Business & Economy

One family, two schools: Questions raised about another Sanders deal

Vermont Woodworking School
The barn housing the Vermont Woodworking School in Fairfax. Photo courtesy of Carina Driscoll
While one deal struck by Jane O’Meara Sanders during her time as Burlington College’s president has triggered a federal investigation, another arrangement she engineered is breeding claims of nepotism and allegations of veiled threats against her husband’s presidential campaign.

The bad blood centers on the relationship the college forged with the Vermont Woodworking School, co-founded and run by Sanders’ daughter, Carina Driscoll.

Carol Moore, the final president at Burlington College, broadly blames the school’s 2016 closing on Sanders. In a scathing op-ed last year, Moore wrote: “BC’s fate was set when its former board members hired an inexperienced president.”

Bernie Sanders
Sen. Bernie Sanders and his wife, Jane O’Meara Sanders, in Rock Hill, S.C. File photo by Hilary Hess/Sanders campaign

That president, Jane Sanders, the wife of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., led Burlington College from 2004 to 2011. Previously she served as acting president of Goddard College in Plainfield, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in social work. (Sanders also holds a PhD from Union Institute.)

Moore and others say a land deal Jane Sanders championed in 2010 caused Burlington College’s closure last year. The school had purchased a 33-acre waterfront parcel from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington for $10 million with hopes of greatly expanding the small, alternative liberal arts college.

“Enrollment that year was about 195 and the budget just over $4 million, less than half of this ill-advised investment,” Moore wrote in the Chronicle of Higher Education. “What were they thinking?”

That deal is under scrutiny by federal authorities, who are examining whether Jane Sanders accurately represented donations to the college used as collateral to back the bank loan.

While the land deal has grabbed headlines, a second agreement has also come under fire.

Moore is equally critical of a deal Jane Sanders brokered between the college and Driscoll’s Vermont Woodworking School, a facility in Franklin County where Burlington College students took courses.

In interviews with VTDigger, Moore said the college got the short end of the stick.

“This was a sweetheart deal for Carina Driscoll, Jane Sanders’ daughter,” said Moore. Driscoll is the stepdaughter of Bernie Sanders.

Moore served as the college’s president from 2014 until May 2016, when the school abruptly shut down.

Moore alleges the woodworking school was “gouging the college.” She praised the academic merits of the program but said it was “barely” profitable.

Students began attending the woodworking school in 2009 on what appears to have been a handshake deal. A formalized contract was made only under Jane Sanders’ successor as president, Christine Plunkett. The lack of a written agreement raised questions from the college’s accrediting body, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, or NEASC.

According to publicly available tax documents, the Vermont Woodworking School received more than $500,000 between 2009 and 2012 for “materials charges and lease of bench space” for Burlington College students who took furniture-making and woodworking design courses in a restored red barn in Fairfax.

Carina Driscoll
Carina Driscoll, center. File photo by Andrew Kutches/VTDigger

Lease payments were not the only costs Burlington College paid in connection with the woodworking school. The college also paid Driscoll, at various points, for administrative work and covered the salaries for some woodworking professors. The Vermont Woodworking School received roughly half of the tuition money for each student from Burlington College.

Internal documents obtained by VTDigger show that, as Burlington College was about to close, the woodworking school was one of the college’s most expensive programs.

Moore and others say the financial split on tuition money was too lopsided toward the woodworking school.

According to a draft of the college’s 2016-2017 budget, the woodworking program was expected to have more than $400,000 in expenses, including $152,000 for salaries and $250,000 in “general expenses.” The total forecasted budget for Burlington College that year was roughly $3.3 million.

The year before, in the 2015-2016 academic year, the woodworking program generated nearly $460,000 in gross tuition, according to a financial analysis.

Under the tuition split, the woodworking school received $228,225 of that amount. Out of its share, the college also paid the $143,300 in faculty costs, meaning the school generated a profit of $87,475.

Driscoll, in a statement to VTDigger, denied all allegations of nepotism. She said Moore was the first college official to assert that the financial terms were unfair.

“The contract we operated under with BC until they closed last May was negotiated and signed with President Plunkett after my mother left the College and there was no potential for a conflict of interest,” Driscoll said. “The program was profitable for the College and in its last couple of years, we were their only growing program. BC was never obligated to enroll students in the woodworking program, but almost every year their numbers increased and we accommodated them.”

Jane Sanders declined to comment for this article. However, her supporters say Moore is unfairly blaming her for all of the school’s financial problems and is diverting attention from the fact that the school closed on Moore’s watch.

What the college called the “crushing debt” from the 2010 land purchase ultimately led to the pullout of a key creditor, People’s United Bank. The national accrediting agency also pressured the school to close.

Sanders was pressured to leave less than a year after she struck the purchase agreement with the Catholic diocese, which partly financed the transaction; Tony Pomerleau, who provided bridge financing; and People’s United, which granted a loan based on collateral from donor pledges. Ultimately the college came up with only about 20 percent of the pledges.

The FBI began investigating the matter last year.

According to Politico, the federal probe is “clouding” Bernie Sanders’ outlook and has complicated his decision whether to run for president again in 2020.

During his 2016 presidential run, according to Seven Days, Driscoll “requested that [Burlington College] keep the family apprised of any developments that might attract press scrutiny.”

While public scrutiny of the woodworking school arrangement coincides with the FBI investigation of the land deal, there is no evidence the federal government is investigating the Vermont Woodworking School.

Moore, who has been interviewed by the FBI regarding the land deal, said she had never been questioned about the woodworking program. Driscoll also said she had not been contacted by the FBI, and and that no employee of her school had reported being contacted.

Carina Driscoll
Carina Driscoll, co-founder of the Vermont Woodworking School in Fairfax, speaks at an open house. Photo by Amanda Tingaud, courtesy of Carina Driscoll

A fair deal?

Interviews with more than a dozen former Burlington College administrators and board members provided conflicting views about whether the arrangement between the college and the woodworking school was a fair deal.

One former administrator backed up Moore’s claims and said the college discussed ending the deal because of the cost.

“We shouldn’t have been paying this amount of money,” said the administrator, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation.

Others defended the program, suggesting that Moore’s motives were questionable.

Jonathan Leopold, a former Burlington College board member who supported the woodworking program’s establishment, was among those who said Moore was trying to deflect responsibility for the college’s closure. (Leopold was Bernie Sanders’ city treasurer during his tenure as Burlington mayor.)

As the school struggled financially, Driscoll and Moore clashed over the costs.

“There was no love lost between Carina and Carol,” said Yves Bradley, the chair of the Burlington College board in the college’s final months. “These two women did not care for one another. They were civil. No more, no less.”

The tension between Moore and Driscoll escalated as the two women tried to renegotiate the deal at about the same time Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign was taking off.

Burlington College
Carol Moore, left, was the president of Burlington College when it closed a year ago. File photo by Elizabeth Hewitt/VTDigger

According to Driscoll, Moore inappropriately tried to use Bernie Sanders’ campaign as leverage to extract concessions. The veiled threats, Driscoll alleged, included promises to release what Moore thought would be damaging information about the woodworking school deal. Several former administrators backed up Driscoll’s claims, saying they felt uncomfortable about Moore’s references to Bernie Sanders in negotiations.

Moore responded to Driscoll’s allegation with one word: “Ridiculous.”

The financial challenges at Burlington College weren’t the first Moore had faced at a higher education institution. She had served as president of Lyndon State College amid money pressures, and her tactics were seen by some as sharp-elbowed.

A Lyndon psychology professor told The Critic, the student newspaper, that he had been given an ultimatum in a buyout discussion with Moore: Either retire or watch one of your subordinates get fired.

“When I asked what the consequences would be if I didn’t accept it, I was told specifically that a junior member of my department would have to be let go,” Ron Rossi told The Critic. “When I suggested that that seemed to be putting a lot of pressure on me to make the decision, I was told that it wasn’t. But it’s hard for me to figure out why that’s no pressure on me because my choice would have meant somebody in my department would have been cut.”

Moore said she didn’t use strong-arm tactics at Lyndon. “We were going to lay faculty off — that’s the reality. I said that if you want to retire, a younger faculty member could stay on,” she said.

“If I were a male president and was called a tough negotiator, I would be lauded,” she said.

A 2015 report by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges praised Moore’s dedication to keep Burlington College afloat, and multiple former administrators said she was diligent in her efforts.

Vermont Woodworking School
Creations made by members of the Vermont Woodworking School. Photo Photo by Amanda Tingaud, courtesy of Carina Driscoll

The Burlington College relationship

Driscoll started her school in 2007. A year later, she announced plans to relocate and expand. According to an article by Business People-Vermont titled “She’s Nailed It,” Driscoll began the move six weeks after giving birth to a daughter.

The school moved from an industrial park in Colchester to its current 15,000-square-foot facility in Fairfax. Driscoll and her family moved into a farmhouse on the property. Her husband, Blake Ewoldsen, is the co-founder of the woodworking school. The school reopened in January 2009, and students from Burlington College began attending shortly thereafter.

Driscoll said she incurred minimal debt moving the school, taking out just one $20,000 loan from her father-in-law.

The majority of the investment restoring the barn was taken on by the owner, Burt Steen. According to Driscoll, Steen saw the school as a prudent investment and spent $220,000 to buy the barn, then put $1 million into renovations.

In 2009, its first year with Burlington College, the woodworking program offered noncredit programs to six students, according to internal college documents.

The first recorded payment to the Vermont Woodworking School, for $56,474, was listed in the college’s fiscal 2009 tax return. The college was required to disclose business transactions involving “interested persons,” such as family members of administrators.

As the program expanded, the woodworking school received more money from the college. According to the college’s 2010 tax return, the woodworking school received $133,134 during its second year of partnering with Burlington College.

The next year, in 2011 — the same year Burlington College racked up a $553,180 deficit — the institution paid $138,571 to the Vermont Woodworking School for space and materials. In 2012, the college plunged further into debt, ending the year nearly $760,000 in the red. That year, the woodworking school received $182,741 in rental costs alone.

Moore complained and tried to renegotiate the deal: “It was just barely bringing in a little bit of money, not the money it should have been bringing in.” she told VTDigger.

The lack of a formal agreement during the early years of the arrangement also raised questions.

Shortly before Jane Sanders resigned, in April 2011, an independent evaluator from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges visited the Vermont Woodworking School and noted only a “verbal commitment” between the two institutions.

“Lack of a written contract poses risks related to the commitment of the Woodworking School to ensure that the needs of Burlington College students are met,” the review reads. “It also poses risks related to financial commitments of both parties, the possible termination of provision of physical facilities, and conflicts of interest pertaining to the personal relationship between campus leaders.”

After Sanders left Burlington College, the financial relationship was no longer required to be disclosed to the IRS. Tax forms beginning in fiscal year 2013 do not list how much the college continued to pay for space and materials, but the program continued until the college’s closure.

Robin Lloyd, who was on the college board when Sanders originally pitched the partnership with the Vermont Woodworking School, said the familial relationship “was discussed, questions were asked, and it was passed.”

“It raised eyebrows, but it seemed like a good project,” Lloyd said. “We were always trying to build new relationships with other institutions, and on the surface it seemed like a good idea. The fact that the president’s daughter was running the place gave it a special quirk, but I don’t know how that relationship came out in terms of money and support.”

A former department chair and member of Burlington College’s Academic Policy Committee expressed concerns about the woodworking program. The policy committee was originally charged with approving and evaluating new academic programs. Consensus was prioritized in an often lengthy, deliberative process.

But under new bylaws, department chairs lost their oversight role in approving new programs.

The former department chair said they felt uncomfortable with the appearance of conflicts of interest in a program connected to Sanders’ daughter. The chair said committee members were told the board’s decision to approve the program wasn’t their concern.

According to a 2011 NEASC report, the familial ties between Sanders and Driscoll were “clear to all constituents, from the board down to the faculty.” The report goes on to describe an informal policy wherein Driscoll did not communicate with her mother directly on various business matters, including financial negotiations.

A former administrator said Sanders and Driscoll maintained an appropriate firewall on all business matters.

Christine Plunkett leaves a Burlington College board of trustees meeting on the day she resigned as president. File photo by Laura Krantz/VTDigger

“I remember, very clearly, a meeting with Jane and Christine (Plunkett, former vice president of finance) where the woodworking school came up,” the former administrator said. “And Jane basically said, ‘Don’t talk about this here, have this conversation somewhere else.’”

Plunkett succeeded Sanders as president and reached a written agreement with the woodworking school. Plunkett was vice president of administration and finance under Sanders for nearly five years before becoming president in June 2012. After student protests in 2014, she was forced out.

Plunkett did not return repeated requests for comment via phone and email.

A few days after the Burlington College board pushed out Sanders and gave her a $200,000 severance package, Driscoll visited the school to discuss formalizing the woodworking deal with Plunkett.

“I was impressed that she was there, putting aside what had happened to her mom,” a former administrator said. “She was really matter-of-fact about the deal. She said, ‘I never dealt with my mom, anyway. My relationship was always with Christine. It’s really nothing different.’”

The largely flattering NEASC report notes that, in 2011, the woodworking school was “self-supporting” and generated “net income for the college.”

Leopold argued the program was a net gain and made the school more appealing at a time when administrators were seeking to boost enrollment.

“If it was generating a net profit, no matter how small, then what’s the problem?” Leopold asked. “The association with the woodworking school had an intangible benefit, and it expanded the offerings of the college.”

Leopold said there “was nothing improper” and that board members were aware of the relationship between Sanders and Driscoll.

“If this program was not to the benefit of the college, why did the school continue it after Jane was gone?” Leopold asked.

A separate program at Burlington College involved Leopold’s son. Tax documents show Burlington College paid $68,140 between 2009 and 2011 to the Andros Beach Club, an oceanfront lodge in the Bahamas belonging to Leopold’s son. Leopold said the lodge hosted students during spring break and that Jane Sanders had proposed the program.

According to a 2011 Seven Days report, the spring break program focused “on nature photography and marine and coastal ecosystems.” Students earned credits for the nautical program, which — based on students’ blog posts — was a rewarding time.

Activities ranged from picking up garbage at a local high school to snorkeling among mangroves.

“We could see baby fish hiding by the safety of the roots and some odd jelly fish that disguised themselves as clumps of seaweed on the sandy bottom,” according to one post.

“The money paid was significantly below the market rates,” Leopold said of the program. “And most of the programs were held in January, which was the high season for tourists.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders and his wife, Jane O’Meara Sanders, greet supporters in Burlington at the launch of his presidential campaign in 2015. File photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

The Burlington College-Vermont Woodworking School connection is not the first time Sanders and her daughter have been accused of nepotism.

Sanders & Driscoll LLC — a mother-daughter limited liability corporation — offered political consulting for Bernie Sanders’ 2002 and 2004 House races, and Jane Sanders drew more than $90,000 from the campaigns. The practice was allowed but frowned upon because of the opportunity to benefit from campaign donations.

Driscoll is listed as a principal at Sanders & Driscoll in a business registration with the Secretary of State, but Driscoll said that she never took a nickel for the organization’s media consulting work for Sanders. Driscoll said the only time she was paid through Sanders & Driscoll was for consulting work for the Vermont State Employees Association.

While Driscoll said she was not engaged in media work for Sanders, she received a salary of about $65,000 through the Sanders’ campaign for a four-year period from 2000 to 2004, according to Vanity Fair.

“I am proud of my efforts running Bernie Sanders’ campaign for congress and raising money nationally,” Driscoll said. “I’m proud of my part in building a grassroots political movement, and I make no apologies.”

“Obviously, there’s questions of personal enrichment,” Republican challenger Rich Tarrant’s campaign manager told Seven Days during Sanders’ first Senate run in 2006.

Sanders’ adviser, Jeff Weaver, dismissed the Tarrant campaign’s charges as a desperate attempt to gain ground by going negative. Sanders crushed Tarrant by a 2-1 margin.

A 2013 USA Today investigation found that 32 members of Congress paid out more than $2 million to relatives hired during the 2012 election cycle.

(Just last week, Jane Sanders launched The Sanders Institute, a policy think tank with three paid staffers, one of whom is her son.)

Burlington College
A 2011 Burlington College tax return details payment to the Vermont Woodworking School.

‘A big success’

Former board chair Bradley defended the academic integrity of the woodworking program. He said the college “pointed to [it] as a big success.” But Bradley said it was also seen as a costly program at a time when the college struggled to make payroll.

“It was a strong, good program that needed to be retained, but the financial circumstances couldn’t continue,” Bradley said. “We were in deep, deep, deep shit. We were hemorrhaging money.”

In 2011, an auditor from NEASC praised the woodworking program and noted various investments in equipment and planning.

“In particular, this visitor was struck by how the active engagement of students at the beginning levels of the program is contributing to their rapidly developing interest in ongoing learning and citizenship, demonstrated by their unanticipated progression into higher degree programs and careers,” the report reads.

By 2014, an arm of NEASC had put the college on a two-year probation, concerned about finances.

The woodworking program was popular. Typically more than 20 students were enrolled each semester. The college had approximately 100 students when it closed.

Tom Torti, board secretary in the college’s final months, said a woodworking course inspired him to join the board.

“I always thought that the woodworking school was a wonderful asset to the college,” Torti said. “It was an elegant marriage of hands-on work with real academic learning.”

Bradley lamented the entire college didn’t get more recognition for playing a unique role.

The college was named the “#1 School in the United States for Free-Spirited Students.” In October 2013, Newsweek recognized the college for its immersive learning and internship programs. The school’s motto was “Start a fire.”

Burlington College
Jesse Fox with “Dust Trap,” a project he made in the Burlington College woodworking program that won him an international award. Photo courtesy of Jesse Fox

Moore offered some praise for the program.

“The faculty who taught there were faculty members of Burlington College, not the woodworking school, and they were fantastic,” Moore said. “The program was very strong, and the students got a very good education and went on to do some really great things. A couple of them even won national awards.”

Jesse Fox, who graduated in 2015, won an international NICHE Award in 2016 for a piece he completed in the Fairfax barn. The piece, titled “Dust Trap,” is a 4-foot-tall floor lamp covered in 210 prickly scales made from douglas fir.

Fox, 25, lives in Burlington and recently hooked up with an art dealer who has sold a few of his pieces. Fox said students had unrestricted access to the Vermont Woodworking School’s facilities — including keys to the building.

“It’s got to be one of the best wood shops in Vermont,” Fox said.

“There’s a really strong sense of community in the program, ” Fox said. “They teach all the basic techniques, and then you get to start experimenting. I’ve evolved and now create plantlike, almost alien-looking, wood creatures.”

A potential purchase under Plunkett

After Sanders left, Burlington College came close to purchasing the Vermont Woodworking School.

In emails between Driscoll and Plunkett from March 2013, Driscoll provided a detailed layout of maintenance costs at the school, from heating fuel ($5,000 per season) to snowplowing ($3,000 per season).

According to Bradley and a former college administrator, one iteration of the pitch was a $1 million deal that would have granted Burlington College the name and branding rights to the Vermont Woodworking School.

Vermont Woodworking School
A workshop area at the Vermont Woodworking School in Fairfax. Photo courtesy of Carina Driscoll

Also included in that 2013 proposal — which was to be paid over 6½ years — was roughly $125,000 worth of equipment, plus oversight of the school’s separate immersion program, which generated $225,000 a year in revenue. Burlington College, under the proposal, would have taken on more responsibility and made lower payments to the school.

Driscoll said the proposal would have generated “an additional $76,000 after expenses for Burlington College in the first year and increasing with enrollments each year after that.”

The college board approved the proposal unanimously in 2013, but at the last minute Driscoll backed out, citing various concerns, including the financial struggles at Burlington College. In an email, Driscoll said she was still interested in keeping the partnership going, noting that “we continue to have most of our eggs in the Burlington College basket.”

“We are rooting for your success and will continue to be your partner through the changes ahead,” Driscoll concluded.

Plunkett called the failure of the deal to be consummated “a huge disappointment.”

“We have been working hard to establish this agreement and incurred significant legal fees in the process,” Plunkett wrote in a 2013 email to Driscoll. “It also mystifies me somewhat.”

A new president, a new agreement

Moore said that when she arrived at the college in 2014, few people knew about the financial position of the woodworking school because Driscoll would not share school records.

A former administrator backed up Moore’s claim, saying the college did not get financial information it wanted despite repeated requests.

“We were never able to get any financial records out of [Driscoll’s] system,” the former administrator said. “Driscoll would instead bring a spreadsheet she had worked up, and we would work from that.”

Driscoll said Burlington College “made up only a portion of our enrollment” and that she did not want to share sensitive financial details.

“Burlington College wanted all of our proprietary information two months prior to them closing, and I was not prepared to give it to them,” Driscoll said. “What they were requesting was irrelevant to our contract negotiations, and had never been requested prior to Carol’s request.”

Moore and another former college official also alleged that Driscoll was exerting too much control in Fairfax. In 2015, Burlington College stationed the chair of the arts department, Dana Heffern, at the facility to oversee the program.

“We put Dana in the building because we didn’t trust what Carina was doing,” a former administrator said.

Heffern declined to comment.

Moore also said the payments to the woodworking school for space and materials were too high, and she questioned Driscoll receiving a salary. Driscoll acknowledged that, at times, her salary was shared between the woodworking school and the college.

Vermont Woodworking School
The computer lab at the Vermont Woodworking School in Fairfax. Photo courtesy of Carina Driscoll

“This program needed leadership, and I was the one to do it,” Driscoll said. “At times it was a shared position, with my salary coming partly from woodworking and partly from the college. At times, I didn’t work for Burlington College at all.”

Moore thought the deal was unfair and tried to change it during protracted negotiations with Driscoll in the months before the school shut down. It was during these talks, Driscoll alleges, that Moore tried to improperly leverage Bernie Sanders’ newfound fame.

In November 2015 — as the senator campaigned in Iowa and South Carolina — Moore hand-delivered a letter to Driscoll seeking to “immediately reopen the agreement and revise the agreement such as the college is not disadvantaged.”

“Knowing your mother’s commitment to the woodworking school [and] its potential to support the mission and finances of BC, I am sure the agreement was signed without the benefit of working through the specifics of the finances,” Moore wrote in the letter, which was provided to VTDigger by a person involved with the negotiations. “Given the values expressed by your family, including Senator Sanders, I am confident no one saw the disadvantage at which the agreement put BC.”

A variety of ideas were discussed, from severing the relationship entirely to having Burlington College purchase the program.

Moore said too much of the tuition went to the Vermont Woodworking School, “even though we paid for the staffing, which included Carina’s salary, and the salary of an administrative assistant.”

After stops and starts in the negotiations, Moore and Driscoll signed a new one-year agreement March 8, 2016, to “ensure the continued ability of BC and VWS to offer their unique programs and services.”

That agreement — which never went into effect because Burlington College closed — gave the college greater oversight and a better financial deal.

Specifically, the college’s costs for salary, software, leasing and other expenses would be paid for out of the woodworking school’s share of the tuition. Under the new deal, the woodworking school’s cut was expected to shrink by more than half.

Torti said Moore and Driscoll each wanted the best deal possible.

“The terms of the deal continued to evolve and, like all deals that evolve, there are times when things are going well in negotiations and times when they aren’t going well,” Torti said. “That’s the ebb and flow of business, and at the end of the day it’s only about dollars and cents.”

Torti praised both women. Driscoll is “a very bright, committed, strong negotiator,” while Moore “put in far more time and emotion than she got paid for,” he said.

A section of the 2016 contract reiterated a noncompete clause “with the exception of the [University of Vermont] agreement that currently exists.” A former administrator alleged Driscoll breached the noncompete clause of a previous agreement.

Driscoll disputes that. She contended that Bradley, the board chair, gave her permission to break the agreement. He said he recalled talk of “cross-pollination” between Burlington College and UVM but not giving Driscoll permission to partner with the university.

“It would not have been appropriate for me to say, ‘Sure, go ahead,’” Bradley said. “I’m certainly not remembering any instance where I went over Carol’s head. There was no board level decision on that either, not at all.”

Driscoll said the college was frequently late on payments beginning in 2014.

“We served students on the faith that tuition would be paid,” she said.

Facing cash flow problems, Driscoll said, she considered Burlington College in violation of the agreement, and she partnered with UVM.

“We did focus a lot of energy on growing our own programs and aligning with other higher education partners,” Driscoll said. “It was necessary for us to safeguard the future and ensure that our school wouldn’t be in jeopardy, because Burlington College was.”

“Under Carol’s tenure, she had no regard for the needs of Vermont Woodworking School,” Driscoll added. “In fact, what I experienced was disdain for what we offered Burlington College.”

Moving on

In the college’s last years — over multiple presidents — the finances were often up, then down. The biweekly payments to the woodworking school were often some of the college’s biggest expenses, with payments sometimes of more than $30,000.

Burlington College sign
Burlington College’s former North Avenue campus. File photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger

“In BC’s final semester we served their students without receiving full payment, despite BC collecting tuition and fees from the students served,” Driscoll said. “It is fair to say we served BC very generously in their final year.”

When the college closed, the woodworking school was owed $30,000.

In emails from February 2015 — slightly more than a year before the college closed — Driscoll offered detailed suggestions to work through “BC’s challenging period.” At one point, Driscoll paid the teachers out of her school’s funds.

Moore characterized the payments as unauthorized.

“First, you were not authorized to do that,” Moore wrote to her Feb. 3, 2015. “Second, we’ll sort it out.”

Tensions ran high, and figuring out the financial details was so stressful that sources said several accountants came and left.

As the bank weighed whether to renew the college’s line of credit, the rosy enrollment projections did not materialize. Money was tight.

Moore “was in a very stressful situation, and conversations become more pointed and sharp,” a former administrator said. “Part of this shift included being more confrontational with Carina.”

Driscoll declined to discuss specifics but broadly said that during the renegotiation process, pressure from Moore included references to her parents — some of which Driscoll considered inappropriate.

A person who was in the room during one meeting said Moore made references to Bernie Sanders in what appeared to be a “veiled threat to bring Carina to the table.”

Vermont Woodworking
A November 2015 letter from then-Burlington College President Carol Moore to Carina Driscoll. Courtesy photo

Since the college’s closure, some veterans of the institution have gone on to other jobs in Vermont; others have left the Green Mountains.

Moore moved to South Carolina and serves as executive vice president and interim provost of the all-female Columbia College. Plunkett is vice president for finance and treasurer at Iowa Wesleyan University.

The Vermont Woodworking School has lived on. It formed a relationship with Johnson State College, partly to help former Burlington College students finish their degrees.

Ken Leslie, the chair of the Fine Arts Department at Johnson State, said his dealings with Driscoll have been nothing but positive.

While Leslie said he wasn’t privy to all the financial details, he said tuition isn’t split between the two institutions, as was the case at Burlington College.

Sharron Scott, the dean of administration at Johnson State, said a $700-per-credit fee “is the sole payment the Vermont Woodworking School receives for the services they provide.” According to Johnston State’s website, this fee is to “cover materials and tools.”

“No staff members of [the Vermont Woodworking School] are on our payroll,” Scott added.

Driscoll said the Johnson State arrangement was based on the 2016 deal with Burlington College that never went into effect. She said both sides seem happy.

Johnson State’s Leslie said the deal was equitable. Johnson, he said, has limited funds.

“I know from my experience with the people on the money end that there is so little money to spare that the college was very careful to make sure this was something we could do without it draining the college’s resources,” Leslie said. “I know there’s no chance the [woodworking] school is getting a sweetheart deal out of the college, because we just don’t have the money.”

Although Bernie Sanders has spoken at numerous graduation ceremonies this season — from Brooklyn to Lyndon — his Johnson State commencement speech carried a special significance.

He noted that “Johnson State has been an important part of my family.”

“My older son, Levi, went here for a while. Played on the basketball team,” the robed senator recalled. “My oldest daughter, Heather, went here as well. My youngest daughter, Carina — who is here today — is now the director of the woodworking program here at Johnson.”

As the crowd cheered the Vermont senator’s connections to the college, he grinned with sweet familial pride at Driscoll, who smiled back.

Correction: An earlier version of this story transposed the figures representing the purchase and renovation costs of the Vermont Woodworking School facility in Fairfax. This story was updated with a response from Driscoll regarding her involvement in Bernie Sanders’ House campaign. Driscoll says she did not make any money from Sanders & Driscoll, a media buying firm.
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  • MC227

    Another female lefty drives a business into the ground not unusual. They think money just appears out of thin air. Do they not know how to add and subtract or are they so delusional they figure that a rainbow will appear and the pot of gold will bail them out? Bernie is a liar and fraud and was bought off by the DNC that should tell his retarded supporters something but I doubt it. That old broken down battle axe his wife another left tard could not run whore house without gov’t. help. I guess that is what Bernie meant when he started popping off about “free college” because bankruptcy is about all that would happen. Why are lefties so clueless about capital formation and how businesses are run how it provides a product or service in exchange for money? They like to run around screaming about income inequality now that Bernie made a million dollars I don’t see him donating any of it I guess he’ll need it to keep his 3 houses in good running order. Just another lefty liar and fraud.

  • MilesMonroe

    Good shoe leather journalism. Thank you for exposing the depth and breadth of the corruption.

    • Sally Cook

      You can’t possibly be talking about Jasper Craven’ story that ffeatured no shoe-leather journalism?

  • Tim Patterson

    Excellent reporting of a fascinating story! For what it’s worth, though, I don’t think there’s any impropriety to uncover here. The agreement with the Vermont Woodworking School seemed mutually beneficial to both parties even as originally negotiated, and in terms of enrollment, finances, and curriculum the Woodworking School was a bright spot in the sad story of Burlington College’s final years. The possible misrepresentation of fundraising pledges that were used to secure the bank loan is the more important story to pursue moving forward, I think, although as usual hats off to Jasper Craven for top-notch investigative reporting.

  • Bruce McCluskey

    The Sanders are true living breathing oxy-morons, they are the richest known socialist’s I have ever heard of, at least in this country.

  • Jamie Carter

    now you know where all that BTC money went…. to the bahamas.

  • David Flynn

    This proves that Bernie and family should have never come close to winning the election. When he and his wife cheat, they make a few hundred thousand dollars, whereas Hillary would have made millions on those crooked deals.

    • Sally Cook

      YES David, Keep up the message. Bernie is always for Bernie, and he is a good match for his wife Jane who cheated megabucks in the college scandal. Both she and Hillary should be prison inmates – preferably out-of-state at the cheapest rate.

  • Michael A. Stahler

    A very thorough article that lays out the facts for folks to judge for themselves.

    The unraveling of the facts regarding Jane’s relationship with Burlington College has been very concerning. At the very least people did not know what was going on or what they were doing. Naivete is no defense or excuse. The mere appearance of a conflict of interest should be bad enough. This is very concerning.

  • Michael A. Stahler

    And the fact that he “charged” Burlington College $43,000 for a “spring break” workshop at his home in the Caribbean so that students could spend time “picking up trash” is utterly laughable.

  • eddieotis

    Bernie already got paid by the Clintons to fade away after Clinton got caught along with Schultz rigging the Democratic election for President in Clintons favor. Suddenly he gets a new lake house and car. Nice job Bernie you old slippery guy you.

  • Sally Cook

    Sen. Sanders is known for his unmitigated gall. He is really a communist, but he would only advocate that line of thinking, if he would be elevated to the top of line. Heaven help us all if Sanders politics prevailed.

  • Sally Cook

    So what? Is this a real factual story? Don’t think so. So now the Drudge Report is very suspect. No more trust there.

  • Sally Cook

    You have to be kidding. Jasper is only recycling old news.
    This has been in newspapers across the state and on radio talk shows for a long time.