Cavendish member objects to GM board changes to Zoom meetings Lisa Sanders to join Cavendish representation on GM board

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2023 Telegraph Publishing LLC

While the Green Mountain Unified School District Board finally filled the open seat for a Cavendish representative at its Thursday, Aug. 17 meeting, another issue came to light that has the potential to further inflame the relationship among the district’s towns: restricting public comment to those attending the meetings in person.

Steve Perani speaking to the Cavendish board in July, Image courtesy of Okemo Valley TV

At its meeting two months earlier, the board tied in two paper ballots on who would replace Cavendish representative Dennis Reilly, who had resigned when the board voted that the Chieftain name used by the high school sports teams did not violate a policy against discriminatory school branding. Those candidates were Lisa Sanders and Megan Jones. In the interim, Cavendish was left with just two of three representatives on the board. At the suggestion of Lauren Fierman, superintendent of the Two Rivers Supervisory Union, the board asked the Cavendish Select Board to make a recommendation, which it had declined to previously.

Then, on July 17, the Cavendish Select Board heard from Jones and Sanders and GM board member Steve Pareni of Cavendish, who noted that both he and Kate Lamphere, who also represents Cavendish on the school board, the Cavendish Elementary Parent Teacher Group, and former representative Reilly endorsed Sanders. The Cavendish board then voted unanimously to recommend her.

Board chair Deb Brown told the meeting they would just be returning to pre-Covid practices

Some point between then and Aug. 17, Jones pulled her name from consideration and the GM board voted Sanders into the position.

Then, Lamphere asked the board to discuss an apparent change in the way Zoom will be used during meetings, which she indicated negatively impacts the residents of Cavendish. Lamphere was referring to an email that board chair Deb Brown sent out to board members on how she would be running meetings in the future, including that no one using Zoom to attend the meetings would be allowed to speak. That would also include board members, who would not be allowed to vote if attending remotely.

Objecting, Lamphere said the decision was made unilaterally, without discussion or input from the community.

Brown defended the decision, saying, “No, that’s the way the board was before Covid, that’s how the board operated. So that was just going back to the practice.”

Kate Lamphere – seen here attending a GM board meeting remotely in May of this year – said that one town should not benefit from access more than others. Telegraph File photo.

Lamphere countered, saying that no town should benefit from access more than others. In the past, the board has met at each of its three schools on a round robin basis, but in the last few years – due in part to the audio visual access provided by Zoom, almost all meetings have been held in Chester.

Brown told Lamphere that they could have a discussion at the board’s Sept. 21 meeting or that she could move to put it on the current agenda but that would require a two-thirds vote rather than a simple majority. According to Roberts Rules of Order, before an agenda is adopted, a change takes only a simple majority. After the board has agreed to the agenda, changing it requires the larger margin.

Lamphere said that the September date was fine.

When the agenda approached the public comment portion, Brown first made a statement: “As of May 11, 2023, President Biden declared the Covid public emergency to be over. In light of this, we will resume prior board practices. Beginning with our Sept. 21 meeting, the Zoom option will be for observation only. Both for board members and for the public. Any member of the public who would like to be included in the public comment section of our meeting will need to be in-person.”

“I feel – and I would imagine that the rest of the board would agree — that it’s still very important to keep the Zoom option available to keep our meetings transparent and accessible in real time for the public,” said Brown. It was not clear whether Zoom would be available on Sept. 21 for the discussion on changes to uses of Zoom.

A very, very long facilities report

Two Rivers Facilities Director Todd Parah began his monthly report by saying it was going to be a long one. He pointed to problems at each of the schools and asked for the funds to correct — or at least ameliorate —  them.

Facilities Director Todd Parah explains the challenges the schools are facing

At Cavendish, Parah said playground construction is nearly finished except for one piece of equipment that will arrive later this year. On the other hand, he pointed to problems with leakage in the heating system that they could fix now and avoid risking not having heat in the winter. The board agreed to spend $16,000 from the capital reserve.

The board also agreed to spend $10,000 to help the Green Mountain Softball League fix one of its fields so the girls team will be able to play on it in the spring. Parah said there were few good options.

July flooding at Chester-Andover Elementary damaged the double-wide classroom building known as the White House as well as playground flooring.  Parah praised Rick Cloud for his work in restoring the chips that washed away from the playground and thanked EEI for fixing a cover on the school’s underground fuel tank, noting that it did not take on water. Floods moved the White House, which sits next to the river, on its block foundation. It’s home to the school’s music program as well as physical and occupational therapy.

Parah complained that the school’s insurance provider and FEMA are in a standoff on who will pay for the damage and Business Manager Cheryl Hammond said that FEMA won’t pay until the insurance claim is denied. Parah, Fierman and  Joanna Blane, who is heading into her first year as CAES principal, told this to Acting Education Secretary Heather Bouchey when she visited the school earlier that day. Bouchey also visited Cavendish Town Elementary to look at the playground construction.

Education Secretary Heather Bouchey talks with Blane, Fierman and Parah at Chester-Andover Elementary

Parah had good news about CAES, as well. The new egress windows have been installed and, Parah said, they look good and  give an added measure of safety. He added that the new air handler with better filtering is near completion and will provide air quality nearly as good as a new school.

Parah said that at Green Mountain, parts needed to repair the elevator won’t arrive until September, but the school has permission to shut the elevator down for 30 days at the beginning of the school year.

Beating the clock on PCB testing and testing to see how well new air filtering units will reduce levels to below the threshold that would force closing off portions of the school took a great deal of work and help. Calling it a “worst case” scenario, Parah said the school has made plans to relocate up to 23 classrooms if the PCB levels are not acceptable. Fierman said that GM is large enough to accommodate such problems as it did when CAES had to move in there for a year while the school was repaired after a water main break.

Parah believes that the filters will bring the levels down and minimize the disruption though. Parah called this “Step 5 of about 100.”

State decision on ‘Chieftain’ name sooner than later

While Bouchey was visiting CAES, The Telegraph asked her when the high school could expect a decision on complaints made by several individuals and organizations that the school district had violated its own policy in keeping the Chieftain name. Bouchey said that the fact that complaints were not made as one group and had to be reviewed individually had slowed the process but she expects a determination in weeks rather than months.

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  1. This is ridiculous -why limit the voices of the community? What are you afraid of? This is an equity issue.

  2. Shayna Kalnitsky says:

    While the pandemic may be over, the idea that the district would create a barrier that prevents stakeholders and community attending is disappointing. Some people cannot attend and the Zoom option allows for increased voice and participation from people whose votes and taxes support the school district. This is what community engagement is all about.

  3. Carrie Roy King says:

    This new rule by Ms. Brown represents another turn away from equal access and the school board’s commitment to equity in education. Because working families often have the most difficulty attending a school board meeting at 6:30 p.m. on a weekday evening, the voices the Board will hear in public comment will skew away from those families whom the Board should be hearing the most. Additionally, teachers who desire to participate in public meetings are often unable to do so under an in-person requirement like the one Ms. Brown has decreed.

    Remote commenting allows increased access to public meetings and should be continued not removed. Encouraging citizen participation at all public board meetings is key to healthy public institutions. Zoom commenting has been important for students, who often can’t drive plus parents and board members who face various scheduling issues attending in-person. Why would Ms. Brown choose to make it much harder to receive any public participation at board meetings? It appears that making this decision is just another tactic to continue to silence dissent.

  4. Beverly Hart says:

    I am in disagreement with the Board’s decision to end the comments for people on Zoom. I for one, don’t have a way to get to the meetings, so I find it very helpful to be able to attend via Zoom. Rarely, do I have something to say, but I would like to be able to have that option if needed. Not all of us can attend in person. Last year, at one of the meetings, my husband had to miss a day of work so he could attend in person with me. But just a reminder, again, not everyone has the option of attending in person. The answer of “we are going back to the way it was before Covid” is lame. There are many things that Covid changed and this may just be one of them. Be happy that you have people attending and grateful for their input. Positive and negative.

  5. Sara stowell says:

    The community of Cavendish parents, teachers and staff and neighbors stepped up to build the new playground. Teachers took the lead and should be commended for their amazing work to bring us all together to put this in place. The Board members from Chester should come see – or help, or both.

  6. Eddy Braucht says:

    I personally do not agree with the decision of not allowing public comment via zoom. This disproportionately impacts Cavendish residents and its board members. Given the conduct of the board chair in past board meetings, it is ever more apparent of Deb Brown’s bias against Cavendish, its residents and our children.