The_Valley_Reporter - Editorials Wed, 29 Jul 2015 22:04:03 -0400 en-gb We need more than minutes

At last Tuesday's Warren School Board meeting, Washington West Supervisory Union (WWSU) superintendent Brigid Scheffert Nease sought to silence rumors that she was responsible for the nonrenewal of administrative assistant Laurie Jones' employee contract.

When it comes to hiring decisions, she hardly has any authority, Scheffert Nease said. She lets the local school boards choose a finalist and she just makes sure that their references and criminal records check out.

Scheffert Nease's authority, according to her, lies in making sure WWSU schools are in compliance with state and federal laws – that all their records are kept correctly and submitted on time.

She then went on to list all of the ways in which Warren School is not complying with state and federal laws.

Last Tuesday, community members learned that in the past year Warren School has struggled to submit its average daily attendance numbers and subsidized lunch records on time, which directly affects how much funding it receives from the state. Already, the school lost almost $5,000 in failing to collect tuition for an out-of-town student, Scheffert Nease said.

But those are money issues. Warren School also has safety issues. According to Scheffert Nease, the afterschool program had been operating without insurance for years and parts of its playground have been deemed dangerous.

Thanks for telling us this, those in attendance at last Tuesday's meeting said. But why are we only hearing about it just now?

So far in the Laurie Jones debacle, Scheffert Nease has made several attempts at downplaying the extent of her authority at Warren School. But shouldn't she have been using that authority to let the community know about the challenges it faces? Shouldn't she be calling upon the board to communicate with parents, community members and taxpayers about issues of noncompliance that will directly affect them?

Sure, a lot of us could do a better job of attending our local government meetings. Sitting in on the Warren School Board is not how most residents want to spend their Tuesday nights. As required by law, the minutes for the board's meetings are posted on the school's website for the public's perusal after the fact. But oftentimes they're vague or not easily digestible.

Isn't there a way to improve communication?


Editorials Thu, 23 Jul 2015 14:58:47 -0400
Wise move

In the furor that has erupted in Warren (and beyond) over the school board's decision not to renew the contract of a beloved administrative assistant, community members are petitioning for three members of the board to resign and also for a vote of no confidence in the Washington West Supervisory Union superintendent.

Three members of the board voted last month not to renew the contract of Laurie Jones, a 27-year veteran of the school staff. The response from the community has been swift and unrelenting. And that is understandable, particularly given the school board's inability to discuss personnel matters publicly. Community members want to know why the board did what it did and they are not getting any answers.

And then this week, on social media, Dr. Andreas Lehner, who retired in 2012 after 24 years as principal of the school, made a suggestion that might calm the waters of community dissent.

Noting that last week's emotional and standing-room-only school board meeting did nothing to change minds on either side, Lehner asked if there is some way to get past "an impasse potentially catastrophic for the school." He rightly points out that the school community is divided and that's not good for anyone, the students in particular.

He suggested the board hire an arbitrator to meet confidentially with the board and Jones to understand the board's decision not to renew her contract. Let that arbitrator answer the question of what is in the best interests of the school and make recommendations as to what should happen.

He notes that if there's a risk for both sides, the arbitrator could concur with the board's decision or the arbitrator might agree with the community. Either way, it's a clean and fair solution to what is a horrible and angry situation at one of our small schools.

The Warren School community is small and tight and fiercely dedicated to their school. And those who serve on the school board also do so out of dedication to their school. No one serves on their local school board because it's fun. It's probably the toughest volunteer community job bar none. So it's a serious thing when citizens petition for these volunteers to resign. This requires quick and thoughtful action on the part of the board so that the school community can be healed by the end of August.


Editorials Thu, 16 Jul 2015 14:42:17 -0400
Welcome, marathoners, and thanks, contractors

The fifth annual Mad Marathon comes to town this weekend with runners, their families and friends flooding The Valley for three days of events.

The weather forecast looks good, a horde of volunteers are at the ready and The Valley is invited to race, spectate, volunteer, enjoy the concert on the Mad River Green on Friday night, attend the celebrity waiter dinner tonight, carb load at local restaurants, enjoy the kids' fun run and ice cream social on Saturday and then there's the race itself on Sunday.

In addition to all the regular work that went into putting on this year's marathon, there has been a herculean effort on the part of the town and its contractors to get Bridge Street and the Waitsfield covered bridge back into running shape for this weekend.

As recently as a week ago, Bridge Street looked like a bomb had gone off. The street was roped off and full of enormous concrete cages. Ledge was being hammered by contractors and large equipment. Jersey barriers abounded.

But then last week contractors from Kingsbury Construction and Alpine Construction began putting the street back together and this week more of the heavy equipment was removed from the street. It looks like a street again as of press time and it's going to look like a marathon course by the weekend!

The bridge will be passable and the runners will not be restricted to 40 at a time on the bridge.

So, hats off to the contractors who worked long hours to make sure the race could go on. And hats off to the town officials who worked with the contractors and business owners and race organizers to make sure the project stayed on track, despite one of the rainiest months of June on record.

It will still be a long haul to get through the rest of the bridge and Bridge Street construction process – it's slated to be done by mid-September. But we'll get through it, just like the marathoners are going to get through the covered bridge.

Welcome (and welcome back to some), marathoners, half marathoners, relay teams and walkers. Enjoy your stay and the views, run fast, beware The Dip and drink plenty of fluids.


Editorials Thu, 09 Jul 2015 11:52:53 -0400
Good news

As we prepare to celebrate our nation's birthday, we have much to be thankful for and much to rejoice.

It's been a huge few weeks with significant U.S. Supreme Court decisions rolling in one after another and there's some great news on the Cuba front.

This week it was announced that the U.S. and Cuba will open embassies in each others' country, normalizing diplomatic relations after 50 years. Fifty years of the embargo didn't work. Trying something different is long overdue.

And this week the World Health Organization reported that Cuba is the first country in the world to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV. If those milestones can be achieved in a small, poor island nation with excellent socialized health care, it bodes well for the rest of the world.

Here at home a series of Supreme Court rulings rocked the nation. The high court ruled that the federal subsidies that are part of the American Care Act, or Obamacare, are legal – hopefully putting an end to attempts to dismantle the law that has insured so many who were previously uninsured.

And the court also ruled that the creation of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission was not just legal but appropriate, putting a serious crimp at legislative attempts at gerrymandering. Arizona's commission was formed 15 years ago after state voters approved legislation and changed the state's constitution to take redistricting power away from the Legislature – which challenged it in court.

Writing for the majority, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted that Arizona voters had approved the measure and changed their constitution to make sure their legislators would have "an habitual recollection of their dependence on the people."

"In so acting, Arizona voters sought to restores 'the core principle of republican government,' namely, 'that the voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around,'" Ginsburg wrote for the majority.

Let's not forget the landmark, long-awaited Supreme Court decision creating marriage equality across the country. Let's hope we don't have to ever use the word "gay" or "traditional" when we talk about marriage again. "Love is love," as the president said.

Speaking of President Obama, what other U.S. president or world leader could have delivered that eulogy in Charleston after the church shootings there? What other president could have -- under pressure and a capella – sung the first verse of "Amazing Grace" with that composure and dignity as a prayer and balm for those present?

Happy Fourth of July!


Editorials Thu, 02 Jul 2015 15:18:13 -0400
Nicely done

The volunteer efforts of a handful of Waitsfield residents will bring all of us a much better Bridge Street reconstruction project this summer.

The long-awaited work on the street, stormwater system and covered bridge got under way last month and will last until mid-September. Thanks to the efforts of these volunteers, when the sidewalks on both sides of the street are redone they will feature brick accents, streetlights and benches made from decking reclaimed from the covered bridge.

AnneMarie Simko-DeFreest and Barbra Gulisano, aided by Sam Gulisano and others, have worked with Waitsfield town administrator Valerie Capels and the contractors working on the bridge and the street to make sure their efforts are perfectly coordinated and that the timing works for the bricks and streetlamp conduit to go in at the right time.

Simko-DeFreest and Gulisano have already presold over 500 of the 1,000 bricks they will sell for the brick accent. Their efforts will result in enough funding for all the plain pavers they will need as well as supplies to lay the bricks. Waitsfield has agreed to let the beautification effort run through the town, meaning that people will write checks to the town to pay for their bricks and that their contribution is tax deductible.

Two of the four benches have been reserved and two of the eight streetlights have been sponsored. The commemorative engraved bricks are $50, the benches are $1,000 and the streetlights are $2,500. There will be plaques on the lamp posts and benches noting the sponsorship. The streetlight model will be voted on by those who buy bricks – one vote per brick.

The volunteers are creating a website and a downloadable form for people to make pledges and pay.

The organizers have done this work under their own steam and energy, spending many hours of their own time on this project. Their efforts drew many questions but ultimately support and enthusiasm from the town.

Hats off to these volunteers, Valerie Capels and the contractors who are working hard to make sure that historic Bridge Street gets the beautification it deserves when all this work is done.


Editorials Thu, 25 Jun 2015 15:14:09 -0400
Staying positive

Last week, Valerie Porter got in trouble for the column she wrote about the water on Bridge Street. Turns out, the contamination wasn't related to the road reconstruction project, as she speculated, but came from a regular old lawn mower hitting a wellhead (whoops). But the business owners in the marketplace got upset. With all the hammering and drilling that's happening down there, do people really need another reason not to stop in their restaurant or store? they asked.

No, probably not.

Turns out the well water contamination wasn't really news, but it's true that there's a lot of negativity in the media these days. The front page of the New York Times is filled with articles about ISIS attacks and the latest statistics on sea level rise. Even in The Valley Reporter, we're writing about building projects being delayed due to a lack of funding, and it's something that taxpayers should know about, but it's frustrating and it's kind of bumming us out.

There are a lot of really positive things happening in The Valley these days too. They don't always get brought up at the local select board meetings, but they're happening every day in Waitsfield, Warren, Fayston, Moretown and, yes, even Duxbury. The front page of last week's paper featured a photo of a group of kids sitting in soap box cars they built in a local workshop—one of which was shaped like a pineapple. That's pretty wacky and wonderful.

Now that school's out there's even more hands-on summer camps happening throughout The Valley. There are more fresh veggies showing up each week at the Waitsfield Farmers' Market from all of our local food growers. The river is warming up and more people are jumping in. The Mad River Riders are building more trails and there are a ton of people out mountain biking the ones we already have.

To the shops and restaurants in Waitsfield Village: We understand that trying to do business during construction season isn't going to be easy. And for those who live across the river, we understand how inconvenient it is to no longer be able to pop over the bridge for a popover at The Sweet Spot.

Road work is really inconvenient, but Tremblay Road isn't the only detour Valley drivers will encounter this summer. Starting next week, the bottom portion of Moretown Mountain Road will be closed to traffic during the day, forcing cars to drive north on Moretown Common Road and then backtrack south on Route 100B if they're Waitsfield-bound.

It's a dirt road and it's a little bumpy. But it's a beautiful drive.



Editorials Thu, 18 Jun 2015 14:34:01 -0400
What goes around comes around

George Schenk, founder of American Flatbread in Waitsfield, and his wife, also George Schenk, threw a community party last weekend to celebrate people who volunteer in their community and the 30th birthday of American Flatbread.

They provided free flatbread, salad, music, art, a bonfire, face painting, ice cream and more. The event was a success with a steady stream of people coming throughout the June 6 evening.

Their reasons for holding the community volunteer celebration were to recognize the many citizen volunteers who served on committees, in town government, on nonprofit boards, as Scout leaders, in their churches and in the dozens and dozens of other organizations that rely on community volunteers and volunteerism.

But they went beyond that in their invitation, inviting anyone who picks up litter, puts a quarter in someone else's parking meter or picks up litter on a public way.

"We live in an infinitely better place because of the many and varied ways so many do so much. Without this generosity we would have either much higher taxes or live in a community that was much less interesting and far less compassionate," the invitation read.

In the run-up to the event, Schenk was interviewed about the party and mentioned being hit hard during the flood of 1998 and during Tropical Storm Irene in 2011. He talked about how overwhelmed he was by the volunteers who turned out to help clean up and the people who offered help in dozens of other ways, including financial.

And there's a good reason people came to help. The Schenks and American Flatbread have a long history, 30 years in fact, of giving back to their community. American Flatbread is more than just a good place to eat. It is where Scouts have advancement ceremonies. It's where hundreds of benefit bakes have been held to help hundreds of community causes and organizations. It's where people gather to celebrate the start of the Vermont Festival of the Arts or show support for a woman who was the victim of violence.

To hold a party for the community was an incredibly generous gift coming from people and a company that gives back over and over again.

That's why when disaster strikes or there is a need, the volunteers will show up, with their mud boots and their gloves, their wheelbarrows and their tractors, their checkbooks and their open hearts.

Thanks to the Schenks and American Flatbread for a great community party.


Editorials Thu, 11 Jun 2015 14:29:57 -0400

Voices were raised and the gavel was used repeatedly at this week's meeting of the Waitsfield Select Board.

Residents were present to press the select board to take a serious look at purchasing the People's United Bank building rather than building a $1.6 million building at the Farm Stand site.

What raised the ire of the taxpayers was a disingenuous and dishonest attempt by the select board to rewrite the history of what had happened at the prior meeting.

At the May 18 meeting, board member Scott Kingsbury made a motion, which board member Kari Dolan seconded, to have two residents draft a letter for select board review and revision. That letter was to be written as if it were from the select board and was to be addressed to the president of People's United Bank asking that the bank consider donating the building to the town.

The motion passed unanimously.

The residents supplied the board with the letter in a timely fashion and it was to be discussed at this week's meeting on June 1.

And it was, except that despite the unanimous vote from the prior meeting, the board seemed to be stricken with collective amnesia about asking the two residents to draft the letter. While one board member acknowledged the motion and another said that if the letter is going to be submitted it should happen as soon as possible, other members of the board insisted there was never any intent to send the letter.

When those present objected to the revisionist history, the gavel was banged, voices were raised and the two residents who had written the letter at the select board's request were shouted down.

It's OK for everyone, including board members, to disagree with the citizens who are pushing for the town to purchase (or be gifted) the bank building. But it's just not good policy and it's not good government for the two members of the public (who cared enough to participate and offered to draft a letter for select board review) to be treated so rudely and dismissively.

And the action of the board on May 18 is crystal clear. That meeting and this week's meeting can be viewed at


Editorials Thu, 04 Jun 2015 14:19:00 -0400
Tact vs. tactful

Here at The Valley Reporter, we defend everyone's right to free speech as expressed through advertising and inserts. We believe strongly that all speech, not just popular speech, must be protected.

However, we join with the merchants of Bridge Street and the Mad River Valley Chamber of Commerce is voicing objections to the content of an ad placed by Redstone Development Corporation on behalf of Crosspoint Associates, owner of Mad River Green Shops.

"Worried that the bridge closure will affect your business this summer?" the ad copy asks.

It goes on to say "worry no longer" and touts two open spaces in the shopping center.

The Redstone ad makes a mockery of the incredible amounts of hard work that have gone into making sure people know that Bridge Street is open for business.

What this Burlington-based real estate company doesn't get is that we try very hard in our Valley not to foster such a divisive "us vs. them" attitude. Our town as a whole is diminished, not enhanced, if Bridge Street empties out while the shopping center is filled up. Our town will fare best if all our commercial spaces are rented.

And the merchants of Bridge Street are an extremely engaged and dedicated group of people, more so since working together to rebuild after Tropical Storm Irene. They understand – as does everyone affected by the bridge and street closure (and that's a lot of people daily) – that it's going to be tough to get through this critical infrastructure project. It's unlikely that this mean-spirited ad is going to lure them away.

Note that Marion and Stuart Baraw who own Mountain Associates Realtors in Stowe and are the brokers for Village Square Shopping Center on the other side of Route 100 haven't tried to poach Bridge Street businesses for the empty spots in that shopping center. The Baraws live in a small ski community and have been engaged in The Valley for long enough to know that people work together.

It doesn't work in a community as small as ours, to try to divide to conquer. Collaboration is what works.

It might be considered a clever advertising tactic, but the way it came across here is tacky, mean spirited and ignorant.


Editorials Thu, 28 May 2015 14:16:49 -0400
Let’s welcome them

This week the Waitsfield Select Board heard and granted a festival permit application to the Tweed River Music Festival.

The music festival will take place Friday, Saturday and Sunday, July 31 through August 2, at Kenyon's and will feature dozens of bands, family-friendly activities, food trucks and vendors and camping.

Organizers expect that it will draw about 1,500 people. The festival was started in Stockbridge at the home of organizer and musician Bow Thayer. It grew until his yard could no longer contain it and then it went to a bigger field and, finally, a bigger field until it no longer fit in Stockbridge.

Thayer held a small one-night festival at Kenyon's last summer on the eve of the Vermont Music Festival and it went off without a hitch.

Let's welcome this new festival and the attendant business that it will bring to The Valley. Music festivals are good for business. They bring people who need to shop and buy gas and are likely to spend time and money here.

Although the festival is designed for camping, there are likely to be plenty of people who would prefer to camp in a hotel or inn. It's likely that plenty of festival-goers will come to the farmers' market on the Saturday of the festival.

Music festivals are great PR for an area. Remember the cache that came from The Valley hosting many years of Ben & Jerry's One World, One Heart festivals?

And speaking of PR, the festival was started by a Boston musician whose friends followed him to Vermont for an annual weekend of music that turned into this festival several years later. Let's get those folks used to driving past Killington and onto our Valley so that they can ski our mountains in the winter.

Let's introduce them to our Valley and make them welcome so they come back.

And let's capture the Vermonters from a 30- to 50-mile radius who will attend. Let's introduce them to our Valley as well. Recall that one of the recommendations of the Vermont Downtown Action Team marketing exercises was to capitalize on the population centers around us when we try to improve our business climate.

So let's welcome these people to our Valley this summer.


Editorials Thu, 21 May 2015 13:51:54 -0400