GMUSD board sets graduation date as state cuts required days District reaches agreements with teachers/staff

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2020 Telegraph Publishing LLC

A singularly unsettled school year got a measure of certainty earlier this month with the passage of legislation that decided a number of questions that had vexed administrators and school boards, including the number of education days required in a year that started late on orders from Gov. Phil Scott.

On Thursday Oct. 15, Two Rivers Supervisory Union Superintendent Lauren Fierman told the Green Mountain Unified School District board that in passing Act 154 (dubbed “The Big Bill”) the Vermont legislature had agreed to reduce the school year from 175 days of instruction to 170. Thus, according to Fierman, the last day of school is set for Thursday June 17, 2021.

Fierman explained that there is less cause for uncertainty in declaring June 17 as the last day of school since schools are set up to do remote learning during snowstorms. “The only way remote learning would not be possible would be during a power outage,” said Fierman.  With that, the board set graduation for Friday June 18, 2020.

Act 154 made several other allowances for the pandemic including holding schools harmless for the reduction in pupil population — resulting from parents turning to home schooling — extending the waiver for remote teaching by teachers who aren’t licensed for that and giving school boards the power to conduct any or all of its annual or special meetings by Australian ballot.

The hold harmless portion is especially important to state school districts since it means the state education fund will pay for at least the number of students who were enrolled before the pandemic.

The holidays may bring remote education

Telling board members that this idea should be in the “back of your minds,” Fierman noted that the upcoming holidays may mean travel for students and educators and may mean quarantining upon return.

Fierman explains that holiday travel could result in quarantines which may require a period of remote learning

Fierman says the schools are looking for guidance from the Agency of Education on what to do if they wind up with staffing or safety issues as a result. While that guidance was promised for Oct. 15, it did not materialize and was then expected by Oct. 22. However, at Gov. Scott’s Oct. 20 press conference, AOE Secretary Dan French said that the agency is discussing the issue, but is not putting out guidance any time soon.

The supervisory union is planning on sending out a survey to see which staff is will travel over the holidays and might need to quarantine and it is considering sending one out one to families as well.

Fierman said that Vermont travel restrictions notwithstanding, if Grandma and Grandpa come to visit from a red area, it’s hard to imagine that people will enforce restrictions on contact.

“And if people are having close contact with people coming in from red areas, they should be quarantining,” said Fierman, “I have no desire to go to remote learning, I think we are doing really well and I don’t want to lose that momentum but I do want us to start thinking realistically about whether this is something we might have to do.”

“I would like to be sure that if it looks like we have to do it we are proactive rather than reactive,” said Fierman. “The last thing I want to do is discover on Nov. 25 that we’re not going to have enough staff in place to open and we have to scramble to make plans.”

Fierman said she was not looking for a discussion or decisions, but just to let the board know what is being discussed.

Teacher and support staff contracts ratified

Michael Studin, left and Jeff Hance served as negotiators for the Teacher and Staff contracts respectively. Telegraph file photo

Earlier this year, the GMUSD board seemed to have come to a consensus that during the pandemic it would not give raises to its teachers or support staff. The “no raises” stance came out of a joint executive session of the TRSU board with the GM and Ludlow Mount Holly boards on May 7.

While the agreement was expected to remain a secret as part of the boards’ negotiating strategy, it came out later in the meeting when Joe Fromberger spoke against a new program by noting “we’ve just decided (that times) are so bad that we don’t want to do any salary increases at all, for anybody.”

In August, in an apparent disagreement among negotiators on the Teacher Bargaining Council, both council member Marilyn Mahusky and board member Doug McBride resigned leaving board member Mike Studin as the only GM member on the council until the GM board sent Fromberger into the negotiations.

Board member Doug McBride and negotiator Marilyn Mahusky both resigned over disagreements on the teacher negotiations Telegraph file photo

On Thursday night Teacher and Support staff negotiators brought recommendations to the board that replace sick days for teachers with “absence” days that can be used for a variety of reasons and can be accumulated and a “one step” raise that amounts to around 2 percent. Support staff will receive four days of paid professional development, new policies around a sick leave bank and a “one step” raise that represents about 1.68 percent.

The step raises represent a salary schedule that accounts for years of experience and education level. “In 20/21, eligible teachers will receive one step on the salary schedule, teachers at a maximum will receive a salary increase of $500. Teachers off the salary schedule will receive a salary increase of $500 as well,” said Studin. “Overall its approximately a 2 percent increase. We had budgeted for two and a half. There were those who were more fiscally conservative who wanted less and others who were OK with that or even more so I think its a pretty happy medium.”

Studin also said that in 2021/22, teachers on the salary schedule will get another step plus one half of 1 percent in “new salary dollars.” He noted that doing a two-year contract rather than one-year saves the district the cost of legal representation during the negotiations. In past years that has run more than $50,000.

In other action

The board voted to appoint Dennis Reilly of Cavendish to fill the remaining months of the term vacated when Doug McBride resigned in late August. McBride’s term would have ended in March 2021 and Reilly will need to run for the office if he wants to continue after March.

Parah tells the board that the ‘Plymouth’ bus is out of commission

Transportation coordinator Todd Parah told the board that the bus purchased from Plymouth a few years back is not able to pass inspection without a substantial amount of work and so it is out of commission. Under the current circumstances – with no field trips and limited athletics – Parah said the district could get by with the eight new buses it purchased in 2019 but would need to replace the ailing bus at some point.

Parah said he had had one offer on the bus and board members urged him to get the best price he could for it.

The board also had a first read of a new Title IX policy that Fierman said was a model developed by the schools’ insurer to reflect changes in the law. She noted that if the board found anything they wanted changed it would have to be reviewed by the insurer’s attorneys. Fierman also said that the policy needs to be put into place sooner than later, but it was not an emergency. Fromberger called it “tedious and redundant.”

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