June 22, 2018

Around Town

Feb. 17, 2011

Daffodil Days are underway
The annual American Cancer Society Daffodil Days campaign is officially underway in New England.  Flower and product orders are being taken now through March 1, with delivery the week of March 14, just in time for the arrival of spring. Visit the new Daffodil Days interactive Web site at www.cancer/daffodils to learn more about this beloved fundraiser, which offers hope to children and adults in cancer treatment.

“We are excited by the hope and spirit that Daffodil Days brings to those who have supported the campaign year after year,” said Erin Martin, staff partner for the American Cancer Society.

Flower and product orders can be placed now through March 1 by calling the American Cancer Society at 1.800.227.2345 or making an online donation at www.cancer.org/daffodils.

For more information about Daffodil Days, to request flowers, or to get involved with the program, contact the American Cancer Society at 1.800.227.2345 or www.cancer.org/daffodils

Women veterans needed for survey
More women are serving in the armed forces of the United States. The population of women veterans is now about 2 million, but only about 25 percent are using the health care services of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The American Legion has begun a two-month online survey to find out why.

Women veterans are encouraged to participate in the survey by visiting www.legion.org.  The survey will remain online until early March.

Survey questions will cover 10 aspects of health-care quality. Analysis of information gathered will make the Legion better qualified to make recommendations to VA to address unmet needs specific to women veterans.

More information about the survey can be found by visiting The American Legion Department of Vermont website www.legionvthq.com or by calling Department Headquarters at 802-223-7131.

New England Federal Credit Union announces scholarships
New England Federal Credit Union is accepting applications for its 2011 nursing scholarships. Each year, NEFCU awards three scholarships of $3,000 to qualified applicants.

Applications are available online at nefcu.com, at any branch, or by calling 802-879-8790.  Applicants must be members of NEFCU who are applying to or are enrolled in an accredited undergraduate or graduate nursing program. Requirements include submission of the application form; high school transcript, or college transcript, or General Education Degree; and a description of related work experience. Applicants must also submit an original 250-word essay describing how they will use their degree to contribute to community success.

Applications must be either postmarked or dropped off at any NEFCU branch by Feb. 28. The mailing address is Scholarship Committee, NEFCU, P.O. Box 527, Williston, VT 05495. Scholarship winners will be notified by April 15.

Peterson returns to Montpelier as tax commissioner

Feb. 17, 2011

By Tim Simard
Observer staff

Mary Peterson (Courtesy photo)

“A whirlwind!”

That’s how Williston resident Mary Peterson described her first day on the job as Vermont’s tax commissioner. Beginning her job last month meant Peterson took over the state’s tax department just as tax season amps up.

With most individual and business taxes due April 15, residents statewide are currently pulling their tax information together in filing preparation, Peterson said. And as the due date nears, many people are relying on her department for guidance, she added.

“Right now, the phones are ringing off the hook,” Peterson said.

Peterson said she likes the challenge that way; might as well jump into the fray with both feet, she added. It was Peterson’s record of successfully facing difficult challenges as a state legislator that played a deciding factor in Gov. Peter Shumlin’s choice to appoint her tax commissioner.

A longtime state representative and a former Selectboard member, Peterson spent six years representing her Williston constituents in Montpelier. Switching gears and becoming a member of an administration turned out to be a natural step, she said. As tax commissioner, Peterson will be paid approximately $85,000 annually.

“Speaking for an administration is different, but very exciting at the same time,” Peterson said.

Williston public servant
Peterson said when she arrived in Williston in 1995, she knew right away she wanted to be part of as many town committees as possible. Starting out on the conservation and planning commissions, Peterson eventually earned a seat on the Selectboard in 1998.

Ultimately becoming chairwoman of the board, Peterson set her sights on Montpelier. In 2002, she successfully won her campaign to become one of Williston’s two state representatives.

In Montpelier, Peterson served on the Ways and Means Committee, a governmental body that writes tax legislation and related bills. For instance, the committee often recommended to the Legislature whether Vermont taxes should increase and created legislation that best dealt with potential budget shortfalls. It was during her time on the committee that Peterson earned her expertise in the state’s tax system.

Peterson, who also acted as a board member for the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, served as state representative until 2008. A lawyer by trade, Peterson returned to the private sector at Sprink & Miller, a private law firm in Burlington. Shumlin’s tax commissioner request came as a welcome surprise, Peterson said, and she’s pleased about her new role in Montpelier.

Moving forward
As tax commissioner, Peterson oversees roughly 150 employees that ensure Vermonters correctly file taxes from start to finish. She admits filing taxes can be a complicated process for many, so making the process easier is one of her main priorities. That will require implementing new technology within the department and modernizing operations, she said.

“We’re really trying to make it as user-friendly as possible,” Peterson said. “After all, we really touch every household and every business in Vermont.”

And while the upgrading begins, Peterson will be spending much of her time between her office and the Statehouse. Already, she’s spoken before her former Legislators in the House Ways and Means Committee about tax recommendations.

With Vermont’s current $278 million budget shortfall, the Shumlin administration and the State Legislature are facing major challenges, Peterson said. It’s her and her staff’s job to inform the state government of various options in dealing with the shortfall, some of which might not be popular, she admitted.

“They want to know what needs to be raised to meet the spending decisions,” Peterson said.

It won’t be easy, but Peterson hopes the efforts of her department help legislators make the best possible and most fair conclusions.

New impact fees prevent property tax hike

Feb. 17, 2011

By Tim Simard
Observer staff

Thanks in part to increased education impact fees the school district expects to collect next year, Williston’s property tax rate will not rise, administrators announced last week.
When Williston and Champlain Valley Union High School board members approved their 2011-2012 budgets, it was believed taxes in Williston would go up by 1 percent.

“It turned out the estimate on the impact fees was higher than what (the boards) used to create the budget,” said Bob Mason, chief operations officer for Chittenden South Supervisory Union.

Both boards cut their school district budgets by roughly 1 percent last month, but learned the decreases would not stave off climbing tax rates expected to be approved by the Vermont Legislature this spring. Mason said early indicators suggest the Legislature will still increase Vermont’s homestead base rate from 86 cents to 87 cents. Homestead base rates and school budgets determine individual town property taxes.

Instead of receiving $60,000 in impact fees next year, Williston should expect as much as $105,000 to come in, Mason said. The story is similar with CVU. The high school can expect to receive roughly $80,000 from Shelburne and Williston impact fees instead of the previous estimate of $40,000, he said.

Both schools are also using a portion of the money received through the federal Education Jobs Fund. Williston plans to use roughly $100,000 and CVU will allot about $146,000 to reduce the tax burden.

School board candidate profiles

Feb. 11, 2011

Joshua Diamond
Three-year seat
Williston resident: 4 years

“Having grown up in Vermont and as the parent of two schoolaged children, I understand the importance of our public schools to our community and families. I am running for School Board to ensure that we maintain the quality education our children are receiving in the Williston School District. But, we also need to make sure that the delivery of these educational services is occurring at a value to the taxpayer.

I have previously worked on matters involving public school finance both in my professional and personal life. With your support, I hope to effectively utilize this experience while serving our community on the Williston School Board.”

Giovanna Boggero
One-year seat
Williston resident: 5 years

“As a taxpayer, I am strongly interested in making sure that our school funds are properly managed, and that they consider the interests of all involved. I am a firm believer of the importance and relevance of giving back to one’s community. As a mother of two girls in the Williston school system, I want to ensure that the education they receive is the best they can get to prepare them for our increasingly competitive world.”

Kevin Mara
Two-year seat
Williston resident: 15 years

“I have been a Williston resident for 15 years, have two children, both of whom have attended Williston schools since kindergarten. Having served on the WSD School Board for one year, I am seeking election to the open two-year position formerly held by Laura Gigliotti.”

Note: Each candidate was asked to provide a 100-125-word paragraph on why he/she is running.

Selectboard candidates offer opposing views

Feb. 17, 2011

By Tim Simard
Observer staff

When Williston voters head to the polls on Town Meeting Day, they’ll get their choice between two candidates for the three-year Selectboard seat, as well as a relative political newcomer to the uncontested two-year seat.

Planning Commission member Debbie Ingram faces perennial state and municipal candidate Shelley Palmer for the three-year term held by current Selectboard member Judy Sassorossi. Jay Michaud, a small business expert, faces no opposition for the two-year seat held by Ted Kenney. Both Sassorossi and Kenney will not run again in the Town Meeting Day elections, which occur March 1.

The Selectboard candidates have differing views on Williston’s future with each pledging to make the town one of the best place to live in Chittenden County.

The interviews conducted below took place during a live televised forum at Burlington’s Center For Media & Democracy’s Channel 17 on Feb. 8. See the sidebar for rerun times.

Ingram brings planning experience
Ingram believes that for Williston to remain a vibrant community, it must look toward the future. As a member of the Planning Commission, Ingram spent much of 2010 updating Williston’s Town Plan, which sets the direction for the town on everything from development to energy conservation. After reviewing the current Town Plan and rewriting key sections to bring it in line with potential future issues, Ingram said Williston is heading in the best possible direction.

“I have a vision for a Williston that is a thriving place for people to raise families,” Ingram said.

Ingram is the executive director of Vermont Interfaith Action, a faith-based nonprofit organization that looks to advance communities through areas such as improved public transportation, affordable housing, and access to health care. As head of the group, Ingram organizes 11 congregations in northern Vermont under common goals. An ordained minister, Ingram has worked across the United States and the world aiding congregations and developing countries. She’s lived in Williston for six years.

In keeping with her work, Ingram is a strong believer in creating more living opportunities for individuals earning lower wages. In the Town Plan, developers can take advantage of incentives available to build affordable housing within new projects.

Right now, there are many individuals who work in Williston but can’t afford to live in town, Ingram said. Affordable housing also brings its share of misconceptions, she added.
“It’s a myth to say it’s more crime ridden or less attractive,” Ingram said.

Also, keeping density within the Taft Corners Growth District and out of Williston’s rural corners can help make affordable housing a reality.

As for the $8.06 million municipal budget approved by the Selectboard last month, Ingram supports the board’s decision. Even though the budget represents a half-cent property tax increase, it maintains Williston’s services.

“I think the Selectboard has done a good job to keep costs down,” Ingram said.

Ingram hopes Williston residents will appreciate her experience running a nonprofit that gears itself to community improvements, as well as her involvement drafting the Town Plan on the Planning Commission.

“We need people who really know the community and have experience,” Ingram said.

Palmer urges less spending
With a shrinking economy and burgeoning federal and state budget deficits, Palmer believes it’s time to stop spending and make necessary cuts. Otherwise, it’ll become more and more unaffordable to live in Williston, he said. Palmer, who ran unsuccessfully for Selectboard and the Vermont Legislature in the past, said the town needs to take proactive steps to curb impending tax increases.

“We’re not preparing properly for our future,” Palmer said.

For instance, Palmer said he does not support the $8.06 million municipal budget approved by the Selectboard, which represents a 4.1 percent increase from last year and half-cent property tax hike. These kinds of increased taxes in Williston and Vermont could drive businesses and individuals away, therefore shrinking town revenues, he said.

“An increase in property taxes is not something you should be doing when you’re revenue is decreasing,” Palmer added.

Palmer has lived in Williston with his family since 1995. Currently an employee with Engineers Construction, Palmer is working on a number of large-scale projects throughout northern Vermont. He’s also worked in a number of other professions, such as truck driver, law enforcement officer, and bail bondsman. It’s his practical experience in the private sector that Palmer believes would be a refreshing change to the Selectboard.

The current draft of the Town Plan could also use more practicality, Palmer said. Aside from changing the inaccessibility of the plan’s text, Palmer said Williston should stop giving housing developers inducements to build affordable homes. He believes the incentives act more like mandates.

Palmer said he has no qualm if builders want to construct housing for low-income families, but let that be their choice. Affordable housing also doesn’t help increase revenues or lower taxes in Williston, which he said should be a main priority.

“Bringing in low-income people, generally, decreases the tax base and dramatically increases your costs for law enforcement,” Palmer said, adding affordable housing causes upsurges in crime rates.

Palmer said his common-sense beliefs are what Williston needs to get through the challenges ahead.

“Decreasing the amount of money we’re spending won’t make Williston a worse place, it’ll make Williston a successful place,” he said.

Michaud hopes to give back
As someone who’s been involved in a variety of large and small business, Michaud said his everyday real-world experience would best serve Williston. A self-described political novice, Michaud said his “out-of-the-box” thinking could come in handy as the town continues facing tough fiscal challenges.

“I think in these challenging economic times, that’s what we’ve got to have in Williston – that creative thinking,” Michaud said.

Michaud also said a lot of his motivation to win a seat on the Selectboard stems from his aspiration to give back to Williston. Much of that desire started in 2003 when he formed the Champlain Valley Union High School football team. Upon that program’s success, Michaud started the Chittenden South Supervisory Union youth football program for middle school students a year later.

“I guess you could say I’m in the twilight of my career, so I’d like to give back to the community,” he added.

As a small business proprietor who once owned and operated a café, coffee roaster, and a landscape contracting company, Michaud said he knows how to form and balance budgets. His business experience also includes stints at JetBlue Airways and now with FedEx Ground, where he works as a private contractor. Last year, Michaud ran unsuccessfully for one of Williston’s two state representative seats. Since 1973, he has mostly lived in town.

Overall, Michaud approves the direction Williston is taking. He said the Selectboard did a good job approving an $8.06 million budget he believes is fiscally responsible, and the current draft of the Town Plan keeps Williston’s direction steady. He approves efforts to keep growth centered in Taft Corners, including the need for more affordable housing.

Michaud said he’s most excited about the future of Williston and looks forward to the planned mixed-use development, Finney Crossing. With that new growth, and the addition of grid streets in Taft Corners, he hopes that Williston attracts more retail and restaurant businesses. But reaching Williston’s full potential will require time and effort, he said.

As a member of the Selectboard, Michaud said he’d bring his diverse experience to every issue that arises.

“I’ve got the energy and I’ve got the zest for it, and I want to contribute,” Michaud said.

Mease brings forgotten Vermont figure to life

Feb. 17, 2011

College student writes play

By Tim Simard
Observer staff

Middlebury College student and Williston resident Noah Mease wrote a play that debuts at the college on Thursday. (Courtesy photo by Stephen Mease)

During his freshman year at Middlebury College, Noah Mease stumbled upon a forgotten Vermont figure that would play a significant role in the rest of Mease’s college career. While in a first-year seminar, Mease learned about Vermonter Philip Cummings, a world-traveling writer who met one of the globe’s most famous poets.

But next to nothing was known about the man.

Mease, a Williston resident and Middlebury theater major, hopes that will change when a new play he’s written debuts at the college this Thursday, Feb. 17. Called “Green Eden,” the story revolves around the true story of Cummings’ time spent with Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca along the shores of Lake Eden in northern Vermont.

According to Mease, now a Middlebury senior, the two writers spent 10 days in Eden in 1929 hiking the Green Mountains and translating some of Lorca’s poetry into English. Lorca’s status as one of the 20th century’s preeminent poets has grown since his death during the Spanish Civil War in 1936, but Cummings’ life has almost completely disappeared into history. The writer, who earned a master’s degree at Middlebury College, grew up in Hardwick and died in near anonymity in 1991.

And despite Lorca’s popularity, next to nothing is known about his extended vacation in Vermont, Mease explained.

“It was interesting to me to think of this famous literary figure staying in an area that I knew,” said Mease, speaking to the Observer Tuesday from Middlebury.

In between classes, exams and college vacations, Mease studied the two poets for three years, discovering their Vermont connection and learning about Cummings’ varied life. For Mease, writing a play about Cummings and Lorca took a natural course.

“Green Eden” is the first play Mease has written for Middlebury’s stage. He also wrote the play as part of his senior thesis, with an early reading taking place last December. But debuting a play, including designing its set, brings a whole new set of nerves, he said.

“I’ve been running around campus the past few days, getting about three hours of sleep a night and going over and over and over again all the details,” Mease said on the phone from Middlebury.

Directed by Middlebury junior Sasha Rivera, “Green Eden” is not your typical linear play, Mease said. It begins in the 1980s, when a young Spanish writer, named simply the Poet, meets an elderly Cummings one evening to ask him about his summer with Lorca. The story then flashes back and forth between 1929 and the ‘80s, featuring many discussions between Cummings and Lorca, and Cummings and the Poet.

The challenge in the writing came with creating a non-linear story and bringing to life two characters based on real people, Mease said. The actors also face an interesting challenge. Freshman Matt Ball plays both an elderly and younger Cummings, and senior Willy McKay plays the Poet and Lorca, sometimes in the same scene utilizing acting techniques to distinguish each character. At times, Mease wanted to blur the lines during the conversations between Cummings and the Spanish poets.

“As the night goes on, you sort of find out what Philip Cummings and the Poet want from each other,” Mease said.

Mease’s Middlebury play brings him full circle with his theater days at Champlain Valley Union High School. His graduation challenge involved Mease writing a play based on works by author A.A. Milne.

“There is a nice symmetry between my two senior years, definitely,” Mease added.

After this weekend, Mease hopes to get other theater groups across the country interested in “Green Eden.” Once his senior year ends this spring, he plans to continue writing plays on unique and unknown subjects.

“Green Eden” debuts Thursday, Feb. 17 at Middlebury College’s Hepburn Zoo Theatre. Show times are Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., with an additional 10:30 p.m. show on Friday. Tickets are $4 and are available at http://boxoffice.middlebury.edu/index.php.

NECAP scores show improvement, key subgroups continue struggling

Feb. 17, 2011

By Tim Simard
Observer staff

While the majority of Williston School District and Champlain Valley Union High School students have improved and continue scoring above state averages on the New England Common Assessment Program exams, problem areas still remain. Williston and CVU posted low scores for economically disadvantaged and special needs students. It remains an ongoing issue since Vermont implemented the standardized tests in 2005.

The Vermont Department of Education released the statewide assessment exam results, also known as NECAP tests, last week. The NECAPs examine student aptitude in reading, math and writing. Along with Vermont, students in Maine, New Hampshire and Rhode Island are tested every year, as mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind act. Students took the exams in the fall of 2010.

All students in grades three through eight took the reading and math exams, as well as students in grade 11. Students in grades five, eight, and 11 also underwent a separate writing test. Schools also test students on a science version of the NECAP each spring.

The test results feature scores based on subgroups, grade levels and – for school use only – results of individual students.

Jill Remick, communications director for the Department of Education, said scores are slowly improving statewide. But further improvement remains a priority if all schools are to meet the 100 percent proficiency goal by 2014 as set by No Child Left Behind. While reaching 100 percent might seem like an impossible goal, it’s still an objective the state urges schools the follow, she added.

“We really like the NECAP tests because it’s very involved and goes beyond the standard multiple choice questions found on other standardized tests,” Remick said. “It makes students think about and explain their answers.”

Williston scores
Williston students scored higher than state averages with 81 percent of students scoring proficient or higher in reading and 76 percent doing so in math (see accompanying graphs). In terms of writing scores, 55 percent of grade five students tested proficient or higher, with 79 percent doing so in grade eight. Eighth grade writing scores have improved since 2008, while math scores declined by a few percentage points.

Compared to other schools in Chittenden South Supervisory Union, Williston students generally scored lower than their peers in Charlotte and Shelburne. Williston scores for the eighth grade writing exams, however, were the highest in CSSU.

District Principal Walter Nardelli said the administration is currently sifting through the NECAP data to track achievements for individual students. While he’s pleased the district continues performing higher than state averages, he admitted frustration in regards to scores for economically disadvantaged and special needs students.

“We would like to see every one of our students be successful on the NECAPs and we’re not happy when that’s not the case,” Nardelli said.

Of the Williston students classified as economically disadvantaged – those on free or reduced lunch programs – 55 percent scored proficient or higher in reading, with 46 percent doing so in math. The 2010 scores improved from 2009, but remain at roughly the same level as 2008. The sample size of students who took the writing NECAPs in grades five and eight were too small to report. Williston’s reading and math scores for economically disadvantaged students remain below state averages by 3 percentage points.

For students with special needs, 31 percent tested proficient or higher in reading, with 22 percent doing so in math. On the writing exams, eight percent of grade five students tested proficient or higher, with 20 percent doing so for grade eight. While reading scores improved from 2009, math scores dropped.

The struggles in both subgroups put Williston on a state list of districts needing corrective action. Since 2008, the district has failed to meet progress goals and, as a result, must provide supplemental outside services for extra help for students in the subgroups.
Nardelli said the school will continue to review the programs put in place to help all students who struggle on the NECAP exams and find out which ones work best. He said the district remains committed to improving every student’s performance. The No Child Left Behind’s mandate of 100 percent proficiency by 2014 is a goal Williston strives for, Nardelli added.

“If we don’t keep that in mind, we’ll never make improvements,” he said.

CVU results

CVU's grade 11 NECAP scores improved significantly.

CVU’s grade 11 NECAP scores improved significantly from previous years, with 2010’s class earning the best scores since the high school began the tests in 2007. In reading, 84 percent of grade 11 students tested proficient or higher; 55 percent did so in math, and 65 percent did so in writing. Scores for reading and math climbed more than 10 percentage points, with writing scores improving by 6 percentage points.

“I think this class of students took the assessment more seriously this year and put forth more effort in demonstrating their reading, writing and math skills,” said Principal Sean McMannon in an e-mail to the Citizen.

Compared to other Chittenden County high schools with similar demographics such as Mount Mansfield Union and South Burlington, CVU generally scored higher. Only Essex High School had higher scores in reading and math.

CVU also improved its scores for students classified as economically disadvantaged, but fell well below state averages. In reading, 49 percent of students tested proficient or higher, with 16 percent doing so in math and 18 percent doing so in writing.

In the area of special needs students, 26 percent tested proficient or higher in reading, with 6 percent doing so in math and 5 percent doing so in writing. While reading scores improved from 2009, writing scored dropped by 9 percentage points.

McMannon said the number of students classified as economically disadvantaged represents about 11 percent of grade 11, with some also categorized as special needs students. He added the school continues to focus on improving individual student performance through “classroom instruction, tutoring, our Power Reading program, our Educational Support System, and a multitude of other support interventions.”

PHOTOS: Me and My Guy Dance

Feb. 10, 2011

Observer photos by Kayla Walters

The seventh annual Me & My Guy Dance, hosted by Williston Girl Scouts, was held at WCS on Feb. 5. This dance was for elementary and middle school girls and their Fathers or “Father to me” escorts. All proceeds are donated to the Williston Food Shelf and The Bridges Fund, which was established to allow Williston students to participate in extracurricular school programs.

PHOTOS: Wigs for Kids

Feb. 10, 2011

Observer photos by Marianne Apfelbaum

Traci Hull, a former Williston resident, has her hair cut at Oasis Day Spa in Williston on Feb. 5 so it can be sent to Wigs for Kids, a nonprofit organization that provides free hair replacement systems to children who have lost their hair due to chemotherapy, radiation treatments, alopecia, burns, or other medical circumstances. This is the second time Hull has donated to the organization. For more information, visit www.wigsforkids.org.

PHOTOS: Penguin Plunge

Feb. 10, 2011

Plunge photos by Dave Schmidt

Individuals and teams dipped into frosty Lake Champlain on Feb. 5 as part of The Penguin Plunge, an annual event on the Burlington waterfront to benefit Special Olympics Vermont.