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Posts from — November 2011

Mayor Steps Aside

Bob Kiss announced on the Charlie, Ernie and Lisa show that he won’t seek a third term.  Story from WCAX here:

Thank you mayor Bob Kiss for your service to the city.

November 30, 2011   3 Comments

Superintendent Weekly Update 11.27.11

I’m buying myself an easy post this evening by just stealing Jeanne’s weekly update to the board and posting it. This one’s a good one because it’s got budget hearing dates.

Meeting Agendas materials and other school board info online now at Board Docs

superintendent weekly updateSunday, November 27, 2011 11:02 PMFrom: “Jeanne Collins” View contact detailsTo: “Jeanne Collins” Bcc: haikbedrosian@yahoo.comGreetings all

I hope you had a great Thanskgiving break. I know I did and I got my voice back also! Yeah!

We head into a very intense budget season at this point. Dates to remember:
Nov 2- Finance looks at budget
They may wish to hold another meeting prior to Dec. 13
Dec. 13- Board accepts or amends Finance proposal to get public input
Dec. 15- Board meeting to hear public input on Budget
Jan. 4 Board meeting to hear public input on Budget
Jan. 9 – present budget to city council per charter
Jan. 10 – Board approves budget for March ballot
Jan 11- Town Meeting Day- get the word out!

On Dec. 1, I will be attending the Ward 6 NPA with Alan Matson at their request to begin a discussion about the budget. Please let me know if others of you would like me to attend NPAs with you now through Town Meeting. This is a great opportunity to discuss the student successes we have and to explain the challenges we face in funding.

The first committee meeting is also Nov. 29. We will be bringing data to this meeting on last spring’s teacher hiring season. I hope you all also received word that Vince Brennan’s forum on the Task Force report Monday the 28th is postponed due to a death in his family. Our condolences go out to Vince and Siobhan, his wife.

Dec. 1 the Equity Council will be meeting for their monthly meeting.

Kindergarten and New Student Registration Opens Monday, 11/28
Registration then closes on Friday, March 16th, with placement letters slated to be sent home to families
by April 30th. Please visit our website closer to 11/28 for more information and forms related to this
process. Or, call 865-5332.

Adam Urbanski, Director of the Teacher Union Reform Network of AFT,, will be in Burlington and Winooski on Nov 28 and 29. Nov.28, he will talk with teachers from both districts; Nov. 29 with administrators and Board members. Adam was first heard by Keith and Kathy and others at a Nellie Mae conference earlier this year and Nellie Mae agreed to fund his visit to our districts. He is skilled in helping labor and management look at new ways to forge collaborations for the achievement of students. Keith will join us on Tuesday for some time with Adamn.

This week, TH, Dec. 1 is a Commissioner’s Corner. We hope to be discussing Family School Partnerships, but are still confirming our guests. We are live at 5:25 on Dec. 1.

Joe McNeil will be meeting with Bill Talbott, VT DOE CFO, about the retirement issue on Wednesday. Alan, Keith, Haik, Karen and I will meet with city officials on Wed afternoon about the bond, along with our counsel, Paul Guiliani and others. Paul has stated that he feels the issuing of the $1.25 M bond is simply a ministerial act, and should be able to go forward upon city council action. We are hopeful we can move foward on this issue.

Nov. 28, we are rolling out the pilot Tardiness Policy as discussed by Policy/Advocacy and the Board last month. Alert Now phone calls went out last week to let parents know and the policy is posted on our web site.

Per our previous discussions, the survey that came back from SA was overwhelmingly in support of keeping a second year interim with the intention of opening a search next fall. (39-2). Thus, I announced the search for EES today and the 2nd year interim at SA as well. I think two talking points are important. A 2nd year interim is unusual in recent times. IAA had asked for this as well and was denied, as the state would not allow it in a Tier 1 school. However, SA is in a different place and needs to finish some healing and some mission work so they can find the right person. EES is not in that place and needs to move foward with a permanent position. SA recruitment is staring now for a search next fall; and will intensify this spring as the mission work is in place.

Events coming up

12/3 SA Pancake Breakfast/Silent Auction (flyer attached)

12/5 OPUS 23- we have several students who were chosen to perform their original compositions in this event

* Burlington High School- Anne Sutton & Giovani Tabor

* Edmunds Middle School- Bastien Gliech, George Shaw, Henry Severance, William Sutton & Ben Hun

Twice each year the Vermont MIDI Project selects student compositions from among those that have been posted to a password protected website for feedback by professional composers. Students from over 50 Vermont schools, homeschooled students, and a few selected out-of-state schools currently participate in this non-profit organization dedicated to supporting students in music composition. For more information and examples of student work, please visit our website (

The event is
Date: December 5th, 2011
Time: 6:30 pm
Location: Elley-Long Music Center,
at St. Michael’s College in Colchester

That is it for tonight- have a great week, everyone!

Jeanne Collins
Superintendent of Schools
Burlington School District
150 Colchester Ave.
Burlington, VT 05401
PH: 802.864.8474
FAX: 802.864.8501

“When parents and teachers collaborate on behalf of children, they create windows of light for the generations that follow.”

November 28, 2011   3 Comments

Technology Policy

The school board’s tech guy came to my committee tonight to continue to seek direction on how to draft the school department’s technology policy for the day when the kids all have computers in school. 

Some of the questions discussed:  Do we make the kids insure the devices?  Do we give devices to all kids or just those who don’t have their own?  Do we take the computers away from HGH them for misuse?  How are they going to do their work if we take the devices away?  If they can do the work without the devices, what do we need the devices for?  Should Facebook really be part of the curriculum?  Do they take the devices home?  If the devices disappear, does the taxpayer eat it?  When should parents be asked to opt-in?  When should parents be asked to opt-out?

November 23, 2011   2 Comments

Ashe Calls for Debate with Weinberger

On Friday Tim Ashe used his campaign blog to challenge Miro Weinberger to face off in a series of one-one-one debates between now and round 4 of the Democratic caucus December 11.  This came two days after Ashe re-tweeted the link to the poll here which asks readers if they should debate.  The votes in this non-scientific poll have been running 10 to 1 in favor.  Of course my poll was never really a poll.  I never expected very many people to say “no, they shouldn’t  debate.”  It’s just a mechanism for allowing people to put pressure on the candidates and the party to have another debate, which I believe would be healthy and informative.

So far I am not aware that Miro has accepted the challenge.  From my perspective it seems like Ashe wants the debates more than Miro does and that makes sense.  Ashe is a better public speaker and probably has a greater mastery of the technocratic ins-and-outs of the issues by virtue of his signigicantly greater experience in public office, and his infinitely greater experience in elected office.  

Miro Weinberger has some high profile backers, but it’s hard to say whether folks truly support him, or just oppose Ashe.  Ashe lead Weinberger 471 to 390 after round 1 of voting November 13.  To get to 540 after round 3 at the end of the day, Miro had to pick up 150 votes from folks who originally wanted somebody else.   I wonder how many of those 150 voted for Miro simply because he wasn’t Ashe.  Briggs had a story in the Free Press today about how some Dems view Ashe as a threat and how some have thrown their support to Weinberger since it’s been down to just those two.  But for me the question remains.  Are people supporting the Weinberger campaign because they think he should be mayor, or because they think Tim Ashe should not?

Let’s take Philip’s endorsement for example.  It’s well written of course, but it’s short and tepid consisting of three boilerplate parts 1) The party is great and both candidates are capable; 2) Weinberger has reached out to supporters and has a plan; 3) Weinberger does not carry the baggage from Burlington Telecom that Ashe does.  The only part with teeth is the one about Weinberger not being Ashe.

I would like to see how Mr. Weinberger does in a head-to-head debate, because frankly as Burlington politicians go, I don’t know him from Adam, and I’ve been around a long time.  Can he handle the pressure?  Is he ready for prime time?  Doe’s he have the depth of knowledge to address the issues extemporaneously?  I think it’s perfectly legitimate for me to wonder.  I think it’s also perfectly legitimate to wonder who has the thicker skin.  This blog has not been particularly kind to Miro or Tim, yet Tim has at least shown enough calculation to promote it anyway when it serves his agenda.  He may take my jabs less personally that Miro does, undertanding from his other elections that punditry is largely theater.

I have no idea who I will ultimately support in March.  It may be one of these guys.  It may be Kurt.  It may be somone else.  But one thing is for sure- whoever the next mayor is will need a thick skin to survive.  If you can’t roll with the punches, forget it.

November 21, 2011   7 Comments

Baruth Wants Sustainable UVM President

Good post by Philup Baruth about the pressure to pay executives more and more. Philip is talking about the president and others at UVM (eg Provost and former city councilor Jane Knodell who gets over 250K/yr) but it seems to me some of the very same things might be said about pay for Burlington school principals and district administrators. Did you know the school board recently voted 13 to 1 to raise principal pay? Guess who voted no.

Click here to read “Demand A Sustainable President” by Philip Baruth

November 18, 2011   Comments Off

Dem Caucus Part 2 December 11

What:  Sudden Death overtime caucus to crown the king of Demland.  Ashe vs. Weinberger

Who:  Only the people who registered at the 1st caucus get to vote.

Where:  They hope  Memorial Auditorium but aren’t sure.

So that’s almost a month away… Who thinks Tim Ashe and Miro Weinberger should have a one-on-one debate before December 11?

Should Ashe and Weinberger Debate?
Free polls from

November 16, 2011   3 Comments

The Cross Report

The Name “Dottie Cross” is sprinkled throughout my childhood memories because she was friends with my mother who would mention her from time to time. I finally met Dottie and her husband George on May 22, 2005 at the Sheraton Hotel. They happened to be sitting directly behind my mother and me at the speech by Ann Richards there that day. Boy I miss my mother. We used to do cool things like that together. When I was eleven she took me to my first political rally. That time it was Geraldine Ferraro at Memorial Auditorium when she was running for vice-president. Ferraro didn’t know that day that her son would eventually be under house arrest just a few blocks away from there. The last movie my mom and I saw together was Sicko by Michael Moore. Ironic since my mother was dying of cancer. Just a few months before she died we went to a dinner held by the Society of Mayflower Descendants where my mom was inducted as a member. It’s smart to wait until right before you die to join the Mayflower Society. Saves on dues.

Where was I going with this? Oh yes. Jeanne Collins emailed the school board tonight to let us know Molly Walsh from the Burlington Free Press was asking about the proposal to shift retirement costs for non-teacher school employees from the city to the school department.   I’d better scoop Molly.  This cost shift and other measures were recommended to the Burlington City Council on June 22, 2010 by Dottie’s husband George Cross who was hired as a budget analyst a year earlier by the Democratic city councilors who pooled their meager operating budgets to pay him.

Now in April of 2009 when Cross, a former teacher was hired, I was pleased to see the city council empowering itself in such a way.  The Burlington Telecom scandal had just broken and it seemed logical that the plurality Democratic council would have its own guy to counter Jonathan Leopold.  I thought he was just going to help the council interpret the budget, so they didn’t have to rely entirely on the JPAL.  I didn’t know he was actually going to make recommendations, or that those recommendations would have legs with both the council and the administration.  I also had no idea at the time that I would be elected to the school board a year later and be forced to deal with the ramifications of those recommendations.

There’s the “be careful what you wish for…you just might get it” philosophy.  There’s also the “it doesn’t matter what you wish for, something bad always happens” theorem.  I like the way David Letterman put it best: “Life is just one disappointment after another, isn’t it?”

Some of reccomendations of George Cross’s “final report” (here’s a draft of the report which is similar to the final version) presented as a memo to the council June 22, 2010 first came to my attention a few months ago when Dale Tillitson told me Leopold was working them.  I asked Jeanne and Keith if they knew why a somone might be asking me about this and they gave me a breakdown of how the retirement works right now.   The proposal to change it wasn’t discussed, but how it works now is as follows.

School Department employees come in two types- folks licensed as educators by the Vermont Department of Education, and everybody else.  The licensed educators pay into and draw from the State Teachers’ Retirement System (STRS).  Everybody else- food service, para-professionals, custodians, after-school staff, business manager, grants manager, diversity director- they are all considered municipal employees by city charter and draw from the Burlington Employees Retirement System (BERS) which the city pays for.  Also- until now they city has always cut the School Department a check to reimburse it for the FICA tax (Federal Insurance Contributions Act of 1935) for these non-teacher employees, which pays for their Social Security and Medicare benefits.

Cross has 3 main recommendations to the city with regard to its financial relationship with the school department 1) Stop paying the non-teacher FICA tax.  Make schools pay it.  City saves estimated $550K; 2) Stop paying into BERS for non-teacher employees.  Make schools pay it.  City saves estimated $792K 3) Move crossing guard services from the Department of Public Works (DPW) to Schools.  City saves estimated $216K.  These were estimates for FY11.

The School Board’s Planning Committee was made aware last month that the city is planning to move on these recommendations as soon as possible.   Since then there have been two meetings about this between city and school officials which took place on October 12 and November 3 at the mayor’s office.  Present 10/12: Me, Alan Matson, Jeanne, the school department’s financial manager Karen, Bob Kiss, Bill Keogh, acting CAO Scott Schrader and another city money guy named Rich… I think that’s it.  Present 11/3 were all the same people plus Keith, the school board chair.

The Cross report and the city officials explained several arguments in favor of this cost shift- 1) Act 68 which says “funds received by a municipality other than a school district may not be used directly or indirectly for education expenses” which is meant to prevent so called “gold towns” from shifting school costs to the town to keep their school rate lower; 2) Cleaner accounting.  It’s hard to know true school costs if city is paying for some of the school department’s retirement. 3) shifting the cost to school taxes and gives tax payers the benefit of school tax income sensitivity (it socializes those costs across the state).

Bob and Bill both seemed resolutely in favor.  From my perspective, I can see no up-side of doing this for the school department.   Even if this is a good idea, timing matters.  Right now it looks like the city’s broke and it wants to cannibalize money from the schools… from the kids. Plus the schools are losing stimulus funding this year, and this hit compunds the problem.  I argued a little bit, and Bill Keogh warned me if the school board fought, there would be political fallout…  Then I was like “that’s not a fair political fight for the council!” Then Bill stood up, shook his fists and yelled “You want a piece of me?!”

Just kidding.

Schrader tried to argue we’re at risk of a lawsuit from a taxpayer seeking income sensitivity, but I found that argument silly.  We’ve been doing it this way forever and nobody has ever sued.  The arguments in favor of the shift appear to make sense on the surface, but however much the city lowers their dedicated retirement tax rate because of the cost shift to the schools, the savings will appear invisible to the taxpayers because they’ll inevitably be swallowed up by increased spending elsewhere.  That’s as sure as the sun rising.  Nobody’s going to really feel that decrease, but people will feel the increase on the schools side, which will not be the only one coming, by the way.

In any event, it appears this is how it appears it’s going to play out…

Next year the city council isn’t planning on cutting that FICA check to the schools which will mean another 411K the schools will have to ask from the taxpayers for FY13 .

The BERS cost will be tougher for the city to pass on to the schools because it will require a charter change and the cooperation of the school board.  We’re going to kick that can down the road for now and see how the elections pan out.

Jeanne says the proposal to move crossing guards from DPW comes up every few years and it always gets beat back.  This one will probably get punted indefinitely.

There are a lot more ins, outs and what-have-yous, but there’s a little background for you to compare to the Free Press story on this if Molly writes one.

November 16, 2011   9 Comments

Ober Out

Lauren Ober doesn’t work for Seven Days any more…. Hard to tell if she quit or got fired, but I think we all probably have a guess. See if you can figure it out at her blog…

or here:

This is a clear lesson that unless you change course, you eventually get to where you’re headed.

You offended/bothered/annoyed me a bunch of times LO- but I always kinda thought maybe I knew where you were coming from… sort of. It’s impressive you lasted as long as you did. Good luck.

November 15, 2011   3 Comments

BurlingtonPol Jumps the Shark

I know there’s a lesson for me in the response to that last post, but I’m still unpacking it.  I was trying to express the listless, dissapointed feeling I had after spending all day Sunday at the caucus only to see my candidate lose and a stalemate between my least favorite candidates which might last another month.  Now I still have all the suspense with none of the hope.  I probably should have stuck to the original story-line, and title I was mulling for my caucus report:  “Cluster-Fuck Shit Show Crashes and Burns”but I thought that might offend people.  So clumsily I pointed to the non-eliminated candidates’ Harvard graduate degrees as evidence of privilege in an attempt to lament how even in Burlington, personal wealth correlates to electoral success.  My argument was poorly informed, emotion driven and rhetorically weak, but to read some of responses to it in the comments section, you’d think I was somewhere between George W. Bush and Pol Pot on the spectrum of disdain for education.  Let’s review some of the choice language thrown at me in the comments…

…pathetic …anti-intellectual …weak …elitism …’troll’ …reactionary …plain wrong …baiting …trivializing …pseudo-blue collar elitism …negative …inane …embarrassing …whining …contrived …squarely against anyone with an education …misguided …you jumped the shark.

I feel like I’m in Loren Ober territory.

To my credit, I did admit that I don’t really know how much money Ashe and Weinberger have in their personal bank accounts.  I’d like to know, but I don’t. 

For those who fault me for walking right past the ballot box and out the door with my 3rd round ballot… Well it was my choice.  I did not feel compelled to vote for either so I didn’t.  I really thought about it hard too… moving along in the long line of people up in the balcony toward the ballot box I had I good five minutes to agonize, but I could not escape the feeling of being left with a choice between the person trying steal the nomination and the one trying to buy it.  When I got up to the box the little voice in my head said “just leave.”  You gotta listen to the little voice.

So let’s move on, shall we?  The Shark has been jumped.  I’ve ruined my blog’s credibility and reputation, and I do not see a way to repair the damage.  There is now a gaping hole in the hull of the ship, which is taking on water and will soon be resting at the bottom of Lake Champlain right next to iBurlington and The Stech Blog. 

But while I’m still here, I do just want to point out one thing Ed Adrian and Steve Howard are not going to advertise.   Folks who checked in early at the caucus had their names marked off of computerized voter lists.  I registered this way.  At some point the computers failed and the volunteers began to check registering folks against paper voter lists instead.  If I had wanted to I could have gone back and picked up a second ballot when this happened, since there is no way my name was crossed off the paper list, simply by virtue of the fact it was crossed off the computer list.  That way I could have not voted in the 3rd round twice.

You see my point of course.  The committee now has the info to go back and see if any names were crossed off both lists- which would mean someone voted twice, but even if they discover that this happened, there is no possible recourse except to have a do-over, which they are anyway.

Still though they should probably just use paper voter lists from the start next time.

November 14, 2011   20 Comments

Nobody Wins Dem Caucus. Nobody.

I voted for Bram in rounds one and two- and as I made my way toward the box with my third round ballot, I just couldn’t vote for either of the remaining candidates.  I left and got some dinner, leaving the Democrats and the Progressives to sort it out without me… which they failed to do.  Final count: Tim Ashe 540, Miro Weinberger 540… With a runoff between the two to be held later.  Time and place to be announced.

I don’t know how rich Ashe and Weinberger personally are, But they both went to Harvard which isn’t a cheap school.  And as far as I can tell neither has what I would consider a ‘hard job’ on their resume.  By ‘hard job’ I mean washing dishes, or driving a cab, or running a register at a convenience store.  Something that pays $10 an hour or less.  Is it valid or fair for me to bring this up?  I don’t know, but it’s something I feel.  I just think that whether it’s Ashe or Weinberger who eventually wins, the Dems will have nominated someone of great personal privilege from the proverbial, if not actual “one percent.”  Saying nothing about these two personally, I find that uncomfortable from a macro analytic standpoint… from a zeitgeist standpoint.  If I say that Kurt Wright’s experience at Kerry’s Quick Stop  probably helps him personally understand middle class struggles better then Ashe or Weinberger, is that class warfare?  I don’t think so.  I don’t know.   I just feel a little sad that the Dems failed to nominate Bram Kranichfeld, who was clearly, clearly their best hope at winning the election.

It will be interesting now to see whether the Progressives will have to go first and pick a mayoral candidate before the Dems do.

(Breathing heavy sigh…)  Miro and Tim,  you both have an open invitation to do an on the record interview with me.  I record them and transcribe them word for word for the public record.  For examples, scroll through this blog and read the ones I did with Bram and Jason recently.  Or the ones I did with Andy Montroll, Bob Kiss Dan Smith and Kurt Wright three years ago.  The preparation and transciption for these things is a lot of work but I think it’s a good public service.  I ask better questions than the rest of the media.  Sunday mornings at the Bagel Cafe and Deli work best for me.  Call or email me if you want to set it up.  Miro, I appreciate the offer to have coffee, but I’m not going to have coffee just for fun.  I’m going to bring my tape recorder, if I’m going to do it at all.

Forgive my crankyness- but as much as people want to call it a shiny example of democracy, that was a very, very unsatisfying caucus.

November 13, 2011   52 Comments