May 29, 2016

The shape of change

Through first year, reconfiguration remains complex issue

May 26, 2011

By Adam White
Observer staff

The reconfiguration of the Williston school system has proved, through its first year of implementation, to be:

Students work on a robotics project in a design and technology class at Williston Central School. The house structure at WCS and Allen Brook School changed this year as part of the school reconfiguration. (File photo)

A. Necessary

B. Challenging

C. Divisive

D. Successful

Based on responses from administrators, faculty and parents, the correct answer would have to be: E. All of the above.

While the reconfiguration has seemingly addressed concerns about equity and consistency that were first voiced by parents four years ago, it has also led to upheaval including the resignation of popular teachers and other issues at the Allen Brook and Williston Central schools.

“I’d say the overall feeling is that the reconfiguration was hard work that offered some benefits … but also came with some amount of loss,” said Rick McCraw, WCS’s teacher co-chair of the Program Council involved in the reconfigurations’ planning and implementation.

Roots of change

The reconfiguration’s roots can be traced back to an outcry from parents about equity within the multi-age setup of Williston’s house structure. Those parents unified and put pressure on the School Board to make a change.

“Parents were the impetus for reconfiguration,” said Jacqueline Parks, WCS principal. “For many years, the four-year age span teams (have) been debated within the parent community.”

The blueprint for the reconfiguration was designed with the input of several entities: each school’s Program Council, the school district’s administrative team and a special Conceptual Frameworks Committee set up specifically to explore re-shaping the system, both internally and with external input.

“Part of this process was rooted in a careful examination of the survey that went out to the community … prior to any discussion of reconfiguration,” said Margaret Munt, Allen Brook’s teacher co-chair of the Program Council.

Another goal of the reconfiguration was to address the issue of modular classrooms at ABS, which warranted immediate attention due to a 2009 ruling by the town’s Development Review Board requiring what Williston School Board Chair Holly Rouelle called “expensive modifications.”

“The current configuration allowed us to remove the mobile classrooms,” Rouelle said. “From a cost standpoint, the board chose to save the money needed to renovate the mobile classrooms to use for education purposes closer to teachers and students.”

Shock to the system

The reconfiguration involved far more than just a shuffling of the school system’s proverbial deck. The existing team structure facilitated bonds between faculty members that could not survive the changes.

“Reconfiguration meant the faculty had to split apart teams, many of whom had been working together for 15 years or more,” Munt said. “This was in many cases sad, painful, and a lot of extra work. The work aspect was both physical; having to split materials, take apart spaces, and make new classrooms (in most cases), and relational; to build new teaming structures and relationships with new people.”

McCraw said that steps were taken prior to the implementation in order to make the resulting transitions less jarring.

“Every single team from Grade 1 on experienced some degree of staffing change … but the administration worked hard to ameliorate that change,” McCraw said. “They provided extra summer planning time for teams that were new or faced major change, and that was helpful.”

Nonetheless, the reconfiguration produced some casualties among the faculty. Nick Brooks, an 11-year teaching veteran of WCS’s Voyager team who was slated to return to the school following a one-year leave of absence, instead resigned from his position last month. In a subsequent letter to parents, Brooks cited “differences with the current leadership and vision for the school” and later called the reconfiguration “a symptom of bigger problems” at WCS.

“If I had to summarize those problems, they come from an inconsistent sense of purpose within the administration and leadership,” Brooks said. “There is this shifting of pieces, instead of standing behind a consistent idea of what’s right for the kids and best for the school.

“The reconfiguration was not the final straw for me – but it was certainly a big part of it,” Brooks continued. “It is an indication of a bigger decision-making model that I just don’t agree with.”

Another teacher, Maria Daley, also resigned after 10 years at WCS. Pamela Cowan, a parent of one former and one current student within the Williston system, said that the loss of the two teachers left her “very concerned about the quality” of her younger daughter’s education, due to what she perceived as an “erosion” of fundamental communication.

“Because I doubt these two teachers would be willing to return, I want a full accounting of the situation because I don’t want all the good ones to disappear, leaving only those who go along with poorly constructed game plans,” Cowan said. “When two intelligent and reasonable people leave under controversy, you know that communication didn’t happen and that is never good for any organization and is the responsibility of its leadership, who should be held accountable.”

Parks said that while the resignations were not unexpected, communication was not to blame.

“The thought that some staff might choose to leave as a result of reconfiguration was recognized during the facilitated process as a possible outcome,” Parks said. “However, the School Board carefully chose a process that worked toward consensus, and valued input along the way. There were teacher representatives on the committee and opportunities for teachers to weigh in along the way.”

Also in his letter, Brooks challenged WCS’s “continuous improvement model for operation,” stating that it “does not place equal emphasis on all students and fails to recognize … some of the other important areas of student development.” This argument – mirrored in widespread opposition across the educational landscape to performance-based policies in the No Child Left Behind mold – is larger than just a reconfiguration issue, according to Parks.

“We have very diverse opinions in the community in all areas of education,” Parks said. “Finding common ground across and within the parent and teacher communities has been a challenge. However, everyone has had to give a little and move forward.”

Shapes of things to come

One of the single, most tangible benefits of the reconfiguration may share a direct link to the controversy of quantifying academic progress.

Parents raised an equally resonant voice when it came to Williston’s disappointing performance on the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) exams, particularly in areas like science. With those scores, students may have unknowingly ticketed their school’s setup for the wrecking ball anyway.

“A serendipitous, though unanticipated, advantage of reorganization is that (it) might have been required because of our performance on the NECAP standardized assessment,” McCraw said. “It is likely that this year’s reorganization would fill that requirement.”

Otherwise, it is difficult to assess the outright success of reconfiguration. McCraw admits that planners “did not set performance goals in connection to reconfiguration,” and that “other school initiatives, such as instructional improvements and more systematic support for struggling learners, would have much greater effects.”

Munt sees the answer as complex, much like the process itself and the issues that provoked it.

“Reconfiguration has been successful in terms of what it set out to do, but the price has been that many positive working relationships between professionals, para professionals, children and families were disrupted as a result,” Munt said. “There is no specific process to evaluate the reconfiguration per se, instead our energy and focus, as a school, is to evaluate our programs and continually refine them in the effort to improve the student’s learning.”

Out of the loop

 

Circ Highway undergoes redesign

May 26, 2011

By Steven Frank
Observer staff

After more than a half-century of going around in circles, the Circumferential Highway’s original design will never be constructed.

Gov. Peter Shumlin held a press conference on May 20 at the Interstate 89 northbound rest area in Williston to announce that the Circ plan will be scrapped and redesigned.

Shumlin didn’t indicate specifically what the redesign might include, stating that “nothing is off the table.”

Chittenden County Metropolitan Planning Organization Executive Director Michele Boomhower, who also spoke at the press conference, said past alternatives such as upgrades to the portion of Vermont 2A that runs between Williston and Essex Junction are still one of many possibilities.

On Tuesday, she told the Observer that no options have been discussed since the press conference and that she doesn’t expect any advancement in activity until after the CCMPO Board of Directors meet on June 15.

“We will be proactively working on this over the next few months and will have some ideas prepared for the next legislative session in January,” Boomhower added.

The CCMPO will work with the Federal Highway Administration to develop those solutions, according to Shumlin. Their hope is that a redesign, which will likely include a series of road improvement projects, will satisfy the Environmental Protection Agency’s concern. The EPA deemed the original Circ, which would have been a 16 1/2-mile loop between Williston and Colchester, to be too damaging to wetlands and streams.

Only a small segment of the Circ exists – in Essex between 2A and Vermont 117.

“We spent $97 million over 53 years and only have four miles to show for it,” Shumlin said at the press conference.

He also expressed confidence in restoring the public’s faith in the project, stating that it will be accomplished by looking at solutions for the 21st century and leaving the past behind.

“The original plan is never going to be built,” he said. “The amended plan will be built and that’s what matters.”

EPA New England, which is based in Boston, Mass., issued the following as part of its statement after Shumlin’s announcement: “The Governor’s prudent decision now allows the State to focus its efforts on developing an environmentally sound solution to the regional transportation needs within Chittenden County. EPA New England has offered its support to the State with this effort

CVU Sports Schedule

May 19, 2011

BASEBALL

Thursday: at North Country, 4:30 p.m.

Friday: MILTON, 4:30 p.m.

Monday: at Burlington, 4:30 p.m.

Tuesday: BFA-St. Albans, 4:30 p.m.

SOFTBALL

Thursday: at North Country, 4:30 p.m.

Friday: MILTON, 4:30 p.m.

Monday: at Burlington, 4:30 p.m.

Tuesday: BFA-St. Albans, 4:30 p.m.

GOLF

Thursday: at Newport Invitational, 3:30 p.m.

Friday: AT ROCKY RIDGE, 3:30 p.m.

Tuesday: at Middlebury, 3:30 p.m.

BOYS LACROSSE

Saturday: ESSEX, 11 A.M.

Wednesday: MOUNT MANSFIELD UNION, 4 p.m.

GIRLS LACROSSE

Saturday: at Burlington, 11 a.m.

Monday: at Middlebury, 4:30 p.m.

Wednesday: MOUNT MANSFIELD UNION, 4:30 p.m.

BOYS TENNIS

Monday: at Mount Mansfield Union, 3:30 p.m.

Wednesday: at Colchester, 3:30 p.m.

GIRLS TENNIS

Monday: MOUNT MANSFIELD UNION, 3:30 p.m.

Wednesday: COLCHESTER, 3:30 p.m.

TRACK AND FIELD

Friday: Freshman meet at Essex, 3 p.m.

Tuesday: SOUTH BURLINGTON AND ESSEX, 3:25 p.m.

HOME EVENTS IN CAPS

Schedules and times subject to change

 

Sports Notes

May 19, 2011

RAMPAGING CVU BOYS’ LAX TEAM EYES TEST WITH ESSEX

Having amassed 66 goals in its last three games, the 12-0 Champlain Valley Union Runnin’ Redhawks boys lacrosse team had a second session with Middlebury scheduled for the home patch Wednesday (Observer press time) before hosting an important second meeting of the season with 8-2 Essex on Saturday (11 a.m.).

In its first contest with the defending Division I champion Hornets on April 21, CVU prevailed, 10-8, with a pair of late scores.

Lately, the Redhawks have been wearing out opposing goaltenders. On May 11, CVU went to Barre and rolled up a 20-9 win over Spaulding. A trip to St. Albans on May 14 resulted in a 20-18 victory over BFA, and a jaunt to Middlebury on Monday provided a 16-3 triumph over the Tigers.

That game was switched to the road due to rain and soggy conditions on the CVU field.

At Spaulding, Robbie Dobrowski (five goals) and Lawrence Dee (four goals, five assists) led the point parade.

The shootout at BFA saw veteran Taylor Gingras step up at the high noon confrontation with six goals and a pair of helpers. Dee scored twice and assisted on eight other tallies. Dobrowski, Nate Wells and Justin Beaudry each fired home three goals.

Will Fay, filling in for Eric Palmer in the CVU net, had 15 stops. CVU had 43 shots on the BFA cage.

Gingras had another goal-popping day at Middlebury, notching four scores to go with two assists. Dobrowski and Jake Marston had three goals. Dee and Wells got two scores apiece with Dee adding five assists.

CVU had a 23-6 advantage in shots on goal.

SCHEDULE THICKENS FOR CVU SOFTBALL TEAM

With a few days to savor Saturday’s victory over visiting Vergennes, the Champlain Valley Union softball team will be very busy beginning Thursday with a visit to North Country in Newport.

The Redhawks will be home to Milton on Friday before undertaking four games in four days next week.

This past Tuesday’s visit to Spaulding in Barre was postponed until Wednesday and the regular season wraps up next Thursday at Colchester.

After falling 15-5 to St. Johnsbury Academy on May 12, the 2-8 Redhawks got a solid pitching performance on Saturday from Cayla McCarthy, who fanned 13 batters in going the route.

McCarthy, using an effective variety of speeds, had batters waving at her eye-popping change up that kept the Commodores off stride.

“I have been working hard on that pitch,” a smiling McCarthy said after the game.

She also whiffed nine in a relief effort in the St. Johnsbury contest.

Leah Soule had a double and single with 2 RBIs to pace the Redhawks.

Down 2-0 after a half inning, CVU bounced right back in the bottom of the first to tie the game.

Shortstop Susan Parmalee led of with the first of her two singles, stole second and took third on a wild pitch. Vergennes pitcher Taylor Paquette got two strikeouts, but sophomore Alannah Roy unloaded a double to the fence in left center to plate Parmalee. Roy then scored on Soule’s single.

In the St. Johnsbury game, CVU’s Rachel Distler pounded out a pair of doubles and drove in three.

CVU GIRLS’ LAX TEAM ENDS LOSING STRING

Their five-game losing streak over, the Champlain Valley Union girls lacrosse team returns to action on Saturday against Burlington with a 3-6 record in tow.

The Redhawks did some late season polishing for their campaign with an 11-10 overtime road win over Middlebury on Tuesday. Amanda Kinneston scored her fourth goal of the day with just 46 seconds remaining in overtime.

CVU also got a pair of tallies from Michaela Kiley. Goalie Mikaela Gobeille had 12 saves.

CVU TENNIS RESULTS

Boys

CVU (6-4) 4, South Burlington 3, May 14

Monday match vs Colchester postponed to Friday, at Colchester

Girls

South Burlington 5, CVU (7-3) 2, May 14

Monday match at Colchester postponed to Saturday.

— Mal Boright

 

CVU baseball surges, faces busy week

May 19, 2011

By Mal Boright
Observer correspondent

The onrushing Champlain Valley Union baseball aggregation faces a test of four games in six days starting Thursday with a trip to the Northeast Kingdom for a contest with 3-6 North Country Union in Newport.

Coach Tim Albertson and the Redhawks return home Friday to greet visiting Milton. Monday will bring a previously postponed game at Burlington (3-6).

A strong 9-1 BFA-St. Albans team will roll into Hinesburg for a significant contest (think playoff seedings) next Tuesday.

The regular season will wrap up Thursday with a visit to solid Colchester.

On Tuesday, CVU laid a 6-0 whitewash on Spaulding in Barre with sophomore Davis Mikell hurling a two-hitter and striking out 11.

Tucker Kohlash, (three singles, RBI) and Jeff Badger (2-for-3) continued their recent hot bat work.

Before the rains came last Saturday, the Redhawks snared a come-from-behind 4-3 home victory over Vergennes.

Commodores’ right hander Charlie Stapleford took a 3-1 lead into the bottom of the sixth, where he gave the Hawks an opening and they quickly took advantage.

Drew Nick and Mikell led off with walks and then advanced on a balk.

Lawrence Halverson, 2-for-2 with a walk in the game, unloaded a sharp single to center to score both runners and tie the game at 3.

Badger then earned Stapleford’s sixth walk of the game. He took second on pitcher Curt Echo’s hard grounder to first and scored the eventual winning run when that lusty No. 9 swatter Tim Jones, hammered a double to left center.

Echo pitched into the seventh, giving up eight hits and fanning seven.

After an easy sixth in which he whiffed two, Echo left for the big closer Mikell with two on and one out in the seventh. Unleashing his high and low fire, Mikell struck out the first batter. The next swinger, with two strikes, clubbed a liner to an alert Ryan Machavern to end the game.

Thursday’s 14-9 win over St. Johnsbury at the Hinesburg ball yard was another come-from-behind effort that required a 10-run bottom of the fifth to put away the Hilltoppers.

Nick, the CVU starter, took a 4-1 lead and one-hitter into the top of the fifth. St. Jay then got to Nick for three walks and three singles, and struck for three more hits and a walk for a seven spot before reliever Dylan Ireland could end the carnage.

Trailing 8-4, and seemingly back on their heels, the Hawks turned the immediate environment into Rap City. Led by Badger’s RBI double (third hit of the day), Machavern’s RBI triple, RBI singles by Echo, Nick and Ian Solomon (2-for-2), and Halvorson’s sacrifice fly, the Hawks smashed and bashed for eight runs. Mikell authored the finishing bomb, a two-run homer over the fence in right center.

“I was just looking for something to hit,” Mikell said after the game, agreeing that the pitch he got was good heat in his wheelhouse. It was his first circuit clout of this, his sophomore season.

The win went to southpaw reliever Calvin Benevento.

Dobrowski finds the net in winter and spring

May 19, 2011

By Mal Boright
Observer correspondent

Champlain Valley Union’s Robbie Dobrowski, who played a major role in the hockey team’s state championship in March and finished his four-year career with almost 100 goals, is also a star on the boys lacrosse team. (File photo)

Ah yes, even as the seasons change, some things remain the same.

For instance, consider Robbie Dobrowski of Champlain Valley Union, Vermont’s 2011 Mr. Hockey.

The senior star forward of the Redhawks’ Division I ice champions had, as one of his highlight performances last winter, a five-goal outburst in a home victory over Rutland.

Some four months later, playing for the undefeated CVU lacrosse team two weeks ago, Dobrowski popped five goals in leading the lax men to a 20-9 triumph over Spaulding in Barre.

He is one of a slew of talented offensive threats on the Redhawks squad, which had rolled to an 11-0 record by May 15.

Dobrowski said the switch from hockey to lacrosse was not difficult, noting that in hockey the sticks are held down and in lacrosse they are held up.

After finishing his four-year CVU hockey career with just south of 100 career goals (94 to be exact), Dobrowski is headed to Middlebury College and its highly regarded Division III hockey program this fall.

As for being named the state’s Mr. Hockey by the Burlington Free Press, he said it was something he had dreamed about for a while.

It was also an outcome a massive number of CVU hockey supporters roared from the Gutterson Field House stands in the 1-0 championship victory over rival Essex on March 15 after Dobrowski netted the game’s lone goal, getting a long pass from teammate Kyle Logan deep in the CVU end. He quickly turned and fired a shot from 20 feet out on the extreme left side of the net.

“That has been my sweet spot,” Dobrowski recalled recently of the position and the shot from a challenging angle.

Logan, also a senior, and Dobrowski have been playing hockey together since they were 10-years-old.

Dobrowski said that after eighth grade, there was pressure to forego CVU for prep hockey programs as a way to better advance his hockey career. However, he opted for the Redhawks and said it was the right decision.

He also sees himself as an example to talented younger players that they don’t have to think of prep schools as the only way to advance their hockey careers when they enter the high school years.

“We won two division titles and got to the Division I championship games four times,” Dobrowski said.

He credits his coaches, Doug Hopper and Mike Murray, with strong support over the years.

Dobrowski said he “can’t wait” to get to Middlebury College, and begin the next phase of his hockey and academic experiences. He thinks he wants to study economics but that is not set in stone.

As for hockey, he said: “I want to have a good career and be a contributor my junior and senior years.”

Obituaries

May 19, 2011

BARBARA J. MORTON

Barbara J. Morton, 86, of Williston, died on Sunday, May 8, 2011, in the Vermont Respite House surrounded by her loving family. Barbara is survived by her husband, Kenneth N. Morton Sr.; her son, Kenneth N. Morton, Jr. and his wife, Ginger, of Williston; her daughter, Sharon Cronin and her husband, Joseph, of South Burlington; and her grandchildren, Erin and Emily Morton of Williston, and J. Matthew Cronin and his wife, Briana, of Underhill. Services will be private and at the convenience of the family. Arrangements are with LaVigne Funeral Home and Cremation Service, 132 Main St., Winooski.

Recipe Corner

Cookies for party time occasions

May 19, 2011

By Ginger Isham

When our children were growing up I made cookies about three times a week. Evidently this did not affect their health because all six of them are healthy young adults today. Maybe living and working on a farm deserves some credit. This week I am sharing cookie recipes – not from the past, but from today’s world. If any of you attended Dick Allen’s book signing at the Dorothy Alling Memorial Library on April 9, you might have sampled this cookie.

Molasses Crinkles

Cream:

1 cup butter (can substitute 1/2 cup margarine) and slowly add 3/4 cup sugar.

Beat in:

1 1/4 cup molasses

1 1/2 teaspoon ginger

1 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon cloves

Beat in:

2 eggs

Mix in:

4 cups flour (add dry ingredients little at time)

1 teaspoon baking soda

Pinch of salt

When batter is smooth, cover and put in refrigerator for several hours, overnight is best. Form dough into balls about walnut size by rolling in palm of the hands. Dip into natural coarse sugar and place on greased cookie sheets.

Bake at 375 degrees for about 12 minutes. Do not overcook. Makes about 4-dozen cookies.

Good For You Oatmeal Cookies

1/4 cup butter

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/3 cup white sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Pinch of salt

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

3/4 cup flour

3/4 cup oatmeal

1/4 cup flaxseed meal

1/4 cup wheat germ

2 ounces dark chocolate, chopped

1/4 cup dried cranberries

1/4 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Cream butter, sugars, spices, and baking soda. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Blend in flour. Stir in rest of ingredients. Dough will look crumbly. Drop by teaspoon onto ungreased cookie sheet and bake 9 to 11 minutes, or until tops are light brown. Cool a minute on cookie sheet and then remove to wire rack. Makes about 30 cookies.

Oriental Cookies In a Hurry

If you are craving a chocolate cookie that takes little time and no baking: melt 12 ounces dark chocolate chips, 6 ounces butterscotch chips in microwave, stir in a 3 ounce can Chinese noodles and 1 cup chopped pecans, cashews or walnuts. Arrange by teaspoon onto waxed paper and chill. Delicious! Yield: 30 cookies

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

 

Right to the Point

Sustaining Vermont

May 19, 2011

By Kayla Purvis

In my Current Issues class at Champlain Valley Union High School, we have been looking at sustainability. We watched the movie “Earth 2100,” a supposedly scientific prediction of Earth’s future if we continue living the way we do. Despite my thoughts on that claim and on global warming itself, one thing in that movie got me thinking. The movie mentions the town of Greensburg, Kan., a town that was hit by an EF-5 tornado in 2007. In “Earth 2100,” the town is completely self-sustaining. The town of Greensburg’s “sustainable master plan” can be found on its website, www.greensburgks.org.

So, I started wondering how hard and/or easy it would be to make my own future house completely or nearly completely self-sustaining. Between wind, solar, and hydropower, how hard could it be? Then I got to wondering, if Vermont were its own country, could it manage self-sustainability?

Vermont is No. 1 on Greenopia’s list of greenest states! We have earned the following to achieve that ranking: air quality, recycling rate, renewable energy usage, LEED buildings, per capita emissions, per capita energy consumption, and per capita waste generation (www.greenopia.com). We also ranked No. 1 on “Huffington Post’s” list.

According to vermontyankee.com, Vermont Yankee puts out 650 megawatts of power, which they claim is about 80 percent of Vermont’s total energy demand. They also provide about one-third of our total electricity demand. So, if the plant is closed in 2012, I think the only sane solution is to use strictly renewable energy resources to replace all that power.

General Electric makes a common 1.5-megawatt wind turbine model. Most turbines only put out 15 to 30 percent of their total capacity because of variability in weather conditions. So, let’s assume that a 1.5MW turbine puts out 30 percent of its capacity … that’s .5MW, or 500,000 watts. Vermont Yankee’s 650MW was about 80 percent of our power, so we would at least need to match that. At 500,000 watts per one turbine, we would need 1,300 1.5MW turbines operating at a consistent 30 percent capacity in order to match the power we would lose from Vermont Yankee.

I had a bit of trouble finding the cost of one of these turbines, so I asked (Observer Liberally Speaking columnist) Steve (Mount) if he knew. One rate that he found was about $2/megawatt. Going with that, one 1.5MW turbine would be about $3 million. One thousand and three hundred of those would be, assuming no discounts, $3.9 billion. Aside from the sheer cost alone, tourism would be another hurdle. Vermont’s landscapes, views, foliage, and skiing are our major tourism attractions. How much would 1,300-or-more turbines affect that? Personally, I think wind farms are fascinating; you really don’t realize how big they are until you go past them. I don’t think that wind farms would hurt our tourism very much.

Another option would be hydropower. I did a little research and found that two gallons per minute is a pretty standard water flow to require for decent hydropower. Lake Champlain’s average rate of flow into the St. Lawrence River is 12,000 cubic feet per second, or 5,373,134 gallons per minute. To find out how many watts we could get out of that rate of flow, I converted gallons per minute to horsepower, and then horsepower to watts. One horsepower (hp) is 3,960 gpm. One horsepower also equals about 750 watts. The number I got was 1,017,639 watts. So, in theory, Lake Champlain could give us more than one million watts of electricity in one single minute. In one day, that is 1.44 billion watts.

Wind and waterpower would be great alternatives to Vermont Yankee, but they would also be expensive. I found an estimate that put the cost at about $20,000 for a hydro pump that can power a handful of modern homes. Nuclear power is clean, but can be risky. We also have to factor in whether or not it’s worth it to lose all the jobs that are provided to Vermonters from the power plant. I think it would be really cool if Vermont could find a way to get most of its power from renewable energy sources that have minimal threats and risks.

Williston resident Kayla Purvis is a senior at Champlain Valley Union High School.

 

Liberally Speaking

One step closer to a national popular vote

May 19, 2011

By Steve Mount

The Electoral College is a unique feature of our system of electing a national leader. After two centuries, though, is it time to do away with the College?

The Electoral College is the body that actually elects the President and Vice President. When we, the people, vote for a presidential candidate, we are not actually voting for a single person. We are, instead, voting for a slate of electors. The chosen electors meet on Elector Day, sometime in December following the general election, and cast their votes for the two offices.

Each state has a number of electors equal to its congressional representation. With one seat in the House and two seats in the Senate, Vermont has three electors. Each party fielding a presidential candidate selects electors. The electors are typically party loyalists, pledged to cast their vote for the party’s choice for President and Vice President.

The Electoral College was designed, in 1787, for an entirely different America. Time, however, revealed some fatal flaws in the Electoral College system, and though the most egregious flaws were fixed long ago, it may be time to take another serious look.

Originally, each elector cast two votes for President. The person with the most votes became President, and the runner-up became Vice President. This system would have worked fine if people did not begin to divide themselves into parties — but they did, almost immediately.

In the election of 1800, the Democratic-Republican party ran Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr against Federalists John Adams and Thomas Pinckney. Each dutiful Democratic-Republican elector cast his votes, toeing the party line: one for Jefferson and one for Burr. In the end, Jefferson and Burr got 73 votes, even though the plan had been to elect Jefferson. Someone forgot to tell at least one Democratic-Republican elector to vote for someone other than Burr. The resulting fray, where the election was decided in the House by a Federalist majority, lead to the 12th Amendment, that specified separate ballots for the two executive positions.

The 1876 election of Rutherford Hayes was a partisan mess. Hayes’s opponent, Samuel Tilden, won a narrow majority of the popular vote, but when it came time to count the electoral votes, the results were not quite so clear. Hayes and Tilden were both close to the needed majority, but many electoral votes were challenged. It took a congressional commission, and the end of military occupation in the post-war South, to assign enough votes to Hayes.

Most of us remember the controversy between George Bush and Al Gore in 2000. Gore had a narrow lead over Bush in the popular vote, beating Bush by just over half a percentage point. After much controversy in several states, and Florida in particular, the electoral vote went to Bush, 271-266.

The National Popular Vote movement, which aims to make the winner of the popular vote the President without concern for these electoral college vagaries, got a boost this year when the Vermont legislature threw its support behind the plan. The NPV movement looks not to amend the Constitution, but to work within its confines.

It seeks to create a compact of sorts, accumulating support one state at a time, until at least enough states to make up the majority of 270 electoral votes sign on. In states where the NPV is enacted, the state’s law would change to direct its electors to cast their votes for whichever candidate won the national popular vote, without regard to the candidate’s vote tally in that state.

Including Vermont’s three, the NPV now has 77 electoral votes from eight states to its name.

I’m a fan of working within the system, and would like to see the NPV plan come to fruition. I am dubious that electors could be punished for not voting with the national popular vote (the Constitution gives the electors wide latitude in their votes), but it would not be difficult to avoid faithless electors with proper vetting.

I do think that losing the Electoral College would be a sad thing. It is quirky, uniquely American, and an avenue into learning more about where we came from as a nation. But despite the value of these things, having a simple, straightforward, and predictable system, based on the popular vote, seems like the best way forward for our democracy. Hopefully, Vermont’s support for the compact will nudge other states to support the NPV, too.

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.