3 GM board members eschew re-election, annual meeting in flux

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2020 Telegraph Publishing LLC

On the evening following a snowstorm that normally would have cancelled all school activities, the Green Mountain Unified School District board and finance committee met remotely last Thursday with three members announcing they would not run for re-election and the board deciding to hold a Zoom annual meeting, which the Vermont Secretary of State’s office later says is not allowed.

Annual meeting date set, format remains elusive

Last year – before the pandemic – the board set the annual meeting for Thursday, Feb. 25 but since then the Vermont legislature passed Act 162 that gives the board the option of holding a traditional annual meeting (observing all state Covid-19 regulations surrounding gatherings) or moving all the questions that will need to be voted on to the Australian ballot.

Board chair Joe Fromberger said he would seek advice from the state on how to hold the meeting. Meeting photos courtesy of SAPA-TV

The board discussed the options and decided to have an informational meeting via Zoom at 6 p.m. on Feb. 25 apparently followed by the annual meeting at which attendees will be able to make nominations and vote any articles that are not voted by Australian ballot on Town Meeting Day, which is Tuesday March 2. The board did not discuss the details of how it would conduct nominations and voting or verify the residence or voter registration status of those attending

On Tuesday, The Telegraph asked the Secretary of State’s office what was the recommended way to conduct such a meeting and learned that generally speaking a Zoom annual meeting would not be legal.

According to Jenny R. Prosser, the office’s General Counsel and director of Municipal Assistance, “As I understand it, the generally applicable local elections laws do not currently permit municipalities to hold their annual meetings via Zoom or other remote/electronic means. And, SoS authority does not extend to empowering towns to hold their annual meetings via electronic means. That, I think, would require additional legislative action, unless a particular municipality has a charter or special legislation with applicable language.”

On Tuesday afternoon, when GM board chair Joe Fromberger learned of Prosser’s opinion, he told The Telegraph he would like to read it and get in touch with the Secretary of State’s office for guidance on how the board should proceed.

Three school board veterans stepping aside

Board member Jeff Hance tells the board he’ll step down in March

Jeff Hance of Chester told the board he wanted to give enough notice for people to consider running for the board. Fred Marin and Kate Lamphere, both of Cavendish, followed suit. Marin and Lamphere have tried to get off the board in the past, but have agreed to continue serving because of an absence of candidates from Cavendish.

Now six seats will be up for election, including those held by Dennis Reilly of Cavendish, Deb Brown of Chester and Wayne Wheelock of Baltimore. Act 162 – enacted last October – says anyone wishing to run for the board need not collect the signatures of voters in their towns to get on the ballot, but a consent form has to be filed with the town clerk.

Bus purchase out, extra admin positions remains

During the brief meeting of the Finance Committee – which is comprised of the full board – the panel reviewed some lines including how the budget might be affected by the outcome of the principal search at Green Mountain and the review of the administrative structure at the district’s two elementary schools.

The elementary schools — Cavendish Town and Chester-Andover — share a principal and an assistant principal, but if they returned to the previous structure, the district would have to shoulder another principal’s salary and benefits. Business Manager Cheryl Hammond said those added expenses have been left in the budget pending a decision.

GM Transportation Coordinator Todd Parah explains why he thinks a ninth bus is needed

But the committee’s attention was caught by the proposed purchase of a ninth school bus to replace a used one bought from the Plymouth school district and no longer able to pass state inspection.

Transportation coordinator Todd Parah told the panel that not having the ninth bus could mean telling a sports team or field trip it can’t travel on a given day. “We’d have to say no, and we’ve never done that in the five years I’ve been here,” said Parah.

The district purchased eight buses in 2019 at an average cost of $85,000 each and Hammond told the committee she had put $19,000 in the budget as a payment on the proposed ninth bus.

After some discussion, Fromberger moved that the bus purchase be removed from the budget. The 11-member panel voted a five to five tie that was broken by committee chair Deb Brown voting to remove the bus from the budget.

CAES/CTES Principal Katherine Fogg wants to bring Baltimore and Chester students to Cavendish.

One side discussion was sparked by CAES/CTES Principal Katherine Fogg, who asked that bus routes be changed so that children from Baltimore could come to Cavendish rather than Chester-Andover.  Fogg said that “a couple” of Baltimore families had said they wanted to attend Cavendish but they couldn’t because of transportation. Noting the smaller class sizes, Fogg also said she would like to pursue getting more children from CAES into Cavendish.

Fromberger suggested a cost-benefit analysis on running an bus to Baltimore, saying the cost of operating another bus would be “enormous.” Parah noted that changing a route would mean that some children would spend much more time on the bus each day than now.

Superintendent Lauren Fierman said that the administration had not yet looked at the idea but noted that it would have to benefit more than one family to be worth the expense. Currently CAES has 239 students while CTES has 78.

Two principals or three for the three GM schools?

Fierman told the board that the search committee for the principal position at Green Mountain has met and that applications are coming in. The date for closing off new applications is Dec. 28 and 12 have been received so far. She said the committee is formulating interview questions and she has sent a survey to GM faculty to gauge their feelings regarding the current situation and to see what seems to be working well and what could use improvement.

Fierman also surveyed and spoke in person with faculty and staff of the Chester-Andover and Cavendish elementary schools to see how they feel about the administrative structure of those schools, with a principal in one school and an assistant principal in another.

She told the board she encountered a small number who were very unhappy, a small number who were very happy and a majority who felt some things worked well while others didn’t and that an overall picture was hard to tease out.

Superintendent Lauren Fierman outlines her efforts in reviewing administrative structures in the district

“Most felt they could connect with administration if they needed to,” said Fierman but what was “loud and clear” was that most wanted a principal in each school. She noted however that based on her discussions it seemed more of a “want rather than a need.”

Fierman said she thought the first three months of the new structure had gone “reasonably well” but that three months was not enough on which to base a decision and she asked the board to continue with one principal and one assistant for two schools through the 2021/22 school year. The board agreed, which should mean that the additional appropriation put into the budget if the schools returned to two principals and one assistant can be dropped. This was not discussed.

The meeting ended with an executive session to discuss the elementary school administration structure that the board had voted to continue for an additional year earlier in the meeting. No actions were taken as a result of the session according to minutes posted on the TRSU website.

In addition, the next meeting of the board was scheduled for 6 p.m. on Thursday Jan. 14 via Zoom rather than the regular meeting date to accommodate approvals of the warning for voting on the budget. There will also be a finance committee meeting that evening starting at 5 p.m. also via Zoom

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