Board gives Powden 2-year contract, 4 percent raise before performance review

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2019 Telegraph Publishing LLC

The Two Rivers Supervisory Union board met Thursday night to work on the annual performance evaluation of Superintendent Meg Powden, but the real action took place in two executive sessions over the past two months.

Sue Ceglarski, left and Meg Powden listen as Joe Fromberger explains how the board came to give Powden a contract and raise ahead of an evaluation. Photo by Shawn Cunningham

On Feb. 7, with Marilyn Mahusky as chair, the TRSU board offered Powden a two-year contract rather than the one-year pacts she has received since coming to the job in 2016. Then, on March 27, the reconstituted board, with Paul Orzechowski as chair, raised her compensation 4 percent from $129,033 to $134,194.

On Thursday night, pointing to the customary order of things in which salary increases and contract renewals follow performance reviews rather than preceding them, The Telegraph asked the board for an explanation of reversing the process. The question was followed by nearly 20 seconds of silence broken only by the clearing of throats and shifting of chairs before board member Joe Fromberger spoke up.

“Let me have a go at that,” said Fromberger, who also replaced Mahusky as chair of the Green Mountain School district in a surprise vote two weeks ago. “The (TRSU) board (at the Feb. 7 meeting) decided … after some discussion, that it would be in our interest to do a two-year contract.” He noted that the vote was not unanimous and that when the board returned to the open session to vote there was concern expressed “that we were going ahead with an extension without having done an evaluation.”

Earlier Thursday, Fromberger told The Telegraph, “The board decided to offer a two-year contract over my objections.”

During the evening meeting Fromberger said that once a board has made a decision, he is reluctant to “go back and re-do it.” So having extended the contract, Fromberger said the next step in the process was to fix the salary for the first year and that’s what the board did on March 27.

The long road to a superintendent evaluation

In February 2018, the full board of the Supervisory Union removed a 5.58 percent superintendent salary increase that Powden had put into the SU budget. Board members said the increase should be based on a performance review. But within a month or two employees found that there was no job description for the superintendent or most of the staff at TRSU.

VSBA’s Sue Ceglowski speaking to the TRSU board about superintendent evaluation in August 2018

The lack of a job description hamstrung the evaluation process in June 2018 for the outgoing TRSU executive committee as it prepared to hand over control to the new TRSU board. That board gave Powden a 2.75 percent raise and a one-year contract at its July meeting. It also scheduled a July 24 meeting to work on the job description but that never took place. Rather, the board waited for its Aug. 23 meeting to have Sue Ceglowski explain the Vermont School Board Association’s program for helping set up an evaluation process. Ceglowski said that process would take about three months and cost $1,000.

Since then, the committee has had three meetings over the past six months with the creation of the evaluation process guided by Ceglowski.

At last night’s meeting, Fred Marin, board alternate and chair of the Superintendent Evaluation Committee, noted that his committee had only recently completed the job description and that there was “no format for setting up criteria for an evaluation or to implement the evaluation in a meaningful way.”

“Out of fairness, we need time to look at the input from the survey and make judgments on how to move forward,” said Marin. “The evaluation is just starting now and we don’t know how long the process will be. It’s well into what will be the next contract.”

An evaluation questionnaire was sent to members of the Green Mountain and Ludlow-Mount Holly school district boards, school principals and TRSU staff, but not to any other school employees. By March 27, only five board members and five employees had answered the survey.

The Telegraph requested a copy of the questions asked in the survey, but Ceglowski asserted that the questions are owned by the VSBA which does not share that information. TRSU is able to use the survey because it is paying VSBA $1,000 for consulting services in evaluating Powden.

The Telegraph noted that the questionnaire was sent to public officials to answer as part of their public duty and returned via computer to TRSU – a public agency. As such, the questionnaire would be a public record available to anyone who requests it.

Ceglowski said the Public Records Law exempts personnel information but The Telegraph noted that the request was only for the questions, not the answers. Ceglowski said she would have to look into the issue.

On Friday morning, Ceglowsky contacted The Telegraph to say that, following a discussion with VSBA Executive Director Nicole Mace, the association was willing to share the “rubric” that the survey was based upon on the condition that it not be published or linked to. The Telegraph told Ceglowsky it could not accept those conditions since its job is to inform the public of what is happening in its school system.

The rubric was subsequently found on the SU’s website and can be seen here.

Also on Friday morning, The Telegraph sent a public records request to TRSU for the questions used in the survey. By law, TRSU has three business days to respond to the request.

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  1. Michelle Messina says:

    What’s really sad here, is that our school lost 3 amazing paras due to the single health insurance offered rather than the family plan. We need our paras again. They were told, at the time, they couldn’t afford to offer them more. Yet Meg Powden can make the decision to give herself a 4 percent raise? Not only that her performance of blatantly ignoring some serious safety concerns involving our children that have been brought before her is proof that she’s not doing her job as well as she should be. We need change, change in our schools and change for a better system, one that we can trust to do what’s right for our children, teachers and parents.

  2. Otis Nelson says:

    Everyone should be very concerned about the lack of openness with this administration and this school board. Giving someone a 4% salary increase with no evaluation seems so very wrong. When was the last time any of you (the taxpayer) got a 4% salary increase? Remember last year she put into the budget a 5.58% increase? Yeah, then the board gave her a 2.75% raise.

    I think that until they have a viable evaluation in place that truly evaluates her performance, they should only give 2% maximum which seems to be the standard. With that being said, I continue to believe that this woman and her administration is horrible for our kids, our schools and our communities. I just can’t understand why this board keep renewing her contract in the first place, much less giving her a raise.

  3. Ralph Pace says:

    It appears that both the VSBA and TRSU have some basic problems with openness. While not privy to all the details surrounding the Superintendent’s performance, I would have to wonder why she was given a two year extension – based on published information. Given the length of time the Superintendent has been engaged by TRSU,it is incredible that no job description exists.

  4. Tim Roper says:

    Something continues to smell a little funny about the way Ms. Powden navigates her way through her administration of the school board(s).

    Why is there so much resistance to being transparent? How does one earn raises and multi year contract extensions without demonstrating competence and accountability through a job performance evaluation?

    This new system of opacity is in stark contrast to our old system, where school boards operated through a more open, transparent and publicly accountable process. What the heck happened here?

  5. Kathy Goodell says:

    I believe this evaluation had to be done and returned via email. This is not an anonymous evaluation. If I were still teaching at a school, I would not participate in this type of evaluation.
    The rubric seems to cover aspects of the job and gives chances to evaluate accurately.