GM board wrangles over approval of minutes from Hill appointment

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2021 Telegraph Publishing LLC

At its first in-person monthly meeting in more than a year, the Green Mountain Unified School Board on June 17 continued its rumpus over the minutes taken during the  meeting in which Keith Hill was named high school principal.  For 45 minutes, the members wrangled over parliamentary procedures and multiple votes before approving the minutes of April 15 meeting.

Board member Dennis Reilly of Cavendish calling the content of the minutes “disgusting.” Photos by Shawn Cunningham

At issue was a request by board member Dennis Reilly of Cavendish to cut large portions of information out of the minutes of the meeting in which the board rescinded its rejection of Hill on April 6 and voted instead to hire him.

Calling the content of that meeting “disgusting,” Reilly said that the board had made a mistake and people in the future looking back on the discussion would find that “emotion overwhelmed intellect.” Reilly pointed to a threat of resignation by Superintendent Lauren Fierman and another by board vice chair Deb Brown (who later explained that her statement was one of frustration when she thought her microphone was muted) calling it “inappropriate.”

Board member Abe Gross cited the historical record as the reason to approve the minutes

Just before Reilly spoke, Brown moved to approve the minutes written by board recording secretary Amber Wilson. Reilly, instead, asked that the board approve the version he circulated to members a day or two earlier. Board member Abe Gross rose “in support of the full record” saying that historical concerns were exactly why the longer version should be approved.

Reilly’s version of minutes would cut the detailed discussions surrounding the decision, reducing the word count by about 75 percent. He also suggested that the “chat” transcript  should not be attached to the minutes. The Zoom meeting application has a function that allows participants to comment on what is happening during the meeting. Reilly asserted that the chat was not part of the board meeting while Gross thought is was “clearly public discussion.” There was also a question of whether it was legal to make the chat part of the meeting record.

In the end, the minutes produced by Amber Wilson (with a correction) were approved by the board

What followed was a series of votes – on an amendment to adopt Reilly’s changes to the original minutes, then on an amendment to detach the chat transcript from the minutes, then on an amendment to approve the minutes without the chat and another to approve the minutes with a correction and without the chat and finally on the original motion to approve the minutes. All but the last two failed but there was more.

Gross moved to require the superintendent to make a copy of the chat and save it so it would be available to Open Records Act requests. It was then noted that all documents created by the school system are public records and cannot be destroyed unless they meet certain conditions. Gross withdrew his motion and the board turned to approve another set of the minutes — May 20 — with little discussion and everyone voting in favor except Wayne Wheelock of Baltimore, who abstained.

Parent objects to board member’s use of word ‘bullying’

Speaking as a resident and parent, Venissa White took board member Michael Studin to task for using the term “bullying” to describe the interactions among board members at the April 15 meeting.

During the public comment period that followed the approval of minutes, Venissa White — who said she was speaking as a GM alum, a parent of two GM graduates, a resident and lifelong community member of Chester rather than in her capacity as director of the TRSU After School Program — took board member Michael Studin to task for his use of the term “bullying” to describe board members asking Wheelock to vote one way or the other rather than abstaining on the Hill vote.

White said the definition of bullying is a misuse of power that is repeated over time and damages its victim. She pointed to the board members as being equal and empowered, which would make bullying Wheelock impossible. White also referred to the situation in which bullying caused her own children to withdraw from  Green Mountain. That resulted in a lawsuit that is still in federal court.

White also objected to Studin’s use of the word bullying saying that it insulted the many students who have truly been bullied. She also asked Studin and other board members who feel harmed by the recent internal strife to remember that they are there to look out for the students.

Studin did not respond to White’s comment.

Board urged to heal during retreat

During both  public comment periods, GM math teacher Julie Parah spoke about the board moving forward from the current contentious atmosphere and suggested that the board retreat scheduled for Wednesday June 30 could be a time to work on that. Parah said there are many tools for bringing the board together and she would send links to those to the members.

Superintendent Lauren Fierman explains what will happen at the board retreat on June 30

Pointing out that the board had taken 48 minutes to approve meeting minutes that were filled with the emotional comments by the public reconsideration of Keith Hill as principal, Parah reminded board members that they are elected officials and asked them to talk with their constituents.

Fierman said it would be an “all agree to general goals kind of meeting” from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The venue for the meeting has not been chosen, and Fierman  noted the NewsBank was not available and they were looking for a place that was neutral ground rather than in the school. Susan Holson of the Vermont School Board Association is scheduled to facilitate the meeting, which is open to the public.

GM teacher Michelle Farrar echoed the calls for healing, urging the board to practice “restorative measures” and keep the “kids at the center of your thinking.”

Meetings to come

Dhe board also discussed the resumption of in-person meetings, with Fierman asking if members wanted to go back to the revolving  schedule where the board met in each of the schools in alphabetical order. Eric Chattergee of Okemo TV said that moving from place to place opens up the possibility of more technical glitches with the Zoom portion of the meeting.

Reilly asked why make it more challenging and suggested doing all the meetings at the high school, with a Zoom option. Board member Lois Perlah said she liked GM’s “grown up chairs.” Gross suggested going through the rotation once to see how it works.

The next regular meeting of the board is scheduled for 6 p.m. 0n Thursday, Aug. 19, at Green Mountain High and on Zoom.  The board will be taking July off unless there is pressing business.

 

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  1. B. Hart says:

    I would have to disagree. In watching what went on at that meeting there was definitely some bullying going on. Please do not insult my intelligence. I do know the definition of bullying. In this situation, where the members are all suppose to be equal, it didn’t seem it that night! It has been stated that “individual board members hold the same amount of power”. If that is true, there clearly needs to be work done. I did feel that there was bullying displayed at that specific meeting for all to see. Just my opinion.

  2. Sara Stowell says:

    Thank you Venissa, for reiterating the point that bullying does not occur among equals. In this situation, individual board members hold the same amount of power and make decisions that impact staff, teachers and students. Studin’s comment was worrisome at best – after more than a decade of anti-bullying curriculum in our school district, one would hope the board members would understand the basic definition.

    In person meetings should be rotated among communities. There are towns who have less representation than others, which does create a power dynamic that could, should the board forget that students from towns other than Chester are equally important and should be considered in ALL decisions. Zoom should continue and meetings should be filmed and posted on Okemo Valley TV for all to see. These are basic steps towards access and participation for community members. Rather than lamenting why no one participates, the board should be doing outreach to their constituents to invite them to participate.

    I would also like to recommend that the board members again consider (since this has not yet happened) either substituting in our schools or at the very least, sitting in for a day or two, to join our children, staff and teachers and help foster understanding and team work.

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