TRSU board reverses response to meeting complaint, will revisit Powden’s contract

Shawn Cunningham
© 2019 Telegraph Publishing LLC

On Monday, Sept. 9, the board of the Two Rivers Supervisory Union will revisit Superintendent Meg Powden’s two-year contract, which it approved in February following an improper executive session.

Joe Fromberger tells the TRSU board that the GMUSD board has asked them to reconsider their response to The Chester Telegraph’s complaint. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

The decision was made Thursday night after members of the Green Mountain Unified School District board urged the TRSU board to adopt the state-prescribed cure for the Open Meeting Law complaint brought by The Chester Telegraph earlier this year. The board has scheduled a special meeting for 6 p.m. on Monday Sept. 9 at the supervisory union’s Fletcher Farm office in Ludlow to “ratify or void” the contract.

There was no discussion of the board’s improperly held executive session of March 27, after which the board gave Powden a 4 percent raise.

The June 4 Telegraph complaint alleged that the SU board and its two school district boards had, on nine occasions, violated the Vermont law that protects the public’s right to know by holding improper executive sessions. The complaint asked that the boards follow state law and admit the violations within 10 days and, within 14 days after that, ratify or void any action taken as a result of the improper session. The law also requires that the boards would need to adopt “specific measures that actually prevent future violations,” according to the Open Meeting Law. (1 VSA 314 (b)(4)(A))

Doug McBride maintains that curing the violation according to the law is the simplest, cleanest and safest course.

Instead, Powden returned to the boards on June 12 and 13 with a four-step process involving motions to admit errors (as opposed to violations) and revise their improper moves in those executive sessions through “retroactive motions,” an idea that Telegraph publisher Cynthia Prairie had called a “charade” in a June 19 editorial.   This strategy, according to Powden, was recommended by a lawyer working for TRSU, and both the SU and Ludlow Mt. Holly boards adopted it to “cure” the violations.

At that time, Doug McBride, an attorney who is also a member of the Green Mountain Unified School District Board, argued that the simpler “by-the-statute” approach was more appropriate since it satisfied both the law and the complaint. On June 13, the GMUSD board agreed with McBride. Then, at a later meeting, the board approved McBride’s motion directing the three GM representatives to the SU board to ask that TRSU board to do the same.

Noting that there was a possibility that The Telegraph would take the SU to court to enforce the law, McBride told Thursday night’s meeting that he believed that adopting the law’s path to fixing the violation could relieve the pressure of litigation on the school system — which is currently facing a number of lawsuits — allowing them to “focus on running the schools.”

Ludlow Mt Holly board member Dan Buckley argues in favor of the statute-based violation cure

After some discussion, the board decided to admit the violation and hold a special meeting to either “ratify or void”  the board’s offer of a two-year contract to Powden. In addition, the board has received training but must – according to the law – adopt specific measures “that actually prevent future violations.”

Back in June, the GMUSD board decided it would accomplish that by having board training on the law, having a copy of the statute at each meeting and requiring that future agendas warning executive sessions provide more accurate, detailed and specific information for the session

Prairie welcomed the news saying, “This was a pleasant and unexpected surprise. We were gearing up for a bigger fight, but are just as satisfied that the TRSU opted for openness. I only hope the Ludlow-Mt. Holly board does the same and also that the TRSU revisits Superintendent Powden’s raise.”

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  1. Otis Nelson says:

    First of all, these executive sessions violations need to follow existing state law recommendations to resolve these infractions.

    Second, after the board found out that the superintendent withheld info about the lawsuits, amount of money being spent on those lawsuits, that would have been, and should have been, the time to let this superintendent go, not renew her contract and give her a raise to boot! What in tarnation is this board thinking?

    It’s time to start new and get someone who can provide transparency to the communities this board and supervisory union are supposed to be representing.