GMUSD board chair asserts ownership of buses LMH members nix re-registration, titling in GM name

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2022 Telegraph Publishing LLC

In a 3-3 tie vote, the board of the Two Rivers Supervisory Union  defeated a motion to re-register and re-title eight school buses in the name of Green Mountain, the district that bought them for $684,000 back in 2019. The buses are currently registered to TRSU. All three of the GM members voted in favor of the motion while all three Ludlow-Mount Holly members voted no. The tie meant the motion failed.

Board member Michael Studin asked about the livery for Green Mountain buses read Two Rivers Supervisory Union.

At the beginning of the meeting last Thursday, April 7, board member Joe Fromberger of Andover asked that an item regarding ownership of buses be added to the agenda. That opened another chapter in a controversy that began in August 2019 when GM board member Michael Studin asked why the district’s new buses were painted with a TRSU livery.

Then-Superintendent Meg Powden was not in attendance at that meeting but business manager Cheryl Hammond told Studin that busing is an SU responsibility.

“It’s a supervisory union program and, after next year, Ludlow-Mount Holly will become part of that as well because Ludlow will need busing,” Hammond had said.

A GMUSD bus displaying the repainted TRSU livery in August of 2019

The following week, Powden told The Telegraph that the livery was changed to reflect the SU’s roll in providing transportation because Act 153 of 2010 requires the supervisory union to provide transportation services. Powden also said that the Ludlow municipal bus system would no longer be providing  buses after Black River High School closed the following June and TRSU will have to provide pre-K through 12 transportation for that district.

Two months later, GM board members asked whose name was on the buses’ titles.

“We’ll have to research that…” said Powden.

Later that year, the SU proposed to hire a full-time transportation coordinator to handle all busing in both districts, assessing 25 percent of the costs to Ludlow-Mount Holly and 75 percent to GM based on the number of students in each district. At that time, Fromberger objected to what he called “another bureaucracy” and suggested that LMH simply contract with GM to provide busing. He also said that he would put the issue before the GM board when they met next.

At the Dec. 12, 2019 GM board meeting, Powden said she was dropping the SU-wide transportation management initiative and that LMH would be handling its own transportation separately. And that’s generally where the issue sat as the pandemic arrived and transportation became less of an issue.

Voluntary merger act put transportation in SU’s hands

The origin of the transportation question is Act 153 of 2010, which encouraged voluntary mergers of school districts and  created TRSU from the Rutland Windsor and Windsor South West Supervisory Unions. The voluntary merger law was a precursor of Act 46, which at first incentivized, then compelled school districts to consolidate governance. In Act 153, the Vermont General Assembly, defined the duties of an SU, which included providing “services for the benefit of member districts.”

Joe Fromberger asserts the GM ownership of school buses at the TRSU board meeting

Among those services was to “provide transportation or arrange for the provision of transportation or both in any districts in which it is offered within the supervisory union.”

According to Vaughn Altemus, who was appointed by state Secretary of Education Armando Vilaseca as the department’s Act 153 advisor to work with school boards and administrators in implementing the voluntary mergers, the point was to enable districts to devise efficient school transportation systems.

In an interview in late March, Altemus told The Telegraph that AOE’s viewpoint was that ultimately the SU needs to run transportation but the agency “did not push the way it is done too hard, which left some ambiguity which ought to have been worked out.”

Nevertheless, while the SU has the responsibility for transportation, “…an SU can’t seize assets of a school district,” said Altemus.

The Telegraph asked the AOE to provide someone to speak to the issue several times, but no one was made available by publication.

‘We serve at the pleasure of the boards’

Superintendent Lauren Fierman saying that there has been no on-the-record direction from state authorities

In January, at a TRSU meeting the issue returned when Fromberger objected to the supervisory union capitalizing the buses as its asset rather than recognizing them as GM property. Among Fromberger’s arguments were that GM contracted to buy buses and borrowed the money for them, that the TRSU never voted to buy the buses and that since the SU is not a municipality, it cannot take property by eminent domain.

In March,  Superintendent Lauren Fierman said that no one at the state level would go on the record with a definitive answer concerning who owns the buses. “But” she added, “the discussions we’ve had indicate that this is how some other people handled it. I’m aware there are other opinions…that’s completely valid. The school board can direct us to make changes. We think that this is the appropriate way to (handle transportation) but we serve at the pleasure of the school boards.”

Fierman noted that it would not cost a lot of money to change the registrations, but she would not spend “a couple thousand dollars” to repaint the names on the buses.

Fromberger said that when he had finished his research, he would put the issue on an agenda and that led to the April 7 vote.

On Monday April 11, Fierman told The Telegraph that the SU had asked its attorney if there was a definitive answer for this but that there is not. She also said the buses do indeed belong to the GM district and whenever someone asks to use them – the After School Program for example – the SU says they have to pay GM for that use.

Asked what would happen if the GM board were to vote to direct the SU to re-register the buses in the district’s name Fierman said, “That’s a good question.”

“I want to do what we are supposed to do,” she continued. “Clearly the finances of transportation go through the supervisory union, but in the absence of a definitive answer, I want to register the buses however the board wants.”

Fromberger told The Telegraph that he would discuss the issue in his regular report on the TRSU board at the next GMUSD meeting, to be held at 6 p.m. on Thursday, April 21 at the GMHS Library, 718 Rt. 103 South.

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  1. Stu Lindberg says:

    “Voluntary mergers”. Now that is funny. Not really.