TRSU Super Powden proposes consolidating nurse, principal functions in new district

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2017 Telegraph Publishing LLC

One agenda item out of more than a dozen – next year’s budget –  sucked the oxygen out of the room at last Tuesday night’s meeting of the new Green Mountain Unified School District, held at Cavendish Town Elementary School.

TRSU Superintendent Meg Powden. Telegraph file photo.

The audience of about 15 was unhappy with several items but focused mostly on proposals to eliminate the principal’s position at CTES and to appoint one nurse for the three schools in the district. The discussion went on long enough that the last four agenda items and an executive session had to be postponed to a future meeting.

Put forward by Two Rivers Superintendent Meg Powden, the proposals would centralize the functions of school nurse and elementary principals into two positions, while creating new posts to handle work on the ground.

Currently, the three schools have 2.4 Registered Nurses on staff (one each at Chester- Andover Elementary and Green Mountain with a part-time RN at Cavendish Elementary.)

Under the proposal, the district would hire a single RN who would decide what level of coverage each school needed and supervise those employees. Powden said those employees would not be RNs, but that they could be LPNs or nurses aides. According to Powden, that would be up to the supervising nurse.

“Could I ask who would be in the schools caring for the students?” asked one audience member.

“That would be determined by the nurse,” said Powden

A number of those in the audience objected, noting that school nurses play an important role in administering 504 Plans, which address the needs of children who have a variety of disabilities, some of which can be medical. Special Educator Janet Van Alstyne suggested that the district might incur liability for “taking the expertise out of the building.”

Powden said that students with chronic conditions would be a priority for the proposed head nurse, but Van Alstyne noted that availability was key when a medical episode takes place. She said if a situation occurred at one school, the RN could be at another school.

The nurse proposal is not reflected in the current version of the budget, which shows the status quo with a 2.22 percent increase over last year. The increase is in supplies and equipment.

One principal, two elementary schools

The retirement of Cavendish Principal George Thomson made the second proposal possible. Under that setup, in the fall of 2018, CAES Principal Katherine Fogg would become principal of both elementary schools, each of which would gain a “dean of students.”

The retirement of Cavendish Principal George Thomson opened the door for combining elementary schools under one principal. File photo

That position does not require the same certifications as a principal or an assistant principal. According to Powden, and at minimum it would require a teaching certificate.

Powden said that it would free up Fogg to be an “education leader, guiding and leading teachers.” Currently, according to Fogg and Thomson, dealing with student “situations” often interrupts their work.

Cavendish fourth grade teacher Jennifer Harper objected, saying it would be a huge loss for Cavendish not having a principal who is engaged with the students.

“It’s a hallmark of our small schools to have a principal who knows every student, who knows every family,” said Harper. “Katherine would be in and out. She’ll come into classrooms, give teachers feedback and she’s gone.”

Harper said that, under the proposed setup, decisions and answers would have to wait for the principal to be at the school.

CAES Principal Katherine Fogg. photo from CAES website

“How much do I expect to see the principal at Cavendish Elementary?” asked Christine Balch, who also wondered who would make the final decision on the proposal.

Board chair Alison DesLauriers told Balch that the board approves a budget to send on to the voters and that it hires the administration to recommend what measures should be taken. Powden said she was not asking for a board motion to approve the proposal, just budgetary approval, which would include the proposal.

“So just so we are all clear,” said Balch, “if the taxpayers, parents are not in agreement on the decision of the superintendent, our only recourse is to vote down the budget?”

“Right,” said DesLauriers.

The discussion then turned to the increased cost of the proposal over the current model, which has a principal at each school and an assistant principal at Green Mountain.

“Is it an option to stick with the model we have now, which is just two principals?” asked board member Tonia Fleming of Chester.

“Then I’m suggesting an assistant principal at Chester-Andover,” replied Powden

“And I’m suggesting no assistant principal in this year of transition and maybe looking at it in a future year,” said Fleming.

Board member Marilyn Mahusky of Chester said she was concerned about adding positions so soon after the merger.

“I don’t feel I have enough information. There are a lot of big decisions ahead and I’m not sure that adding positions is the right direction. We’re getting a lot of pressure from Montpelier and I’m not comfortable with this direction,” said Mahusky.

The budget also proposes to hire a grade 3-4 teacher, a Spanish teacher for the elementary school and coordinator for Flexible Pathways/Capstone, who would be part of the guidance department. Flexible Pathways is an initiative created by Act 77 under which schools are encouraged to find ways for students who may not get the most out of traditional learning methods to successfully complete school. Among the “toolkit” for this are a variety of college-based and work-based programs as well as personalized learning plans. A “capstone” is a student-generated project that  demonstrates proficiency in subjects. The coordinator would oversee these programs for students in 7 through 12 grades. The capstone is a local initiative and not a state mandate.

DesLauriers suggested that anyone who wants to comment on the budget can speak with a school board member, but that while board members could take input, they cannot speak for the board. She also suggested that school employees might set up a meeting with the superintendent and the principals.

Balch said she was not comfortable voting on a budget with so many things that have not been fleshed out and that she would want specific answers to a number of questions when the budget information meeting is held on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018.

“There are a lot of big changes being discussed tonight, and it felt like pulling it out of the budget, not openly, freely communicated to the community and the parents,” said Balch as the meeting wound down, “Not having a principal at Cavendish is a huge thing, and to have to come to this meeting and hear about it in a weird roundabout way really annoys me.”

DesLauriers noted that it was a working session and that the public could expect a full presentation with the answers they need from the administration before the budget vote.

Tight schedule for decisions

The Green Mountain Unified School District board was created through an Act 46 merger with the twin goals of finding cost savings through consolidation and increasing educational opportunities for students.

The budget proposal on the table represents a cost of $16,125 per student. Supervisory Union CFO Christopher Adams pointed to a target of $15,750 per student, which would involve cutting $260,000 out of the current version. As a point of reference, in the previous year, according to Adams, the cost per pupil for Cavendish was $15,982, Baltimore was $15,749, Chester-Andover was $15,263 and Green Mountain High was $14,991.

The school board must finalize the budget by the third week in January to allow for printing the annual report ahead of Town Meeting Day. There is one finance committee meeting – on Jan. 2 – and one board meeting – on Jan. 9 – ahead of the budget deadline although DesLauriers said another meeting could be called if necessary

Transportation study

One subject that comes up often at public meetings is the transportation situation. With a shortage of bus drivers, the schools have had to consolidate routes and students – including very young ones – are riding the buses for longer periods.

The transportation committee of the new board recommended that James Flahive be hired to study the problems and make recommendations for getting the students from the four towns – Chester, Andover, Cavendish and Baltimore — to and from school. Powden suggested waiting so the new Ludlow-Mt. Holly Unified Union School District could also take part. Board members felt that the transportation study is very important and needs to get underway as soon as possible. They voted unanimously to contract with Flahive.

The new Ludlow-Mt. Holly district has warned its organizational meeting for Jan. 18 although that will not happen if the Ludlow town clerk’s office finds that the petition that was submitted yesterday has enough signatures to trigger a re-vote of the merger.

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  1. Stuart Lindberg says:

    The stakeholders of both CAES and CTES had opportunities to stop this. The parents, voters and taxpayers were warned again and again about the negative effects of ACT 46. The history of ACT 153, the predecessor of ACT 46, provides ample evidence that there will be no savings for the taxpayers. And where are the increased opportunities and education equality for students? Elections have consequences. Keep electing the same liberal and “progressive” politicians and face the consequences. You reap what you sow.

  2. MJ Miles says:

    One more comment: $16,000/student and we still don’t have a high rate of excelling students. That is more expensive than some private schools. Don’t you want to know why so many kids are not doing well and now we have proficiency grading to muddy the waters. Where is all that money going because I’m guessing students are not receiving a $16,000 education?

  3. MJ Miles says:

    Here we go losing local control. A nurses aid is not trained to handle pediatric emergencies like diabetic, asthmatic or broken bones. This suggestion saves money but most definitely puts your children at risk.

    I have been an RN for over 26 years and have substituted for Peggy at CAES. The school with a part-time nurse – and worse – a nurses aid, will most certainly place itself at risk of a lawsuit if a child has an anaphylactic, unanticipated reaction (bee sting) and you wait for the volunteer ambulance service to assemble.

    I worked for a volunteer service too so I also understand that one. Lastly, the sheer numbers of kids that present to the nurse in the course of the day is way more than you know. A nurse’s assistant isn’t safe. An LPN maybe, but realistically, doesn’t the state have degrees requirements for nurses in schools? Do you think a floating nurse with less trained staff is the answer? What does that nurse cost anyway? 1 employee in each school is not breaking the bank.

    In the high school that nurse supports teenage depression and drug addiction; something you won’t get from less trained staff. You need to cut the budget but this is not the way to go!