It’s been another interesting week of news. A big announcement came at the state level earlier in the week as it was announced the work search requirement for Vermonters to receive unemployment benefits would be reinstated on May 9. The news came amid growing concerns about Vermont’s labor shortage.
Local schools featured in the news several times this week. After holding a forum earlier in the week, the Franklin West Supervisory Union named the new principal for Fletcher Elementary School, and after a failed vote on Town Meeting Day, Georgia residents approved a pared down budget during a special vote this week.
With a large backlog of court cases in Franklin County and across the state, we dive into the issue and potential solutions that the state is considering, and in St. Albans Town, some big changes are planned for a waterside park.
Here are five big stories The Messenger covered this past week:
1. Work search requirement
Beginning the week of May 9, Department of Labor Commissioner Michael Harrington said Vermonters filing for unemployment benefits or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance funds will have to provide evidence of three formal job inquiries per week, which can include job applications or interviews.
He said Vermonters with hardships including lack of access to internet will be accommodated, and that the weekly work search requirement must be fulfilled unless documentation can be provided of a COVID-19-related exemption, such as falling ill or caring for a family member who has tested positive.
Harrington said he is hopeful that in the current economic conditions, Vermonters will be able to fill jobs.
“The business community across Vermont continues to report labor shortages across all industries,” Harrington said.
2. School budget revote
Residents approved a revised $13.9 million school budget during a special vote Tuesday. The budget passed with 283 yes votes and 245 in opposition.
The Georgia School Board last month agreed to put a $13.9 million budget before voters after the initial proposed $14.1 million budget was shot down on Town Meeting Day — one of three school budgets to fail across the state on March 2.
The $13,942,392 budget proposal is $177,844 less than the budget that failed on Town Meeting Day.
3. New Fletcher principal
With a passion for the deep heart of Vermont and a conviction in her stride, incoming Fletcher Elementary School principal Aimee Toth aims to take the small rural town’s elementary school to new heights and carve a brave new story.
“The school is the heart of the community ... it's a gathering place," said Toth, who was announced as the school's new principal on Wednesday. "And I was looking for a place that had done substantive work in social emotional learning, having that community support is important.”
Toth will replace outgoing principal Chris Dodge, who will be moving on to Swanton Elementary School, where he will be replacing longtime principal Dena St. Amour, bringing with him a similar passion for the outdoors, for art, creation and for taking on new challenges.
4. Court backlog
Across the country, court dates are being canceled or pushed back due to COVID-19 safety concerns. The courts have been filing a normal rate of arraignments, but they aren’t resolving cases at the rate they used to, creating a backlog in the system, according to James Hughes, Franklin County State’s Attorney.
Hughes said some cases are three years old at this point, and the state bar association was notified guidelines for resolving this issue will be coming.
“Cases aren’t settling. And things are waiting. They aren’t that bad. Luckily there aren’t many people in jail awaiting trial. I don’t know what the numbers are like, I think single digits,” said Hughes.
“Of course, there are some people with serious offenses that are being held,” Hughes said, “but there are not that many.”
5. Cohen park upgrades
Officials are hoping to build a tennis court and basketball court right on the water for all to come, watch the waterfront, and play, according to an agenda from the town’s Development Review Board and Selectboard Chair Brendan Deso.
“Cohen Park has an enormous amount of potential and has been on the selectboard’s radar for the last few years,” said Deso on Monday. ”Our goal for the renovation plan would have been to offer more activities within the park for children and families without raising taxes to pay for it ... while we’re reconstructing the base of the parking area, we’re going to construct a base for one new tennis court and a new basketball court. They’ll be paved at the same time as the parking area. A few weeks after the paving of the parking area and courts is completed, we’ll have the courts surfaced.”