State approves RSSU merger plan; now it goes to the voters
The State Board of Education has officially approved the merger plan created by the Act 46 study committee of Rutland South Supervisory Union (RSSU). Voters in RSSU member towns will vote on the proposed merger March 1, 2016, as they are asked to approve the creation of the White Rocks Unified Education District, covering Clarendon, Shrewsbury, Tinmouth and Wallingford, and serving at least 900 students. Overseeing the new district would be an 11-member board, with four members from Clarendon, four from Wallingford, two from Shrewsbury, and one from Tinmouth.
These communities already send most of their students to Mill River Union High School. RSSU board chair George Ambrose has commented that, although the study committee had reached out to neighboring school districts, none wanted to join in.
The study committee, comprised of John McKenna, Clarendon School Board; George Ambrose, Clarendon resident; Adrienne Raymond, Shrewsbury School Board; Grant Reynolds, Tinmouth School Board; Ken Fredette, Wallingford School Board, and Tammy Heffernan, Wallingford resident, had a lot to consider. RSSU already had a number of systems, efficiencies, and collaborative efforts in place. Also part of the discussion were Pietro Lynn, legal counsel, and Dave Younce, RSSU superintendent.
If approved, there is only one budget and there would be fewer state, federal, and IRS reports, as well as fewer independent audits and less chance of incurring the excess spending tax penalty. A single district would also negotiate teacher and support staff agreements and reduce legal expenses. A larger district would also have increased purchasing power. Staff could be shared through the district, and there would be more opportunity for part-time employees to increase their hours to full-time. The schools would have access to a common labor pool rather than only to those hired in individual schools. Capital improvements may be spread systemwide for greater efficiency.
Act 153 spreads property tax reductions over four years: 8 percent in the first year, 6 in the next, 4 in the third, and 2 in the final year. The RSSU may have received $20,000 to reimburse consulting and legal fees; if voters approve the proposal, the state will open up a $130,000 pot to cover transition costs.
If the merger fails, both Tinmouth and Shrewsbury elementary schools lose their small school financial support. Tinmouth currently receives $76,152; Shrewsbury, $90,684. If the measure passes, no schools would close “in the immediate future.”
Tinmouth students currently have school choice in high school with tuition paid by the district. The merger allows those accommodations to continue only until currently enrolled students graduate, although the board may continue to make exceptions to meet individual students’ needs.
The study committee says the proposal is a winner, with savings of more than $377,000 ahead.
Grant Reynolds, a member of the study committee, notes that school bureaucracy is taking over a lot of the decisions about student education: special ed, transportation, finance, and curriculum. Principals work for the superintendent. Hiring is in the hands of the superintendent, who may present a single candidate whom the school board either approval or rejects. Local control is already gone, he believes.
Changes herald the new year
Dinah Stafford plans to sell her custom framing business, Quest Frames, to Aura Smith-Pliner with the start of the new year. Smith-Pliner intends to retain the company name and the 134 Woodstock Ave., Rutland, location.
Accounting, auditing, tax and business advisory services firm O’Brien Shortle Reynolds & Sabotka, PC, recently announced that Jeff Langmaid, CPA, has joined its professional staff as a manager. A graduate of the former Castleton State College, Langmaid is certified in both Vermont and New York.
Rutland loses community pillar
Ron Hance, the man who led Heritage Family Credit Union’s growth into a nine-branch powerhouse, died Dec. 20 after a brief illness. He had retired last year after a career that grew what had been a company credit union unto an organization that has 168 employees and 40,000 members. Hance served on the boards of Rutland Regional Medical Center and College of St. Joseph. In 2011, he was inducted to the Credit Union Executive Society Hall of Fame, and was named 2012 Business Person of the Year by the Rutland Area Chamber of Commerce.
Combination Pond deeded over to city
Rutland City has formally accepted the donation of Combination Pond and the 6.6 acres that contain it, with a vote of 7 to 2. The pond’s future is already being hotly debated. Judy Barone donated the pond to the city on behalf of her father, Gilbert Godnick, mayor of the city from 1973 to 1981, and one of the original Combination Pond developers. The fear of surrounding residents, who have rights to access, is that the pond will be drained. At issue is Moon Brook, which flows out of Combination Pond and according to the state Agency of Natural Resources and the federal Environmental Protection Agency is in violation of the new water quality standards of the state, as determined by water quality testing. The state and the City of Rutland disagree about the cause of low water quality, while locals believe the fault lies in the testing procedure, performed with malfunctioning equipment. They say Moon Brook raises healthy trout, and the pond supports healthy wildlife, including heron, attracts year-round recreational use, and is a part of the historical fabric of Rutland.
Parking ban downtown overnight considered
Rutland City policy demands a ban on parking downtown from Dec. 1 to March 31 between 3 and 6 a.m., and elsewhere in the city from midnight to 6 a.m. That enables snowplows to clean streets out efficiently, assuming, of course, there is snow there in need of plowing. Although there has been no snow yet this winter necessitating the streets being cleaned, a number of citizens are complaining that they have received tickets for on-street parking. According to City Attorney Charles Romeo, the Aldermen have no power to void those tickets; only the city traffic court can. The Aldermen can amend the ordinance, but they may not be able to suspend it. The Public Works Committee is taking another look at potential changes to the ordinance.
Can’t count on luck
Even though the city seems to have avoided most of the hazards that could have befallen it and its employees in the past, that was a matter of luck, Fred Satink told the Rutland Board of Aldermen Dec. 21. Loss-control supervisor for the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, Satink attended the city board meeting to encourage the city to set up and fill the risk management position proposed in the 2016-2017 budget. The city has above-average losses, making it a poor risk for an insurer, Satink said. Mayor Christopher Louras added that having a risk manager would save the city money by adjustment in the formula used to calculate its liability insurance premiums, and the person would also probably save the city money on those premiums by working to bring down claims. Departments generating the most claims are the police and fire departments, but former Police Chief James Baker had been successful in following up on claims, a trend Satink believes the new police chief will also follow. Public works is improving its results too, Satink noted, but city operations as a whole need central coordination. That individual would not bear responsibility for solving all problems, though. He or she would work with a committee of employees who would act as a liaison and information conduit, reviewing incident reports and brainstorming on preventing such incidents in the future.
Sewer rates to rise
Rutland City sewer rates are rising up just a bit. The sewer maintenance rate is rising from $4.08 to $4.36 per 100 cubic feet, while the sewer treatment maintenance rate also rises from $1.20 to $1.65. The water rate stays the same, at $3.40. Nor do service fees go up, staying at a combined $46.60.
Officials expect quarterly bills for a “typical” family using 100 gallons a day to increase by only $4.12. However, the U.S. Geological Survey estimates the average person alone uses 80 to 100 gallons a day. Those who can afford to replace appliances can realize some savings. An older toilet uses 3 gallons per flush, but newer models use only about 1.6 gallons. Tub baths average 36 gallons, while showers use from 2 to 5 gallons a minute. Older clothes washers use as much as 40 gallons per wash, but the newer models may use as little as 25 gallons a load.
Rutland PD: an expensive lesson
The old PD ain’t what it used to be and many are grateful. But what it used to be has cost the city a sizable sum, just short of $1 million. The Board of Aldermen approved a $975,000 settlement to Andrew Todd, former Rutland police officer. All but $500 of the award is being paid by the city’s insurer. Todd had been the only African-American police officer in Rutland from 2003 to 2012. He cited racism, racial profiling, and cover-ups as compelling him to resign. Todd’s complaints were not unfounded, as depositions made by city police dispatchers, officers, and other witnesses revealed. Reporting the problem to higher-ups resulted in Todd’s being labeled a troublemaker. Mayor Chris Louras placed Todd’s supervisor, Sgt. John Johnson, and co-worker Officer Earl Frank Post on administrative leave in 2011; they resigned in 2012.
When Todd filed the civil lawsuit, then Police Chief James Baker ordered an internal investigation at the hands of retired Burlington police chief and former state public safety commissioner Thomas Tremblay. Tremblay said the city was at risk of liability, caused by Johnson and Post’s behavior. Without settlement, Todd’s suit against the city would be going to trial in early 2016.
The city has faced racial discrimination and profiling charges before. The city had to pay out $45,000 to Jamek Hart in October 2010, as a result of his being shot repeatedly with a crowd-control pepperball gun while the 24-year-old was shackled in a holding cell the previous New Year’s Eve. And before that, the city had settled two other brutality complaints against the department in the previous six years.
More recently, the Aldermen approved a February 23, 2012, $30,300 settlement with Mark Allen of Brooklyn, an African-American, who was detained and strip-searched after a Merchants Row traffic stop on March 14, 2011. The other two men in the car with Allen were not black and were not detained.
As part of the Todd settlement, the city police department had 60 days in which to adopt a bias-free policing policy, and the city was to hire someone to train the police force on bias-free policing.
to Rutland High band director Brent Barnett on being named to the annual 50 Directors Who Make a Difference list published by School Band and Orchestra Magazine.