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Archive - Nov 2007

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November 26th

VUHS considers 5 percent hike in spending

November 26, 2007


VERGENNES — Vergennes Union High School administrators and board members are looking at a first draft of a 2008-2009 budget that could — if approved in current form by the VUHS board in January and by voters in March — boost spending by about 5 percent to $8.45 million.

Rising energy and health insurance costs are pressuring the bottom line. In 2006 the Addison Northwest Supervisory Union also signed a new contract with its teachers giving raises ranging from about 3 to 5 percent, with the higher raises going to the lower end of the salary scale. 

VUHS Principal Ed Webbley said officials have little wiggle room once they factor in those items; expenses mandated by federal and state governments, such as special education; and other uncontrollable costs such as transportation, maintenance, and an almost $700,000 payment on the school’s seven-year-old expansion and renovation bond. 

Unless they want to start cutting non-mandatory programs at the 650-student high and middle school like music, art, agriculture and world language, Webbley said officials have about only $100,000 to play with. 

“Discretionary monies at our high school are $155 per student,” Webbley said. “We can make decisions on only such a small, small fraction of our whole budget. We can make decisions regarding field trips, books and supplies for students, and after that our discretion pretty much runs the course.”

ANwSU business manager Donna Corcoran projected an 8.5-percent increase in health insurance costs for budgeting purposes, although she said she picked that figure to be safe after being told to expect an increase closer to 7.5 percent.

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Middlebury woman seeks to raise suicide awareness

November 26, 2007


ADDISON COUNTY — After Kathy Jones’ father killed himself, her mother went to great lengths to have his death certificate changed. Instead of reading “suicide” as the cause of death, it now reads “unknown.”

There’s no doubt about how her father died, Jones said. Her mother drove home early from work that day to find him asphyxiating in a running car, closed up in the garage.

But people don’t know how to talk about suicide, Jones said. So for many survivors, it’s easier to make up a lie.

“You learn, when you’ve dealt with a death like this, people act so bizarre,” Jones said. “I’ve had people just shut right down when I tell them how my father died.”

It’s been eight years since the East Middlebury resident lost her father, but this year Jones joined the Survivors of Suicide (SOS) support group in Burlington. Before long, she became a board member for the Vermont chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP).

Last month, Jones joined nearly 100 Vermonters in the fourth annual AFSP “Out of the Darkness Community Walk” in Burlington, helping to raise more than $17,000 toward national and local suicide prevention and awareness programs. She hopes to bring the topic of suicide out of the shadows.

According to the Vermont Agency of Human Services, in 2004 Vermont had the 12th highest suicide rate in the country; there were 93 suicides in the state that year. Addison County has seen a number of suicides in the last couple years and certainly has a reason to be concerned, said AHS field director Sue Schmidt in Middlebury.

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November 21st

VUHS students to help senior citizens navigate Medicare needs

VERGENNES UNION HIGH School students Joe Chugg, front left, Erin Conway and Chris Griffin, back left, are among the 15 students who are working with teacher Meg Coffey and pharmacist Larry Renaud to learn how to help senior citizens navigate the Medicare.gov Web site to find the prescription drug plan that best fits their needs.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell

November 22, 2007


VERGENNES — Like many of her friends, Vergennes Union High School senior Erin Conway spends more than an hour a day using a computer.

For Conway, a task like logging onto the medicare.gov Web site and comparing 51 different private prescription drug insurance plans is not that difficult, even though it’s a multi-step, multi-screen process with thousands of possible results depending on the drugs entered. 

But ask the senior citizens for whom the Web site was created and you’ll likely find many of them struggling to make sense of the process.

That’s why 15 VUHS students, along with Kinney Drug supervising pharmacist Larry Renaud and two pharmacy technicians, have volunteered to help senior citizens navigate the medicare.gov maze at the VUHS library on Dec. 2. The goal is to help older Americans take advantage of the annual six-week enrollment period in which they are allowed to change their Medicare Part D prescription drug plan in order to save hundreds or, potentially, thousands of dollars.

The last six weeks of each year senior citizens enrolled in Medicare have the opportunity to change their Medicare Part D drug plans. Pharmacists recommend that all seniors who have such a plan evaluate it each year because the number of plans available changes and what is covered in existing plans changes.

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Starbucks, Staples plans draw fire

November 22, 2007


MIDDLEBURY — A standing-room crowd packed the Ilsley Public Library meeting room on Monday to urge the Middlebury Development Review Board (DRB) to reject proposed Staples and Starbucks stores that would be sited in, and adjacent to, The Centre shopping plaza off Route 7 South.

Some of the more than 60 residents, one of whom presented the DRB with a petition bearing more than 1,000 names, told DRB members the new stores would be out of character with Middlebury and could substantially weaken already established family-owned stores in the downtown.

The developer Myron Hunt Inc. — which owns The Centre — is proposing both stores. The 14,600-square-foot Staples would be built next to the Hannaford Supermarket in The Centre. The 1,700-square-foot Starbucks would be erected on an adjacent parcel now occupied by the former Middlebury Car Wash.

Chris Hunt, a principal of Myron Hunt Inc., represented the company at Monday’s hearing. He said he believes neither of the two stores would put a dent in Middlebury’s current retail scene.

“We realize that without a healthy, vibrant downtown economy, we can’t exist,” Hunt said. “It is purely a question of striking the right balance and we do not want to cause an imbalance.”

Hunt pointed to the proposed Staples as an example of a store that could help bring a better balance of stores to Middlebury, thereby giving shoppers less incentive to shop in the commercial hubs of Rutland and Chittenden counties.

“The Staples is a store that has been designed for the smaller town,” Hunt said. “It is roughly 10,000 square feet smaller than their average store. It’s in fact smaller than many of the drugstores we’ve seen.”

Staples, according to Hunt, has been looking to establish a store in Middlebury for “the past several years.”

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Affordable housing out of reach for some county residents

November 22, 2007


ADDISON COUNTY — Deep in the New Haven woods, the whirly-gig wheels on Dave Winborn’s ambulance-shaped lawn ornament spin around in the wind. This is how visitors know they’ve taken the right path to his tent, Winborn said, and how he knows he’s home.

Winborn doesn’t consider himself homeless, and he doesn’t consider himself poor. He has a job, a truck and his beautiful tent, complete with a woodstove and writing desk, which he has inhabited since this summer when he pitched it on a friend’s land.

The 55-year-old is an EMT on three different area rescue squads: he has volunteered with the Bristol squad for more than 25 years, with New Haven First Response for about 15 years and five months ago he started a paid position with Valley Rescue Squad in Hancock.

Next spring Winborn will earn his associate’s degree in human services from the Community College of Vermont.

“If I don’t blow it,” he said with a smile. “It’ll be the first time in my life I’ve ever worn a cap and gown. I never finished high school. I went right from public school to the streets.”

But, even though he is a contributing member of society with a paying job, Winborn is one of many people in Addison County who cannot find an affordable apartment.

This month the United Way of Addison County released the results of its 2007 Community Needs Assessment, in which about 750 area residents responded to a survey asking them to identify the most pressing needs they face today. Affordable housing ranked among the top four problems, along with financial stability, health and transportation.

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November 19th

New student a real howl in class

MARY HOGAN ELEMENTARY School paraprofessional Nancy Wollum works with her sixth-grade students and Sable, a black Lab puppy going through training for Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Sable has been in the classroom since the beginning of the year and will leave the school for official training at the end of the academic year.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell

November 19, 2007


MIDDLEBURY — It’s recess time at Mary Hogan Elementary School, and Sable eagerly lines up with her fellow sixth-grade classmates in anticipation of a spirited game of soccer on the playground.

And though less than a year old, Sable has a decided kicking and running advantage over other players on the soccer field; she has four legs to their two.

She never growls at a bad call.

Sable, you see, is a dog — and not just any dog. The young black Labrador retriever is being groomed to graduate from her class as a “seeing eye dog” who may one day provide indispensable guidance to a blind man or woman somewhere in North America.

“It’s working out beautifully,” said Nancy Wollum, an ID-4 teaching paraprofessional and Sable’s temporary custodian. Wollum received Sable last summer from Guiding Eyes for The Blind, an organization that trains dogs and places them with sight-impaired citizens.

Wollum became aware of Yorktown, N.Y.-based Guiding Eyes for The Blind around five years ago after seeing one of the organization’s postings at the Ilsley Public Library.

“It was a card at the library on the bulletin board, and it said, ‘Do you want to be a puppy raiser?’” Wollum recalled. “I wanted a dog, but I didn’t want one for a 10-year span. I didn’t know what my life would be like.”

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UD-3 counts on early retirements for savings

November 19, 2007


MIDDLEBURY — The UD-3 school board will spend the coming weeks refining the first draft of a combined Middlebury Union High School/Middlebury Union Middle School 2008-2009 budget of $15.46 million, which would represent a 7.8-percent increase in spending over the current year.

But district officials are very confident they will be able to substantially trim that number in short order, largely due to an early retirement program that has been offered to 13 veteran UD-3 teachers. The board is scheduled to discuss the budget at its next meeting, on Tuesday, Nov. 20, at 5:30 p.m., in room 218 at MUMS.

“We think we’re in good shape,” Addison Central Supervisory Union Superintendent Lee Sease said on Wednesday.

As of last week, roughly half of the 13 early retirement slots had been spoken for, according to Sease, who is confident the others will be used up before the UD-3 budget is put to bed next month.

The prospective early retirements of 13 senior teachers will allow the district to hire new educators at lower salaries while keeping some of the slots vacant.

“As we go through the early retirement process, there will be some positions that we don’t replace,” Sease said. “That will not eliminate programs. What it might do is eliminate the number of course offerings we might have in a subject.”

Sease said he could not yet confirm which subjects are likely to be affected by the early retirements.

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Starksboro family promotes charitable hair cuts

November 19, 2007


STARKSBORO — A Starksboro mother and daughter team are planning a charity event for May 2008. That’s far in advance for a relatively simple project, but what they have in mind takes a lot of time to prepare. Beth and Meghan Hahr are encouraging people to get their hair cut in a Locks of Love hair drive and donate the trimmed tresses to make wigs for children who have lost their hair for medical reasons.

Meghan herself has a wig like that. Now in sixth grade, Meghan found her hair falling out while on a family vacation about three years ago. The family eventually found she had a condition called alopecia, an autoimmune disorder whose side effects include hair loss.

“Your immune system thinks your hair follicles are bad,” as Beth described it.

Locks of Love is a nonprofit organization intended to contribute a sense of confidence and normalcy to children suffering from hair loss from long-term medical treatments and disease. Some of the children need wigs due to radiation treatment or chemotherapy for cancer, but most Locks of Love children have alopecia like Meghan herself.

In some cases, a person with alopecia only loses patches of hair here and there, but some lose all body hair, even nose hair and eyelashes. However, the disease has no symptoms other than problems caused by hair loss, like a greater risk of sunburns if the scalp is bald or a more severe case of allergies if the nose hairs go.

Meghan said that for her, alopecia means losing patches of hair about twice a year. She is now growing back a patch of hair that she lost over the summer. 

Meghan doesn’t wear her wig as much as she did at first. Sometimes the hair loss is unnoticeable, and when it isn’t, she just has to pay more attention to how she dresses.

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