Tuesday, September 30, 2014


Thursday, September 18, 2014

Vermont Nonprofit Successfully Helps Homeowners Weatherize

Vermont Nonprofit Successfully Helps Homeowners Weatherize

Old houses that dot New England's landscape are often expensive to heat. A nonprofit housing agency in Vermont is using customer service to get homeowners to make their houses more energy efficient 

And now to Vermont, a state where weatherproofing a house can have serious benefits. But the high costs of carrying out those renovations put off many middle-class households. Now a nonprofit housing agency is harnessing neighborhood help to change that. And as Vermont Public Radio's Nina Keck reports, it's been a huge success.
NINA KECK, BYLINE: Ludy Biddle is the first to admit that getting people on a tight budget to weatherize their home is tough.
LUDY BIDDLE: The average cost of a project is $7,000. And that's $7,000 that's going into the basement and the attic in many cases, which isn't a very sexy way to spend money.
KECK: It's a challenge everywhere in the country. But Biddle, head of NeighborWorks of Western Vermont, a nonprofit housing agency, says those upgrades can save the average, local homeowner nearly a thousand bucks a year in heating fuel. That's money she says people in this rural, working-class part of Vermont really need. So when NeighborWorks won a four-and-a-half-million dollar federal grant four years ago to boost weatherization and create jobs, they started by ramping up outreach and discounting home energy audits.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (Laughter) That's great.
WOMAN #1: Hi.
GILBERT: This is NeighborWorks of Western Vermont, here representing our NeighborWorks heat squad. Are you a homeowner?
WOMAN #1: I am.
KECK: At the West Rutland Farmers’ Market, efficiency is now on display, right next to heirloom tomatoes and maple syrup. NeighborWorks' Sara Gilbert signs up a steady stream of shoppers for energy audits.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Well, thank you very much.
GILBERT: Sure. Should I have Laurie give you a call?
MAN #1: Oh, did I write - yeah, have her give me a buzz.
KECK: Gilbert says staff outreach like this is has been vital in getting their message out, but she says passionate, well-connected volunteers in nearly every town in the county have done even more. Marcie Tanger of Mt. Holly, for instance, saved thousands weatherizing her home and now cajoles her neighbors to do likewise that local concerts in the town's annual Cider Fest.
MARCIE TANGER: I do. I walk around with a clipboard talking to people, and because I live in town, I know most people and who lives here.
KECK: Retirees Ann and Russ Lattuca of Wallingford say it was a friend who talked them into retrofitting their home.
ANN LATTUCA: And he says, you know, it's really a good deal. They give you a low interest loan, and it's easy to pay off. And they work with you, and we found that to be very true.
KECK: Organizers say the program works because most people save more each month than the cost of their loan payment. And that makes it possible for families who might not otherwise qualify for a traditional loan to get financing. Green Mountain Power, Vermont's largest utility, now allows customers to roll loan payments into their monthly power bills. Ludy Biddle says it's all about making the process easy.
BIDDLE: We often go to the house and let the dog out and let the contractor in, if that's what it takes for a working person to get this done at their home.
KECK: In 2010, only 26 households in Rutland County had undergone efficiency upgrades. Today Biddle says proudly they're nearing 900, with 60 percent low to moderate income. Megan Billingsley consults with efficiency programs across the country and says NeighborWorks should be proud of those results.
MEGAN BILLINGSLEY: The low- to moderate-income market is just traditionally a very hard market to serve.
KECK: Billingsley says NeighborWorks' blend of innovation and common sense is impressive, but she says hands-on programs like theirs can be costly. Ludy Biddle considers it money well spent. A 2013 study done by the Cadmus Group, which evaluates efficiency programs nationwide, may back that up. It found that for every $1 invested in the NeighborWorks program, a $1.72 was returned to the community. For NPR News, I'm Nina Keck in Chittenden, Vermont.

Monday, September 15, 2014

How Would You Like to Host "The Young American"

How Would You Like to Host "The Young American"

For the period from Wednesday, Oct. 15 through Sunday, Oct. 19, the "Young Americans", a group of about 44 "kids" between the ages of 18 and 25, will be in the Chester and Black River area as they prepare for a major concert at Green Mountain Union High School.

The Young Americans, a nonprofit world-wide performing and music education organization, have worked with over a half million children around the world. Known as the world’s first show choir, the Young Americans invented the “glee” concept in the early 1960’s. This opportunity is endorsed by Mark Walberg.  He is currently known for his performance as host and producer of the “Antiques Roadshow” on ETV. Walberg was a former “Young American” after college.  The group has travelled extensively in this country and internationally.

The Young Americans will be presenting a workshop and concert dealing with “Turn Up the Music”, a program aimed at working with over 2,000 school systems.  According to the Young Americans program objective, “It has been very apparent that schools everywhere are looking for new and creative ways to keep their fine arts programs alive and healthy. Our new show, Turn Up The Music, is kicking off just such an opportunity for schools, as part of our campaign, to raise one million dollars for the schools we work with throughout the United States in the next 3 years”.

Since they receive no salaries or payments for their services, the group seeks to find  area home owners willing to open their homes to two group members while they are in the area.  According to Cynthia Austin, music teacher at Green Mountain High School and supporter of the Yong Americans, “Staying in the home of families associated with the workshops and concert put on by the group is really one of the most rewarding aspects of the worksop participants and host families”.  Austin noted that those families hosting two Young Americans will receive two free tickets to the Oct. 18 concert in the preferred seating section.  Constance Wilcox, music teacher in the Black River, Ludlow, and Mt Holly school systems, is assisting Austin in the event preparations.

Austin also noted that many of the graduates of the Young Americans have gone on to performing in leading roles in Broadway musicals, TV programs, stage concerts, and behind the scene functions.

The schedule for interested families will be:

Wednesday, Oct 15 at 6 pm – pick up two group members at Green Mountain High School

Thursday, Oct 16 – bring group members to Green Mountain High School at 9 am – return for lunch – take home at 9 pm

Friday, Oct 17 – bring group members to Green Mountain High school at 7:45 am – lunch – and take home at 6 pm

Saturday, Oct 18 – bring group members to Green Mountain High School at 9 am – lunch – take home at9:30 PM

Sunday, Oct 19 – bring group members to Green Mountain High School at 8 am for their departure from area.

On Thursday, Oct. 16, the Young Americans will conduct a performance at a special assembly at Green Mountain High School.  Their major concert will be Saturday evening at the same venue.

In addition to providing sleeping arrangements, the host families will be responsible for 4 breakfasts, 2 packed lunches, and 2 dinners.

Interested families may contact Cindi Austin at (802) 875-2146 or cynthia.austin@trsu.org.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Mount Holly School is looking for substitute teachers

Mount Holly School is looking for substitute teachers.   The school day is 7:45 a.m. – 3:15 p.m.  and the compensation is $ 85.00 per day.   Please give Craig or Raye Lin a call at school 259-2392 or stop by if you are interested.

Thank you.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Letter from the Governor

Letter from the Governor

Under Act 84 of 2012, the law which gives the Governor the authority to appoint the Secretary of Education, the Governor must provide information to the state board each year by September 1, outlining his education agenda for the coming year. Governor Shumlin has recently outlined his thinking in a letter to Secretary Holcombe. We strongly recommend that board members read this letter prior to coming to the regional meetings.  It will provide important context.

Link to the Governor's letter: http://www.vtvsba.org/GovShumlinLetter8-19-14.pdf

Pre-K Rules

Act 166 of 2014 provides universal access to PreK education for three and four year-old children effective in the fall of 2015. Specifically, children are entitled to access ten hours per week for 35 weeks at existing high quality pre-K programs.  The services must be made available by all districts, however, no public school or no private provider is required to expand programs.  The bill does encourage communities to come together to address shortages in the supply of quality programs.
The Agencies of Education and Human Services are responsible for implementing this bill.  They have now drafted rules which are available through the Agency of Education website.   A public meeting will be held from 1-4PM at the Pavilion Auditorium in Montpelier on Wednesday, September 10, to allow for questions and discussion as these rules begin their 6 month journey toward modification and ultimate adoption. Each supervisory union/supervisory district will be appointing a lead person to assure smooth communication around this process.  Detailed budget-building guidance for districts should be available by October 1 as districts begin to develop plans for fall 2015.

Pre-K Draft Rules: http://education.vermont.gov/act-166-draft-rules

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Vermonters for Health Care Freedom

Vermonters for Health Care Freedom
Health Care Reform Newsletter #39
Vermonters for Health Care Freedom continues our newsletter series on Vermont’s health care reform efforts. We aim to provide useful information to our client businesses and newsletter recipients; to inform our readers about Vermont’s efforts toward a “single payer” health care system and the problems inherent in such a system; and to address related health care matters at the federal and state levels.

More Evidence of State’s Failed Leadership
The Optum Report Is In
The state’s most recently hired health exchange contractor, Optum, has issued a highly critical report, citing a near total lack of leadership by the state as the cause of the failed health insurance exchange. The 116-page Optum report, issued last week, reads like a bad report card for the Shumlin administration.

From the Governor’s erroneous decision to use political appointees to build the exchange instead of hiring competent professionals, to the failure of those individuals to manage the project or hold the contractor CGI accountable, the picture painted by Optum is one of major incompetence by state officials and a runaway vendor CGI, that racked up millions of dollars in charges with little or no oversight by the Shumlin administration or the legislature.

The Optum report shows that essentially, prior to the release of last week’s report, no one in the Shumlin administration or the legislature knew who was running Vermont Health Connect, who was responsible or accountable, what had been done or not done, what the project budget was, how much VHC was really costing, what functionality had been delivered, when the missing functionality would be delivered, or what CGI was actually doing during the past year.

CGI repeatedly missed deadlines and failed to deliver critical functionality. Yet, as a parting gesture, the Shumlin administration signed a termination agreement with CGI, on behalf of Vermonters, promising not to sue or recoup any of the $67 million paid for missing system functionality, lack of work documentation, non-delivery of status reports, and lack of a project budget.

So after a year of misery and $67 million later, the state has agreed to waive all rights to sue CGI for any failures or any breaches of the system – and has agreed that neither party will assume fault for disastrous performance of Vermont Health Connect. In other words, the administration has struck a deal with a private contractor to withhold the details of its’ greatest management failure.

As you read Optum’s findings, consider whether you would have promised not to sue CGI.

Among the report’s findings:

• “Neither (the state) nor CGI believe they are accountable for project outcomes”, the report reads, nearly a year after the launch of the exchange. “The project’s program management structure and processes contributed to the State of Vermont’s (SOV) lack of project ownership and CGI’s lack of accountability”.

However, the project management plan (PMP) was “prepared by CGI and signed-off by SOV”.

• “Ownership of the project and its outcomes by SOV is limited at best. CGI took control of the project and the SOV ceded ownership”.

• “As CGI disregarded processes in the (PMP), the project’s lack of control and ownership impacted the ability of project teams to meet the project’s original and/or revised milestones”.

• “Key governance principals (sic) for establishing/maintaining SOV ownership and control…were not applied”.

• “The project’s aggressive schedule necessitated increased collaboration and rigorous processes. Instead, CGI proceeded with project activities without the appropriate SOV participation…”

• “A project-specific cost/budget management plan does not exist. Because of this, the overall costs are very difficult to define and manage”.

Optum also found that, “….nine months after the implementation of Vermont Health Connect (VHC), several critical functional requirements including Change of Circumstance, Renewals, and SHOP, and over 2,500 non-functional requirements specified in the (CGI) contract, have not been met.”

“Additionally, there is no agreed-upon plan for delivering the missing functional or non-functional requirements”.

“Each of the following Project Management processes….is a ‘High’ risk – Immediate corrective action is required”

• “Schedule Management - a current comprehensive program schedule does not exist. CGI has not fulfilled their contractual commitment with regard to this portion of the contract.

• Cost Management – A cost/budget management plan for the project does not exist.

• Quality Management – “Of 48 deliverables, 17 are ‘approved…..This highlights both a quality and process problem.

• Scope Management: A pproximately 130 (project) Change Requests (CR) are not approved, while 10 are approved. There’s no agreement on pricing with CGI, which does not allow for appropriate cost estimation for each CR”.

In addition:

• Staffing Management – “A detailed Staffing Management Plan is described in the (project management plan) yet not followed” “The staffing management plan does not include SOV resources”.
CGI was responsible for providing a staffing plan and updating its monthly for VHC. No updates have occurred since the end of 2013.

• Communications Management – CGI’s “report communicates project activity, but not the status in context to the plan. There are risk indicators flagged “red” without corrective actions noted”.

• Risk Management: “Risk management does not appear to be effective”.

• Performance Management: “A deliverable tracking process is described in the Plan but not followed. A Performance Management plan is specified but not followed”.

• “Examples of CGI commitments not met include:” (monthly progress tracking reports); (performance of tasks against the schedule); (task progress reported to SOV through weekly updates).
“Each week CGI will update the percent complete on tasks”. “Review of these commitments with CGI’s leadership team indicated that they were not familiar with them”.

Optum found that the project’s management plan, prepared by CGI, does not provide a sufficient method for controlling the project. It does not distinguish CGI’s accountability for performing activities, from the state’s project ownership responsibility. The project lacks the appropriate state oversight. Yet VHC signed off on those contract terms.

The report states, “The majority of the required documents to be produced by CGI are incomplete or not approved by SOV”. “KPIs (key performance indicators) have not been defined nor reported by CGI. Without these KPIs the real status of VHC is not fully known”.

The Optum report shows that either VHC was totally unaware of CGI’s many performance failures throughout the entire work period, or worse yet, they were not telling anyone. If VHC management was telling the Governor, then the Governor significantly mislead both Vermonters and the legislature over a long period of time. It has become clear that the Vermont legislature was kept out of the loop.

If VHC management was not disclosing CGI’s failures because they did not know, which appears to be the case, then they have failed miserably to do their jobs, and should be replaced immediately.

Adverse Impact on Vermonters

The Optum report says that the “change of circumstance” (CoC) functionality of VHC has yet to be enabled. These circumstances include a job/salary change, marriage, a new baby, or divorce. Any of those situations can lead to a change in the premium tax credit that Vermonters receive though VHC. Most Vermonters using the exchange have qualified for a premium tax credit or subsidy. This in turn can mean that a person receives too much of a tax credit and will have to pay it back come tax filing time. The lack of a functional CoC system makes it difficult, if not impossible for Vermonters to report alterations in their circumstances that would help them avoid getting too much or too little in tax credits.

Right now change reporting has to be done manually on the phone with VHC staff. It has been widely reported that many Vermonters are spending hours on the phone, getting incorrect premium statements or double premium statements, not getting an insurance card, getting duplicate insurance cards, showing up at the doctor’s office and finding they have no insurance, and on and on.

By contrast, here is how it works for states that use the federal exchange. On the HealthCare.gov website you log into your account, click on the link for your existing application, and choose “Report income or life changes”, and make the change. That is how simple it is for our neighbors in New Hampshire who chose the federal exchange.

The Shumlin administration now says that much of the CoC backlog has been cleared up by Optum. But what happens to Vermonters whose change of circumstance happened months ago? The IRS says that when you file your income taxes next year, you will have to subtract any advance payments you received during 2014 from the amount of the credit calculated on your tax return. If you received more than you were eligible for because of an inability to make a change of circumstance timely, it will result in an increase in the taxes you owe. There were approximately 13,000 CoC’s just in the backlog as of June 2014. Clearly there were more to start with.

The change of circumstance issue won’t be fixed even by year-end, according to VHC Chief Lawrence Miller. That means Vermonters will still be unable to update their policies online to avoid an unpleasant tax surprise that could come early next year. None of the remaining website functions will be fixed before the end of the open enrollment in February 2015, either, says Miller. These include automated coverage renewals, and allowing small businesses and their employees to enroll through the website.

The Optum report found that, “The SOV’s decision to communicate (premium assistance amounts) as the member portion of the premium…results in scenarios where carriers will interpret an incremental payment as a partial payment and mark the consumer as delinquent”. “Missing enrollment reconciliation is not occurring”.

Miller also said that the exchange when completed will meet federal standards, but might not end up with all the design and automated features that Vermonters would like. That, after two years and $171 million dollars spent, is a travesty.

In Closing

While the Shumlin administration was woefully unprepared to take on the creation of Vermont Health Connect, it bears remembering that the Governor refused to consider the simpler alternative of joining the federal exchange, which would have saved taxpayers nearly $171m.

New Hampshire has spent a mere $8m with none of the headaches that thousands of Vermonters have had to endure. New Hampshire has also increased the number of carriers who are selling insurance though their exchange, enhancing competition and leading to lower premiums, while Vermont’s choices have dwindled down from 18 to 2, due to VHC’s incompetence.
The Governor and the Vermont legislature insisted on building a state exchange so they could turn it into a theoretical single payer system in 2017. It does not appear that in making this decision, they placed the interests of Vermonters ahead of their own political ambitions.

It should also be noted that while the administration did release the Optum report, many areas were blacked out by the state prior to the release. Most notably, under “Security Review and Assessment”, the first “High risk” finding by Optum is blacked out. This is of great concern. What is the risk? Why is it blacked out?