GMUSD board actions on mascot appeal lacking in transparency

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2023 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Anyone hoping for a bit more clarity on the issue of the Green Mountain Unified School District’s hiring a law firm for the appeals of its decision that the use of the name Chieftain does not violate its own policy would be disappointed after last Thursday’s board meeting.

The board’s agenda listed two items in reference to the appeal.

Attorneys Mick Leddy, right, and Chris Leopold wait to speak with the board in executive session. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

One item was an executive session in which the board would hear from the attorneys who have represented the school in the matter. Who exactly authorized their hire remains a mystery and the fees were a surprise to most of the board until The Telegraph reported on them on Sept. 13. On Sept. 26, a majority of the board decided to tell the lawyers to stop representing the school in the mascot/branding appeal but agreed to hear the lawyers regarding the work they were doing in the case.

The second  item — which was to follow the executive session — was described as an “Update on Nondiscriminatory Mascot and School Branding Appeal.” Many hoped that the update would fill in the blanks, but that was not to be.

Vice Chair Adrienne Williams, sitting in for an ailing chair Deb Brown, who attended the meeting on Zoom, was asked by board member Lisa Sanders of Cavendish if there was a public update on the mascot appeal. Williams said that because the information was discussed in executive session she did not “know how to form an update to the public.”

Vice Chair Adrienne Williams said she couldn’t form an update since the information was from an executive session

In the course of reporting this article, The Telegraph has learned that the lawyers will continue to represent the school board but will no longer mount a defense of the board stand on the Chieftain mascot. This was confirmed by several people close to the situation.

Board Chair Deb Brown told The Telegraph that “to my understanding Mick Leddy is still representing the district.” Asked how the appeal was being handled, Brown wrote that that “would be privileged as it was discussed in Executive Session.”  As to whether the board members fully understand the circumstances around hiring the lawyers, Brown said, “I believe they do, but I can’t speak for everyone.”

When asked by The Telegraph if they fully understood the circumstances of  hiring the lawyers, some board members reached for comment said yes and some said no.

Early on Monday morning, Oct. 23, The Telegraph sent an email to Interim Education Secretary Heather Bouchey and AOE General Counsel Emily Simmons asking what has caused the delay in holding the hearing and what the timetable is for the hearing going forward. As of the publication of this article on Wednesday Oct. 25, no reply had been received. A similar request to Simmons on Oct. 3 has also received no reply.

A new majority emerges

Lisa Sanders of Cavendish moved to add mascot/branding items to the agenda

One thing that came out of Thursday’s meeting was a new voting balance. After the resignation of Dennis Reilly in May, the board had meetings in which votes tied at 5 to 5. But last week, with the addition of Lisa Sanders of Cavendish, several votes went 6 to 4 with the chair not voting.

During the meeting Sanders said that prior to the meeting she had asked for several additions to the agenda but they were not.  She then moved to add to the agenda “Retiring the Chieftains Name” and “Handling of Funds to Hire an Attorney.”  Both of those passed by the 6-4 margin. Board member Jeff Hance moved to add a discussion of recent social media posts. But that motion was defeated 6-4 and the newly adjusted agenda was approved by the same margin.

When the executive session for the mascot/branding came around, Hance moved to go into the session with the two lawyers but only have Two Rivers Superintendent Lauren Fierman in the closed door meeting for a portion of the time. But board member Kate Lamphere moved to amend that motion by striking the clause that limited Fierman’s time in the meeting. That passed 6-4.

That majority, which is also the group that pulled the plug on paying the lawyers  defending the mascot before the state, are Kate Lamphere of Cavendish, Josh Schroeder of Chester, Steve Perani of Cavendish, Katie Murphy of Chester, Lois Perlah of Chester and Lisa Sanders of Cavendish.

Board asks TRSU to analyze cost, benefit of schools leaving GMUSD

Board member Scott Kendall asked for an analysis of Cavendish leaving the GMUSD

Andover board member Scott Kendall told the meeting that he has asked Fierman for public records and had been denied. Fierman said that Kendall was welcome to public information, but he had also asked for analysis and that for her to direct staff to take on extra work would require the full board to approve.

Kendall had asked for analysis of whether it would be advantageous for Cavendish to “redistrict” to the Ludlow-Mount Holly District and if there would be an advantage or disadvantage to LMH or GMUSD.

Fierman said she had no problem with providing the information and analysis if she was directed to by the entire board but that business manager Cheryl Hammond would be doing the work and as budget season is coming up the analysis might not get done so quickly. Members felt that this would be helpful for the restructuring committee work ahead.

TRSU business manager Cheryl Hammond said she could assemble figures, but to analyze them she needed to the assumptions the board wanted to use

Hammond said she could begin compiling numbers, but she would need to know the assumptions for analyzing them. For example, she pointed to transportation as an issue since  Ludlow Elementary School only has one small bus. Cavendish board member Kate Lamphere asked why they were only talking about Cavendish, since that seems like they were “trying to kick us out.”

Members agreed that other scenarios should be explored as well. With that amendment, the request to provide information and analysis passed unanimously.

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