Ripley named GM interim principal as Fierman prepares to take helm at TRSU GM board calls for action to meet 'dire' shortfalls, SU floats administration raises

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2020 Telegraph Publishing LLC

The Green Mountain Unified School District board on Thursday approved a proposal by incoming Superintendent Lauren Fierman to reorganize the administration of Green Mountain High School with Associate Principal Michael Ripley taking on the role of interim principal. 

Michael Ripley of Cavendish was appointed interim principal of Green Mountain High

When the board came out of the executive session – which included Fierman and Business Manager Cheryl Hammond – there was an immediate motion to approve the plan, which had not yet been disclosed to the public. In response to a request for that information, board chair Joe Fromberger, of Andover, asked Fierman to give a summary of the plan.

Fierman explained that rather than looking for a new principal in “challenging times,” she proposed that they maintain the current administration at the high school for the coming year with an interim principal who would have increased supervision by the superintendent. Fierman proposed Ripley, who has been associate principal for 10 years, for the post with a number of his current duties assigned to a couple of “teacher leaders” and a guidance counselor for additional stipends.

Incoming superintendent Lauren Fierman said she proposed the arrangement to cause the least amount of disruption at a difficult time

Fierman noted that she would continue to supervise a number of the staff in the high school to stay on the path toward proficiency based education and that the overall proposal would save the district around $80,000.  In the long run, the plan would minimize disruption as well as save money, according to Fierman. After the explanation, Fierman’s proposal was put to a vote and passed unanimously.

A number of board members congratulated Ripley, who thanked the board and left the meeting early to get to his shift with the Ludlow Ambulance Service.

Ed. funding prospects ‘dire,’ SU floats raises for administrators

Finance Committee chair Deb Brown called for a budget meeting as early as possible.

Concerned about state funding shortfalls, Deb Brown, a Chester business owner who served as finance committee chair for the last budget process, asked that the board to “get a jump on the budget, like now, now, now.”

Fromberger suggested waiting until the administration and business office have something to look at, but Brown said she wanted to get a head-start, adding, “We did a better job last year, but we could do even better.”

Fromberger pointed to the budgeting information that would be needed from the state as a constraint, but Cavendish’s Doug McBride suggested doing a “contingency plan to discuss and get in front of it in case of large state shortfalls.”

Superintendent Meg Powden called the education funding outlook for next year ‘dire’

Departing TRSU Superintendent Meg Powden called the school financing situation “dire,” referring to a webinar put on by the Vermont Superintendents Association that explained the huge shortfall expected.  Powden added that it showed that state funding shortfalls may make it necessary for local districts to borrow money to fund their own schools.

McBride asked if this was borrowing in lieu of state funding that would not be coming. Powden said the school districts would have to take out a line of credit to help run the schools and make their payments to run the supervisory union. Business Manager Hammond said that they would have to build payments on the line of credit into future budgets.

Board member Rick Alexander asked if the administration had shut down spending. Powden said they would continue to talk about it

Board member Rick Alexander of Chester asked if the supervisory union and principals had already reduced the hours of personnel and identified other places where spending could be controlled “to help yourselves and to help us. Hopefully we have done that, looked at it and reduced down as much as you can. ”

“We’re still working on that Rick, we’ve had initial conversations,” replied Powden. “And Monday after break is when we’ll have a chance to all be together to talk again. People are on different schedules, but we will look at the budgets line by line.”

Alexander noted that the governor had closed the schools and told Powden that now it’s time for “you to shut it down.”

“The buildings are closed, is that what you are asking?” said Powden, who then explained that the school has contracts with its employees.

“This is unprecedented times,” said Alexander. “Even in a contract…you’re going to need to break those.”

“We can’t without guidance to do so from the governor,” replied Powden, adding that the deadline for sending Reduction in Force notices that the schools would be reducing staff was April 1 and that had passed. Such notices have been sent by April 1 in the past when the SU was uncertain about federal funding for programs like Title I. Powden closed the schools on March 14.

Board member Kate Lamphere said the board needed to dig into the finances soon because ‘it’s going to get worse.’

Board member Kate Lamphere of Cavendish said the finance committee should meet sooner than later and it  should “dig into the weeds on this because it’s going to get worse.”

“Our kids are coming back from this with far more issues than when they left. All of them, my kids, your kids, all of them. And we can’t just slash – we may need to add to help our kids be resilient through this,” said Lamphere. “We’re not looking at next year’s budget, we’re looking at what decisions do we need to make right now to survive next year.”

McBride agreed, saying that the finance committee also needs to look at the budget approved in March to see if it can be reduced to lessen the borrowing that may be necessary. “I wholeheartedly agree with Kate that we can’t slash and burn,” he said, “and that in some areas we may need to spend more to protect and enhance our children.”

Fromberger said he would check in with the SU to schedule a finance committee meeting sooner and Powden said an online Doodle Poll would be conducted to see when everyone could attend, which would be by Zoom again. At the time of publication of this article on Monday April 20, no poll had been sent to board members.

At the end of the meeting, there was a second executive session to discuss “contracts for administrators and non-bargaining support staff.” In the past such wording was used when the board was asked to approve salary increases for administrators.  Following the meeting The Telegraph confirmed that although the financial situation for the future had been described as “dire,” earlier in the meeting, behind closed doors Powden had broached the subject of raises for the principals and other staff for the 2020/2021 school year. When the board came back into public session, no action was taken by the board.

Board asks for Continuity of Learning Plan

In addition to budget questions, McBride asked whether there would be board participation in the  Continuity of Learning Plan required to be submitted to the Agency of Education.

Powden said that it had already been sent to the AOE and returned for revisions. Lamphere and Chester board member Michael Studin noted that if it was not final they would like to look at it. Powden said she would prefer to have it be final before it is sent out. Click the link above for a draft of the plan.

Also, during the comment period for board members at the beginning of the meeting, Studin praised the teachers for their work, flexibility and devotion. Noting that it’s challenging for everyone, Studin called on parents to work with teachers, and teachers to keep challenging students, pushing them as far at they can.

Attendance is about the same, but different

Fierman and Chester-Andover Elementary Principal Katherine Fogg said that during the distance learning period, attendance problems have been similar in numbers to in-person learning, but in some cases with different students.

Fierman noted that some students who have had attendance issues due to problems getting to school are now attending because of online instruction. By the same token, she added, some who were not attendance problems are having difficulties because of internet service.

Fogg said that a few families still have internet issues, but she noted that some parents are driving their children to places where there is public internet so they can keep up.

Both principals said they had staff checking on students and families to see if the schools could help.

The return of Fred Marin

While longtime board member Fred Marin decided to step down this year, since no one else in Cavendish would run for or put their name up for the post – which was advertised by the district – Marin consented to return for one year and the board voted to accept him.

“Like the song says,” quipped Studin, “you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”

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  1. Geraldine Williams says:

    I hope that as the budgets are looked over—there is consideration given to the effect of the Covid-19 virus on every taxpayer in our district. I don’t think that raises for administrators should even be considered at this time. All of us are sacrificing. Many taxpayers are not working or are having their whole financial lives upended. We hope that our board members realize the fiscal responsibility that lies with them at this time in history. As we watch several more of our state colleges fold under the financial strains of VT. Pushing for more taxation will definitely contribute to the continuing migration from VT. Very sad.

  2. Having Michael Ripley taking the helm is very positive. Mr. Ripley was one of my best high school teachers during my time at BRHS, actually, one of my most influential teachers throughout all my school years. GM will benefit. Congrats! ~Summers

  3. Kathy Estep says:

    With the savings on the wear on the buses fuel, no late bus, sports buses, water & sewer, heat and electric, there should be some savings to move to next year budget.