GM board member: CAES staff under ‘gag order’ Asst. principal in budget going to voters for approval

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2019 Telegraph Publishing LLC

In a sometimes tense meeting of the Green Mountain Unified School board last Thursday night, one board member said he had been told by a number of Chester-Andover Elementary teachers that they were under a “gag order,” while the head of the board indicated she was close to quitting.

The GM board oversees the budget, hiring and policy issues of Green Mountain High and Chester-Andover and Cavendish Town Elementary schools.

While much of the tension occurred over discussion of hiring an assistant principal for Chester-Andover Elementary School, the board went ahead and voted to fund the new position.

An ongoing debate

The assistant principal position has been a bone of contention among board members from the first GM finance committee meeting of the budgeting season on Nov. 15, 2018 when member Joe Fromberger asked, “Why are we talking about this? We decided not to have it last year.”

CAES Principal Katherine Fogg begins her presentation on the need for an assistant principal. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

Despite that decision, the panel kept the request in the budget into January. At a subsequent meeting, CAES Principal Katherine Fogg, gave a Power Point presentation explaining that she is spending “60% – 75% of the day on behavior issues” rather than supporting teachers and improving student outcomes through a number of tasks. Several teachers who attended the meeting agreed. Board members questioned the need based on the number of students attending the school noting that the school’s attendance has been increasing, but stands at 240 while attendance was 265 or above in 2007 – 2009 when CAES last had an assistant principal.

Members also questioned whether an administrator was the best choice if the main reason for hiring someone was to take some of the burden of behavior problems off Fogg’s plate.

Some suggested a behaviorist or other mental health practitioner. Last year, the school hired a full-time behavior interventionist to work with the Positive Behavior and Interventions Support coordinator for $42,000. If the assistant principal position is approved, that job would be eliminated and $32,000 would be added to the budget to cover a salary and benefits of $74,300.

On Thursday, Fogg reprised her Power Point for the full board, but when members returned to questioning the need, Mahusky had had enough.

“This issue of an assistant principal has come up over and over,” said Mahusky. “I’m just going to come out and say this: It feels to me that there are board members who are just really disrespectful and hostile to this process and I don’t understand why. For $30,000, which as you say Katherine is ‘a drop in the bucket,’ it feels to me we have lost sight of our role as board members to focus on the educational outcomes of our students.”

Joe Fromberger listens as board chair Marilyn Mahusky tells the meeting that she is “not comfortable being on this board anymore.”

Saying some members had more enthusiasm about the new boilers at CAES than educational outcomes, Mahusky said she was “not comfortable being on this board anymore.”

While several board members said they meant no disrespect in questioning the hire, Jeff Hance of Chester took a different tack.

“To me it’s not about the $30,000. I want to know what the teachers want. They know the kids better than anyone in this school,” said Hance.  “I just wanted to hear from from the teachers so I tried to contact some of them. I was told they were under a gag order and they were threatened with discipline if they spoke to a school board member.”

Hance continued, “I read all 93 pages of the policy manual and nowhere does it say I’m not allowed to speak to a teacher.” He said he began asking to hear teacher input on the subject at the Dec. 5 meeting.

Fogg replied, “I would never say that to my staff, that they can’t speak to a board member.”

“That’s what I was told,” said Hance.

“I would never say that,” Fogg repeated.

Superintendent Meg Powden suggested that it could be some sort of misunderstanding and Mahusky noted that some of the teachers would rather see the board hire more teachers. And with that, the subject dropped.

Four budgeting options offered

At its previous meeting, on Tuesday, Jan. 15, the GM finance committee had deadlocked and could not recommend a budget.

Instead, the committee asked Business Manager Cheryl Hammond to prepare a sheet with four options for the board to consider. The options used the budget under consideration as a starting point, then either added or subtracted a few items.

Business manager Cheryl Hammond, left, and Superintendent Meg Powden present the four options identified by the Finance Committee

These included adding back $15,000 for the after-school program, adding $9,100 to increase the Spanish teacher to full time and/or cutting the $74,000 assistant principal and adding back the behavior assistant for $42,000. There was some discussion of defining what affect was desired from hiring the assistant principal and how to measure that for future budget discussions.

The 11-member board voted 5 to 5 with 1 abstention on Scenario D, which would have cut the assistant principal, reinstated the behavior position, made the Spanish position full time and added back the after-school program support, for a net increase of 2.97 percent over the current budget.

After more discussion, the board voted 8-3 to adopt Scenario A, which kept the new assistant principal, upgraded the Spanish position and reinstated the after-school support. The net increase was 3.23 percent over the current budget, which amounts to $405,107.  Voting against the plan were Hance, Michael Studin and Rick Alexander.

Voters will get to weigh in on the $12,937,250 spending plan on Town Meeting Day, Tuesday, March 5, 2019.

Transportation for Ludlow, Mt. Holly; nurse at CAES

The Green Mountain board also resolved to offer transportation to middle and high school students in Ludlow and Mt. Holly after Black River High School closes in 2020.

Powden and Mahusky noted that Mill River High School had already made a commitment to provide buses and others – including private schools – were looking at picking up tuitioned students from the closing.

GMHS Principal Lauren Fierman told the board that Black River is planning an event in May for schools to come and introduce themselves to students, who will have to make a choice 2020. Fierman said GM’s planning for that is under way.

The board hired Jennifer Crossman as a full-time nurse for Chester-Andover Elementary. Crossman is a registered nurse who has worked as a school nurse in the past.

 

 

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  1. Scott MacDonald says:

    All I can say is that am am happy to have a child in this school. I have an adult child as well, and am experienced in seeing how thing work in schools. I am grateful that my child is there, and has the teacher, principal and staff of CAES.

    All one needs to do is walk the halls in that school, and see the investment the students and staff have in being there. Compared to neighboring districts, these kids are cared for, behave very well, and are learning. I suggest people be more careful about tossing blame around when this boat is afloat and doing well in a state where so many ships are sinking. It is a friendly, supportive and caring learning environment.

  2. Amy Hamblett says:

    I am in my ninth year of teaching at CAES and cannot sit by any longer while Katherine Fogg’s reputation gets raked over the coals.

    In my first five years at the school, I worked for four different administrators. There are a host of reasons why that was the case and I do not think it appropriate for me to dredge up any of those issues at this juncture. Suffice it to say that since Katherine Fogg arrived in 2015, we have finally been able to watch the dust settle.

    Katherine is a leader who seeks input from staff but is not afraid to make a decision when necessary. In fact, this is the type of leader we said we wanted when she was hired. She does not abdicate leadership as some of our administrators had done, but neither does she abuse power. That is absurd.

    I attended the board meeting referenced in this article and spoke about my support of the assistant principal position. Katherine had surveyed the staff to see if there was support for the position and the vote in support was 70 percent to 30 percent. She told us she would not move ahead with the position in the budget without our support.

    While there is so much more I could say, I will only add a comment about the alleged “gag order” we have been placed under. I have never heard Katherine place a gag order on anyone. She has advised us that if we have concerns or disagreements, we should follow the chain of command rather than take our concerns immediately into the court of public opinion.

    Employees of any organization are expected to do that. How ironic that the school board member did the opposite – referencing the alleged “gag order” in a public meeting without having come to administration in good faith to report what he thought he heard in order to clarify if there had perhaps been a misunderstanding.

  3. Former CAES student says:

    Editor’s Note: The Chester Telegraph is publishing this comment anonymously to protect the student who wrote it. It is also being published with the permission of the student’s parent. It has been edited.

    As a previous student of CAES I will say … Katherine Fogg … is very rude. She treats paras and teachers (badly) and has no respect for people who don’t share the same beliefs as her. She is very disrespectful and unthankful. She let her students trash Green Mountain High and, when asked to do something about the actions of her students, did nothing. I could go on and on … but long story short she … abuses power. … She leaves more of a negative impact on students than positive.

  4. Heidi Skinner says:

    My children thankfully are out of CAES. The teachers and school secretaries are weary and overworked. There are not enough para’s. As for behavior problems, let’s hire someone to teach parenting classes at night to the parents. This permissive parenting is the culprit for most of the troubles. Let’s empower parents to Parent their children and teach them respect and self discipline.

  5. MJ Miles says:

    It is fortunate that my last of 3 children is finishing at CAES. My experiences as a parent find the leadership at CAES is in the worse position it has ever been. I have watched division of staff by leadership. I have watched attempts at disciplinary action to gain compliance. I cannot support an assistant principal to deal with childhood behaviors. This is not the description of an assistant principal position.

    True there are so many more children with behavior issues in the classrooms, I won’t get into the why. However, get qualified staff to deal with this not an assistant principal, an administrative figurehead, at an expensive salary. Get more qualified behavior management specialists. PBIS was introduced to the school not a behavioral interventionist if I am incorrect show me the line item on the budget that pays for one full time. I also agree with Mrs. Studin, new leadership on the board is a great idea, this representation is childish. Mr. Hance is correct include the teachers that have been threatened disciplinary action. I believe this to be true it is not a new theme.

    Frankly, I have concerns about both Mrs. Fogg and Mrs. Powden, who cannot account for monies spent and raises approved, in the corporate world this would not stand, why do we allow it at our cost of tax payers dollars. There is no transparency from who cancelled underground electric to Act 46 monies spent, to who knew when that they were not in compliance with the water line or electrical. Where does it end? My child will go to GMUHS next year and many of the students I know, hated coming back to CAES to hear all about the Eagles this and that. Used to like the mascot now sick of it being shoved down their throat. It really is a shame this town has the great appeal of having a pre-K through 12 school system but yet we make our reputation such that going to other schools or homeschooling is a better option.

  6. Jen Studin says:

    We elect board members to represent the town and to give the community a voice, but when that voice differs from the administration or the board leadership it is considered “having another agenda.”

    This is crazy. Does anyone ask why all 3 members of the board who have children who attend CAES voted against the fundamental change to how the school is governed.

    This is because they talk to teachers, those that are not scared to speak up. They hear what their children say and they see what is going on in the school.

    This position is not what is best for the students. What is best for them is having more educational opportunities like adding Spanish/French, hiring more teachers to assist the already over worked staff that do a wonderful job educating our children.

    The teachers and the staff need more support, which is clearly lacking. The teachers are not allowed to speak up as they will be punished. Crazy! Hiring an assistant principal will not change this.

    Some members are trying to make a change on the board but this is being held against them because they have differing opinions. Maybe it is time for new administration and board leadership, one that does not hide in times of crisis or threaten to take their ball and go home when confronted with differing ideas.

  7. Arlene Mutschler says:

    I can’t wait till the Town Meeting on this one… a principal putting a gag order on her teachers, and then denying it? THAT is sad. This sounds like a power struggle and I don’t think it belongs. With declining enrollment and increasing taxes? And you’re worrying about Act 46 … of course you are.

  8. Jennifer Spaulding says:

    There is not a behavior interventionist! They hired a PBIS coordinator who helps deal with behaviors and the school’s PBIS intervention curriculum. The principal wants to use terms to make it sound like she’s exhausted all efforts so she can get an Assistant Principal. There are other options they can try before that position should even be introduced to a school budget. I know what my vote will be as a taxpayer, and I hope the taxpayers of Chester are aware of the turmoil the administration has with its staff.

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