TRSU superintendent criticizes GM board budget decisions Powden: 'The spirit of collaboration is no longer there'

By Shawn Cunningham
©2019 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Two Rivers Supervisory Union’s Meg Powden used her superintendent’s report at Thursday’s board meeting to chastise the Green Mountain Unified School District Board of Directors for what she said was its attitude toward a number of administration initiatives.

Powden tells the TRSU board that the spirit of collaboration is gone. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

“Indulge me,” said Powden, asking TRSU board members to look at the back of their agendas and read the SU’s vision statement.

Powden told the SU board – which is made up of three members each of the GMUSD and Ludlow-Mount Holly Unified Union School District and oversees the administrative offices – that she took the job as superintendent because of the history of collaboration during and after the voluntary merger that created TRSU and what she called good momentum from previous board chairs.

“Unfortunately, we are in a situation where we have gone through the Act 46 process and we have two very different boards as far as their mindsets and philosophies about going forward,” said Powden, reading the vision statement adopted in 2015: “Students and adults of the Two Rivers Supervisory Union will collaborate, think critically, acquire and apply knowledge and solve problems creatively.”

Powden said that everyone in the school system takes this very seriously and appreciates it when the boards work in partnership with the schools. She asked the board if members had suggestions for what she could do to get “back to a place where (the boards) were acting collaboratively.”

Referring to a recent GM finance committee meeting in which the panel (made up of the entire board) opted not to fund several administration priorities, Powden said it was clear to her that the spirit of collaboration is no longer there.

“What makes you say that?” asked Dan Buckley of the LMH board.

Powden said that she and TRSU business manager Cheryl Hammond look at what’s good for the whole SU, pointing to the example of the new position of early literacy coordinator, who would act as the central office member of each of the four elementary schools’ educational support teams, work with the curriculum director to “ensure a systemically coherent balanced literacy program,” plan and oversee professional learning in literacy and coach teachers. The SU-wide administrative position does not include classroom teaching and was listed at $84,202.

Buckley: ‘I don’t disagree with Green Mountain’

“Green Mountain has early literacy as a No. 1 priority, but when we brought the position of early literacy coordinator to them, they didn’t support it,” said Powden.  “I think that’s a symptom or an example of what we are experiencing.”

“I personally can say that those positions that were brought up at the last meeting, I have trouble supporting a huge increase in the budget,” said Buckley. “Every year it’s more, more, more, more. We’re losing a high school, which means there will be fewer teachers, fewer paychecks, fewer HR (human resources) things. But then we need another position to vet the students. You don’t just keep growing, your work is going down,  all you do is say we need more. So I don’t disagree with the Green Mountain.”

“Our work is not going down just because we’re losing students,” said Powden, adding that it’s the board’s choice to support the administration or not. But, she said, the administration is trying to support teachers and help children become more literate, achieve at a high rate and graduate ready to enter college, career or a technical school.

“It’s our job to let you know what we need to make sure our students get all that they need, ” said Powden.

“I do support those positions for the students to achieve,” said TRSU board chair Paul Orzechowski of Ludlow.

At its Nov. 25 meeting, the GM finance committee said “no for now” to the early literacy coordinator position but did approve more than $21,400 in literacy materials for its two elementary schools including a new K-3 reading program that includes phonics instruction. In addition to reading instruction in the classroom, Chester-Andover and Cavendish Town elementary schools each have a Title I “school-wide program” literacy teacher. That federal program is designed to improve the achievement of the lowest achieving students.

The Telegraph called Finance Committee Chair Deb Brown for comment but she was unavailable at the time of publication.

Hammond noted that the SU will also be looking to increase a “data specialist” from half-time to full-time at a cost of $21,753 to track statistics that the state of Vermont requires for all students, including those who are using school choice to attend out of the district.

Board chair Paul Orzechowski was in favor of all of the SU’s initiatives

Powden explained that the while an SU-wide STEAM coordinator was proposed at the last meeting, the GM district, which currently employs her as .2 part-time (8 hours per week) would — as part of its educational priorities — keep her in the district full-time. Powden suggested that the Ludlow Mount Holly district might want to consider hiring a part-time STEAM coordinator.

There was also discussion of an SU-wide position for a health educator at $84,202.

Board member Mary Alberty said she would like to support all of the SU’s requests, “but our taxes are so high.”

Buckley said he could get behind a .4 early literacy coordinator and Orzechowski thought it should be full time.

“You’re working as the SU board, you decide what you think the SU will provide,” said GM board chair Joe Fromberger. What followed was a discussion of whether the SU board could overrule the district boards.

“I don’t want individual boards to direct which way TRSU goes,” said Orzechowski who noted the SU may want to provide something that an individual board may not.

Fromberger said it was up to the representatives of district board to follow that board’s direction, but Powden disagreed.

“If a district board instructs their representatives to vote in a certain way at the SU, that is a recommendation not a requirement,” she said.

SU-wide transportation

Fromberger continued to push back against the idea of creating a position that would supervise transportation throughout the SU in favor of a contract between LMH and GM for the latter to provide transportation.

GM board chair Joe Fromberger pushes back on having TRSU administer the busing program

While Powden has already discussed salary for the job with Todd Parah, the current part-time transportation coordinator at Green Mountain, Fromberger held out against the proposal at a recent meeting of the newly constituted TRSU Transportation Committee.

Noting that GM has been managing transportation for more than 40 years. Fromberger said that all the supervisory union has to do is pass the state money through.

Citing the statute (16 VSA 216) Fromberger noted that the SU board is responsible to “provide transportation or arrange for the provision of transportation.” But Powden contended that transportation is the purview of the SU under Act 153 and that she would look up the actual wording.

According to the act on the Vermont legislature’s website, the SU is responsible to “provide transportation or arrange for the provision of transportation.” So it appears that this question will be a matter of interpretation among the various boards.

SU-wide food service

In addition to the moves to increase the number of SU-wide positions, Hammond said there is an opportunity for us “to share Michael Kennedy and bring all the food service programs under the SU and assess it back.”  Kennedy was hired by GM this year to replace the retiring Jack Carroll and supervise food service for the district’s two elementary and one high school — Cavendish and Chester-Andover elementaries and Green Mountain high.

Hammond said turning the GM job into a position that would supervise all of the food service in both districts is a new concept, a new idea. GM would hire an additional part-time person to handle Kennedy’s “non-director” work.

Hammond explains why Cafe Services is pulling out of the Ludlow Mt. Holly district

Currently, LMH uses Cafe Services, a corporate food service provider, but since the numbers of students in those schools hasdropped, the portion of the food service the LMH district was responsible for has increased and, this year, the company will be pulling out of the schools.

“If we can’t get Cafe Services to do a reasonable price for the lower number of students, it’s really our only option,” said Buckley

The Telegraph asked that if locally produced meals was a better, healthier option, why had LMH opted for using a food service for a number of years?

“We’ve (contracted out) for years because traditionally (in-house food service) run(s) in the red,” said Hammond, explaining that the amount the LMH district had to pay for food service in the past was capped at $6,000 until recently when it went up to $20,000. The capped amount is over and above what is reimbursed by the federal government.

Orzechowski said in-house food would be of better quality and it would give students a chance to cook a little bit.

Mary Alberty asked for a sample budget to add in these positions to see what the overall picture would be.

“I know the number will be pretty high, but I want to see it,” said Alberty. “This is a lot.”

“It’s a lot of money,” agreed Powden

“I worry about Ludlow people moving out because it’s expensive to live here and it’s concerning,” said Alberty.

The next TRSU board meeting will be 6 p.m. on Thursday Jan. 2 at Cavendish Town Elementary 573 Main St., Proctorsville.

The next TRSU Transportation Committee meeting will be at 6 p.m. on Monday Dec. 16 at the SU offices at Fletcher Farm, 609 Rt. 103 south in Ludlow.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Filed Under: Education NewsFeatured

About the Author:

RSSComments (0)

Trackback URL

Comments are closed.