GM school board, Cavendish library trustees seek solution over safety concerns

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2019 Telegraph Publishing, LLC

There was plenty to talk about – apart from the budget/governance related rumpus – at the Dec. 12 meeting of the Green Mountain Unified School District board, including a tour and discussion of the Cavendish Library and its relationship with the adjoining elementary school.

Cavendish librarian Kata Welch shows GM board members the secure door between the library and the school.

Before the 6 o’clock meeting, several members of the board visited the library to see its layout and how it’s connected to the school building. The town’s library also serves as the elementary school library and a recent incident where a patron was charged with carrying a gun there has raised concerns about that connection.

After Cavendish Town Elementary Principal Deb Beaupre showed board members the various doors for entering the school and library, librarian Kata Welch, who is employed by the library Board of Trustees, showed GM board members around the interior and explained the locking system that keeps school children from coming into the library without being let in by library staff. In addition Welch said that someone in the library could not enter the school without a key.

Welch also explained that the library is open to students from 8 a.m. to noon everyday and that adult patrons are not allowed during those times.

Back in the school, board member Doug McBride of Cavendish said he wanted to  be sure everyone understands the situation. McBride called the library the “heart and soul of the community” noting that it was built with community funds – not town or school money. According to McBride, it has never been solely a school library. The facility is operated by an elected board and the decisions about what happens with the library are theirs.

Library board members and supporters attend the GM meeting

“It’s not our library,” said McBride, “we can’t negotiate or order them.” A number of people in the audience, including several board members, thanked McBride for his remarks.

McBride also said that during the Act 46 consolidation, community members were concerned that if the school was ever closed by the district that the building would be not be sold as well. To avoid that, a 99-year ground rent lease was created giving the library an easement across the school parking lot for access. In effect, the building and all its contents belong to the library trust.

McBride also pointed to the library’s budget of around $100,000 annually, saying that the school puts in about 2 percent – or $2,000. For that,  he said, the library excludes the public for 20 hours per week and the school gets what is essentially a free library teacher. Noting that the Chester-Andover Elementary School library budget is about $100,000, he suggested that it would not be unreasonable for the library to ask for more money.

Members of the library board — including Sandra Russo, Susan McNeely and John C. White — said they were concerned about safety, but that there were other ways to get into the school besides the library. While community members said they thought something of the original intent of the institution – to build community – was being lost, Abe Gross cautioned about turning a school into a prison and making an even less pleasant place for students.

Board chair Joe Fromberger said the school district board is committed to working with the library board to find good solutions to problems that arise.

Health care increases

Hammond explains how health care costs will rise dramatically in the 2021

TRSU Business Manager Cheryl Hammond explained how next year’s health insurance costs will be substantially higher than currently and that it will be necessary to build a reserve for Health Reimbursement Accounts. In the new setup, the school district will pay for the first $4,200 in health care expenses for its employees. That gives the district a potential liability of $296,000 and Hammond is suggesting having 75 percent of that as a reserve since not everyone will use their entire account.

McBride noted that benefits are becoming a larger and larger portion of staff salaries with double digit increases. He asked that negotiators remind the other side that there is a “total compensation package,” not just salary.

In other action

Beaupre told the board that the Cavendish Fire Department would be paying for “Stop the Bleed” kits for the emergency bags that will be in every room in the school. The kits are for injuries sustained during active shooter incidents. Beaupre identified the need after working with the Springfield Fire Department on Civilian Response to Active Shooter Events training. Beaupre said she had started a crowd funding campaign, but the “bill came to $828 and the next morning, Abe Gross called and said the Cavendish Fire Department would pay for the whole thing.”

GM Facilities Director Todd Parah tells the board about the help the school received from Ludlow Electric

The board thanked Ludlow Electric and Howard Barton for their help when a transformer at Green Mountain High School went down on a recent Wednesday. That could have meant no school for the following day for GM, but it was a larger problem, according to Board Facilities Chair Rick Alexander, because TRSU communications and its computer system is powered through that transformer. The replacement could have taken several weeks and the school would have to be powered by a generator that Facilities Director Todd Parah said would cost $15,000 per week.

GM Principal Lauren Fierman praised all involved for not stopping when the situation seemed impossible to fix on the fly. In a recent interview, Alexander said he called Barton to ask if Ludlow Electric had something to replace the transformer and Barton said they did. According to Parah, Barton said he and a crew would be at the school in an hour and 40 minutes and one hour and 35 minutes later they arrived. With GM’s electrical contractor, Kenny Cook, the Ludlow crew had the new part installed by 2 a.m. and school opened as if nothing had happened.

“They made it happen like magic,” said Fierman.

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