TRSU moves to remote learning during holiday span

LUDLOW, Vt. – The Two Rivers Supervisory Union has made the decision to go to fully remote instruction from Wednesday, Nov. 25 through Jan. 11 due to concerns over safe staffing during the holiday period. TRSU Superintendent Lauren Fierman sent out a letter to all TRSU families Nov. 8 letting them know of the decision and saying that if they could safely run the schools during the coming weeks, they certainly would, but that unfortunately, the safest place for instruction during that time was from home.

Fierman outlined her concerns to the TRSU board during the Nov. 4 meeting before the final timing of the remote stretch was decided. According to Fierman, administrators surveyed teachers, nurses, and other staffers about their plans for vacation travel as well as overall holiday plans with family.

Survey results indicated that there were many instances where staffers should not be coming back for in-person instruction until after a quarantine period of a minimum seven days, but more likely 14 days to be deemed safe, according to the health guidelines issued from the Vermont Department of Health. Fierman said it was also the TRSU nurses’ recommendation to go remote.

Katherine Fogg, principal for both Chester-Andover and Cavendish Town elementary schools, also reminded board members that many staffers would have college students returning to their own households from around the country, complicating health guidelines even more.

Fierman defended staffers plans saying that “people are allowed to use their vacation as they choose” and that she had not asked people not to travel, especially since many had not seen family members for months.

The return date of Jan. 11 happens to coincide with the date given by the Vermont Agency of Education for when interstate winter sports competitions can begin, according to their guidelines for school winter sports released last week. According to Fierman, however, just because basketball is being permitted by the state doesn’t mean the schools will permit it. She said there were a number of superintendents, including herself, that have some concerns about the language of the state guidelines and said in particular that previous guidelines, which prohibited basketball during physical education classes, was hard to reconcile.

Todd Parrah, Green Mountain Union High School athletic director, echoed Fierman’s comments, saying a decision for the schools hadn’t been made yet. “It’s really up in the air right now,” he said.

The TRSU administration presented the first round of their fiscal year 2022 budget, which showed a 16.15% increase, largely due to 55% skyrocketing special education cost increase, which were up by $769,725 for a total budget of approximately $6,667,000. Central office staff and all special education teachers in all five schools are included in the TRSU budget. Of that number, 60% of TRSU budget is salary and benefits, 32% is special education costs, 4.25% is transportation costs, and 3.2% is central office cost.

According to TRSU finance director Cheryl Hammond, the increased special education costs are the result of a change in programs for existing special education students, as well as several new students that have come into the district needing services. Hammond pointed out that the Autism Needs Program and Social Emotional Needs Program that have been added to the district in recent years has saved the TRSU over $900,000, otherwise the increase would be double what it is.

The budget also reflected a request restore the IT position to full-time, add a .4 FTE registrar’s position, and add a .5 FTE position to oversee the SU building maintenance and security for all five district schools.

Board member Joe Fromberger took issue with the SU B=building position, saying that if they need to coordinate the maintenance staff of each school building to relieve the burden on the central office, they should do that but not add another position.

Fierman countered that although she was reluctant to bring up new budget items, “It would be a failure of my obligation to you not to tell you that we need these things.”

This was the first presentation of the budget and changes to the budget will be under discussion. The budget documents are available for viewing on the TRSU website under a FY21/22 budget tab.

The next meeting TRSU board meeting is a special meeting Monday, Nov. 16 at 6 p.m., and the regular meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 3 at 6 p.m. via Zoom.

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