Editorial: If you want changes in the school system, drop Facebook, attend board meetings

By Cynthia Prairie
©2019 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Since the fall of 2015, The Chester Telegraph has reported extensively on the Two Rivers Supervisory Union, the Act 46 merger plans and votes, the school budgets, new school districts, etc., publishing more than 95 articles about the system in less than four years.

These have been highly read and commented on by the stakeholders, many of whom disagree with the direction that the school system is going.

However, the school systems continues to head in a direction that many find disturbing.

Here is a fraction of what we have reported:

Pay raises, performance reviews and passes

Last Thursday, we reported that the Two Rivers Supervisory Union board of directors gave Superintendent Meg Powden not only a large raise — 4 percent taking her salary from $129,033 to $134,194 — but a two-year contract. All this before she received a job evaluation and with more than a month before the state-mandated May 15 deadline for a new contract.

But back in February 2018, she attempted to give herself a 5.58 percent raise that would have taken her salary from $125,580 to $132,590. She still got a $3,453 raise. But, then TRSU board executive committee chair Bob Herbst said that a performance review of Powden would be conducted before any decisions would be made about raises or her contract. An evaluation of some sort was done but without a job description or evaluation form.

Remember the dental plan that central office employees, including Powden received in last year’s budget? That also was reported on in February of 2018. The benefits were negotiated by Powden “representing the staff” and the then-finance director, who reported directly to Powden, “representing the Supervisory Union.”

Neutering the school boards, muting the stakeholders

In February, we reported about Susan Holson of the Vermont School Boards Association instructing members of the Green Mountain Unified Board of Directors that they should not question the superintendent concerning the curriculum or money spent on personnel and should have a “hands off” approach to the workings of the school.

Holson said in an interview later that the these were just suggestions and not mandates.

But if the board had continued in that direction, these would effectively eviscerate the power of the school board and hinder members from performing their fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers. They also would, in effect, have silenced the voices of the people who elect the school board. And whole approach seems to fly in the face of the board’s powers and responsibilities in statute.

But enough board members rejected the suggestions that the next month, they also rejected GM board President Marilyn Mahusky, whose comments over the past few months have indicated that she seems to be more inline with this approach.

CAES repairs delayed

Beginning last August, we reported on the flooding at Chester-Andover Elementary School. That reporting included:

Budgets and backpedaling

We’ve also reported extensively on the various spending plans that Powden has proposed including, in June 2018, her attempts to use $130,000 in transition funds meant to be spent by the school district boards for administrative expenses. Among things she hoped to use the money for were a three-day “Leadership Retreat” at the Killington Mountain resort for $7,650; a TRSU board retreat for $3,500; and $6,000 in flexible classroom furniture for the Supervisory Union offices in Ludlow.

In December 2017,  we wrote that Powden proposed hiring a single RN who would decide what level of coverage each school needed and supervise LPNs and nurses aids in delivering those services.

At the same time, a plan was floated to make Katherine Fogg principal of both Cavendish Elementary and Chester Andover, while creating a “dean of students” position at each school. Both proposals were killed because parents from all our towns turned out in force to meetings to protest it.

And in August 2018, the SU also proposed to getting rid of those important educational opportunities that it promised under Act 46.

But then this past budget proposal returned with the assistant principal position for Fogg, because she said she needed help since she was spending so much time on student behavioral issues. But no parents or taxpayers questioned why Fogg, who apparently can’t seem to oversee one school now, last year was going to be put in charge of two schools.  In March of this year the school budget passed with funds for the CAES assistant principal.

Throughout the past few years we have seen a lack of transparency, openness and accountability in our school system.

When no one speaks up, no one listens

The fact is that The Chester Telegraph does hear the complaints. We are in our communities with our ears open. People also call us. A few have even dropped us anonymous notes. And they post comments on Facebook and write letters to the editor and comment in our Comments sections.

But, when you only complain on Facebook, you are yelling into a vacuum. The only people who hear your concerns are those who likely agree with you. Those complaints never make it to the changemakers, the school boards, the supervisory union.

And sadly enough, for all the complaints on Facebook, stakeholders do not show up at the school board meetings to voice their concerns.

What is clear is that when stakeholders do attend board meetings, they push those needed changes. It happened with the RNs and the Cavendish principal plan. And it happened, at least for one year, with the assistant principal funding at Chester-Andover.

You don’t have to have children in school to be a stakeholder. If you pay taxes, you are a stakeholder. If you care about your community, you are a stakeholder.

While it may be hard, reach out to other like-minded individuals. Attend the board meetings in groups or as individuals. Make your voices heard.

Decisions are made by those who show up.

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Filed Under: CommentaryTelegraph Editorial

About the Author: Cynthia Prairie has been a newspaper editor more than 30 years. She has worked at such publications as the Raleigh Times, the Baltimore News American, the Buffalo Courier Express, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Patuxent Publishing chain of community newspapers in Maryland. She and her family moved to Chester, Vermont in 2004.

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  1. Mary-lynn Wright says:

    There has been a long history of retaliation against those who speak up. Once bitten twice shy.

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