Letters to the Editor
TA Story Failed
[Re: “UVM’s Recession Strategy? Bigger Classes and More Undergrad Teaching Assistants,” February 10]: As the professor of the political science course alluded to by Ms. McLellan in her piece on UVM’s use of teaching assistants for grading in large, introductory courses, I feel it necessary to clarify several factual inaccuracies on which Ms. McLellan appears to hang her condemnation of the practice. The issue here is not whether professors or students have a pedagogical preference for small classes; sure, I would love to teach seminars of 10 people. But this is not an option unless the department is willing to turn away dozens, even hundreds, of students each semester.
My guess is that in this case, we would all reluctantly opt for the supersized introductory courses and reserve the small classes for the upper levels. That said, let me correct the false claims pertaining to my class, specifically:
1. I had face-to-face interviews and multiple correspondences before hiring my TA.
2. The TA was closely supervised. We met before each and every class of the semester and even more frequently before and after exams.
3. I was the author of the 150 questions that appeared on the three in-class exams. The TA graded them according to an answer sheet. He brought any issues related to grading to me. I never asked him to render judgments on his own or to overstep his area of competence.
4. I never “blamed” the TA for anything. I did request several times in class that the students refrain from challenging the authority of the TA by engaging in special pleading or by attempting to browbeat him about grades. On the first exam, when the grades turned out lower than expected, I graded on a curve in order to compensate.
5. To his credit, in uncharted territory, the TA performed with great dedication, maturity and skill. I regret the misstatement of facts by the single student interviewed about my class.
Feldman is a professor at the University of Vermont.
Great article by music editor Dan Bolles [“In the Year Two Thousand ... Ten,” January 13]. I had a good laugh over this one. If only concertgoers understood the golden rule: Silence is sacred. Cheers!
20/20 Falls Down
In “The 20/20 Challenge” [February 3] Lauren Ober describes a tumble she took at the top of the Middlebury Snow Bowl. Her article fell at the gate as well. She writes, “Not many colleges can boast that they own a ski area. In fact, only four can — Dartmouth, Middlebury and two community colleges in Michigan and California whose ski areas’ combined vertical drop totals 1000 feet.”
It took me about two minutes on the web to determine that this is not “in fact.” Two community colleges own ski areas, but she omitted the largest public school — Michigan Tech, which has more than 7000 students and grants PhDs in numerous disciplines. (Can you tell I used to work there?) Tech owns the small and charming Mont Ripley. Sure, the vertical drop is only 400 feet, slight even for the Midwest, but skiing is free with your student ID.
I feel guilty for sending this in and being a little snarky, because I hold Seven Days in high esteem. I pick it up every week. I especially love to play the Film Quiz. I also like Suzanne Podhaizer’s work. I read the food section and the “Crumbs” every week.
It was great to see the mention of raw milk from Family Cow Farmstand noted in the “Just Tweet It” article by Suzanne Podhaizer in the January 27 issue of Seven Days. I’m lost about the whole tweeting thing, but it would be great to see a full article on the area’s raw-milk providers. There’s even a new farm close by for us in Chittenden County: Bread and Butter Farm off Cheese Factory Road. Greatest milk we’ve ever had.
The Big 5-0
I think the proponents of IRV in Burlington missed the mark with their catchy moniker “50 percent matters” [“Fair Game,” February 3]. Fifty might be nifty, but it is not a majority. More than 50 percent is what really matters.
Editor’s Note: Seven Days is sponsoring an IRV debate on Thursday, February 18, at 7 p.m. in Burlington City Hall Auditorium.
Last week, we published a letter by Sukie Knight that contained some figures related to our February 3 story, “Vermont Legislators Admit to Cheating the System. Are They Justified?” Knight calculated that under the current system, legislators can earn up to $709 in weekly reimbursements on top of their $600 a week salary, for an annualized salary of $52,360.
The total sum is mostly accurate, but one lawmaker contested two of the numbers she used to get there. Knight figured four nights of accommodations — at $101 per — for a total potential weekly expenditure of $404. Check. Then she added up five food stipends, at $61 a day, to get $305. But since lawmakers only work four days a week, the total weekly food reimbursement could be no more than $244.
But Knight left out the third reimbursable expense — mileage — assuming this fictional lawmaker was staying over in Montpelier all week. Even so, the state would still cover the lawmaker’s expense of getting there and back: one round-trip to the capital city, at 50 cents a mile. Remuneration varies based on the distance traveled, but Burlington lawmakers collect $35 for each trip they claim.
Knight also based her $52,360 salary figure on a 20-week legislative session. Last year’s session ran 16 weeks. This year’s session is expected to run no longer. Taking all of that into consideration, a 16-week session could net $20,528. Annualized, that works out to be $66,716.
All Expenses Paid?
Seven Days received dozens of letters in reaction to Andy Bromage’s February 3 article “Vermont Legislators Admit to Cheating the System.” They offered multiple answers to the second part of the story’s headline, a question: “Are They Justified?”
And there’s the rub, isn’t it? ... Vermont’s reimbursement to legislators is based on an “honor” system, and [Rep. David Zuckerman] has shown — no, proven — that he has no honor.
As a 37-year, classified state employee, I feel compelled to correct an error. Your article states that legislators and state employees are reimbursed at the same rate as federal employees. This is not correct. Classified state employees are not paid to drive to our work sites. We are reimbursed at the going GSA rate only if we use our personal vehicles for official state business away from our regular duty stations. Our reimbursement rates for food only apply if we are away from our duty stations on state business during regular meal times. The rates are $5 for breakfast, $12.85 for dinner in state; $6.25 for breakfast, $18.50 for dinner out of state. We are not reimbursed for lunch. That is a far cry from $61 per day, which I believe is more than a family of four receives in food stamps. Classified state employees must complete an expense account and provide receipts to be reimbursed for meals and/or mileage. If I submitted a claim for mileage I didn’t drive or a meal I didn’t eat, I would be committing fraud, which is grounds for dismissal.
Thank you for allowing me to provide this clarification.
Wow! I am outraged by what lawmakers are doing as related in this article! Call me naive, but I was married to a state employee for 14 years who was as honest as they come. He would never have done that. And, maybe to lawmakers, they think they don’t make enough, but I think their salary is great. I work 16 hours a day and make less. I have tried so hard not to lose faith in Vermont government, but now I just don’t know.
I thought being voted into office is a public-service desire to help the people who live in Vermont. It is my understanding that this country is in a recession. It is my opinion that people serving the greater good of the citizens [should] be responsible and accountable. It is an opportunity to educate people on fiscal responsibility. Thanks for letting me share my thoughts.
Cheating is cheating. And no, it should not be condoned in any form. That’s why it’s called cheating! In fact, it’s my vote that those who have taken advantage of the system should be forced to pay back all ill-gotten gains.
Mileage reimbursement and per diem are not taxable income. Why don’t legislators get treated just like any other employee: Provide your own transportation to and from work, and buy your own lunch. If wages are not enough, then negotiate for higher wages. Keep it simple. Less time and paperwork, too. Yes, we have to make it affordable for legislators to “hire replacement workers on their farm,” but they don’t need to get rich doing it! And, uh ... BTW ... show me one farmworker who makes over $600 per five days, plus mileage and per diem, and I’ll fall over in a dead faint first ... then apply for the job.
There are plenty of part-time and seasonal employees in this state — high end and low end, specialized skills and entry level. Maybe David Zuckerman thinks the taxpayers should subsidize them, too! Oh, wait ... no ... I guess he’s not really looking at the big picture, is he? Only his own pocket. After all, government workers are special and deserve special treatment.
I cannot begin to describe my outrage toward those legislators who believe that it is acceptable to lie, cheat and steal from their constituents and fellow Vermonters. If anyone else working in any industry, public or private, accepted payments for expenses that were never incurred, they would be summarily fired, no questions asked. For these legislators to so brazenly crow about their cheating and stealing is a new low in elected government.
I hear the argument about low pay. I have one response to that claim: Get a different job. I know that legislators have a difficult job with long hours. So do many of us. But we do not react to our low wages and overwork by cheating and stealing.
I urge the residents in these legislators’ districts to fire these people. Vote these legislators out of office. They are a disgrace to our state.
Are state legislators justified in lying about their mileage and fudging their expense accounts for meals at taxpayer expense? The state auditor has a hotline to report crimes like these. I know workers in private industry who’ve been fired for less, while low-income families who misrepresent their household income or expenses in order to obtain Section 8, food stamps or other government benefits can be prosecuted for fraud. Why should legislators be exempt from the rules that apply to ordinary working people? “Power corrupts,” an adage that our elected lawmakers seem to have forgotten.
After reading the article about how Rep. [David] Zuckerman and other reps routinely bilk Vermonters for unused expenses, I was outraged. It seems the state’s way of compensating for expenses is based on a system of trust, and Zuckerman has violated it, and possibly the law. I used to think he was one of the good guys, but now feel a moral obligation to never vote for him, ever. If he is correct and the pay is too low, then it needs to be adjusted through appropriate means. Many Vermonters earn less than $625 a week, however, so good luck getting that through.
Overstating expenses is not an appropriate method of setting fair compensation and is, in fact, stealing from the taxpayers. I would like to thank Seven Days for bringing attention to this matter and would love to read a serious investigation to see how deep this problem is. Do all reps do this? Do we, the taxpayers, have any legal recourse to recoup our money? Are there legal ramifications to admitting to stealing from the state? Please keep on this story and thanks so much for bringing it to light.
I guess the times have really changed, and some legislators want to empty our pockets and enjoy it. Sixty-one dollars a day for food, and charging mileage. Is it that important? Really!! The people put you in office and they can take you out next election. You wouldn’t get my vote.
After reading your article about David Zuckerman and other politicians cheating the state system for reimbursements, all I can do is picture the number of times I have forked over my cash directly into Zuckerman’s hands at the summer and winter Burlington Farmers Markets. While I concede that his vegetables were all delicious, they certainly weren’t free, and on my paltry UVM graduate student stipend — which just barely inches out his state legislator income on an annual basis — they felt like indulgences. So now those Brussels sprouts aren’t sitting so well. I already have felt that Zuckerman’s organic farming operation was a bit of a conflict of interest for someone who is supposed to represent all Vermont farmers. But now it seems downright ridiculous because even that extra income is not enough for him, and he feels it is right to lie on reimbursement forms on a regular basis. Maybe his imaginary $61 meals are all his own organic chicken and vegetables. I will certainly not be supporting him in his next reelection bid.
David Zuckerman and others should look at New York State for guidance. From Gail Collins’ op-ed in the New York Times:
“Excuse me. I was just distracted by the new 66-page federal indictment of Larry Seabrook, a New York City councilman who, along with multitudinous other charges, is accused of altering a receipt from a deli so he could get a $177 reimbursement for a bagel and diet soda.”
With a bit of creative chicanery, Zuckerman could do even better than Seabrook.
I’m not surprised at the burst of angry letters in response to Andy Bromage’s recent piece. What does surprise me are the sensationalist tactics Bromage uses to obscure the real story. Vermont takes pride in its citizen legislature and claims to value public service by private citizens. But cutting already low legislative salaries threatens the future of representative democracy in Vermont. Bromage buries the salary data and Snelling Report that support David Zuckerman’s point by saving them until the end of the story. His headline and lead vilify Zuckerman and stir up resentment. Is Bromage really that shoddy a reporter, or did he intentionally smear Zuckerman, a long-term legislator with a proven track record of selfless public service? Either way, I expect better from Seven Days.
Sheila Boland Chira
Are they justified?
Are you kidding?