Ludlow-Mt. Holly board rejects Powden spending Panels opts to look at district's transition needs

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2018 Telegraph Publishing LLC

At its Wednesday, Aug. 8 meeting, the Ludlow-Mount Holly Unified Union School board rejected TRSU Superintendent Meg Powden’s proposal for spending more than $90,000 remaining from a state grant intended to help with the transitions resulting from the Act 46 merger that created two new districts in the Two Rivers Supervisory Union last year.

The LMHUUSD board at its formation meeting in March

The board voted instead to take its half of the money – approximately $45,500 – and decide for itself how the funds should be used. As examples of such expenses, the board discussed the costs of disposing of the Black River High School building and helping its students with the transition from the school in Ludlow to other schools.

As far back as June 7 – first from the Two Rivers Supervisory Union Executive Committee, then from the TRSU board that replaced it – the Two Rivers superintendent has sought approval for spending the funds on a number of items including retreats, furniture for the SU, several software programs and stipends for various groups. Outgoing committee members demurred, saying that it was up to the new board – created by the Act 46 merger – to make such a decision.

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. When the new TRSU board met for the first time on July 12, it agreed that the money should be spent by the districts for their transition needs.

In June, the net amount said to be available in the proposal was $130,000, but between presentations to the two TRSU panels, the list of expenditures, the cost of each and the net amount available changed. Both of the superintendent’s proposals would have spent all of the funds.

The original $150,000 grant covered expenses related to the Act 46 process for both districts, including consultants’ fees, legal costs, public notice advertising and the work of the recording secretary.

The new TRSU board decided that transition grant funds should be spent by the two districts at its meeting on July 12

Those expenses totaled $35,578, leaving $114,242 from the $150,000 transition grant. According to the most recent 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. Neither of those expenditures were authorized by the SU or school district boards.

Powden reported that since the July 12 meeting, the SU has gone ahead with its three-day “Leadership Retreat” at the Killington Resort, which was in the original proposal at $7,600 and the second at $5,500.  The retreat was paid for from professional development funds, according to Powden, who said she was hoping that the board would reimburse those funds from the transition grant.

Powden told the board that the SU’s focus in spending the money has been “moving a good system to a great system” that “provides the best possible education for our students.”

Noting that teachers have a $250 budget for supplies and often pay for what they need out of their own pockets, board member Chris Garvey said he was frustrated to see the SU wanting to spend $6,000 for conference furniture. “I don’t see anything right about that,” Garvey said.

Powden said that the conference table currently used was not suited to professional development classes. Buckley asked if there is suitable furniture at Green Mountain and Black River high schools, then why hold professional development sessions at Fletcher Farm’s “Roost” building?

“The teachers like going out to other places,” said Powden, calling the new furniture “a way to welcome them.”

The topic of “transition funds” is on the agenda for the Aug. 21 meeting of the Green Mountain Unified School District at Chester-Andover Elementary School.

School closing discussion

Also on the agenda was a discussion of the closing date for Black River High School. The articles of agreement for the merger that created the new Ludlow-Mt. Holly district say that the Ludlow school will close no later than June 30, 2020, but some have wondered about circumstances that could hasten the closure.

Buckley recapped the process that led to the merger agreement and asked: “Is there something earth-shattering that has happened to force us to close earlier than that?” Buckley went on to ask what would qualify as catastrophic for the board to use the option to close earlier. “We need a firm (date) for students and faculty to plan.”

The fear is that before the 2020 closing, students and teachers might look for other schools leaving, Black River without enough teachers or students to continue.

Board member Mary Alberty noted that the district’s bargaining council is looking at two-year contracts for teachers to cover them until closing. Buckley said that they had already done that with support staff.

Powden told the board that if faculty or students leave the school can adjust. “We can be that nimble,” said Powden.

Saying that he is in favor of keeping the school open until 2020, Garvey noted that residents have asked him about the tax penalty of losing students. Powden said the SU would have to look into that.

In the end, the board voted to keep the 2020 closing date and received a round of applause from a number of those attending the meeting.

The reporter of this article was unable to attend the meeting and reported from the OkemoValley TV recording.

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