Now is not the time to take a chance that WFD might not be able to provide this service as presented to the town. If WFD already knows its budget is incorrect, then before we pass it, I believe we should know all the facts and have the true figures. If not, WFD will be back asking for more. Vote NO on town meeting day!

Renee Davies, Williston

Ambulance will cost more

Three years ago the voters of Williston overwhelmingly made the decision to vote down an ambulance and six paid staff. In the time since that vote, nothing within Williston Fire Department has changed. Why now can it be done for so much less, with less staffing?  The answer is it cannot.  

While Chief Morton has stated that the EMS call staff has more than doubled, he fails to mention that at any point in time, that same call staff can drop in size very quickly. In just the past two years, the department has lost 16 call EMTs and FFs.  

If the town adds just one person initially to staff the ambulance, how will both fire and EMS calls be covered at the same time? Of the paid staff, the Chief and Captain only work Monday – Friday. There are three additional paid staffers who rotate 24 hours on and 48 hours off. How will one more full time person fit in the rotation? The ambulance requires two certified personnel to be in service. If there is a fire call or EMS call that the staff responds to, and then there is a second call for either, will not the coverage to respond be very short? Will response to a fire call be delayed, or will a resident in town be waiting for another ambulance to come? I predict we will soon be asked to add more staff to the department. 

I predict that should this go through, next year, the Fire Department will be back looking for more. I urge the residents of Williston to vote NO on the town budget, and send a message to the Selectboard that we want to have a say and we want our questions answered.  

Scott Jacobs, Williston

Say no to Williston Rescue

I am writing to urge the voters of Williston to vote NO on the town budget. If we don’t do it now, we will regret it next year. 

There may be much emotion being thrown at us about waiting for ambulances, but the truth is, if this goes through now, the WFD will be back next year looking for a lot more money. 

Let’s take a look at the budget: $78,000 for one person? The police department is losing a position. According to Town Manager Rick McGuire, “Now is not the time to consider adding personnel when residents are struggling in a stagnant economy.”

Next year, when the volunteers are unable to keep the ambulance in service, we will be asked for those six paid positions that were needed three years ago. Chief Morton’s favorite neighbor, South Burlington Fire Department, needed six when they added an ambulance.

Why an additional cost of $3000 for physicals for 1.5 FTE? And dispatch services for $10,000?  Where will the dispatching be done from? Currently Williston pays Essex Police for their services. If Williston were to go through another dispatch agency, perhaps Shelburne Police, the cost will not be $10,000 for 700 calls. It would be more than double this.    

In leasing an ambulance, the Selectboard thinks this will be a good opt out if the department does not receive the revenues as predicted. How many people leasing a car can get out of that lease early?    

To be clear, the services of Saint Michael’s Rescue work very well. Having an ambulance in town will not make the significant difference promised. Chief Morton has under-budgeted expenses and over-estimated revenue. If we don’t say NO now, we’ll pay for it next year. 

Karen McCarthy, Williston

Bring ambulance to town

I am a volunteer EMT/Firefighter with Williston Fire Department. I live with my wife and two children up the street from the fire station. My position is as one of the on-call medical personnel on the night shift.

I am the first person who shows up after you call 911, even in the middle of the night, in all types of weather. I respond regardless of the call – medical or trauma.

But 5 percent of those calls will be calls that I would wish on no one. It is then that every action I take and every minute that passes counts. When you are pacing back and forth hoping the ambulance would come for your loved one more quickly, my heart is in my throat wishing I could do more. Those are the calls after which I go back to the fire station frustrated and emotionally drained.

While I believe the current ambulance services that cover Williston are competent and professional, it is an indisputable truth that the time required to travel the distance from their out of town stations can make or break a call, especially for rescue calls on the eastern side of town. Bringing an ambulance service into Williston would allow access to all areas of town in a more timely fashion.

The cost to the users of this vital service would be the same, while service would be more timely. In fact, with the addition of this item, the Fire Department portion of the operating budget goes DOWN by 1 percent, since the revenue more than offsets the cost of operating the ambulance.

In closing, please remember to have your 911 address visible from the road (on your building or at the end of your driveway), and leave a light on at night if possible so the building and pathways are clearly visible to responders.

Rik Robert, Williston

What’s the downside?

As a new resident of Williston I am a bit confused by the letters to the Observer questioning the need for an ambulance. If I read the Williston Fire Department’s Fact Sheet correctly, the proposed ambulance service is projected to not only pay for itself (and all associated costs) but could possibly generate additional revenues ($25,000) to be put back into the town’s operating budget. Right now, according to the Fact Sheet, Williston residents are being billed for ambulance transports by all transporting ambulances who serve this town. These outside services are billing the insurance companies of Williston residents who are transported by ambulance – “Williston, by having its own ambulance service will simply shift the revenue stream to the town.”

In addition to adding no cost to the Williston taxpayers, the ambulance’s response time would improve because the ambulance would be housed at our Fire Department. Faster response times would mean better emergency care to our citizens.

No cost to the taxpayer, helping with unemployment, and faster response times – what’s the downside?

Shawn Willis, Williston

Thanks Chief Morton

I have been in the medical field for 30 years and for the past 10 years I have managed the largest private cardiology practice in the state. We have over 40,000 patients and we deal with cardiac disease every single day. There are over 300,000 cardiac arrests a year in this country, but the good news is that the death rate between 1996 and 2006 has declined over 36 percent due in part to highly trained EMS services that assess and transport the patient to the hospital within the “golden hour.”

Chief Ken Morton has brilliantly developed a budget to provide faster and more efficient EMT services to the citizens of Williston. These services will decrease response time from over 11 minutes to just less than 5 minutes on average. Additionally, there will be significant time saved by having the EMTs arrive at the scene, assess the patient and transport without having to “hand the patient” over to St. Miichael’s Rescue, which requires precious time as they too are required to do their own assessments, receive report form the EMTs that arrived on the scene first, and then finally transport the patient to the hospital.

I remain puzzled by those that threaten to vote an entire budget down over a proposal that will provide a service that is budget neutral, has a lease escape clause included in it, and will provide faster and more efficient emergency services. Are we so polarized by far-right and far-left thinking that the majority of us in the middle will not be heard? 

Thanks Chief Morton for your dedication, wisdom and commitment to the citizens of Williston in finding a way to provide these services to the community – you can help me with my budget anytime! 

Karen Rounds, Williston

Urge you to vote no on budget

I am writing to urge a NO vote on the town budget. The reason is simple — if we don’t, it is going to end up costing us all more in the end.  

In proposing an ambulance, the WFD has under budgeted this endeavor, and over promised revenue. In the three years since this was last proposed, nothing has changed to explain how it can be done now for so much less.  

At a recent forum, Chief Morton was asked whether he had ever asked Saint Michael’s Rescue if his budgeted revenue was on target. SMRS would know best the actual dollar amounts, on average, that are collected from calls in Williston. Fact is he never asked SMRS. Fact is they do not collect close to the revenue Chief Morton has budgeted. 

Some of those in attendance at the forum were members of South Burlington Fire Department, more specifically paid firefighter/EMTs from SBFD, who promised to help in the transition. Fact is, when SBFD added an ambulance years ago, they hired at least six new full time staffers. Fact is, those who were present were union members there to support the WFD union members.  

Equipment costs are up, and expensive equipment that the department does not currently have will need to be purchased. One AED alone is $16,000 and that is not in the budget we have seen. The $10,000 for dispatch is under budgeted. No local dispatch agency has told WFD they will dispatch 700 calls for this amount.

At a time when “residents are struggling in a stagnant economy,” as stated by our town manager, we should have all the accurate facts before we commit to such an expense. If we don’t, next year we will be asked for more money.

Chris McCarthy, Williston

Please support ambulance

I am a Williston resident and a full supporter of having an ambulance service in our community.

Our town needs an ambulance and would benefit greatly from its faster response and transport times. It is clear to me that there will be no additional financial burden to the residents of our community, so there is no question that this is the right choice for Williston.

I dread the thought of ever needing to call 911 for my family, but would feel better knowing that we could have an ambulance only a couple of minutes away, if necessary. I can only hope that other families feel the same way and vote yes to this crucial, life-saving item.

Sarah Rock, Williston

Roundabout issue

I have travelled the intersection several times a day over the years and have never seen an accident. Yes, there is the occasional driver who shoots the stop sign but all that is needed  to put a halt to this is one policeman watching  the place one hour per week and handing out hefty tickets to the sinners. Trust me, the word would get around in a real hurry. In short, there is no need for a roundabout and the present situation is perfectly satisfactory. However, also think of the traffic nightmare the construction of a roundabout will create. It would make things ten times worse than what they are today, and this not for weeks but for months. The construction of a roundabout typically takes about 8 to 12 months, depending on contractor methodology, utility relocation, and the weather.

Luz Muller, Williston

Roundabout vote

A few thoughts related to the roundabout issue to be voted on March 2. In the many years we have driven through this intersection at all hours of the day, we do not know of any serious accidents. A recent report of a school bus accident did not mention it was a fender bender and the bus was empty. It is not a dangerous intersection.

The cost quoted today to build a roundabout will not be the same figure in a few years. It will be much more. The cost of disturbing gas, electric, and sewer lines is unknown.

 Our village is on the National Register of Historic Places. Will this impact our unique example of a country store and its business? The main entrance to the church for special services such as a funeral (with a casket) or a bride and grooming entering/exiting for a wedding? Will traffic on the north and south side get its turn during the busy hour of traffic?

It just doesn’t seem it is an appropriate place for a roundabout next to a business, a church, historic homes, and a beautiful 70-year-old tree that may be lost in the process. And all at what cost? Today’s system is working. Why fix it if it is not broken?

Ginger Isham, Marie Lareau, Williston

Vermont Yankee should close

Trust is a critical relationship between two parties. It is hard to gain, easy to lose, and impossible to fully regain once lost. Public loss of trust in the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant (VY) and its owner Entergy argue for closure of VY in 2012.

Much has been said about VY’s out-of-state management lying under oath about underground pipes. Lack of trust goes beyond VY management. It encompasses the years Entergy has deferred maintenance at VY and plants around the country. Entergy’s Palisades plant in Michigan has been leaking for years, and the plant has dumped significant waste into Lake Michigan. In addition, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has cited Entergy for under-funding the decommissioning trust funds for several of its plants nationwide.

Lack of trust goes beyond Entergy corporate culture. The NRC has not been living up to the standard tax payers expect. While an NRC staff person has been on site at VY for years, that person has not seen to it that VY meets safety and reliability standards. The NRC creates a perception of lax discipline by giving nuclear plants just hand slaps —”non-cited violations” — for breaches of NRC’s own regulations.

The culture of collusion between the NRC and the nuclear industry it supposedly regulates goes even further. NRC investigators sent to VY to monitor its tritium leaks are “bunking” with VY staff. Where is the independence of the NRC? This NRC-VY coziness has further compromised the credibility, independence and professional integrity of the NRC oversight process.

Public trust in VY, Entergy and the NRC has been fatally compromised. I urge the Vermont legislature to emphatically vote to deny VY a certificate of public good to operate beyond 2012.

Betsy Eldredge, Secretary, SIERRA CLUB of the Upper Valley, Springfield

From the Senate

As a member of the Senate Economic Development Committee, I want to share with you some highlights of the Recovery Bill we passed out of committee last week.

The bill, which appropriates $8.6 million in federal stimulus dollars, is aimed at making investments in Vermont’s economic future so we will be well positioned when the economy rebounds.

Nearly $3 million will be used to expand broadband and cell phone coverage to the nearly 15,000 Vermonters currently without service or with inadequate dial-up as the only option. At my request, the Committee set aside $500,000 to upgrade telecom infrastructure in business districts throughout the state. Our business community needs state-of-the-art telecom to be competitive. At present, we’re a decade behind.

Building on my committee’s efforts last year in the agricultural sector, we’ve invested $200K in Vermont’s New Ag economy. Specifically, $100K will go toward the Farm to Plate initiative, which directs funds to processing and distribution infrastructure needed to help farmers sell value-added products to both in- and out-of-state customers. The other $100K will fund a new Farm to Institutions initiative. These funds will link local farm produce to Vermont schools, hospitals, large businesses and other institutional buyers.

To help small businesses meet payroll and operating expenses, $1 million has been designated for the Vermont Economic Development Authority’s “Jobs Fund.”  An additional $900K has been allocated to VEDA to make farm loans, primarily to dairy farmers, for seed and fertilizer purchases this spring.

The bill also includes nearly $2 million for the Vermont Seed Capital Fund, which provides equity investments in new businesses in the high tech industry. This fund, managed by private sector experts with public oversight, has the potential to create significant jobs and state revenues.

As always, feel free to contact me at timashe@burlingtontelecom.net with ideas, questions, or comments.

Tim Ashe , State Senator, Burlington

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Guest Column (2/18/10)

High cost of state’s education

Feb. 18, 2010

By Doug Ferreira

Why is the cost of education in Vermont among the highest in the nation?

 Staffing numbers are among the highest in the nation.

1. Enrollment has dropped by 10,000 students in the last nine years and is expected to drop further. 

2.  As enrollment declines, staffing must also decline.  However; the number of aides, and other non-education staff has increased by 25 percent. The number of teachers has also increased by 14.8 percent, and the number of teaching assistants has INCREASED by 40.9 percent.

3.  In an effort to reduce the high cost of education, qualified teachers were offered a cash incentive of $6,000 to retire early.  However, some of those that took the cash incentive and retired early, were REHIRED as teacher assistants. The school staff and administration are completely overstaffed, and out of control. Some of those tax dollars need to be available for other needed services such as: police, fire, road maintenance, town office staff, etc.

 These are the very same people that expect the taxpayers to pass school budgets in the name of education. It is clear to me that education is not the main focus of the teachers’ union, its main focus is MONEY and BENEFITS. My opinion is to vote down any and all school budgets that do not indicate a substantial reduction in staff and cost. Do not feel guilty with a NO vote; the people that should feel guilty are members of the teachers union and administration. The school budget needs to be more than cut, it needs to be slashed. 

We, the taxpayers must insist on having an opportunity, and a right, to vote on, and be part of, the budget process. Passing budgets via Australian ballot seems to be stacked, and unfair.   After all, we are the ones paying the bill. We have a right to know how our tax dollars are spent.

Property values continue to decrease, and property taxes continue to increase.  Remember; education is primarily funded by our property tax dollars.

People on a fixed income have less money to spend as taxes increase. However; the teachers in Richmond have received a 9 percent raise over the next three years and will have more money to spend thanks to our property tax dollars. What is wrong with this picture? Social Security recipients did not get a raise this year, and will not get one next year!

Governor Jim Douglas, and The Vermont Department of Education, are fully aware of Vermont’s high cost of education and will be working hard to reduce these costs, but they need our help.

Here are some cost cutting suggestions I found on the Internet under the Vermont Department of Education.

 1. Phase out the Small Schools Grant given the demonstrated need to encourage school consolidation. 

2. Require that all licensed education contracts require a minimum of 20 percent health care premium contribution.

3. Enhance the commissioner’s powers to consolidate school districts inclusive of funding incentives. 

Gov. Douglas is truly working hard to make Vermont an affordable place to live, work and retire. Thank him for what he is doing for the citizens of Vermont.  Get involved with your local town and city government to control cost, and ultimately your tax bill.  Remember the phrase of John Walsh of “America’s Most Wanted,” – “You can make a difference.”

Doug Ferreira is a California resident and Richmond, Vermont homeowner.


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Environmentally friendly car wash looks to open (2/18/10)

Feb. 18, 2010

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

A Champlain Valley entrepreneur believes saving the earth begins with one “greener” car wash at a time.


    Courtesy image
The proposed Eco Car Wash, rendered here in an artist depiction, would clean vehicles with less water and environmentally friendly soaps. If built, the car wash would be located at the corner of Vermont 2A and James Brown Drive.

Colchester businessman Aaron Vincelette hopes to build an environmentally friendly car wash on a 2.2-acre site at the corner of Vermont 2A and James Brown Drive. Called Eco Car Wash, Vincelette said his business will offer a greener cleaning experience, but with the same quality as a standard car wash.

According to Vincelette, every aspect of Eco Car Wash aims to be environmentally sound, from chemically lean cleaning products to materials used in the construction of the building.

“It’s more than just a name,” Vincelette said. “This is going to be an experience for people.”

Vincelette will bring his plans before the Development Review Board and ask for a pre-application permit on March 9 at 7:30 p.m. at Town Hall. 

Williston Planning Director Ken Belliveau reviewed Vincelette’s proposal and said it has great potential if implemented as planned.

“A car wash like this has the potential to reduce phosphates that find their way into streams and such,” Belliveau.

Currently, Williston has only one car wash at Clark’s Sunoco on Route 2A.

While this will be Vincelette’s second Eco Car Wash in Vermont, he plans on making Williston his flagship location. Vincelette opened the first Eco Car Wash in Milton three years ago and he said business remains steady.

“I have people coming up from Burlington just to use it,” he said.

Vincelette’s interest in creating greener car washes started from his experience as a water purifier in the U.S. Marines. Stationed in Washington D.C., he also picked up his second job as a seasonal decorator for the White House. Since the 1980s, Vincelette has helped presidents and first ladies decorate key rooms, especially during the Christmas season.

“I do have a variety of projects going,” Vincelette admitted with a laugh.

Vincelette said while plans are currently in the early stages, he hopes to build a 150-foot tunnel-style car wash parallel to Vermont 2A. Within the tunnel, all equipment will run on energy-efficient motors and drives. The Eco Car Wash will also decrease the amount of water used in a car’s journey through the tunnel.

By using phosphorous-free soaps, the car wash reduces the amount of waste and harmful toxins that could flow into nearby streams and rivers, Vincelette said. This is particularly important since the Winooski River, classified as an impaired waterway, is just down the hill from his site, he added.

“I think people are learning the environmental impact car washes can have, especially with the use of certain soaps and the chemicals in those soaps,” he said. “But that’s all changing now.”

The Eco Car Wash structure itself will feature recycled building products and a transparent roof allowing natural light to fill the tunnel during daytime hours, thus reducing dependence on lighting fixtures. Vincelette said he plans on adding solar panels to further diminish the building’s energy consumption. 

Besides the car wash itself, Vincelette hopes to add an adjacent tunnel for interior detailing and cleaning. He said a team of workers would quickly vacuum and clean a customer’s car while they wait.

“It won’t be a $300 detail operation, but it’ll be worth it to the average customer,” he said.

Once in operation, Eco Car Wash will offer a variety of payment options, including monthly passes, he said.

When he completes the permitting process, Vincelette said the project could start construction immediately. Whether his locations in Milton and Williston breed a franchise of sorts, Vincelette isn’t sure.

“Right now, I’m focused on putting my vision of this together,” he said.

[Read more…]

Sales tax revenue continues freefall (2/18/10)

Quarterly number far short of projection

Feb. 18, 2010

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

Local sales tax revenue shrank by 12 percent in the fourth quarter, a shortfall that may force Williston to draw on reserves to balance the municipal budget.

The town received $600,724 for the period ending Dec. 31. That’s down by about $84,000 over the same quarter a year ago and nearly $70,000 less than the town had projected.

“It’s not good” was Town Manager Rick McGuire’s downbeat assessment of the sales tax numbers released last week. “I didn’t figure it was going to drop that much.”

Williston funds about a third of its municipal budget with revenue from the 1 percent levy, which is tacked onto the 6 percent state sales tax. Town officials expected the local option tax to generate just under $2.6 million for the 2009-10 fiscal year.

But Vermont’s recession-driven economic doldrums, which have produced a 10 percent overall drop in state revenue, have also hit the sales tax. For the first half of the current fiscal year, local option sales tax revenue in Williston was down by 10 percent over the same period a year ago, and $112,000 less than already scaled-back projections.

The latest period produced the largest drop in same-quarter revenue since 2007. That was the year the state changed sales tax rules, exempting purchases made in towns that have the local option tax but are delivered elsewhere.

Since then, Williston’s take from the tax has steadily eroded and town officials have continued to revise downward revenue estimates. In 2006, the town received slightly more than $3 million in sales tax revenue. That number dropped to $2.2 million in 2009.

Ken Jones, policy analyst with the Vermont Tax Department, said sales tax revenue was down more than 5 percent for the four months ending Oct. 31, the latest period for which statewide figures were available. The decrease, combined with even larger shortfalls in other revenue sources, has created a budget crisis that forced the state to lay off hundreds of workers and cut program funding.

Williston’s sales tax shortfall will not result in anything drastic, at least not in the short run.

McGuire noted that there are still two more quarters to go in the fiscal year ending June 30. If sales tax revenue fails to rebound to meet revenue projections, he said the town would probably use fund balance, reserves that can be drawn on to bridge budget gaps.

Fund balance, however, has also dwindled in recent years as the Selectboard steadily drew down reserves to stave off property tax hikes.

Under the 2010-11 budget approved by the Selectboard last month, fund balance will be reduced to roughly $750,000. That is equivalent to about 10 percent of the operating budget, the minimum permitted by Selectboard policy and approaching the smallest reserve considered to be fiscally prudent.

Eroding revenue

Williston has seen sales tax revenue steadily fall over the past few years. Here are the annual tallies:

Year                        Local revenue

2006                        $3,063,092

2007                        $2,511.946

2008                        $2,379,679

2009                        $2,225,617

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Tims Snack Shack for sale (2/18/10)

Feb. 18, 2010

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

The owner of a popular seasonal eatery is selling his business and hopes a new owner will keep it in Williston. Tim Leggett put his business, Tim’s Snack Shack, up for sale last week. A sign resting against the shack advertises the sale and includes his phone number. So far, Leggett said he’s received about 25 calls.

“There’s a lot of interested people out there, and some that want to keep it in Williston,” Leggett said.

Last September, Tim’s Snack Shack, at the corner of Industrial Avenue and Williston Road, was the site of a deadly accident. A man suffering a medical emergency crashed his truck into the shack and nearby picnic tables. The crash severely injured two people, one fatally. Shelburne resident Barbara Gregory, 68, died several days after the accident.

Ultimately, Leggett felt he couldn’t run the business after the crash.

“I don’t think I would have sold it if not for the accident,” he said. “It’s pretty tough to go back there right now.”

Leggett is selling the shack for $45,000, which includes refrigerators, grills, and fryers, among other kitchen equipment. Leggett said he still needs to repair minor damage the shack sustained in the crash.

Leggett hopes Tim’s Snack Shack will remain in Williston or the surrounding area. He said he received one call from a New York resident interested in relocating the eatery. A new buyer might not be able to keep Tim’s Snack Shack at its current location depending on what the town or state decides in light of the accident. The Vermont Agency of Transportation also plans to block access to the traditional entrance area of the shack this spring. The state intends to alter the access point to improve safety.

“It’s a good business and I think Williston needs it,” Leggett said.

For more information on the sale, call Leggett at 999-8932.

[Read more…]

Road extension could smooth traffic (2/18/10)

Financing needed for ‘growth’ project

Feb. 18, 2010

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

Plans for a new road linking U.S. 2 and Marshall Avenue are moving forward. Now the question is how to pay for the project.

Trader Lane extension would begin at an existing part of that road near the Hannaford grocery store and run northward for about a third of a mile to the intersection of U.S. 2 and Helena Drive. It is a key part of a long-envisioned network of grid streets that would ease traffic congestion and promote development in the commercial district near Taft Corners.

“It’s going to be a major road in the sense that it connects two other major roads,” said Town Manager Rick McGuire. “And it will improve traffic flow.

But it remains uncertain how the project would be funded. Construction itself would cost an estimated $1.7 million; acquisition of rights-of-way could add another $1 million to the price tag, said Williston Public Works Director Bruce Hoar.

The town has in the bank $485,796 in transportation impact fees that developers have paid over the years, according to Finance Director Susan Lamb. Those fees were designated for projects like the Trader Lane extension.

The rest of the money could be raised through one of two methods: a special assessment district or tax increment financing.

McGuire said the special assessment district seems the more straightforward option. Property owners benefiting from the road would each pay for a portion on the project.

The district could be formed if each property owner agreed to the levy, McGuire said. Otherwise, a town-wide vote would be required, 

Tax increment financing would allow the town to borrow money, then pay it back using property taxes from new development generated by the road. But McGuire told the Selectboard last week that method is “kind of a gamble” because of uncertainty that additional development – and hence more tax revenue – would materialize.

Williston won the state’s first-ever growth center designation in 2007, clearing the way for use of tax increment financing. The designation was designed to encourage compact growth and prevent sprawl.

Much of the land along the path of the proposed new road is owned by Taft Corners Associates. Jeff Davis, managing partner of that company and the developer behind Wal-Mart and other big box stores, said he has worked with the town for several years on the Trader Lane extension and supports the project.

“I think it would open the area up to additional development,” he said. “Some of the property is not developed to its highest and best use.”

The legal process to install a new town road also presents potential obstacles. The town must hold public hearings, survey the road, determine monetary damages to be paid to property owners and anticipate appeals.

Trader Lane extension would be the first of a long-planned series of grid streets that are including in Williston’s Comprehensive Plan and viewed as essential for smoothing traffic around Taft Corners.

A 2006 study commissioned by the town predicted “tremendous delays” in traffic within 10 years if the grid streets were not built.

The study looked at extending Trader Lane and linking Harvest Lane to Vermont 2A with a new road called Depot Street. It also considered the option of simply widening existing roads. But the estimated price tag for all the projects was a daunting $20 million, with about three-quarters of the money going to pay for the overpass widening. 

The permitting process for Trader Lane is well underway, Hoar said. The town still needs an Act 250 state land-use permit.

McGuire said it will be at least two years to navigate the permitting, road-building and financing processes for Trader Lane. But he said it will be worth the effort.

“Jobs are an important thing right now,” McGuire said. “I think this will probably create jobs by encouraging commercial development.”

[Read more…]

Accidents common at roundabout intersection (2/18/10)

Data show at least 25 collisions since 2004

Feb. 18, 2010

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

The intersection where town officials want to install a controversial roundabout has been the focus of an intense debate over the past year, much of it revolving around safety concerns.


    Courtesy photo
This undated photo supplied by the town of Williston shows the intersection of U.S. 2, Oak Hill and North Williston roads as it was roughly 90 years ago.


    File photo
Traffic passes throught the intersection of U.S. 2 and Oak Hill and North Williston roads on a recent morning.

The corner of U.S. 2, Oak Hill and North Williston roads is in fact an accident-prone location, according to information provided by the Vermont Agency of Transportation and the Williston Police Department. There were 25 accidents reported at the intersection from the beginning of 2004 through the end of 2009,

Safety is likely to be on the minds of residents March 2 as they consider a ballot item that asks if Williston should replace the intersection’s existing four-way stop signs with a roundabout.

Town Manager Rick McGuire worries voters will reject the roundabout based on gut feelings rather than concrete evidence.

“There are many, many studies that show roundabouts are safer than what’s out there now,” he said. “But people rely on personal experience and form opinions that are not necessarily consistent with studies.”

A controversy erupted last year after the Selectboard approved a roundabout for the intersection in the heart of Williston Village. The decision came after the town learned the intersection had been placed on a list of the 50 most crash-prone locations around Vermont. That made improvements to the intersection, which is often clogged with commute-hour traffic, eligible for 100 percent federal funding.

Opposition soon emerged to the roundabout. Some residents said it was unneeded and unwanted, arguing that it would hurt the village’s historic character and negatively impact Williston Federated Church and the Korner Kwik Stop, both located at the intersection.

Opponents fought to get the roundabout placed on the ballot so voters could have a say, circulating a petition that was eventually signed by more than 700 people. The Selectboard last month decided to include the issue on the ballot, even though the town’s attorney said the vote would be advisory and non-binding.

The Observer requested accident data from the Vermont Agency of Transportation and the Williston Police Department to determine the extent of the intersection’s safety problems. The police provided information for 2009, and the AOT data covered the five-year period from 2004 to 2008.

The data could exclude some accidents because minor fender-benders may not be reported, said Agency of Transportation spokesman John Zicconi, who noted that AOT relies on law enforcement agencies to provide information.

The data provided did not show how many people were injured in collisions at the intersection. Bart Chamberlain, Williston’s acting police chief, said there had been no fatalities at the intersection in the 18 years he’s been with the department. Accident summaries provided by AOT did indicate that many accidents involved dangerous broadside collisions.

The last three accidents at the intersection in 2009 all occurred on Dec. 16, during a snowstorm. One involved a school bus.

Danger ahead?

There is nothing about U.S. 2 or the intersecting roads that makes the intersection inherently unsafe, Chamberlain said. U.S. 2 is straight and nearly level at the location, making visibility good for motorists headed east and west.

Oak Hill Road is slightly more problematic because of its downhill slope leading up to the intersection, Chamberlain said, but it still allows motorists to see the stop sign well in advance.

The intersection accounts for just a small fraction of the accidents reported around town each year. The Williston Police Department tallied 216 traffic accidents within town limits during 2009. Only six of them happened at the intersection.

The intersection is not even ranked as the most dangerous in town. That dubious honor goes to Vermont 2A and Marshall Avenue, which the Vermont Agency of Transportation places 10th on its list of the 50 most crash-prone locations. The U.S. 2 intersection is ranked No. 25.

Zicconi noted the agency looks at several factors other than the number of accidents to compile the ranking. The severity of crashes and the ratio of collisions to traffic volume are also considered.

Williston resident Ginger Isham, a roundabout opponent who led the petition drive, said the number of accidents at the intersection did not change her mind.

“A roundabout belongs where there is not such a dense population,” she said.” I think there are other ways to control traffic.”

Isham said she would prefer traffic lights or greater police enforcement to spur motorists to pay attention to the four-way stop signs now at the intersection.

Roundabout experiences

A report by the Federal Highway Administration said that numerous studies have found roundabouts decreased the severity if not the frequency of collisions. The report acknowledged that safety improvements were less pronounced for pedestrians and bicyclists.

Tom Vanderbilt, author of “Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do,” wrote in a 2008 article published in the online magazine Slate that roundabouts are safer than traffic signals or four-way stops partly because they make motorists worry.

“Roundabouts are safer than traditional intersections for a simple reason: By dint of geometry and traffic rules, they reduce the number of places where one vehicle can strike another by a factor of four,” he wrote. “The fact that roundabouts may ‘feel’ more dangerous to the average driver is a good thing: It increases vigilance.”

McGuire said roundabouts have gotten a bad name in Williston because of the undersized traffic circle at Maple Tree Place. He said a well-designed roundabout like the one proposed on U.S. 2 would function better.

Residents are often initially opposed to new roundabouts but grow accustomed to them over time, traffic experts say.

That appears to be the case in Barre Town, where a roundabout was installed last year at the intersection of Route 302 and Route 110. Steve Blondin, the town’s superintendent of public works, said some residents initially opposed the roundabout, but they are getting used to it.

“A lot of people at first said the roundabout was stupid, that they didn’t want it there,” he said. “I think people are liking it now.”

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