GMUSD Board frustrated with TRSU over audit

CHESTER, Vt. – Tensions between the Green Mountain Union School District Board and the Two Rivers Supervisory Union were apparent at the Feb. 20 meeting over the subject of the recently completed TRSU audit.

The GMUSD board had put together an audit committee, led by board member Doug McBride, with the intention of participating in the audit process. However, the audit was completed and presented to the board without any input from the committee, an oversight that frustrated McBride. “When an audit committee is in place, and they are not able to participate in it, I think very problematic and I’ll use the word disturbing,” he said. He also pointed out that the committee is listed on the back of every agenda and is something the TRSU is aware of.

McBride harkened back to the board retreat earlier in the year, saying that the TRSU performs an administrative function on behalf of the board but that the board own the financials and the audit. He said that if the board isn’t going to own their own financials, then they should disband the committee and stop wasting the committee’s time.

Board member Marilyn Mahusky said she didn’t understand what the role of the audit committee was, but board member Michael Studin asked why there was no coordination from the supervisory union during the audit.

Cheryl Hammond, finance director for TRSU, attempted to defend her position saying there no definition of what TRSU’s responsibility was in getting back to the committee. She said that the TRSU has the responsibility to make sure everything is in place before it is reviewed by other people and is reflection of their work.

McBride countered that the audit committee had put in writing what they wanted to do, which included just a few simple steps: a chance to meet with auditor before the audit is final, a chance to ask questions, and a chance to review the draft audit. “If you choose to ignore it, it [the document outlining steps] should have been sent back to us,” he said.

Board chair Joe Fromberger intervened when McBride challenged Hammond, directly asking her, “Why didn’t you involve the audit committee?”

Fromberger reminded the board to address all questions to the committee chairman. He then defused the situation, saying the board would table the discussion until they could put in on the agenda at a future meeting.

Later in the meeting, McBride asked several pointed questions concerning the audit and other finances and which included questions about what the minimal dollar amount the auditors looked at, as well as who draws money from the line of credit, and timing of withdrawals and repayments. When interrupted by Mahusky, who asked if he could meet with Hammond to discuss, Studin said that this questioning could have been done within the Audit Committee. In lieu of that, McBride was asking these questions now.

In other business, the Superintendent Search Committee is nearly complete with the GMUSD board electing Kate Lamphere and Michael Studin as their representatives. TRSU determined the makeup of the committee in their last meeting, which will include a total of 12 participants – two from each district board, one principal from each district, two central staffers, one teacher from each district, and one student from each district.

In addition to Lamphere and Studin, the two board members from Ludlow-Mount Holly Unified Union School District are Kelly Tarbell and Dan Buckley; the two principals are CTES Principal Deb Beaupre and Mount Holly Elementary School Principal Craig Hutt Vater; central office staffers are Cheryl Hammond and Michael Eppolito; the teachers and student representatives are still to be named.

The GMUSD board will reach out to the town of Chester concerning information on the gravel pit that abuts Green Mountain Union High School. They will ask Town Manager David Pisha and Assistant Town Manager Julie Hance to present to the board at the March meeting.

GMUHS Principal Lauren Fierman received a notice from the town to discuss the project, but the district owns the school building and all information needs to be presented to them. There was also discussion to make sure that the deeds for the school were properly updated to reflect being owned by the district and not the individual school.

GMUSD board agreed to a cap of 15 students coming in and going out as part of the High School Statutory Choice Program. In this program, students with school choice can attend schools but their tuition dollars do not follow them. This does not include students coming in from Black River High School in Ludlow, whose tuition dollars will follow those students.

After emerging from an executive session, a motion was made by the board, offering all three GMUSD principals – GMUHS principal Lauren Fierman, CTES principal Deb Beaupre, and CAES principal Katharine Fogg – a two-year contract with compensation to be determined later. This was based on a recommendation from the Superintendent Meg Powden.

McBride said that he was concerned that they were being asked to vote on a recommendation just “10 minutes ago” and said that he preferred to take more time to due “sound and due diligence” in the matter, although he thought they all did a fine job. He specifically mentioned the backlash the board received for approving a requested sabbatical earlier this year, a decision made quickly without further looking at budget impacts and other factors.

Mahusky and Fromberger suggested that having the principals in place was important to the stability of the district as they were looking to hire a new superintendent. The principals’ contracts were approved although McBride and Wayne Wheelock both voted against.

The GMUSD Public Information Meeting for the budget is Thursday, Feb. 27 at 7 p.m. in GMUHS library. The next regular GMUSD board meeting is Thursday, March 19, from 5-7 p.m., at Cavendish Town Elementary School.

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