MONTPELIER — In about a month’s time the state has created a host of child care hubs to serve more than 5,000 elementary school students during remote learning.
Last month the state announced grant funding would be available to increase the number of child care providers. At his regular news conference Friday, Gov. Phil Scott said the effort was necessary to help working families.
Schools across the state have taken different approaches to reopening during the coronavirus pandemic, ranging from total in-person instruction to complete remote learning, as well as hybrid models with both in-person and remote learning. With parents going to work, finding child care during remote learning days can be difficult so the governor said the state worked quickly to get the hubs up and running.
“This work has been essential to help families during this unusual school year,” he said.
Holly Morehouse is the executive director of the nonprofit Vermont Afterschool which has been working with the state to create the hubs. Morehouse said Friday the state currently has 35 hubs with 87 locations that can serve 5,071 students.
She said it’s been a collaborative effort between the state, schools and child care providers. She highlighted others that have helped out as well, including the owner of a fitness center giving space for a program, as well as a church that did the same.
But finding locations wasn’t the only challenge. She said those working on the effort had to find staff, provide training, work out schedules and address health and safety concerns. Morehouse said she was proud of the work done to get the hubs operational.
“They are full of joy, flexibility and creativity. Staff are supporting learning, working in facial coverings all day. Finding ways to get children outside as much as possible. And playing that crucial role between home and school,” she said.
Morehouse said officials are working with child care referral specialists to find remaining areas of need in the state. She said hubs are being set up in Randolph and Manchester and officials are looking at hubs in Grand Isle and Swanton.
“We continue to move and adapt,” she said.
Visit www.vermontafterschool.org to find an interactive map of the hubs and their child care locations.
When the hubs were first announced last month, state officials believed they would need to provide about 7,300 students with child care. But Morehouse said that number decreased because not all elementary schools are doing remote learning. She said the numbers aren’t fixed and could change because, for example, a family that may not have thought it needed child care could change its mind later in the year.
Morehouse said she’s happy with the current state of the hubs but the work isn’t done.
Brooke Paige has some strong opinions about how life — and elections — could be better for Vermonters, and he’s running for secretary of state and attorney general so he can be part of the changes he would like to see.
Paige, 67, described himself as “semi-retired,” after having worked in industrial sales. After he lost two jobs because the company for which he was working were sold he decided to go into business for himself.
Still living in Vermont, Paige ran newsstands and coffee shops in the Philadelphia subway system for more than 20 years until he sold the business and retired.
“I’ve been involved in politics for a while. Tried to do the best I can to institute some change. While I haven’t been successful in winning offices, other than Justice of the Peace in my little town of Washington, I have been able to affect some change, especially in elections,” he said.
Paige, who is running as a Republican, said he ran in previous elections for governor and attorney general mostly to demonstrate what he believes is the weakness of open primaries.
Also, he pursued an unsuccessful attempt this year to have the Orange County Vermont Superior Court block the state from sending ballots to all registered voters.
Having what he calls a “vote-by-mail, mass-mailing” election this year is something Paige believes is a “test run” to use the system in the future as well. Paige said he doesn’t support the idea now or in the future because he believes Vermont is “ill-prepared because we do not have sufficient integrity of our voter checklist.”
Paige said “ideally” Vermont would have a voter identification system.
State officials have expanded the mailing of ballots to registered voters over concerns that a more traditional election day in November may bring people together and spread COVID-19.
Paige referred to COVID as something that was a “major concern in the spring.” He also said he’s opposed to the mask mandate imposed by Gov. Phil Scott in response to the pandemic.
According to Paige, the mandate is “probably unconstitutional.”
“Most of the studies I’ve seen do not suggest that masks are of particular benefit, OK, except when worn by those folks who are currently sick,” he said.
Paige said the “underlying real concern that no one talks about” is that masks are only effective for people who already have COVID. He said the reason for the mask requirement is that if only people who needed masks wore them, it would identify them as being COVID-positive.
He said he would rather the state issued a suggestion for wearing masks.
“I think that people don’t react well when they’re told to do things, especially things that don’t look like they’re not all that necessary,” he said.
Paige said he would like to see a large reduction of the number of professions that are overseen by the Office of Professional Regulation. He believes they could be moved to the Department of Health and includes among that group dentists, barbers, beauticians and tattoo artists.
He added that he believed the office could process complaints received in a more efficient and responsive way.
If elected, Paige said he would like to spend time with Vermont students and expand their civics education, which he said was something that happened more frequently under previous secretaries.
Part of his experience with the Vermont Attorney General’s Office has been multiple lawsuits against state officials in which he’s involved, Paige said.
“All of those were represented by the attorney general’s office, so I’ve had a bold smattering of experience with the AG’s office going up against not only (Secretary of State Jim) Condos but also the Agency of Education,” he said.
In his experience, Paige said, the attorney general’s office has little patience for litigants, especially those who are not represented by an attorney.
“The joke over there is, they want to keep your case unripe, until it becomes moot. They do that generally by raising issues of standing and venue and jurisdiction or timeliness and do not want the cases to reach the underlying issues being raised in the lawsuit,” he said.
Paige also complained that under Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan, there had been “little to no activity or pushback against State Police being labeled racists.”
“The attorney general should be a bold advocate for the State Police and the sheriff’s office and the local police, not one that’s quick to condemn those law-enforcement officers for the activities of a tiny handful of folks that might be acting inappropriately,” he said.
Paige said there was too much focus on social justice and not enough on criminal justice.
He expressed support for Second Amendment rights as well.
After almost 10 years on the job, Secretary of State Jim Condos is still eager to be re-elected and bring new ideas to the office.
Condos, 69, said he was flattered by people who suggested he should run for governor, but he said he is happy being Secretary of State.
“My position is, I enjoy what I’m doing, I know I make a difference, and I know I’m helping Vermont. Too often people have jobs where they don’t always enjoy going to work. I enjoy going to work. I enjoy working with the team around me. We’ve done a lot of good things to put good government solutions in place,” he said.
Condos spent 18 years on the South Burlington City Council, the last eight years as chairman.
He was a member of the Vermont State Senate from 2001 to 2008, spending time as the chairman of the government operations and education committees.
Before being secretary of state, Condos worked in sales and marketing including a Fortune 100 company.
Since becoming secretary of state in 2011, Condos said he believes he has brought some positive changes to the office.
“We have completely modernized and transformed the office to what was a paper-driven system to an efficient, productive visual environment. When I first took office, we had literally zero percent online activity, and we’re now up over 97%, 98% online activity,” he said.
According to Condos, there were some web pages connected to the secretary of state’s website when he first took office that couldn’t even be reached to make changes.
After a two-year project to update the website, Condos said the office is increasingly transparent because of the information posted to the website.
The registration system for new corporations has been updated as well, Condos said.
“Essentially what we’ve done is put in all-new IT solutions for all aspects of the secretary of state’s office so we are now a more efficient, productive, accurate and transparent agency,” he said.
From his previous career, Condos said he had learned the importance of customer service.
“When I first took office, the first day I walked through the door, after being sworn in, I said that we were going to be an office that was known for customer service. That we were going to return phone calls, we were going to answer the phone, we were going to reply to emails, we were going to find the information that people need,” he said.
Condos said he has been an advocate for open meeting laws and access to public records and, as the chief election officer for the state, has refrained from endorsing any federal, state or local candidates.
A change in state law, that makes it easier for a plaintiff who wins a case to recover legal fees, is another change he said he thinks is an improvement.
While Condos has been secretary of state for some time, the last year has been like no other for the state and the world.
Condos said he had been paying attention to COVID as something that could affect the operations of his office since February. At the time, he polled his staff to learn who was prepared if an order came to work remotely.
“We found out whether people had computers at home, whether they had internet access, if they had those capabilities. Then, accordingly, we ordered additional laptops to make sure that the staff would have what they needed to be able to go home should they (need to work from home) and shortly after we started to receive the laptops, of course, the governor in March started the shutdown,” he said.
Staff members are having calls forwarded and can still access email.
Condos said the work he initiated to make the office digital-driven allowed the staff to be “flexible and nimble” in order to keep the secretary of state’s office active.
With the pandemic coming during a federal election year, Condos said he had two goals: Protect every eligible Vermonter’s right to vote and protect all Vermonters who planned to vote or work in the municipalities’ polling places to run the election.
Condos addressed concerns about voter fraud by saying it was his experience, and he believed the experience of others who supported actual elections, that it was hard enough to get people to vote so he didn’t believe there was a genuine problem with people casting multiple votes.
“I mean that sincerely. I also want to say that the true voter fraud in this country is denying any eligible American the right to vote, and there have been many cases across the country of systems that have been put in place, where the real result is to suppress voter turnout. That, to me, is the real shame that we should all be upset about,” he said.
Vietnam veteran Garry DuFour waited in his driveway for a wellness check when he thought he might have the COVID. After 3 hours, he gave up and went inside for a nap. A2
T.J. Donovan said he wants another two-year term as the state’s attorney general because he wants to continue the work he’s done during the past four years and to help the state navigate its way out of the coronavirus pandemic.
Donovan said his office has acted as the enforcement arm for Gov. Phil Scott’s executive order that at one point called for the shutdown of schools and nonessential businesses in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19.
“But I think we’ve done it in a very balanced way where we’ve worked with Vermonters and built compliance with the governor’s executive order,” he said.
Donovan said his office created an early response team and received a host of calls in March and April from residents who wanted to know what they could and couldn’t do, what the order meant and how they could keep their businesses open. He said he was proud his office was able to respond to every call and to work with people collaboratively. The attorney general said his office only had to bring forward two lawsuits to get people to comply with the governor’s order.
“Which is unlike any other state. And the credit doesn’t go to my office. It goes to Vermonters because it was a collaborative approach,” he said, adding he’s always said the best way to enforce the law is to give people the opportunity to comply with it.
Prior to and during the pandemic, Donovan highlighted his efforts to push back on some of the actions taken by the Trump Administration.
“The federal government has taken a step back in protecting people’s rights, has taken a step back in protecting our environment, has taken a step back from following the rule of law. And we stepped up,” he said.
Donovan said his office has sued the administration so many times he’s lost count.
Looking ahead, Donovan said he will continue to focus on helping the state get out of the pandemic. He said his office will continue to provide good legal services to state government and residents.
“This is going to impact us as we go forward, we all know that. I want to make sure that we have a steady hand that can stand up for the right values. And helping people and trusting Vermonters and giving them the opportunity not only to comply with whatever the governor orders but making sure that they have a chance to fulfill their livelihood and take care of their families,” he said.