Powden adds foreign language to nurse, principal cuts; refuses to release meeting recording

Editor’s Note: The Chester Telegraph attended the 6 p.m. Jan. 2 meeting of the Green Mountain Unified School District Finance Committee as it worked on the budget for the new school district. Unfortunately our reporter was unable to stay past 7 p.m., but the next morning requested a copy of the digital audio file recorded by Superintendent Meg Powden for transcription by the board’s recording secretary. Powden denied the request citing a number of concerns including the assertion that the Supervisory Union did not have the equipment to copy the audio file and the fear that an attempt to do so could result in “erasure or alteration.” Even after the recording was transcribed and The Telegraph offered to aid in copying the recording, Powden refused.

The Telegraph asserts that the withholding of a public record is a violation of Vermont’s Public Records Law and has renewed its request for the recording. Until then, here is a report on the first hour of the meeting.

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2017 Telegraph Publishing LLC

School board committee meetings are usually sparsely attended working sessions that attract little or no public attendance. But the proposed elimination of the principal position at Cavendish Elementary and the reduction in nursing staff were among the items that brought several members of the public out to the Green Mountain Unified School District’s Finance Committee meeting on a frigid Jan. 2 night.  And what they also learned was that Superintendent Meg Powden was recommending the elimination of elementary school Spanish, which was often touted as an added educational opportunity during the Act 46 study process.

Substituting for committee chair Alison DesLauriers, Marilyn Mahusky opened the meeting by noting that the administration, which had put forward the controversial plans, had received a lot of feedback at the board’s meeting on Dec. 19. Mahusky asked Powden to speak to the objections.

Powden said that she would go forward with the plan to have one principal to supervise Cavendish and Chester-Andover elementary schools, replacing retiring Cavendish Principal George Thomson with a “dean of students” and adding another dean at the Chester campus. Powden told the committee this was “not a cost saving model but rather a matter of how can we best serve the new district.”

Powden told the committee this was “not a cost saving model but rather a matter of how can we best serve the new district.”

Pointing to Thomson’s 29-year tenure, Powden said that he had developed wonderful relationships and that s uch a huge change would involve a sense of loss, but that a dean of students would handle “student management” and work on “student climate.” Powden told the meeting that a dean would increase consistency while assuring that there would be an administrator in the building every day.

Powden said she “had heard” from a number of Cavendish parents, but said that, “I think this is better for our school.”

Powden noted that if another principal was hired for Cavendish, she would recommend an assistant principal for Chester-Andover and that would be more expensive than her dean of students proposal.

Mahusky asked why make large personnel changes in the first year of the consolidation, noting that there has been discussion of moving the 6th grades to the high school, which would change the complexion of things in the elementary schools.

Powden said she had not given that any thought and that the board had wanted to wait a year on the 6th grade move and that it was a new district and time to make changes.

“If I put one (principal) in each school, that’s the way it would stay,” said Powden.

Increase in budget questioned

Committee member Wayne Wheelock noted that the Act 46 consolidation was supposed to save money and that the merger was sold on a per pupil cost of $14,800, but that has increased to more than $16,000.

“Why the jump?” asked Wheelock.

TRSU financial officer Chris Adams said with the consolidation, health insurance coverage for the elementary school staff was brought into alignment with the high school staff, which is more expensive, adding more than $200,000 to the budget. Adams said this was unanticipated. In addition, the state had “recaptured” $100,000 of the healthcare savings that the school had negotiated. Adams said that, in all, there was a $400,000 increase in a few categories and that the board would have to cut about $272,000 to get to the target of $15,750.

Committee member Joe Fromberger called out a $56,000 deficit in food service saying, “We’re building a (food service) budget spending more than we take in.”

“We’re building a (food service) budget spending more than we take in.”
Joe Fromberger

Powden said she and Principals Katherine Fogg and Tom Ferenc had met with Jack Carroll, who handles food service for Green Mountain and Chester-Andover, and that he has been working on it.

Sara Stowell, a member of the public, asked if they had met with anyone at Cavendish Elementary on this issue and others that affect Cavendish. Powden said that would happen in the future.

There was discussion of a number of  recent additions to the budget that could be cut or scaled back. It was also noted that the replacements for several retiring employees would likely be less experienced and therefore at a lower pay scale.

Several committee members noted that the voters who approved the Act 46 merger will be expecting savings that now aren’t there.

Two nurses for three schools

Powden told the committee that she had asked the three registered nurses who currently work in the two elementary and one high school to meet and assess the health-care needs of students and present her with a report on Friday, Jan. 5.

In past meetings, Powden had said that the district should hire one registered nurse as a supervisor who would perform that assessment and decide on staffing. At Tuesday’s meeting however, Powden said that the proposal would be to have one RN and one Licensed Practical Nurse to cover the three schools and that this would save the district $38,848 per year.

Speaking in favor of keeping RNs in each school, Stowell noted that a school nurse is a benefit to public health.

SU recommends ‘foregoing’ promised educational opportunities

When the question turned to what could be cut to bring the budget in line, Powden told the committee that she would cut the proposed elementary school Spanish teacher from the budget.

Mahusky objected, saying “All through the Act 46 process we said we’d have Spanish and now that’s the first thing you are going to cut. That does not make me happy.”

“All through the Act 46 process we said we’d have Spanish and now that’s the first thing you are going to cut. That does not make me happy.”
Marilyn Mahusky

Fogg told the meeting that instructional time with the classroom teacher is more important than language instruction.

“We can’t have it all,” said Fogg

Pointing to the global economy, committee member Tonia Fleming noted that people looking for a school to send their kids to look for these programs. “Other schools,” she said, “seem to find a way.”

The finance committee will meet again on Tuesday Jan. 9 at 5 p.m. with the full board meeting at 6 p.m. Both meetings will be held at Green Mountain Union High School in Chester.

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