By: Lani Duke
School districts consider Act 46 by deadlines
School classrooms are filling up soon, and boards are returning to tackle discussions of how to meet the state-mandated merger requirements of Act 46. If these school districts combine, which are left out? Which lie in between but don’t fit in terms of their structure?
Rutland Central and Rutland Southwest may be able to work out some form of cooperation. Rutland Central consists of Proctor Elementary, Proctor Jr./Sr. High, Rutland Town, and West Rutland schools. Rutland Southwest contains Poultney Elementary and Poultney High, Middletown Springs Elementary and Wells Village schools, as well as the town of Ira.
West Rutland, Proctor, and Poultney might create a single school district, continuing to operate their separate schools, although under a single school board and a single budget. Together they have even forged a name for their merger, the Quarry Valley School District. A draft compromise “constitution” outlines a 10-member board with seats allotted in proportion to population. Poultney would have four seats; West Rutland, three; and Proctor, three—but Proctor’s three members would submit only two votes because of the district’s relatively small size.
Financially, there would appear to be a couple of obstacles, namely, the $1 million bonds outstanding in both West Rutland and Proctor. Projections offered to the study committee didn’t extend past the temporary tax breaks resulting from the merger. The public needs more financial information, said Mary Jo Teetor, Poultney School Board chair, but she’s optimistic that the unification may provide a satisfactory solution.
Middletown Springs and Rutland Town may find themselves stuck with each other although they are 15 miles apart. Nor do they use the same educational plan. Rutland Town has a school that covers kindergarten through grade eight; Middletown Springs, through grade six. Act 46 requires merging districts employ a common delivery model.
Giving up two grades would cost Rutland Town School $700,000 a year, said School Board chair Lynette Gallipo. The Vermont Agency of Education has already said the state would not approve of converting Rutland Town to a K-6 district while continuing to operate a middle school and offering tuition.
Their differences could be overcome if Middletown Springs were to begin operating a middle school, sending its seventh and eighth grade students to Rutland Town and using distance-learning techniques to link the schools. A Sept. 8 community forum at the Middletown Springs Elementary School will discuss whether that solution seems feasible.
State’s Attorney’s office found to discriminate in pay
RUTLAND—In the years she worked for the State’s Attorney’s office in Rutland from 2009 to 2014, Jane O’Neill received less pay than a man in the same position and was denied overtime wages although her male colleagues received overtime pay, she said in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Burlington. She claims she was discriminated against because she is female.
Although she worked an average of 50 to 60 hours a week and was on call one week a month from 4:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., her paychecks were held until she signed an affidavit saying she had worked no more than 40 hours a week, she said.
O’Neill began seeking pay for overtime soon after being hired in 2009. When a male colleague was hired in 2011, her supervisor Marc Brierre, then the State’s Attorney for Rutland County, refused to say whether the new hire was receiving the same salary as O’Neill. She later found out he was being paid $14,000 more than she was. Another female attorney, hired in 2013, also receive significantly less than a male counterpart, O’Neill said.
Brierre retaliated when O’Neill expressed her concerns, she said, giving her work that was below her skill level, excluding her from some office meetings, and rebuking her for asking about her salary, she charged.
Her pursuit of higher payment seemed only to result in an increasingly hostile work environment, and she was subsequently forced to resign, she claimed. Her suit asks for back wages and damages from the Rutland County State’s Attorney’s office and the Department of State’s Attorneys and Sheriffs.
In her suit, O’Neill alleges her employer violated Vermont’s Fair Employment Practices Act. The defendants filed a motion to dismiss Aug. 9, contending state’s attorneys can not be sued in federal court, saying the department is covered by immunity as an arm of the State under Amendment 11. Sept. 12 is the deadline for a ruling on the motion to dismiss.
Street work closes Curtis Avenue
RUTLAND—Repairs on a failing culvert have caused the Department of Public Works to close Curtis Avenue between Mussey Street and Vermont Sport and Fitness for a two-week period that began Aug. 15. Workers are removing Mussey Brook’s deteriorated concrete headwall and extending the culvert some 20 feet downstream.
Water bill discussion gets deep
RUTLAND—A majority of Rutland City’s aldermen decided to refuse Rutland Town’s request that late fees on a water and sewer bill be waived Aug. 15. The town had missed paying part of the bill when it was due Aug. 1 because the town treasurer had resigned. When town Select Board Chair Joshua Terenzini submitted a $88,000 check, City Treasurer Wendy Wilton refused it because it lacked the 5 percent late fee.
Although town residents are on Rutland City water and sewer, they pay those fees to the Town. The Town aggregates those fees and, in turn, pays the City. A week before, Terenzini thought the payment to the City would be $105,000, but recalculation in the Town office lowered that figure considerably.
Terenzini told the aldermen that Rutland City and Rutland Town are in a “unique and essential partnership,” that their police and fire departments reinforce each other, and Town rec department officials reduced fees for City residents to swim in North Wood Park after White Pool closed.
“Pessimists don’t understand our appreciation for one another,” he said. That mutual appreciation was not great enough for the aldermen to waive the fee, as the aldermen had decided in the past that the City would no longer waive late fees for anyone, not even for City residents, Alderman Sharon Davis explained. Alderman David Allaire concurred with Davis, stating that a fee waiver sets a poor precedent and is unfair to City ratepayers.
Terenzini promised that the bill would be paid.
Something more fundamental may be at stake than the price of water, though. An email discussion that began with Wilton’s Aug. 12 communication to the whole Board, also copied to Mayor Christopher Louras and Public Works Commissioner Jeffrey Wennberg, may have violated Vermont’s open meetings law. The resulting weekend-long discussion among Wilton, Bloomer, Ettori, and Davis may have violated the open meeting law, and so may another discussion between only Board President William Notte and Alderman Larson.
Although Deputy Secretary of State Christopher Winters did not say the communications constituted an illegal meeting, Board President William Notte believes they did. He said he did not stop the discussion because he had not known about it until he left work later in the day. He felt that his thoughts, sent as a separate email after the discussion had already concluded, were not an open meeting law violation.
A discussion need not all be on a single thread to be a violation of the law, Winters commented. Opinions begin to form during this kind of discussion; the board is then conducting business before its public meeting, Winters explained. According to Winters, boards must confine email discussions to setting agendas, not policy.
Burglary reports expose marijuana plantation
CLARENDON—Rutland County Sheriff deputies were answering a series of citizen burglary complaints Aug. 18 when they learned there seemed to be suspicious activity near the cemetery on Walker Mountain Road. Exploring near the cemetery, they found a “marijuana grow.” The plants are now destroyed, Sheriff Stephen Benard said. If anyone has information about either the burglaries or the pot cultivation, call the sheriff ‘s department at 775-8002.
Oldest fairgrounds sugarhouse marks half a century
RUTLAND—The Rutland County Maple Producers celebrated their 50th anniversary and the oldest fairgrounds sugarhouse in the state, Aug. 17. Truman Young, the Tinmouth sugarmaker whose name the sugarhouse bears, mortgaged his farm to erect the original structure at the fairgrounds.
Considered the largest sugarhouse in the world, it welcomes visitors to its nearly 5,000 sq. ft. working, display, and sales area each year. Maple producers here even create new products, like the world’s first maple creemee in 1981.