Move to oust GM vice chair Brown fails in a tie

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2021 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Just before the end of last Thursday’s meeting in the ongoing crisis that is the Green Mountain Unified School District board of directors, member Michael Studin moved to unseat board vice chair Deb Brown for actions he called “unbecoming of someone in a position of leadership.”

The move was another salvo in the conflict between board members who disagreed on the hiring of Keith Hill as principal at Green Mountain High School.

Board member Michael Studin apologizes to Wayne Wheelock before moving to unseat Deb Brown

Studin began by apologizing to board member Wayne Wheelock “for the way some members bullied and threatened you” during the April 15. Studin called this unacceptable. Wheelock had abstained in the original vote but changed to support those trying to offer the job to Hill after he was urged by member Josh Schroeder to vote one way or the other.

“I hope it’s something I never see again,” said Studin as he continued on to the motion to remove Brown, saying he could not see how any member could “feel safe to have an individual voice with her as chairwoman (sic).”

Board chair Joe Fromberger questioned whether the state’s lack of a recall law extended to board leadership positions, but allowed the motion to go forward noting that if the motion carried he would want the vote on a new vice chair to happen at a subsequent meeting that could be warned.

Under discussion, board members Dennis Reilly, Rick Alexander and Jeannie Wade spoke in favor of the motion in general terms recalling “the things that happened.” Wade said she watched the meeting again on SAPA-TV and suggested everyone do that before making a decision.

Cavendish member Abe Gross said that rather than making the decision now, the board might go back to looking at the minutes of the meeting in question, which had been tabled for review at the request of an anonymous member.

Calling it a ‘time for healing’ board member Dennis Reilly said he did not want to ‘rehash’ the minutes of April 15.

Reilly said he didn’t think rehashing the minutes was a good idea because “we need some healing.” He went on to say he supported Studin strongly as the board at the April 15 meeting took one vote, then a second vote. Reilly called the second vote “very inappropriate…the person who forced that was the vice chair.” He again said that the board needs to start healing.

Julia Gignoux  who is a new, but as yet unsworn member from Cavendish, asked if the vote could be postponed until the next month when she will be able to vote.

Gross noted that while Brown may have pushed for the second vote, the decision rested with Fromberger as the chair and moved an amendment to Studin’s motion to unseat the chair as well.

That amendment failed and Studin’s motion failed as the board tied 4-4 with Gross and Wheelock abstaining.

Vice chair Deb Brown called the statements about her ‘character assassination’ and said she stood by her actions at the April 15 meeting.

As Fromberger moved on in the agenda, Studin said that there would be another board member coming on next month and the issue could be revisited.

After the meeting, Brown said that the disagreement had been about hiring, but it became personal that night.

“No board member, no person, should ever have to go through the public character assassination that I was put through .. I’ve done nothing wrong and I stand behind every statement and decision that I have made,” Brown told The Telegraph.  She went on to say she was contacted by many in the community and consulted with the Vermont School Boards Association on how to “rectify an unprecedented decision that was not in the best interest of our high school.”

The Telegraph  emailed Studin asking for a comment and received no response.

Early dismissal at Cavendish – or not

Another emotional issue was the question of whether to do away with Cavendish Town Elementary School’s long-standing early dismissal on Tuesdays. Those afternoons are used by the faculty for professional development. Superintendent Lauren Fierman said that she had no problem with “embedded professional development” and would like to see something like that in all the schools, but that she feels that more in-school time is better than less as we come out of a pandemic.

Teachers union co-president Jennifer Harper told the board that changing the early dismissal at Cavendish Town Elementary could be a violation of the teachers’ contract

She also called it a matter of equity for the teachers in other schools in the district who don’t get the same amount of development time. Fierman said that at another time they could revisit the idea for use across the district, but for now she felt students needed the in-person time. Brown moved to have all three GMUSD schools operating on a full-time schedule in the next school year, which begins in late August.

After a fairly long discussion in which all three Cavendish members argued against Fierman’s recommendation, board member Lois Perlah moved to table a motion until the next meeting so the board could consider more information.

After the discussion, during public comment, Jennifer Harper,  co-president of the Two Rivers Education Association that bargains for teachers, told the board that changing the early release day could be considered a unilateral change in working conditions under the teachers’ contract and said the district should think about negotiating about this.

Executive sessions

The board went into three executive sessions. The first was to evaluate GMUSD administrators and no action was taken coming out of that session. The second was to discuss contracts for non-bargaining staff. After that session, the board approved a 4 percent raise for non-bargaining staff and moved two computer techs from hourly to salary with the 4 percent raise and also voted to give two-year — rather than one year — contracts to Mike Ripley, who will return to his position as associate principal after serving a year as interim principal, and head of the GM Guidance Department Pam O’Neil.

The third closed door session was to get legal advice regarding the arbitration award in the matter of former employee Karen Surma’s employment and reinstatement. The board decided to implement the arbitration award.

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  1. Sharon Jonynas says:

    I voted for Deb Brown, and I’ll do that again if she chooses to run. She was voted in by the people of Chester, and she follows her heart and does what she thinks is best for our community. People may disagree with her, and that is their right, but to attempt to discredit her position and her character is just plain wrong.

  2. Thomas Knockenhauer says:

    I’ve known Debbie brown for 25 years. She’s smart, honest, truthful. Cares about things with passion. And that’s only some of the reasons the people of Chester voted for her and elected her to the school board. Her attention to details scares most unprepared people. She makes everyone in Chester proud of the work she does on the board.
    Elected by the people.

  3. Linda Diak says:

    I attended that school board meeting. Board members pleaded with Mr Wheelock to cast a vote, any vote, as voting on issues is what one is supposed to do as a board member. This is not bullying. Ms Brown made valid arguments. Presenting valid arguments is not bullying. The community at large disagreeing with the actions of a few board members is not bullying. It’s disagreeing.

    Bullying has been and continues to be a serious issue in our schools. To see board members throw that term around because they have been disagreed with is disheartening at best. To have a board member, a member of the VT State police no less, declare a woman made him or anyone else feel unsafe because she presented valid arguments that the community agreed with . . . this is name calling. This is an attempt to shame, to sully her reputation, to win an argument through intimidation. This is bullying.

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