CHESTER, Vt. – GMUSD board meeting Thursday, Nov. 21 lasted nearly four hours dealing with several major issues including pushback on the Frank Kelly sabbatical approval and a discussion of a recent Fletcher Community Library incident that necessitated changes to library hours.
GMUHS teacher Brett Mastrangelo spoke early in the meeting, during public comments. He had first attended the Nov. 12 Finance Committee meeting to express his concerns over how Act 46 funds had been spent and the approval of CAES teacher Frank Kelley sabbatical request. He also asked how an increase of 40 students, incoming Black River Middle and High School students, would be budgeted for. At the time, he was asked to present to the GMUSD board, despite both boards being comprised of all the same members.
At the Thursday night meeting, Mastrangelo again asked how the transition funds had been used following the Act 46 merger. He suggested the money should have been used strictly for teacher and student activities versus replacing the boiler and adding fencing for Cavendish Town Elementary School. He also questioned the approval of Frank Kelley sabbatical at the last board meeting, which he suggested would translate into a $100,000 impact on the budget. He pointed to increased costs that would also likely affect the budget with an additional 40-60 students from Black River.
Board Chair Joe Fromberger responded that the Legislature intended that the funds be used for any unexpected expense that arose because of the merger activities. Superintendent Meg Powden noted that an agenda item had been added to discuss the issue, and Fromberger said they would discuss it “if you want to wait around for a while.”
When the agenda item came up hours later, Fromberger reiterated that his research into the Act 46 issue was that the money was for unintended expenses that arose out of the merger activities. He said the district received $150,000 and that the funds were shared between the Ludlow-Mount Holly and Green Mountain district. He did not provide details on how it was spent.
Moving to the subject of approval of sabbatical, Fromberger said it was not clear what the intention of Mastrangelo comment was – making sure the board be more deliberate in future; asking for a poll of how each board member voted and why; or to ask the board to reconsider their decision.
On the issue of possibly reconsidering the outcome of the vote, Fromberger pointed to a Robert’s Rules point of order which would require a board member to ask for reconsideration of the vote and that a two-third majority would be required to overturn the decision.
Board member Mike Studin stated that his approval was largely based on the recommendation from the CAES principal and Superintendent Powden.
Board member Marily Mahusky said that she had the benefit of having been to have negotiations over the years. Since a sabbatical was a negotiated part of teachers’ contracts, it was important to honor those provisions. “As a School Board, if we are negotiating, we should be negotiating in good faith,” she said.
Board member Fred Marin, a former teacher, also said that he knew the opportunity was contractual. “He’s got the right to request this and unless there’s a compelling reason we really can’t deny it,” he said.
Board member Doug McBride said that he voted yes but in hindsight wished he had been more considerate and thoughtful. He added that he wished Powden insisted that Kelley would be contractually obligated to return for at least two years after the sabbatical, which is under the stated description of a sabbatical leave.
CAES librarian Kim Farrar spoke emotionally from the floor, saying every teacher at CAES was upset over the decision, and she felt that little thought went into it from the board. “Where is the equity for teachers in this,” she asked. “We feel abused and neglected and overlooked and undermined.” The impact on the budget includes the year paid off for Kelley and the need to pay a teacher full-time to take his place.
Sue Willis also spoke, saying that PARAs and support staff have asked for professional development and were told there was no money for that. She said this decision was “a slap in the face for us.”
Fromberger said that he appreciated everyone’s comments and they were “properly chastened” in the way the School Board approached that recommendation and its approval but also made it clear there would be no revote.
“I just hope in future there’s a way to bring up concerns that doesn’t mean waiting a week and then waiting four hours,” Mastrangelo said. He said he felt frustrated both last week and at this meeting. He also said that his concerns over the increasing number of students and how they will be budget for were not discussed.
Board member Deb Brown then referred him back to the next Finance Committee meeting for further discussion on that issue.
Another important topic centered on a recent incident at the Fletcher Community Library, which is attached to CTES. On Friday, Oct. 25, the library assistant noticed a town library patron was carrying an unloaded gun. The police were called the next day and the patron’s library privileges were suspended until the investigation was completed.
Following the incident, there were several meetings with Library Board President Bob Evans, CTES principal Deb Beaupre, librarian Kata Welch, additional safety consultants, and TRSU administrators. The result of the meetings were that the library hours have been changed so each morning the library is open to students from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. and then open to the community from 12-7 p.m. On Saturdays, the library is open from noon to 4 p.m. The library doors are also locked so that no students can enter the library from the school after noon.
Beaupre has agreed that as they consider more permanent solutions to the issue, the short-term changes will work through this year. Beaupre expressed her focus on student safety first and foremost and discussed her initial reaction “as a principal thinking about this particular space and how it makes us vulnerable, the pragmatic thing for me is that the library should go.” She admitted, however, that that’s a bigger conversation.
Librarian Kata Welch said, “The thought of the library leaving the school grounds, I think would be a tragedy. We are a huge resource for the community.”
Susan McNealy from Library Board said that as they continue to talk further and that the board will entertain any suggestions that the GMUSD may have; but they can’t guarantee they would accept them. She said that student safety was paramount, and they want to make this work for everybody.
McBride questioned a policy that students could not access the library after school hours without parental permission. There was also discussion about students no longer being able to have recess in front of the library.
As more issues were discussed, the board agreed to table the discussion until the Dec. 12 GMUSD meeting, which would take place at CTES at 6:30 p.m. and give the School Board the opportunity to look at the layout.