By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — Let’s get the puns out of the way early.
Ilsley Public Library Youth Services Librarian Carol Chatfield has decided to close a long chapter in her professional life. She is ready to turn the page on a lengthy career. Her performance speaks volumes about what a learned, compassionate person can do to instill good reading habits in children.
Now we can focus on Chatfield’s career, which has been far from a punch line. It has been 37 fruitful years of delivering the gift of literacy to thousands of children throughout Addison and Rutland counties.
But all good things must come to an end, and Chatfield has decided to retire from her duties as a librarian at the end of this month.
“I feel like I want to do something different,” Chatfield said on Thursday, as children of all ages cavorted through the rows of books in the Ilsley Library’s youth section.
“Change is not necessarily bad; it can be revitalizing,” she said.
Chatfield learned that first-hand — back in 1970, when she decided she had had her fill of her first career: Teaching. She’d been working as a French instructor at Waterbury Elementary School, but wasn’t happy about having only 15-minute sessions with her groups of students. Moreover, the children she was teaching had to take beginners’ French classes all over again when they began middle school.
“The idea of (teaching French) and then having to say, ‘I’m sorry, it doesn’t count, you have to go back to square one when you go to middle school’ didn’t appeal to me,” Chatfield said.
So, after one year as a teacher, Chatfield had come to a professional crossroads. She knew she wanted to continue working with children, but women of that era, it seemed, became either teachers or nurses — vocations in which she had no substantial interest.
By JOHN FLOWERS
CORNWALL — Santa Claus will have a busy agenda on Dec. 24, but he may not be able to resist spending a little extra time at the Tillmans’ home in Cornwall this Christmas Eve.
There, he will find a veritable Santa “shrine” — a collection of hundreds of Santa dolls, figurines and other Saint Nick likenesses that Carol Tillman has avidly collected during the past three decades.
At last count, Tillman had assembled a cheerful legion of more than 500 Santas that she dutifully takes out of warm-weather hibernation each Thanksgiving for display around her home when the window panes start getting frosty.
She tenderly places as many of them as she can on the limited perches she has in her home, including on shelves in her small Moonlit Alpacas retail store off Route 125. It’s impossible not to feel the holiday spirit while under the gaze of the many rosy-cheeked, cherubic St. Nicks, each one a little different than the other.
Tillman confesses to being a little incredulous every time she pulls her collection out of mothballs. Even she has a tough time keeping track of where all the jolly men came from.
“It’s a question, when you have to move them, you really ask yourself,” she said with a chuckle.
But she vividly remembers her first Santa, which she received as a gift when she was 18. It’s a German “smoker” — a pipe toting Santa in which one can burn incense.
“That kind of started it, and it went from there,” said Tillman.
Each ensuing year, there was no mystery about what was prominently featured on Tillman’s Christmas list. She wanted Santas, Santas and more Santas — and her friends and family have dutifully obliged.
Tillman has also picked out her own share of Santas, paying from a few bucks to several hundred dollars for creations that meet her fancy.
By JOHN FLOWERS
ADDISON COUNTY — A group of Addison County clergy and nonprofits are teaming up to offer emergency shelter and food for a growing number of people expected to be homeless and hungry this winter.
Leaders of the Congregational Church of Middlebury confirmed on Monday a portion of the church’s historic Charter House on North Pleasant Street will be used to temporarily house as many as three homeless families this winter.
Meanwhile, John W. Graham Emergency Shelter Executive Director Elizabeth Ready announced two new plans to beef up its services to the homeless.
First, the John Graham Shelter will soon reconfigure one of its “family rooms” as an eight-person bunkroom to accommodate single people who would otherwise find themselves out in the cold during the upcoming winter months.
Second, according to Ready, the shelter has received permission to use an Addison County Community Trust home on Washington Street Extension in Middlebury as temporary lodging for one, perhaps two, area families who find themselves without shelter this winter.
“The idea is to have a place for families, as well as individuals,” Ready said.
She stressed the ultimate goal will be to make the Washington Street Extension housing transitional in nature. The ultimate goal, Ready said, will be to get homeless individuals the counseling, health services and employment information they need to quickly get them into jobs and permanent housing.
“You can’t just put people in a bed and expect things to improve,” Ready said.
The Washington Street Extension home has five bedrooms and should be ready for occupants soon, according to Ready. She would not disclose the exact location of the home in order to preserve the anonymity of the people who will reside there.
By KATHRYN FLAGG
ADDISON COUNTY — As deadlines for creating budgets for the next school year draw near, the county’s public school boards are juggling a slew of challenges as they stitch together barebones spending plans — not least of which are a slumping economy and as yet unknown state tax education rates and per pupil spending allotments.
Add to that list of challenges Act 82, an education funding law, also known as the “two-vote mandate,” passed in 2007 and that kicks into effect for the first time this year. Act 82 will force some Vermont school districts to obtain additional voter support for spending increases that exceed the rate of inflation — and that’s a hurdle that has some administrators worried.
“There’s a difference between an unpopular law and a poorly written one,” said Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union Superintendent Bill Mathis in Brandon. “As a piece of law, it’s just a clumsy and silly and ineffective mechanism.”
Act 82 — which was concocted last year as a compromise between Gov. Jim Douglas, who wanted to cap school spending, and the Democratic leadership in the state Legislature — is expected to come into play directly in about half of the school districts in the state. Budget writers in the other half undoubtedly are keeping the new law in mind as they go about their business, too.
School budgets will be subject to Act 82 if they meet two criteria. First, district spending per student in the previous year must have exceeded the statewide average. Then, if a school board also proposes a spending increase higher than the rate of inflation, that proposed spending plan will appear on ballots as two separate items.
The first item will ask voters to approve what will be referred to on the ballot as the school’s “total” budget — that is, last year’s spending plan plus inflation.
By KATHRYN FLAGG
STARKSBORO — The parking lot was crowded, and Robinson Elementary School’s cafeteria even more so on Thursday night, when nearly 200 Starksboro residents gathered for the simple purpose of listening to one another’s stories.
“We wanted to ask people about their stories living in this place,” explained Middlebury College professor John Elder, whose class — students in a course titled “Portrait of a Vermont Town” — trundled into Starksboro this fall to collect residents’ stories.
On Thursday, with a captivated audience on hand, they gave those stories back.
Starksboro, a town of fewer than 2,000, was selected to participate in the “Art & Soul Civic Engagement” project earlier this fall. The pilot program is co-sponsored by the Orton Family Foundation and the Vermont Land Trust (VLT), and holds at its core the belief that the arts can fuel discussions about community values — discussions that in turn can be translated into planning strategies to protect the “heart and soul” of a town.
Of the six towns in the county that applied for the grant, which is valued at around $55,000, Starksboro was selected in part because its agricultural character, concentration of low-income housing, and proximity to Chittenden County commuter sprawl made the town especially interesting to Orton.
Thursday night’s community supper marked the end of the project’s first phase, a three-month storytelling stint during which students conducted more than 65 interviews.
These stories were turned into essays, compiled with old photographs and maps, and turned into multimedia presentations including audio/visual portraits of the town. The interviews that students recorded will all be archived at the Vermont Folklife Center in Middlebury, and their digital projects will be linked to the town’s Web site (www.starksboro.org).
By JOHN FLOWERS
SHOREHAM — There will be a major house move in Shoreham on Thursday.
No, we’re not talking about someone moving their possessions into or out of an existing home.
They’ll be moving the entire home — a 178-year-old, two-story farmhouse that will be trucked in two sections from the First National Bank of Orwell property off Route 22A to the Green Woods Village subdivision off School Street, a distance of around three-quarters of a mile.
Once trucked to Green Woods Village, each of the two sections of the home will be placed on its own new foundation and made ready for the two middle-income families that will occupy them.
“We certainly hated to see the house sitting there, unused,” said Brian Young, vice president of the First National Bank of Orwell, which is donating the structure. “This is the best possible use we could have come up with.”
The uninhabited farmhouse was a part of the roughly three-acre property on Route 22A the bank acquired back in 2004 as the site for its Shoreham branch. Officials had first considered renovating the home to host the bank, but determined the necessary work would be too extensive. They therefore built a new structure on the parcel, but were still left with the dilemma of how to put the farmhouse to use.
After determining the bank couldn’t rent out the home and deciding not to subdivide and sell the home as part of a separate lot, Young and his colleagues offered it to the Addison County Community Trust (ACCT). The offer came with an important caveat.
“They said they would like us to move it,” ACCT Executive Director Terry McKnight recalled.
By JOHN FLOWERS
SHOREHAM — Shoreham voters last Wednesday rejected a slate of revised zoning regulations for the town by a nearly two-to-one margin, 268 to 139.
Shoreham will continue to operate under its current zoning rules.
Local planners will meet later this winter to discuss the vote and the next steps that could be taken in revising the regulations, which haven’t been comprehensively rewritten for around 20 years.
Shoreham Planning Commission Chairman Glenn Symon was disappointed with the results of the Dec. 3 vote. The commission held several public hearings and work sessions during the past few years crafting the zoning law revisions, which officials said were aimed at permitting greater flexibility in developing the core village area while encouraging more measured growth and preservation of farmland in the rural areas.
But a majority of voters weren’t sold on the revised zoning laws, characterized by some as too extensive and heavy handed.
In the end, those philosophically opposed to new rules turned out in greater numbers at the polls on Dec. 3, according to Symon.
“You have those who are supportive of what zoning can do for the community, and property rights people who are opposed to zoning,” Symon said on Thursday.
He feared “a good number” of voters went to the polls without having studied the rules in-depth.
Town planners are hoping to resolve zoning issues soon, in order to focus on other topics on their agenda. Those issues include an update of the town plan, renovations to Newton Academy and deciding what to do with the Farnham property the town acquired to facilitate the municipal sewer system.
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — Union District-3 school board members are hoping the next two weeks will yield some good financial news that would allow them to keep the middle school’s living arts program from being cut from the proposed 2009-2010 spending plan.
The Middlebury Union Middle School (MUMS) living arts program and its teacher, along with a currently vacant paraprofessional post, are the chief casualties reflected in a proposed UD-3 spending plan of $15,548,526, a draft representing a 3.52-percent increase compared to the current spending plan.
“These are very frustrating times,” UD-3 board Chairman Tom Beyer told a packed crowd of teachers, parents and students at a Tuesday budget meeting that ran six hours.
“There is an enormous uncertainty for everyone,” he said, noting the tough economy. “What we are looking for now is how to share the burden.”
PRESSURE ON BUDGETS
Officials noted the proposed budget increase is actually a lot smaller than 3.52 percent when one realizes that it is artificially inflated by the effect of a state law (Act 130) that requires supervisory unions to more accurately reflect shared expenses between secondary and elementary schools. Currently, transportation expenses within the Addison Central Supervisory Union (ACSU) have been accounted for primarily in the budgets of the seven member elementary schools. The UD-3 budget has merely reflected the costs of busing the students from the elementary schools to MUMS and Middlebury Union High School. The 2009-2010 UD-3 spending plan is therefore being asked to assume a $280,000 increase in transportation budgeting away from the elementary schools. That $280,000 represents a full 1.9 percent of the proposed $15.5 million proposed UD-3 budget, or more than half of the proposed 3.53-percent increase.