TRSU exec panel picks Powden evaluation form Parents, community members to get different document

By Cherise Madigan
©2018 Telegraph Publishing LLC

The Executive Committee of the Two Rivers Supervisory Union, at its April 5 meeting, outlined a methodology and timeline for the evaluation of Superintendent Meg Powden, while also formulating a list of areas in the supervisory union’s proposed fiscal 2019 budget that could be considered for cuts by the full board.

Executive Committee members discuss the process. All photos by Cherise Madigan.

The question of evaluating Powden — who was not at the meeting — was first raised at the board’s March 22 meeting, in which Committee chair Bob Herbst argued that an evaluation would be needed for any decisions regarding the superintendent’s contract and compensation.  Though no current evaluations could be found, the committee did review samples from the Windsor Southwest Supervisory Union, the Rutland Windsor Supervisory Union, and a TRSU evaluation dating back to 2012, which you can read here.

Suggestions from TRSU Board member Doug McBride — sent to Herbst via email — were also reviewed, focusing on the superintendent’s ability to deliver on a range of Act 46 promises, decrease costs and ensure student success. However, the committee concluded that the questions were too specific and the committee agreed that the suggestions should not be included in the final evaluation. You can read McBride’s list here.

“I don’t see these as things that should be put into an evaluation,” Herbst said, with committee member Angela Benson-Ciufo of Union #39 noting that many questions provided by McBride would prove difficult for TRSU employees to answer as well. She did not elaborate. “I see these as things that we accomplish as a whole, not just the superintendent,” Herbst said.

Committee members agreed that the evaluation process should begin as soon as possible, with an announcement expected to be released online and to local press on Friday, April 13. Once the evaluations are released, employees and community members respectively will have  10 to 14 days to return them.

Ultimately, the committee chose to utilize the evaluation provided by the Windsor Southwest Supervisory Union, which rates a superintendent’s performance as unacceptable, needs improvement, good, or excellent in areas like curriculum, finance, personnel, policy, communication, and leadership — for use by all TRSU employees and board members as they evaluate the superintendent.

A segment of the Rutland Windsor Supervisory Union’s evaluation focusing on the superintendent’s relationship with the community was chosen for use by parents and community members, since some measures in the selected evaluation may not apply to those not employed by the TRSU. Committee member Deb Brown of Green Mountain Union High School suggested that the ratings from the first evaluation — unacceptable, needs improvement, good, or excellent — be utilized in the community evaluation for the sake of continuity.

Committee member Paul Orzechowski, left, suggests that paper copies of community evaluations be provided at town offices and libraries for return via mail.

Although committee members discussed a potential self-evaluation for Powden, Linda Waite, director of educational advancement, noted that the license renewal process for principals and superintendents already required self-evaluations. Because of this, Herbst suggested that the board obtain a copy of that evaluation from the superintendent directly rather than formulating an additional one.  Committee member Paul Orzechowski of Ludlow Elementary suggested that paper copies of the community evaluations be provided at town offices and libraries for return via mail.

Committee members agreed that the evaluation process should begin as soon as possible, with an announcement expected to be released online and to local press on Friday, April 13. Once the evaluations are released, employees and community members respectively will have  10 to 14 days to return them.

A job description for Powden also proved difficult to track down, with both Herbst and McNeill-Hudkins unable to locate one. Committee member Marilyn Mahusky, of Chester-Andover Elementary, suggested that a description be formulated for future use.

Committee targets some central office services

The committee then transitioned to a discussion of the TRSU fiscal 2019 budget, which covers the central office, special education and transportation among others. following a request from the board chairs of both the Green Mountain Unified School District and the Ludlow-Mount Holly Unified Union District to convene a full SU meeting — scheduled for April 12 — in order to reconsider the budget, which was previously approved on Feb. 22.

Though Herbst left early in the discussion due to a family emergency, the committee formulated a number of recommendations for the board following a line-by-line review of the budget.

“This is more so about issues that people think we haven’t adequately addressed. They’ve questioned staffing, the continued rental of this space.”

Marilyn Mahusky
Board member

“This is more so about issues that people think we haven’t adequately addressed,” Mahusky said. “They’ve questioned staffing, the continued rental of this space… we’ve certainly achieved some efficiencies, but we haven’t conveyed them to our constituents very well.”

Though the continued rental of the SU offices was discussed, with a suggestion that the TRSU utilize empty space in Green Mountain and Black River high schools, committee members ultimately agreed that a decision could not be made until Black River High School closes in 2020. Herbst noted that such a move would not be rent free, and the cost of renovations would also have to be considered.

“The hope is that when Black River closes there will be an increase in Green Mountain’s enrollment,” Mahusky said. “It does make sense to think about this when Black River does close, and to look at the changes that could be made there in order to make it conducive to a supervisory union.”

Lauren Baker, far left, tells the board that there is no place to cut from her Technology office.

Lauren Baker, of Information Technology,  answered questions about costs within her department, including maintenance and software, but said that there were no places to cut. And Mary Barton, of Student Support Services,  said that there were no areas with the special education budget that could be cut either.

The committee discussed the necessity of multiple positions, including a mail courier (budgeted for $6,817), the director of Curriculum ($40,724), a grant writer ($7,500), and the assistant to the director of finance ($49,010). Lowering the rate for travel reimbursements was also considered.

“You’re really nickel and diming here,” said assistant to the director of finance Cheryl Hammond, who was asked by the committee to calculate the financial impact of eliminating her position alongside other cuts. The director of finance position is vacant and, Hammond noted, she has applied for that post, though those interviews will take place after the TRSU board meeting. “You’re going through an awful lot of work for a little return in your money,” she said.

“This is what we were asked to do,” replied Benson-Ciufo.

Overall, the committee agreed to suggest cuts in the budget lines for a grant writer, courier services, professional development and the assistant to the director of finance. Those recommendations will be forwarded to the full TRSU board for consideration on April 12.

Another executive session

The Executive Committee then went into a closed door executive session to talk about two topics: Transportation for Special Services and Personnel FY19 Budget. The latter topic is similar to executive session that the Green Mountain Union School Board and finance committee held in 2017 for which The Telegraph lodged a complaint alleging that the sessions were illegal since the exemption under the Vermont Open Meeting law is for “the appointment or employment or evaluation of a public officer or employee… or a disciplinary or dismissal action against a public officer or employee…” Instead, the discussion appears to have centered on a reduction of force in a budget context.

At the time, the superintendent said that there was no “intentional violation,” and The Telegraph pointed to the penalties that members were being exposed to for holding such meetings including misdemeanor charges and fines of up to $500 and suggested that the board get some training in the law. One such training session can be found here.

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About the Author: Journalist and photographer Cherise Madigan specializes in writing about outdoor recreation, the environment and travel. She has roots in Manchester and a history of reporting throughout Southern Vermont. Madigan is a graduate of Nazareth College of Rochester, earning her degree in Political Science summa cum laude in 2015.

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  1. Stuart Lindberg says:

    What a mess. The passing and implementation of this poorly crafted legislation, ACT 46, was done in the most deceitful manner without a single thought as to how it would actually work or not work. I am no fan of overpaid education bureaucrats, but in defense of Ms. Powden, how could she or anyone else be expected to administer such a disaster. The entire premise of of ACT 46 is based on smoke and mirrors and lies. The real perpetrators in this travesty are sitting in the governor’s office and the Vermont Senate and Vermont House of Representatives.