Wednesday, February 18, 2009

School Accessibility Issues in Vermont

Okay, so this isn't a picture of the Edmunds schools in Burlington (it's a one-room Vermont schoolhouse in Stratton). But both were built before people had accessibility in mind.

And, as I wrote in an article in today's Seven Days newspaper, that's causing some parents to ask when Burlington's schools will become accessible for the disabled -- not just the few students using wheelchairs, but teachers and members of the public with mobility issues, or any student who injures a leg while skiing.

The Edmunds schools, joined middle and elementary schools located on Burlington's Main Street, are the toughest for the disabled to navigate. Children with mobility disabilities aren't allowed to attend -- or can't attend -- because it's impossible for them to reach their classrooms with the buildings' many stairs and floors. Fixing the school to reach ADA compliance could reach $15 million, school officials told me.

And that might prove tough to get the money in today's economic climate. But there's a glimmer of hope with Obama's economic plan, in that some of those funds might be available for a project just like Edmunds.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Ben Stein Expelled at UVM?

The latest mini-scandal in Vermont seems to be over Ben Stein -- the one-time host of "Win Ben Stein's Money" and the teacher who repeats "Bueller, Bueller?" in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," not to mention a Nixon speechwriter and noted economics commentator.

UVM announced Ben Stein as its commencement speaker -- and shortly afterwards, the angry emails began flying. And not just from Vermonters: Richard Dawkins wrote to UVM's president that he was "dismayed" at the choice.

So the president of UVM got on the phone with Stein to alert him to the backlash, and Stein agreed not to speak at UVM. But Stein wasn't happy about it. Check out what he wrote to the Burlington Free Press in an email:

Stein called the university’s response to the furor “chicken sh**, and you can quote me on that.”

But one of the most embarrassing facets of the whole embarrassing episode is Stein's comment that the president of UVM "endlessly, endlessly asked me to do it" for a discount (again, from the Burlington Free Press.) And that the president used family connections to ask Stein to speak (apparently some best-friend/brother-in-law connection). Yes, everyone knows budgets are being cut at UVM, but really? Geez.

End result: Howard Dean will be UVM's commencement speaker. I don't predict any protests.

Side comment: I heard Ben Stein speak at an investor conference when I worked at Bloomberg News. It was an Internet/tech conference right after the dot-com bubble burst in 2001 or early 2002. Interestingly, he started off making some relevant comments about how expectations of endless growth (as many dot-coms had been making) were untethered from reality, but then spent the rest of his speech talking about how much he missed his recently deceased father and how important it was to develop a strong relationship with your children. The room was unusually attentive -- instead of the usual investing spiel, he gave what was probably the first heart-felt talk ever heard at one of these confabs.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Winter ritual for February

Seed Packs
Originally uploaded by LollyKnit
I went cross-country skiing today in the Intervale, a piece of farmland in the city of Burlington, and I won't deny it was in the back of my mind to stop in at Gardener's Supply on the way back home.

For the uninitiated, Gardener's Supply is an amazing store full of enough goodies never to bore anyone with the gardening bug. They're also a national catalog company and own a bulb business called Dutch Gardens.

Well, anyone in a cold climate who owns a garden will understand what February means. Time to start planning for spring! Yee-haw.

Seeds, glorious seeds: Those little pictures on the packets keep you going until the last frost date (in Burlington, either mid-May or May 26, depending on your source.)

Maybe I'm crazy this year: I bought two types of watermelon seeds: Mickeylee ("Northern gardeners determined to grow watermelon should try Mickylee.") and Blacktail Mountain watermelon (developed by someone in northern Idaho, so it's gotta work in Vermont!).

Other purchases: sweet basil; Polar bear (white) heirloom zinnias; Swiss giant blend of pansies; Wheatgrass - liquid sunshine; Globe amaranth - Mardi Gras Parade; Marigold snowdrift (white); Snapdragon - cinderella mix; Tomatoes - mortgage lifter; and cilantro.

That doesn't count all the seeds I've saved plus leftovers from last year.