TRSU board talks vision retreat, Powden goals School panel also mulls job descriptions, $150,000 transition fund

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2018 Telegraph Publishing  LLC

The board of the Two Rivers Supervisory Union worked on a number of ongoing issues at its Aug. 23 meeting including the fate of a $150,000 grant for Act 46 transition costs, job descriptions for TRSU employees, ongoing questions around evaluation of the superintendent and the planning of a board retreat. Most of the issues remained unresolved at the end of the session.

Earlier this year, it was discovered that there was no job descriptions for most of the employees of the supervisory union. This complicated the evaluation of Superintendent Meg Powden and spurred the central office to create job descriptions for many employees.

Sue Ceglarski of the Vermont School Boards Association walks the TRSU board through the associations superintendent evaluation program. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

With Powden’s evaluation and raise behind it, the board invited Sue Ceglowski of the Vermont School Boards Association to come and explain the service it provides to help boards set goals and create and distribute an evaluation form for superintendents and to collate the results. The process takes about three months and costs $1,000 and board members seemed generally positive about the procedure but some asked why the evaluation form would only go to a minimum number of board members.

Ceglowski said that some boards decide to widen the distribution of the evaluation form to include administrators. When asked why not include teachers, parents and the public, Ceglowski said she didn’t know, but suggested that a small number of board members was a more manageable universe for the first time.

Board member Joe Fromberger suggested getting some near-term goals together to be able to evaluate Powden’s performance in the spring before a contract or salary increase will be on the table. The board decided to form a committee to work on the process and to defer approval of Powden’s job description until the process was underway.

Powden said that among her goals were to think systemically and move forward all six schools — Chester-Andover, Cavendish Town, Ludlow and Mt. Holly elementaries and Black River and Green Mountain Union high schools. Later, in her Superintendent’s Report, Powden noted that the board has expectations of the supervisory union staff, then turned the tables saying, “I have expectations of you as a governing body.”

Asserting that TRSU board members should be advocates for the supervisory union, Powden said she was dismayed with the budgeting process this year, and noted that she would be changing the way she disseminates information. Powden said she would tell the TRSU board first, followed by the district boards.

TRSU board retreat would involve new vision

While Ceglowski was still on hand, the board asked her for guidance about a TRSU board retreat. She said that Sue Holson of the VSBA works with boards, helping them look at their vision. Powden pointed to the vision statement that until recently was printed on every agenda noting that it was done back in 2015. “We’re in a new place,” said Powden referring to the post merger SU. “Time for a new vision.”

Powden said she favored clear, short phrases about the vision, noting that three or four short phrases “anybody can rattle off.”

Joe Fromberger, left, tells board chair Marilyn Mahusky that the board should take it slow and fully prepare for its retreat

Ceglowski said it was important to involve the community and that the board may not come out of the retreat with a vision.

Board chair Marilyn Mahusky mentioned a VT Digger article about the “exciting” things Mill River is doing and suggested that – as Black River High School is closing – it’s a perfect time to make TRSU an exciting place that students want to attend.

Fromberger cautioned that the board should take the time needed to prepare and not rush into the retreat. The board decided to ask Holson to come to its next meeting. A decision on whether to engage VSBA to facilitate the retreat or to do it in-house will be made after speaking with Holson. There was no discussion of about the cost of the retreat or where the money would come from.

SU job description approvals deferred

As the board turned to the task of approving the other 19 job descriptions, Fromberger said he had never received complete copies – apparently a printing error that was corrected but not fully distributed. The board asked the central office to make sure everyone had copies, then delayed the adoption of the job descriptions off until next month.

But before the board could move to the next agenda item, Afterschool Program Coordinator Venissa White told the board that this was the first time she had seen the description for her job and that it did not “match up with what I do.”

Powden said she had noticed the differences just that afternoon while reviewing the job descriptions in advance of the board meeting. Just before White spoke, Powden had told the board that the job descriptions had been “sent out to all current employees to see if they match up to their jobs.”

“Please make sure that every supervisee has had a conversation about these,” Mahusky told Powden. “Make sure you’ve had those conversations.”

Here are of some, but not all, of the job descriptions that were in the packet from the TRSU website. Those missing from the website are for principals, school bus drivers, teachers and school wide program reachers. You can find those job descriptions here.

Act 46 transition grant still up in the air

Recent meetings of the TRSU and district boards have questioned who should spend transition money that came from the state through the Act 46 merger. At first, Powden proposed a number of things on which to spend the funds. The Telegraph noted that under the statute, spending the money was the responsibility of the school districts. In subsequent meetings board members have also interpreted the law to say that each district should get a $150,000 grant and lately, that only GMUSD should get the grant.

Andover’s Joe Fromberger reasserts his claim that the entire transition grant belongs to the Green Mountain Unified School District.

Powden presented an email from Donna Russo Savage of the Agency of Education that asserted that the transition grant should be shared by the two districts and walked back an email by the AOE’s education finance director Brad James, who earlier had said that only the GMUSD qualified for the grant.

At Thursday’s meeting, Fromberger argued that the Act 46 Study Committee Report, which outlined the creation of the GMUSD, included the $150,000 grant going specifically to the district that would be formed in the merger.  With the phrase, “This new district will also receive a $150,000 ‘transition grant’ ” included on Page 16, the report was approved by the study committee, reviewed and approved by the Agency of Education and reviewed and approved by the State Board of Education before being sent to the voters of Andover, Baltimore, Cavendish and Chester.  Fromberger noted that voters approved the merger with the understanding that the district would get the $150,000 grant and asked for a written legal opinion about this.

Fromberger said he would prefer to have the AOE’s attorney look at the issue rather than incurring legal fees for the SU. Mahusky told the meeting that the GM district had already voted to have attorney Chris Leopold look at the issue.

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