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9/13/19 Cavendish Update
1.Select Board Meeting 8/26/19
2. Cavendish Related news
1. LAWSUIT TRSU/GMUHS/GMUSD: This has been a tumultuous week for the Green Mountain Unified District (GMUSD). On Monday (Sept. 9) afternoon, an editorial in The Chester Telegraph called for the resignation of Two Rivers Supervisory Union (TRSU) superintendent, Meg Powden. Among the reasons given were lack of judgement, spiraling expenses and the racking up of law suits and legal actions.
The Chester Telegraph has taken action against the boards of the TRSU and GMUSD for repeatedly violating the Open Meeting Law-eight times. It was because of one of these violations that the TRSU board had the opportunity to reconsider Powden’s contract at Monday night’s special board meeting.
Two members of the GMUSD board, Mike Studin and Rick Alexander spoke in an effort to dissuade the board from approving a contract for Powden, citing mismanagement, over budgeting and the multiple law suits. However, the representatives from Ludlow/Mt Holly (Paul Orzechowski and Mary Alberty), said they had no problems in their district, and were joined by GMUSD representative Wheelock in ratifying her contract and a 4% raise by a vote of 3-2. The two no votes came from GMUSD board chair Joe Fromberger and Ludlow/Mt Holly rep Dan Buckley. Read more on Monday night’s meeting at The Chester Telegraph and the Vermont Journal
What is disturbing about this vote is that the TRSU board members received notification over the weekend of a new lawsuit that not only names them and the GMUSD board, but also the GMUSD, TRSU, and individually as well as in their official capacity Thomas Ference, former principal of the GMUHS, Michael Ripley, Associate Principal of GMUSH, and Pam O’Neil, Director of Guidance.
The suit charges that GMUHS administrator actions were inadequate in protecting five sisters from bullying and harassment at Green Mountain Union High School (GMUHS) following one of the sisters reported rape by a classmate. Note that the alleged assailant has subsequentialy been charged with multiple accounts of sexual assault and other charges stemming from additional victims coming forward. He is awaiting trial in Windsor County Superior Court.
The bullying and harassment went on for approximately eight months, beginning in May 2017 and affecting four of the sisters who returned in the fall of that year. The oldest, who reported the rape, graduated in June 2017.
A bulk of the charges in the lawsuit fall under Title IX, the federal civil rights law that protects individuals from sex discrimination in federally funded educational institutions. The law most often comes up in the context of college sexual assault, but Hewes [Karen Hewes is the attorney from EdLaw New England representing the sisters] said the suit is a reminder that rape often happens much earlier. “I think it’s really important for people to know that issues of sexual assault, sexual violence, and sexual harassment are not just happening at the college level. They’re also happening at the high school level, middle school level even,” she said. VT Digger
The Telegraph broke the story with their article Lawsuit on Wednesday (Sept. 11). The VT Digger followed the next day, Thursday Sept. 12, with Lawsuit Claims High School Mishandled Bullying after a Rape Allegation
It is interesting to note that Powden wrote in an e-mail to VT Digger, “I don’t think there is any merit to these claims.” “We will address them through litigation.”
The day before the VT Digger’s article, The Telegraph reported, Before the suit was initiated, there was an independent review of issues by Rutland attorney Ruth Durkee and an investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights [OCR]. The former found that some of the incidents should have triggered a formal sexual harassment investigation but did not, that the school should have developed a safety plan for the students sooner than it did, that some teachers were inadequately trained to handle sexual harassment and the inappropriate conduct that took place in their presence and that there was a failure to recognize the impact of the harassment on the girls.
OCR found that the resolution process brought about by the Durkee review was acceptable and, in November 2018, decided there was no reason to take action itself.
“There was an opportunity to settle the case while it was pending before OCR in the summer of 2018 and the offer was declined,” said Hewes, noting that the discussions were preliminary and no dollar figures had been brought up.
At the June 13, 2019 GMUSD board meeting, in response to The Telegraph identifying two lawsuits, and a possible third one, [TRSU Boards Apparently Kept in the Dark About Suits ] the board voted that from then on, Powden was to provide monthly reports on any possible legal actions and any issues in the offing. Powden was asked point blank about any issues the board should be aware of, to which she said no.
Clearly Powden has known about this situation leading to the filing of this law suit, as well as the OCR findings, for more than a year. She also had to be aware that it wasn’t just going to “go away. “
If the type of statement she made to the VT Digger is similar to what she is saying to her boards, she has not only been negligent in her duty to inform them of pending litigation when it first arose, but also in the seriousness of it. These boards are once again in a position of learning the full ramifications from the media and not from her.
To round out the week’s activities, the Ludlow Vermont Area Happenings Facebook page created a poll, “Should the Two Rivers Supervisory Union have voted in favor of Ratifying Meg Powden’s contract?” As of Friday, Sept.13 at 6:30 am, with 61 votes, the opinion is 93% “no” and 7% “yes.”
The GMUSD board is waiting until their monthly board meeting on Sept. 19, Thursday, at 6 pm, to discuss this suit. The meeting will take place at CTES. All meetings are open to the public.
2. CAVENDISH RELATED NEWS
Dr. Bont Dedication Tree Dedication: On Sept. 19, at 5:30 pm, a magnolia tree will be dedicated in honor of Dr. Gene Bont in the park adjacent to the Cavendish Town Elementary School (CTES). The area beyond the employee parking lot will now be called Gene's Green Grove.
Phineas Gage story continues to fascinate in Cavendish: Sept. 13, is the 171st anniversary of the Phineas Gage accident. Cavendish Historical Society’s Margo Caulfield gave her annual talk and walking tour of the story of local legend Phineas Gage to a packed house Sunday, Sept. 8, starting at the historical society building and then walking to key nearby locations in the immediate area that all had to do with the Gage story. In 1848, Phineas Gage, working as a railroad foreman in Cavendish while putting in a section of the Rutland & Burlington Railroad, was made famous for surviving a blasting accident, which sent a large tamping iron from under his left cheekbone, traveling completely through his brain, and out the other side. The resulting injury and subsequent changes to his personality were key to medical history’s understanding of brain science. His was one of the first documented cases that showed the relationship between personality and the frontal lobes of the brain. VT Journal
Okemo Valley TV addresses funding cuts: Community access TV stations across the country are facing a serious threat to their primary funding source, cable TV “franchise fees,” following a federal rule change. Last month, the Federal Communications Commission voted to approve a rule change in the way the fees are calculated. The franchise fees are charged to cable companies in exchange for their use of public lands and rights-of-way. In Vermont, they are earmarked specifically for community access TV. The new rule change is expected to result in a significant loss in franchise fee revenue for the community stations. Locally, Okemo Valley TV cut its operating budget by 10% this year starting July 1, in anticipation of the rule change, which was long expected to pass. This comes on top of an unexpected 7% loss of franchise fee revenue the station began to experience last year as a result of a change in the way that the area’s largest cable provider, Comcast, accounts for the franchise fees. To address the losses in revenue, the station is scaling back on its open hours by seven hours per week. Beginning Sept. 16, the station’s new hours of operations will be 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Okemo Valley TV’s Patrick Cody says they “have known for some time that we need to diversify our funding in a sustainable, meaningful way, and we’ve been working towards that. We also have to accept the impact of these latest hits and address them head-on.” He estimates that this reduction will account for most of this year’s budget cut. VT Journal
Rutland Mall to Close and Be Redeveloped: Zamias Services CEO Joe Anthony says the Rutland mall will close, but he is unable to say when, due to confidentiality agreements. He says they plan to convert it into a "mixed-use" facility, but could not give any more detail. At least two businesses were evicted from the mall last week, with another saying they plan to move downtown. Old Navy's corporate offices told the Herald its store would close later this year. WCAX
Study finds high cost of living has people leaving Vermont: Lower- and moderate-income people are leaving Vermont because it's too expensive-- that's according to a new study from the Legislature's Joint Fiscal Office. From 2011 to 2016, Vermont lost more than 4,000 people. That net loss of taxpayers makes us the 11th worst in the country. WCAX
SEPTEMBER 14 (SATURDAY): VT Golden Honey Festival. 10-4 Part craft fair, part food festival, the VT Golden Honey Festival is a community favorite. Located on the lawn of the Golden Stage Inn, 399 Depot St. in Proctorsville. Proceeds of this event will benefit VT Coalition of Runaway and Homeless Youth (Ludlow and Proctorsville. For vendor and other information: email@example.com or 802-226-7744 (Julie).
SEPTEMBER 18 (WEDNESDAY): 2-6 Pm Hazardous Waste Collection at the Springfield Transfer Station. For a printable list of what to bring and what not to bring, click on the Southern Windsor/Windham Counties Solid Waste Management District. The next collections will be in the spring of 2020. FMI: 802- 674-9235
SEPTEMBER 19 (THURSDAY): Dedication of magnolia tree and Gene’s Green Grove, for Dr. Gene. Park adjacent to CTES, 5:30 pm.
• GMUSD Board Meeting: 6 pm at CTES
SEPTEMBER 20-21 (FRIDAY-SUNDAY): Black River Good Neighbor Services will hold its annual Fall Rummage Sale at Fletcher Farm, 611 Route 103 South in Ludlow on Friday and Saturday, September 20th and 21st, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday September 22nd, from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. FMI: 802-228-3663, or BRGNS@gmail.com.