TRSU boards search for savings amid Covid crisis Telegraph: School boards again violate Open Meeting Law

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2020 Telegraph Publishing LLC

In an effort to keep teacher salary negotiations a secret, the Two Rivers Supervisory Union board and its two constituent school district boards decided to hold a joint executive session on the topic last Thursday.

But the closed door confab went for naught as one member spilled the beans in an open session on hiring for a new SU-wide program, revealing not only the boards’  decision not to give anyone raises but also that they had made a decision in the session, which is a violation of Vermont’s Open Meeting Law.

In questioning a new TRSU program, board member Joe Fromberger inadvertently let it slip that the decision had been made in executive session

The law, which is intended to ensure that the public’s business is done in public to the greatest extent possible, prohibits bodies from making decisions in private. With the exception of securing real estate options, the law requires boards to come out of executive session to vote on their decisions in public. In this case, according to people in the room, the boards did a “poll” of members and directed negotiators to say “no raises” in collective bargaining sessions this spring.

Coming out of executive session, TRSU board chair Paul Orzechowski said that no action would be taken, but when that board turned to new business at its regular meeting and Superintendent Meg Powden recommended a hire for the SU’s new Social and Emotional Learning Center, board member Joe Fromberger of Andover objected, saying that he was wary of another new program.

Last year, the SU began an autism program that it said would save money but Fromberger said it did not. “I’m just very reluctant to start on another program in times that we’ve just decided are so bad that we don’t want to do any salary increases at all, for anybody.” On a recording of the meeting, someone can be heard saying “Oh my God,” in the background.

This is one more in a string of violations that The Telegraph has reported on over the past few years and has occurred even after all three boards — TRSU, Green Mountain and Ludlow-Mt. Holly — have participated in training sessions on the law with the Vermont School Boards Association.

Financial woes order of the day

Faced with shortfalls in the education fund in the next year amid the Covid-19 crisis, which has severely strained the economy, and with questions about the following year, the Green Mountain Unified School District board asked the administration of the schools and TRSU to prepare “pro forma” budgets showing what the schools would look like with cuts of 10 percent and 15 percent. Those percentages represent be cuts of $1.4 million and $2.1 million respectively.

But saying that such cuts would “devastate our schools,” school administrators returned to a May 5 Finance committee meeting with a third option, which they said was undesirable, but manageable while maintaining programming  for students. Those cuts added up to $677,168 or 4.8 percent. To reach the 10 percent mark would mean eliminating all sports, other co-curricular offerings and transportation, which add up to a little more than $465,000. Cutting the number of paraprofessionals from 19 full-time equivalents to 11 would save an additional $318,000 and several other cuts including repair and maintenance, furniture and fixtures, field trips and education supplies would bring the cuts to 14.18 percent.

Soon-to-be TRSU Superintendent Lauren Fierman told the board that a school is a public service not a for-profit business.  “While we are mindful of our need to spend in a fiscally responsible way, our objective is not about profit,” said Fierman. “Our objective is to provide a free and appropriate education for our students.”

Incoming Superintendent Lauren Fierman explained the cuts she believed the schools could live with and those that would be ‘disastrous.’ Telegraph file photo

Fierman noted that voters in early March passed the budget by a wide margin, which showed support from the community to spend for the schools. She also told the board that the schools would try to reduce spending to soften the impact on the community, but that if they cut further, they risked losing the tuition from students coming from outside the district including those from Ludlow and Mt. Holly.

“I’m hoping that we can look at this and talk about it and rather quickly put it behind us so we can turn to the budget this committee was called on to start so early and that’s for 2021/22 where all possibilities are on the table,” she said.

Among the cuts presented was the reconfiguration of administrative structure at GM, several hires that cost less than budgeted, reduction in money set aside for raises, elimination of a new K-3 position at CAES, reductions in paras and summer custodial work, as well as some personnel situations that were still being worked out.

If September rolls around and students are still not able to physically attend school, it is possible that some of the second tier cuts – co-curriculars and transportation — could also be cut.

For many board members, the idea is to save enough to have a surplus that could cushion the shocks of the next year, but state Secretary of Education Dan French recently said, “everything is on the table” so school districts cannot rule out the state coming back and “recapturing” surpluses.

Board member Kate Lamphere of Cavendish asked if the TRSU front office would also be looking toward spending cuts. Superintendent Meg Powden said that cuts have been made over the past few years and that “we’re a pretty lean operation.”

In the end, no directive was given except to try to save wherever it’s possible and the board turned its attention to beginning the process for the 2021/22 budget.

Fogg runner-up for Chittenden school post

Announcement of the community forum for principal finalists at Barstow Memorial

Two months after receiving a two-year contract to continue as principal of Chester-Andover Elementary School, Katherine Fogg was in the running for the same post at the Barstow Memorial School in Chittenden, just north of Mendon.

Barstow’s principal had been hired to work for the Rutland City Schools and in April a search to replace her began.

Fogg’s application was among 23 that the Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union received and, on May 7, Fogg was introduced to the community as one of the two finalists at a forum held online. Fogg has been principal of CAES for five years.

On Monday May 11 the Barstow board met and selected the other choice, David St. Germain.


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