GMUSD board wrestles with April meeting backlash, discusses CTES schedule

CHESTER, Vt. – The nearly three-hour Green Mountain Unified School District Board Thursday, May 20 discussed primarily two main issues: a recommendation from the Two Rivers Supervisory Union superintendent to eliminate early release days on Tuesdays at Cavendish Town Elementary School and an unsuccessful call for the removal of current Vice Chair Deb Brown from her governing position on the GMUSD board.

TRSU Superintendent Lauren Fierman made a recommendation that the Cavendish Town Elementary School no longer continue to have their early release days on Tuesdays, which is used for in-service weekly time for the teachers, in an effort to have all schools in the district adhere to the same schedule. CTES has an early release day on Tuesdays throughout the year, beyond those ski program days, allowing Tuesday afternoons as professional development time for teachers. Fierman said she recognizes that it is valuable, but she does not want the schools on different schedules. She also recognized that early release creates challenges for childcare coverage for parents, and she feels it’s important that all students should be in school five full days a week.

CTES teacher Jennifer Harper clarified later that students’ time for instruction was not less than other students in the district, but that those hours lost on Tuesday afternoon were divided and added to the other four days in the week.

Vice Chair Deb Brown made an immediate motion to approve Fierman’s recommendation but new board member Abe Gross, a Cavendish representative on the board, immediately urged fellow board members to vote against the motion. He argued instead that other schools in the district could follow Cavendish’s lead, and that it was the best educational choice for students. He also suggested the Fierman had indicated that she was recommending either option, just as long as all districts were the same.

Fierman confirmed her recommendation that all schools be in session five full days a week. Later in the discussion, she did say that if the board feels this is best for the Cavendish school, then it should be in place for all of the schools.

New board member Julia Gignoux, also a Cavendish representative but who has not yet been sworn in and cannot vote on matters at this meeting, said that teacher planning time is critical for CTES teachers and has provided a level of excellence for many years.

Fierman did acknowledge that Cavendish has performed a bit better on standardized tests but again pointed to inconvenience for parents for scheduling pick up and after school care. She also confirmed that all schools would continue to have their ski programs for the eight weeks during the winter as usual.

Board member Mike Studin said that making this change now “seems rushed.” Other board members asked for additional information and input from teachers, as well as a look at how schedules could be changed across all schools. Brown agreed to table the motion until the next meeting and the board agreed.

Later in the meeting, Harper reminded the board that changes to the school schedule in Cavendish would constitute a change in working conditions, in violation of their master agreement.

During the board comments section of the agenda, board member Mike Studin apologized to fellow board member Wayne Wheelock at the way he was bullied and threatened at the April meeting and then called for the removal of Deb Brown from her position as vice chair on the board.

During the April meeting, Keith Hill, a candidate for Green Mountain High School principal, was up for approval and was initially voted down by the board. Wheelock who had abstained from the vote, was asked to cast a vote by another board member. A revote was immediately called for by Brown, a move that surprised other board members and which even Chairman Joe Fromberger questioned although he went on to allow the second vote, and Hill was approved.

Studin made the motion to remove Brown from her position citing “her actions unbecoming of someone in who is in a position of leadership.” He termed her actions an abuse of power and suggested that she intimidated other board members when the vote did not go her way.

Board Chair Joe Fromberger said that in Vermont, there is no recall law and he was “unsure whether that extends to election of officers as well.”

Several board members came out in support of Studin’s motion including Rick Alexander, Dr. Dennis Reilly, and Jeannie Wade, who had reviewed the April meeting and said, “I’ve never seen something quite as unprofessional.”

Abe Gross said that there were a lot of problems to go around and questioned whether Fromberger as chair should have allowed the second vote. Gross then amended the motion to include removing Fromberger from his position as chairman as well.

The board voted on the amendment first, whether Fromberger should be also be stripped of his position, but the board defeated that motion, with only Gross voting yes.

The vote to remove Brown from power was closer, with Studin, Alexander, Reilly, and Wade voting yes and Lois Perlah, Josh Schroeder, Brown, and Fromberger voting no. Gross and Wheelock both abstained, resulting in a tie and the motion did not pass.

After the motion failed, Studin said that with a new member, Julia Gignoux, able to vote next meeting, the board may revisit this issue.

The next GMUSD meeting is scheduled for Thursday, June 17 at 6 p.m.

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