Vision, Finance panels meet on ed plan, budget Public weighs in on STEM, foreign language offerings

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2018 Telegraph Publishing, LLC

The Green Mountain Unified School District Vision Committee once again tread the path between planning and action at its April 9 meeting, this time with members of the district’s finance committee in attendance as budget deadlines near.

Members of the Vision Committee discuss offerings, budget. All photos by Shawn Cunningham.

Voters in the district created by the Act 46 merger of Andover, Baltimore, Cavendish and Chester rejected the first Green Mountain Unified School District budget on March 6, but since then, the board and its committees have had trouble identifying what voters actually wanted. While most vision committee members believe that at least part of the trouble was the lack of additional educational opportunities promised by the merger, they have been unable to decide what to offer.

At the same time, school administrators and supervisory union staff, who were part of framing the merger including the Merger Agreement that outlines such opportunities, have asserted that things like elementary school foreign language take away from instruction time and instead urged a lengthy planning process including assigned readings and a retreat that would identify the school district’s goals but preclude adding anything this year.

On Monday night, committee chair Marilyn Mahusky asked the meeting if they wanted to continue planning or “switch gears” to the budget.

The audience at the district’s committee meetings.

Committee member Doug McBride said that after about two years of Act 46  work, he hoped that the panel could agree on several ideas to give to the superintendent and the supervisory union to do. McBride handed out a newspaper article profiling two Harlem schools in the same building, drawing from the same area in which one school had zero percent proficiency in math and English while a charter school upstairs had upwards of 80 percent proficiency.

McBride said the only difference was that the teachers in the school upstairs had decided on a level of excellence. “We’re a good school – not stellar – but we should be a great school,” he said.

A discussion ensued in which board member Kate Lamphere asked for a definition between good and great and what it would take to fill it.  “Is it STEM, STEAM, language, community service?” asked Lamphere.

“What’s the best program for us?” asked panel member Deb Brown.

Resident Bill Dakin urges the panel to talk directly to teachers.

“We can’t go wrong with any of them,” said McBride.

Lamphere said the school is already “pretty great” in STEM – science, technology, engineering and math.

“We can’t be 37 percent proficient in 11th grade math and be pretty great in STEM,” answered McBride.

Chester resident Bill Dakin urged the committee not to plan from the top down and instead to get the teachers’ perspectives on what programs to offer. “We don’t hear the opinions of the teachers,” he said.  “How do we bring the teachers into this visioning?”

Michael Eppolito, director of curriculum for Two Rivers Supervisory Union, told the panel that the SU could put togther a structured process to get feedback from teachers.

Looking at STEM and STEAM (with arts added) opened the discussion to a the partially funded Tinker Lab which is owned by the after-school program. It is a fold up lab in which kids can learn and build things. The lab is currently in storage but when funded it will spend 12 weeks at each elementary school in the TRSU.

Tinker Labs are where we build STEM,” said Venissa White, the after-school coordinator. White also noted that grant funding will produce a number of STEM programs after school.

Venissa White explains how her portable tinker lab works.

While everyone assembled praised the program, the problem of making a decision or continuing to study and plan remained as did the question of the budget. At past meetings, the question of what happens if there is no budget by June has come up. Usually the state will give the school 87 percent of last year’s budget until a new one is decided.

But with a new district, there is no “last year” and Superintendent Meg Powden has said she had made multiple calls to Brad James who handles funding for the Agency of Education and receive no replies. Mahusky said she too had called James with the same result. The Telegraph also called James more than a week ago with no reply.

Cavendish resident Sara Stowell suggested that this is basically a political process and urged the board to “do it or leave the bathroom. We the citizens, call Brad and say it’s not OK to not know. Don’t keep waiting for a bureaucrat in an agency that’s in an uproar to not get back to us.” She was referring to the fact that state education Secretary Rebecca Holcombe resigned.

Joe Fromberger said he wasn’t seeing a focus from the board.

Chester resident Frank Bidwell said that art and music are important, but math is very important urging the schools to do more computer programming and other science and engineering and to teach Chinese as part of living in a world economy.

Finance committee member Joe Fromberger said he did not see a focus for how the district gets to where it wants to go and suggested the process will take years. Urging the panel to move forward on a budget Fromberger said, “We don’t want a budget that’s 87 percent.”

Committee members wondered if the decision should wait until the TRSU board meets on Thursday to see if they will cut that budget, which would add savings to the GM budget. Stowell suggested that the SU look toward real cuts, saying that they should lead by example.

“When I ask people to suck it up, I suck it up first,” said Stowell.

In a discussion of transparency as an issue in passing the budget, Chester-Andover Principal Katherine Fogg said that while there is a transparency issue, when many people refer to transparency, “They are really just saying ‘I don’t understand.’ ”

Jettison elementary ‘teaching dean of students;’ interim principal

Based on feedback he had received from the public, Finance Committee member Mike Studin suggested dropping the proposed “teaching dean of students” at Chester-Andover Elementary and replacing it with a teacher. Brown and Lamphere said they had heard similar comments from the public.

Finance Committee member Mike Studin suggested dropping ‘teaching dean of students’ proposal, a suggestion that other members had heard voiced by the public.

Lamphere added that the principal’s position at Cavendish Town Elementary should be made permanent rather than interim, but there are already two finalists for the interim position. She noted that offering an interim position has probably limited the field of choices.

“It’s too late to change,” said Powden. She has posted on the CTES website that residents of Cavendish and Proctorsville can meet the candidates at Cavendish Elementary at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 11. Then on Tuesday, April 17, the board would interview and choose a new interim principal.

Agreeing that the position should be permanent, Stowell used the example of the “revolving door ” of principals that Chester-Andover had experienced in the recent past and said, “If they are not ideal, do not move forward.”

The committee asked the administration to bring some suggestions based on that evening’s discussions to the Finance Committee meeting on Tuesday April 10. That meeting was to be followed by a meeting of the full GMUSD board, which could vote on a new budget proposal.

But Mahusky and other members felt it would be best to wait and see what comes out of the TRSU meeting at 5:30 p.m. Thursday April 12 at Cavendish Town Elementary School. A special full GMUSD board meeting was then scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday April 17 at Chester-Andover Elementary.

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  1. Otis Nelson says:

    I would like to say, I take offense from the comment made by Mrs. Fogg, while saying there IS a transparency issue, speaking for other people is not a good way to communicate with one’s community!!! Some of us are following this very closely, and do understand, that vague budgets and the administration not conferring with boards and communities as to the plans they want to put forward is not acceptable and will not be tolerated!