School boards, CSSU side with RETN (4/23/09)

Charlotte board waits to hear from Comcast in contract dispute

April 23, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

School boards in Chittenden South Supervisory Union gave near unanimous support last week to RETN, the local education channel that has been embroiled in a contract dispute with the cable provider Comcast.

The school boards of Champlain Valley Union High School, Hinesburg, Shelburne, St. George and Williston all supported a resolution to champion RETN Channel 16, which stands for the Regional Educational Technology Network. The CSSU Board of Directors also gave its support to the network.

The Charlotte Central School Board abstained from signing a resolution. CCS Board Chairman Clyde Baldwin said the board wanted to hear from both sides of the issue before making a decision. He said an RETN representative has already explained the network’s side of the story.

Comcast has sent a letter to the affected school districts, but has not sent any representatives to school board meetings in the supervisory union.

“Out of fairness, we should wait to hear what Comcast has to say,” Baldwin said.

RETN provides coverage of local school board meetings and other school-related events for all CSSU towns and much of the Champlain Valley, including Burlington.

Comcast — the nation’s largest cable provider — has questioned RETN’s bookkeeping practices and financial reports. Earlier this year, Comcast petitioned the Vermont Public Service board to allow the cable company to suspend its contract with RETN North, which includes Williston and St. George. Comcast did not renew its contract with RETN South—which covers Charlotte, Hinesburg and Shelburne — when it expired in November 2007.

Both sides have reached an interim funding agreement while Comcast completes an audit of RETN’s finances. The audit is to be completed next month, when both parties will return to the Vermont Public Service Board for a hearing.

RETN Public Relations Associate Doug Dunbebin said resolutions of support from school boards are important to Channel 16. He said RETN would include all resolutions when it files a counter petition against Comcast in May.

“It shows that we’ve served our communities well and we’ve continued to serve them well,” Dunbebin said.

Only the Charlotte and the South Burlington school boards have not endorsed a resolution at this time.

Williston School Board Chairwoman Darlene Worth said the board found it important to support RETN, “particularly regarding their past work with us,” she said.

Worth referenced the resolution the Williston Board supported, which states that RETN brings “valuable contributions to students, our learning community, and our school board by providing public television access, enhancing democracy through transparency of government, and creating educational opportunities for students.”

Baldwin said the Charlotte School Board will remain “impartial and neutral” until it hears Comcast’s side of the story. He believes RETN does a good job of covering local education issues.

“We have been very satisfied with what RETN has provided to us,” Baldwin said.

He hopes a Comcast representative will visit the CCS Board at its May or June meeting.

A representative from Comcast did not respond in time for press deadline.