TRSU board refuses to approve SU spending plan Powden again proposes to spend district funds, gets one-year contract with smaller raise

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2018 Telegraph Publishing, LLC

On the same night that it offered Superintendent Meg Powden a one-year contract with a 2.75 percent raise, the new Two Rivers Supervisory Union Board also rejected her proposal to spend more than $90,000 of a state grant earmarked for the use of the local school boards in making the transition to merged districts under Act 46.

On June 7, Powden had brought a similar spending plan to the final meeting of the TRSU executive committee, which predated this board. But that panel balked at taking action just three weeks before it shut down. With the mergers, which took effect on July 1, the eight-member Executive Committee and the 22-member full SU board were replaced by the single six-member panel. Executive Committee members thought it was more appropriate to send the spending plan on to the new board.

Board chair Marilyn Mahusky listens as Joe Fromberger voices his opposition to the supervisory union deciding how to spend an Act 46 transition grant. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

In reporting on the June 7 meeting, The Chester Telegraph noted that the Act 46 statute gave the authority to spend the grant to the school boards, not to the SU.  At Thursday’s meeting, Powden distributed a citation from Act 156 that, she said, supported the idea that the SU board could authorize her spending. But the members were not having it.

Led by Andover representative Joe Fromberger, the new six-member board, composed of members of the boards of the newly created Green Mountain and Ludlow-Mount Holly unified union school districts, agreed that under the Act 46 statute, those two boards decide how the money should be spent.

The proposal, which was presented in a different format with some line items and amounts differing from the June 7 proposal, was not part of the packet that board members receive in advance that allows them to read the information before the meeting. Instead it was handed out during the discussion. Before the plan was handed out, Powden said that the schools were “looking to go from good to great” and that the transition funds would “help us get to that great space.” She added that it was an investment in the schools and the future.

Powden told the meeting that she thought it was important for all three boards (TRSU, GMUSD and LMHUUSD) to look at the proposal and “be in discussion about it,” although the agenda for the evening called for an “action” rather than discussion on the proposal.

“First of all, the money belongs to the new districts,” said Fromberger. “The funds should be transferred to the district treasuries and it becomes a decision that the individual boards make how to spend them. These funds do not belong to TRSU.” Fromberger went on to say that the grant funds should not be “supplementing” the TRSU budget.

“I am very disappointed that this budget has been prepared without the slightest question of the districts about how they want to spend their money,” Fromberger continued. “It’s their money, it is not the supervisory union’s money.”

“I will agree with that,” said board member Dan Buckley of Ludlow. “I am also extremely upset that this professional development classroom furniture has reappeared after we removed it from the TRSU budget. I’m looking at this and saying ‘we’ve got a pot of money we can go waste on a frivolous bunch of stuff.’ ”

Superintendent Meg Powden maintains that the expenditures are in the best interest of the schools

Powden said the items were included with the districts in mind and were not frivolous. But Fromberger countered that if they were important, the items should be put into the TRSU budget. He then asked, given the wording of the statute, if anyone else on the board thinks that the funds belong TRSU. Four of the six members said no while the chairs of the two district boards remained silent.

Board chair Marilyn Mahusky said that she would like to be respectful to Powden and hear the presentation that she prepared explaining the expenditures.

Numbers change, less money available

In the latest version, the Supervisory Union has itemized the expenses related to the Act 46 process including the fee of consultant, legal costs, public notice advertising and the recording secretary.

Those expenses totaled $35,578, leaving $114,242 from the $150,000 transition grant. According to the proposal, the SU has already spent $9,250 for software to be used to create personalized learning plans and $14,097 for the Ivisions time clock, which helps with payroll for hourly employees.  Thus, instead of $130,000 remaining from the grant, as the SU reported on June 7, there is $90,895.

Making substantial changes to the costs of items it wanted to buy in June, the SU is proposing to spend:

  • $5,500 for a three-day “Leadership Retreat” at Killington (down from $7,650 in June),
  • $7,000 for software to create a new website for the schools and SU (down from $10,000),
  • $2,800 to buy books for a “district read” (down from $6,000.)

Items that remained at the same cost included:

  • a $3,500 TRSU board retreat,
  • $21,600 in stipends for the Curriculum/Professional Development committee,
  • $28,500 toward a five-year, $43,000 contract for the Ogment curriculum management system and
  • $6,000 for professional development classroom furniture that had been deleted from the SU’s budget this spring. Powden and Curriculum Director Michael Eppolito said that the SU needs flexible furniture that could be used in several training configurations. Eppolito also said that the current furniture does not make a good impression.

“The table is old, the top is sticky. It doesn’t communicate the level of professionalism we expect from our teachers to work with second-hand furniture,” said Eppolito.

There were also two new items that were not on the June 7 proposal. These were:

  • $15,275 for board stipends for the members of boards that no longer control the schools after the Act 46 merger became effective this month but have some tasks to wrap up before the end of the year and
  • $10,000 for expenses related to closing Black River High School.

Dan Buckley, a member of the U-39 (Black River) board, said the boards only worked from March to June, noting that they will not be meeting until December and then only once. Fromberger asked why it’s the responsibility of the SU to find money for board stipends if they were not budgeted by the individual districts? Fromberger also noted that the Ludlow-Mount Holly board could authorize the $10,000 closing expense from its half of the grant if it wanted.

Powden offered one-year contract, smaller raise

After executive sessions for Powden’s performance evaluation and salary negotiations, the board offered the superintendent a one-year contract and a raise of 2.75 percent or $3,453.45.

The raise was less than half of the $7,010 Powden had budgeted for herself earlier this year. In early February, the full TRSU board rejected that raise along with the Supervisory Union budget, calling for greater clarity. Powden was hired in 2016 at an annual salary of $115,000, which was raised 9.2 percent to $125,580 in 2017.

The lack of a job description for Powden — and most other employees in the SU — has complicated the evaluation process so the board scheduled another meeting for 6 p.m., Tuesday, July 24 at the Roost. During that meeting they will work on a job description and a set of goals for Powden in the coming year.

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  1. Tim Roper says:

    She got a raise? For doing what?

  2. Otis Nelson says:

    How does this woman still have her job? Seriously? She is incapable of running this supervisory union efficiently and effectively! Shame on those who renewed her contract!

  3. Stuart Lindberg says:

    “I will agree with that,” said board member Dan Buckley of Ludlow. “I am also extremely upset that this professional development classroom furniture has reappeared after we removed it from the TRSU budget. I’m looking at this and saying ‘we’ve got a pot of money we can go waste on a frivolous bunch of stuff.’ ” This is a slush fund for hiding wasteful spending. While on the CTES school board in 2011 I asked my fellow board members where this money was going? The only response I ever got was to be told I was unfit to hold public office.
    Thank you Dan Buckley for your efforts.

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