TRSU board ratifies Powden 2-year contract, 4% raise

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2019 Telegraph Publishing LLC

The Two Rivers Supervisory Union Board ratified Superintendent Meg Powden’s two-year contract on a 3-2 vote Monday night, but only after questions and discussions surrounding dissatisfaction with Powden’s job performance.

The special meeting, held at TRSU offices in Ludlow, had been called to cure three violations of Vermont’s Open Meeting Law, following complaints by The Chester Telegraph and several missteps by the board as it attempted to grasp a proper cure.

Superintendent Meg Powden listens as the TRSU board discusses her contract. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

As the meeting began, board chair Paul Orzechowski read from a prepared set of motions acknowledging the violations and for two of them moving to ratify the decisions made after improperly constituted executive sessions.  The first couple of motions sailed through but when it came time to confirm the two-year contract offered to Powden in February 2019, there was disagreement.

After Orzechowski moved to ratify Powden’s contract, board member Dan Buckley asked if the agreement was legal considering that the session it came out of was not.

“In my opinion, it is a valid contract approved by the board,” said board member Joe Fromberger. “Our task here is to affirm, deny or modify the action we have taken.”

“Is there an option to modify?” asked Michael Studin, a member of the Green Mountain Unified School District who was attending as a member of the public.

“I am not inclined to abrogate a valid employment contract without substituting something that would be in force,” answered Fromberger. “But I would not object to having it modified.”

Wielding a book of Vermont statutes, Orzechowski noted that the choices under the law were to “ratify or declare void” the action adding that “we can void it and modify it later.”

Buckley said that his objection to the two-year contract was that it was offered when the superintendent position did not have a job description or an evaluation process. Now that those are in place, Buckley said he believe the two-year contract makes them worthless.

Studin agreed, saying that by reducing the contract by half, the evaluation process could be used sooner.

Board members Mary Alberty and Wayne Wheelock disagreed, saying the evaluation could be done anyway.

“But if the opinion after the evaluation is that this is a relationship we don’t want to continue then you still have another year with that (contract),” said Studin.

Orzechowski said that the board had felt that after the Act 46 merger, one year was too short a time for Powden’s performance to be evaluated.

“There’s a lot of chaos going on and starts at the top.”

Mike Studin
GMUSD board member

“I feel very frustrated by the administration in general,” said Studin. “I don’t remember a time when our district has been in such disarray. We have several lawsuits going on, we’re spending money over budget, we spent about $3,500 on an error with our buses, we are $73,000 over on our lunch budget, there’s been strife with our teachers and the union has had to get involved. There’s a lot of chaos going on and starts at the top.”

“We aren’t having … issues … we’re doing really well.”

Paul Orzechowski
Chair, Ludlow-Mt. Holly board 

“Our side’s going very smoothly,” Orzechowski said, noting that he is Ludlow-Mt. Holly school board chair. “We aren’t having … issues … we’re doing really well.”

“I would like to comment on Mike’s comments,” said Powden. “I am very offended by them. Our supervisory union is not in disarray, we have a great administrative team and we are working really hard to improve our schools and I’m just really proud of the work we do.”

In the end, Alberty, Orzechowski and Wheelock voted to ratify the contract while Buckley and Fromberger voted against.

The board then ratifed the 4 percent salary increase from $129,033 to $134,194, which was given to Powden after the improperly constituted executive session of March 27, 2019.

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  1. Tim Roper says:

    Maximizing the effectiveness of our education tax dollars is what I see as the prime directive of the superintendent. If that isn’t happening, and it clearly is not when so much money is going toward to legal fees, then the most basic function of the superintendent is not being fulfilled. Knowing that, how can the board continue to vote in favor of raises and contract extensions for Meg Powden?

  2. Sherry McCabe says:

    Between this and what is happening at GMUHS ..
    our school system is walking lawsuit full of shame!!!

  3. Kate Deslauriers says:

    All Mike has done is ask to review the evaluation and listed some facts that have lead to his concerns. I’m thankful that we have board members who ask questions instead of just continue the status quo and follow along. I’d much rather have heard Powden respond with explanations or valid points to the concerns than to complain she’s offended.

  4. Stuart Lindberg says:

    “It is hard to imagine a more stupid or more dangerous way of making decisions than by putting those decisions in the hands of people who pay no price for being wrong. Know-it-alls in the school system do not lose one dime or one hour’s sleep if their bright ideas turn out to be all wrong, or even disastrous, for the child. It is parents and children who pay the price” Thomas Sowell Economist.

  5. Darin Bradley says:

    Powden has now negotiated herself a 7% increase in salary since taking over TRSU and until recently has not had a performance evaluation??? The public NEEDS to demand a forensic evaluation of all accounting done by TRSU.

  6. Otis Nelson says:

    Well I guess we NOW KNOW WHO WE NEED TO VOTE OFF THE BOARD!!!

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