Certain funding sources for school resource officers and drug enforcement is on hold while the Department of Justice sorts out legal disputes over tying the funding to immigration law compliance.
Vermont’s top officials haven’t seen eye-to-eye with the Trump administration over immigration. In March 2017, Gov. Phil Scott signed into law S. 79, making the governor the only person in the state who can authorize agreements with federal authorities letting them tap local, county or state law enforcement personnel to help enforce federal immigration law. This was done in response to executive orders President Donald Trump signed in January of that year.
“The way Senator (Patrick) Leahy sees it, the Trump administration is again proving that it believes it can write its own laws to pursue its misguided agenda,” said David Carle, a spokesman for Leahy. “Many of its attempts to block the flow of federal funds to law enforcement agencies around the country, based on erroneous claims about immigration enforcement, have already been blocked by the courts. Where the Trump administration has been successful, it has denied critical public safety dollars to state and local police departments and undermined public protection.”
Among those left waiting are the Greater Rutland County Supervisory Union, which wants to hire two new school resource officers, and the State Police, which is eying $2.2 million in funds related to drug enforcement.
Vermont State Police spokesman Adam Silverman said Thursday that Vermont police get federal funding for drug enforcement activities from the DOJ. The grants sought by State Police are the “DOJ Byrne JAG grant” and the “DOJ COPS Anti-Heroin Task Force grant.”
Silverman said Vermont was awarded the Anti-Heroin Task Force grant for the 2017 federal fiscal year, an amount of $1,326,496.
“...however, DOJ is withholding this grant while DOJ conducts a review of Vermont’s compliance with 8 U.S.C. § 1373,” said Silverman, adding that the Vermont Department of Public Safety has affirmed that Vermont is in full compliance with the law and that it, “... continues to work with DOJ to address their questions.”
Silverman said the law “... governs communications between state and local governmental agencies and the federal government regarding an individual’s citizenship or immigration status.”
Vermont also has applied for the FFY 2017 and FFY 2018 Byrne JAG grants but is waiting for the DOJ’s award decision, which has similarly been delayed pending DOJ review of Vermont’s compliance with 8 U.S.C. § 1373. These grants are for $476,496, and $482,496 respectively.
Silverman said these funds are for enforcement, not treatment, and pay for things like investigators.
While the Vermont Attorney General’s Office isn’t suing the DOJ over this matter, it is watching the various legal arguments across the country as they play out, said Assistant Attorney General Julio Thompson, director of the Vermont AG’s Human Rights Unit. Thompson said many have argued that the DOJ can’t add requirements to the grants it administers because those funds were designated by Congress and doing so violates laws against the separation of powers.
Debra Taylor, superintendent of the Greater Rutland County Supervisory Union, said Thursday the district wants to hire two new school resource officers through the Rutland County Sheriff’s Department to work within the Quarry Valley Unified Union District. The district and sheriff’s department would fund these positions using the “COPS Hiring Programs,” which, according to the Department of Justice’s website (https://cops.usdoj.gov/grants), are on hold.
“The opening of the COPS Hiring Program (CHP) grant solicitation is on hold due to the issuance of a nationwide injunction by a U.S. District Court on April 12, 2018, regarding immigration factors that were included in the 2017 CHP solicitation,” reads a notice on the DOJ website. “The Department has appealed this decision. CHP will remain on hold until further notice.”
Rutland County Sheriff Stephen Benard said Thursday the COPS grant being sought would fund the two positions for a four-year period. The grants pay 75 percent of the total expense, he said.
“Without that grant money it’s hard for the school districts to come up with the money to pay for that out of pocket,” he said, adding that even if funding were to appear tomorrow it might still be a while before the department could hire anyone.
He said there’s an issue nationally with police staffing. Locally, he said, it’s hard to find qualified candidates.
SPRINGFIELD — Tim Ford is out as the chief executive officer of Springfield Medical Care Systems (SMCS), the parent company of Springfield Hospital, the company announced Wednesday.
The company accepted Ford’s immediate resignation, it said in a statement, but did not give a specific reason for Ford’s departure, which follows the resignation a week ago of the company’s chief financial officer, Scott Whittemore.
Ford and hospital directors could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
The company’s Chief of Practice Operations, Josh Dufresne, will serve as the primary administrative contact for SMCS and Springfield Hospital until an interim CEO and CFO are named, the company said.
Ford’s exit is the latest in a series of events that have indicated serious financial problems at the hospital. At recent public and private meetings, several current employees at the hospital have told stories of unpaid bills, low morale and confusion about the company’s financial position.
Vendors have reported slow payment or no payment for services provided to the hospital, and emergency service workers now employed by Emergency Services of New England, Inc. of Chester are worried about the hospital’s plan to change next spring to Bluewater Emergency Partners of Brunswick, Maine.
“This is an important time as we take a closer look at our health system’s operations and long-term needs to ensure we are positioned to serve the community well into the future. A new leadership team will provide stability and a fresh perspective as we continue this process,” said George Lamb, chair of the SMCS board of directors, in a news release.
In the statement, Lamb indirectly acknowledges the financial issues, saying “the board is fully engaged and will be working with interim leadership to immediately address and stabilize financial and operational issues for both organizations.”
“We are going to closely monitor the situation,” said Susan Barrett, executive director of the Green Mountain Care Board (GMCB).
“We have been in close contact with Springfield Hospital ever since we learned of the issues,” Barrett said.
GMCB has requested background information on the hospital’s expenses and financial condition, and the Medicare payments it receives, she added.
The GMCB was scheduled to meet Wednesday, but no action regarding Springfield Hospital or SMCS was expected, she said. However, Barrett said GMCB Chairman Kevin Mullin would meet privately with Lamb next week “to look at the issues.”
Springfield Select Board member Peter MacGillivray said the news was “a surprise, but there are no surprises. I put a lot of faith in that [hospital] board ... they want what is best for the community,” he said. Regarding Ford’s departure, he added, “It was probably a good thing.”
While the Select Board is certainly interested in the fate of Springfield Hospital, MacGillivray said, it has no immediate plans to attempt to directly intervene with the company or take any governmental action.
Rutland City Schools Superintendent Adam Taylor announced at Thursday’s Project VISION meeting a new program designed to help Rutland Middle School students deal with emotional problems and poverty.
Taylor said there had been a “wave of kids sent for crisis support (for) self-harm, potential suicide, crisis at home” at RMS.
“We need caring, loving, nurturing adults to come tutor, to mentor, to be aunts and uncles to our kids, to support them, not academically. First we have to support them emotionally. We have to give them the things that they’re looking for,” he said.
Still in its early stages, Project Wrap-Around Life in the Middle would start at RMS but could expand to other schools in the district or other school districts in the area.
Taylor suggested adult volunteers would serve in a mentor capacity, developing relationships with students and showing an interest in them. But Taylor said volunteers would be screened to prevent adults from entering the program who were seeking inappropriate relationships with students.
He said it was part of his effort to make Rutland a model for education.
“We have great staff. We have phenomenal kids but we also live in a community that’s in crisis,” Taylor said.
Taylor said Rutland was fifth in poverty among the Vermont schools that have federally-funded meal programs.
He said the concerns about poverty explained his reluctance to close the schools because of snow.
“If I can forego a snow day, I’m not calling it. Our kids come to school for warmth. They come to eat, too, sometimes three meals a day. They come to be loved and I can’t guarantee their safety at home,” he said.
Taylor said he envisioned volunteers at the school before, during or after school, possibly greeting students and asking them what they needed, whether it be food, clothing or conversation.
Assistant Superintendent Rob Bliss recounted a recent conversation he had when asked about whether students were happy for the holidays.
“I said, ‘Hey, guess what, I was at the middle school today, guess what I saw?’ I saw some kids with next to nothing walk in with a few candy canes and hand them to their friends. They were trying to do it. I saw as many kids walking in crying, terrified of their coming vacation. Also, under social pressures from their peers, social media and everything else to be someone that they maybe can’t be,” he said.
Asked about how the program might help students with online bullying and harassment, Taylor said he wanted to develop a training program for parents and students.
Bliss added the school district had the advantage of a cyber-youth club at the high school.
“Mr. Taylor and I show up at your house and start teaching you how to use social media, you’re going to checkout and start checking your phone but if your peers stand in front of you and teach you, it makes a big difference,” he said.
Taylor said he and Bliss were working on an orientation. For now, he said volunteers should reach out to central office at 6 Church St., so educators can gauge the interest in supporting the program.
Having been open about his own background, including growing up without a father, Taylor said he hoped to see male volunteers. He said he believed many Rutland students were growing up like he did without a male role model.
After the presentation, Joe Kraus, chairman of Project VISION, called the proposal the third great moment in the organization’s nearly seven-year history. The first two involved the Rutland City Police Department and Rutland Regional Medical Center reaching out for help in responding to the opioid crisis and health care.
“The third one is what happened this morning. (Taylor and Bliss) showed up and said something I’ve never heard before which is, ‘We can’t do this on our own.’ To do that takes great courage. It also takes great humility. It also takes some confidence,” he said.
The U.S. House voted Wednesday afternoon to pass a compromise farm bill that boosts protections for smaller-sized dairy farms.
The bill, which revamps an existing dairy insurance program, had cleared the U.S. Senate on Tuesday.
Diane Bothfeld, director of administrative services and dairy policy with the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, said the insurance program kicks in when the spread between the farm’s feed cost and the price they’re paid for milk gets beyond a certain point. The bill widens the spread to help smaller producers.
“And the ability to insure that higher margin is positive for smaller farms, who may have higher costs for supplies because they buy small amounts,” Bothfeld said. “They can’t buy things in bulk, because they don’t need that, so sometimes their costs are higher on smaller farms.”
The compromise bill also lowers the premiums farms will pay for the insurance program. Bothfeld says new rules will have to be written for the program and that producers will probably be able to enroll sometime this spring.
So far this year, Vermont lost 63 dairy farms, with 699 remaining in business as of Dec. 5, a decline of 8.27 percent, according to the latest figures from the Agency of Agriculture. In 2018, farmers faced another year of declining milk prices. An insurance program in the previous farm bill failed to help.
Bothfeld said this compromise bill provides a premium refund to farmers who enrolled in the insurance program from 2014 to 2017.
The bill also removes hemp from a federal list of banned substances, removing a legal cloud over hemp growers in Vermont and around the country. Vermont saw a record number of hemp producers apply to grow the product this year.
“It will be very nice to have that off the list of scheduled drugs,” Bothfeld said. “And I think it will open up even further in Vermont. We’ve got a lot more people registering to grow hemp, and I think it will continue to grow, especially now that it’s not illegal.”
Proctor, Otter Valley boys basketball teams victorious in Bob Abrahamson Tournament action. B1
Rutland Herald and Times Argus take home awards at the Vermont Press Association’s annual meeting in Montpelier. A2
Apple in Austin
Apple plans to build a $1 billion campus in Austin, Texas, that will create at least 5,000 jobs ranging from engineers to call-center agents. A7
Reported bomb threats in Vermont were among numerous nationwide that have been deemed a hoax by law enforcement. B8
Carols and Cookies
Holiday sing-along and cookie exchange. Bring 30 homemade holiday cookies and go home with assorted holiday cookies. 2:30-4 p.m. The Sparkle Barn, 1509 Route 7, Wallingford, firstname.lastname@example.org, 446-2044.