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From the

Boardroom Vermont School Boards Association

December 2011

Time to Recruit New School Board Members Nearly 1500 school board members serve Vermont’s school districts on any given day. We are blessed to have so many citizens willing to devote time, energy, and creativity to this essential role in our communities. Each year on Town Meeting Day, approximately 250 of those slots turn over, with many brand new board members taking their place on boards across Vermont. All of us need to take very seriously the recruitment of new board members. High functioning boards are created from committed, energetic, creative people who can work with others. Face-to-face recruitment works best when seeking candidates to run for office. VSBA urges all current board members to reach out to those you know who could be strong candidates. The article below will appear in Vermont news media over the next two weeks. It summarizes important considerations for potential candidates.

December 1, 2011 TIME TO RUN FOR SCHOOL BOARD Now is the time for Vermonters to consider running for election to their local school boards. We all have many distractions during the holiday season. Petitions to run for elected offices in most towns will be due by the end of January, so there will not be a lot of time to take action in the new year. Now is a good time to consider joining hundreds of other Vermonters in serving your children, your town, and your state as a school board member. Here are three reasons why Vermonters should consider running for a school board seat this year: 1. Our children deserve the best opportunities. First and foremost, this is about our children—all of our children. All students need a world-class education. We need board members who will TIME continued on page 6

In this issue...

Fiscal Info for Boards . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13 & 14 Reflections on a Strike . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15

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It gives me great pleasure to share some me thoughts with you as president of the VSBA. We’ve all attended functions nctions where a speaker professes what an honor it is to be there, I’m sure, but let me say those words never really rang quite true for me until now. It is a privilege, indeed, to have the opportunity to represent school board members from across Vermont on the myriad education issues we face these days. My position on most any of said issues is quite simple, and far from original: we need to know how it impacts the students. Of course, there will always be some nuts and bolts matters that need attention with solutions that are pretty much no-brainers (a roof in need of repair comes quickly to mind). What I’m talking about are issues that almost everybody seems to have an opinion on that will have long-term effects on the well being of our children. Should we move from a Commissioner of Education elected by the State Board to a Secretary of Education appointed by the Governor? How would it affect the kids? Should we shift responsibilities for special education (or curriculum, or transporta2

Ken Fredette is a com commercial diver a and serves on the Wallingford school board. sch

tion, or…) from the local level to a more regional governance model? How would it affect kids? Should parents paren be able to choose where their children attend school regardless of where they live? Should we invest more in distance learning? Should we have statewide teachers’ contract? Should we have a larger student-teacher ratio? Should schools be open yearround? Should school board members be required to have a certain amount of annual training? How could these ideas impact our kids? The list goes on, and there doesn’t seem to be a shortage of opinions to be offered. Sometimes those opinions are expressed to the public as if they are obvious facts, when in reality they have just been pulled out of a hip pocket. Sometimes those opinions are well thought out. As elected officials entrusted with oversight of public education, our job is to distinguish between the two. My job is to provide a conduit to help you do so. And it is an honor to be here.


A Board Member’s Approach to the Job John and Miriam Carver One of the reasons a board member’s job is so difficult is that ‘the job’ is essentially a group responsibility. In fact, it is hard to discuss how an individual is to approach a group task. Yet each board member has a responsibility to come with an effective mindset, to carry out his or her part of preparation and participation, and to take responsibility for the group. These are not always easy tasks. Some advice follows on the frame of mind and individual preparations necessary for a given board member to play an effective role in creating a productive board. 1. Be prepared to participate responsibly. Participating responsibly means to do your homework, come prepared to work (sometimes the work is to listen), agree and disagree as your values dictate, and accept the group decision as legitimate even if notin your opinion- correct. It is not acceptable, for example, to have opinions but not express them. 2. Remember your identity is with the ownership, not the staff. Identifying closely with your staff will be inviting in that you may be in conversation with them about issues more than you will be with the ownership. You will come to use staff’s abbreviations and shorthand language. Be careful that you don’t become more connected with staff than with those who own the organization. Be a microcosm of your ownership, not a shadow you that staff. [Editor’s Note: while the word staff is used in this article, this concept includes the superintendent and principals in a school environment.]

3. Represent the ownership, not a constituency. You will understand and personally identify with one or more constituencies more than others. That provincial streak is natural in everyone, but your civic trusteeship obligation is to rise above it. If you are a teacher, you are not on the board to represent teachers. If you are a private businessperson, you are not there to represent that interest. You are a board member for the broad ownership. There is no way that the board can be big enough to have a spokesperson for every legitimate interest, so in a moral sense you must stand for them all. Think of yourself as being from a constituency but not representing it. CARVER continued on page 4

Editor: David Cyprian email: Layout: Kerri Lamb email:

Articles printed represent diverse points of view and may be controversial in nature. It is the belief of the Association that the democratic process functions best through discussions which challenge and stimulate thinking on the part of the reader. Therefore, materials published present the ideas/ beliefs of those who write them and are not necessarily the views or policies of the VSBA unless so stated. This newsletter is distributed at no charge to all members of the Association. Contact the Association by calling 802-223-3580. 3

CARVER continued from page 3

4. Be responsible for group behavior and productivity. While doing your own job as a single board member is important, it does not complete your responsibility. You must shoulder the potentially unfamiliar burden of being responsible for the group. That is, if you are part of a group that does not get its job done, that meddles in administration, or that breaks its own rules, you are culpable. 5. Be a proactive board member. You are not a board member to hear reports. You are a board member to make governance decisions. Listening while staff or committees recount what they have been busy doing is boring and unnecessary. Of course, it is sometimes important to get data through reports, but do not let that cast you in a passive role. Even when you are receiving education, do so as an active participant, searching doggedly for the wisdom that will enable good board decisions. Make “show and tell” board meetings passé. 6. Honor divergent opinions without being intimidated by them. You are obligated to register your honest opinion on issues the board takes up, but other board members are obligated to speak as well. Encourage your colleagues to express their opinions without allowing your own to be submerged by louder or more insistent comrades. You are of little use to the process if full expression of your ideas can be held hostage by a louder member. 7. Use your special expertise to inform your colleagues’ wisdom. If you work 4

in accounting, law, construction, or another skilled field, be careful not to take your colleagues off the hook with respect to board decisions about such matters. To illustrate, an accountant board member should not assume personal responsibility for assuring fiscal soundness. But it is alright for him or her to help board members understand what fiscal jeopardy looks like or what incidences of fiscal health to watch carefully. With that knowledge, the board can pool its human values about risk, brinkmanship, overextension, and so forth in the creation of fiscal policies. In other words, use your special understanding to inform the board’s wisdom, but never to substitute for it. 8. Orient to the whole, not the parts. Train yourself to examine, question, and define the big picture. Even if your expertise and comfort lie in some subpart of the organization challenge, the subpart is not your job as a board member. You may offer your individual expertise to the CEO, should he or she wish to use it. But in such a role, accept you are being a volunteer consultant and leave your board member hat at home. 9. Think upward and outward more that downward and inward. There will be great temptation to focus on what goes on with management and staff instead of what difference the organization should make in the larger world. The latter is a daunting task for which no one feels really qualified, yet it is the board member’s job to tackle it. 10. Tolerate issues that cannot be quickly settled. Shorter-term more concrete matters can give you a

feeling of completion, but are likely to involve you in the wrong issues. If you must deal with such matters, resign from the board and apply for a staff position. 11. Don’t tolerate putting off the big issues forever. The really big issues will often be too intimidating for you to reach a solution comfortably. Yet in most cases, the decision is being made anyway by default. Board inaction itself is a decision. Don’t tolerate the naming of big decisions by the timid action of not making them. 12. Support the board’s final choice. No matter which way you voted, you are obligated to support the board’s choice. This obligation doesn’t mean you must pretend to agree with that choice; you may certainly maintain the integrity of your dissent even after the vote. What you must support is the legitimacy of the choice that you still don’t agree with. For example, you will support without reservation that the CEO must follow the formal board decision, not yours. 13. Don’t mistake form for substance. Don’t confuse having a public relations committee with having good public relations. Don’t confuse having financial reports with having sound finances. Don’t confuse having a token constituent board member with having sufficient input. Traditional governance has often defined responsible behavior procedurally [do this, review that, follow this set of steps] instead of substantially, so beware of the trap. 14. Obsess about ends. Keep the conversation about benefits, beneficiaries, and the worth of the

For more board resources ... benefits alive at all times. Converse with staff, colleague board members, and the public about these matters. Ask questions, consider opinions, and otherwise fill most of your trustee consciousness with issues of ends. 15. Squelch your individual points of view during monitoring. Your own values count when the board is creating policies. But when the CEO’s performance is monitored, you must refer only to the criteria the board decided, not what you opinion was about those criteria. In other words, the CEO must be help accountable to the board’s decisions and in fairness cannot be judged against your opinion. You should present any opinion you may have about amending the policies, of course, but not so as to contaminate the monitoring process. 16. Support the chair in board discipline. Although the board as a whole is responsible for its own discipline, it will have endowed the chair with a special role in the group’s confronting its own process. Don’t make the chair’s job harder, rather ask what you can do to make it easier.


John Carver created the Policy Governance® board model. Miriam Carver is a Policy Governance® author and consultant. This article was reprinted with permission from the 1996 Carver Guide 2. 5

TIME continued from page 1

develop a vision for the educational success of all our students, including those students disadvantaged by income, language, or disability. We need board members who will chart a course for our schools to support and engage all students through meaningful learning experiences and the full integration of technology. Finally, we need board members who will help schools forge strong partnerships with parents and community members to both support and hold our schools accountable for delivering excellent results. 2. The future of your town and Vermont depends on education. Education is a major economic driver. When families are choosing where to live, the quality of education is high on the list of criteria. Businesses often consider overall community climate and quality of schools when choosing where to locate. Now more than ever, school boards need to take this challenge seriously. The governor has spoken about Vermont being “the education state”. Each local board must be concerned that for their students, their town is “the education town”! Vermont’s success is the collective success of all local boards. 3. The economy demands a creative approach. Many of us have not seen an economy like this one. Education is being asked to do more with less and to figure out how best to manage shrinking enrollment. Vermont needs creative school board members who will seek innovative approaches to this dilemma. We must find ways to main6

tain or increase opportunity even as resources shrink. We need board members who are willing to think creatively about how we broaden student opportunity in our own towns, as well as through mergers and joint ventures where that makes sense. Vermont’s commitment to local oversight of education runs deep. On any given day, nearly 1500 individuals serve on 280 elected school boards, giving Vermont the highest board member to student ratio in the country. Collectively, these committed citizens oversee the education of some 90,000 children. It is not happenstance that Vermont ranks at or near the top nationally on most major indicators of education quality. Just as it is true that children perform better when their parents are interested and engaged, education in a community is better in a strongly invested local district. Each year, approximately 250 school board positions turn over. Vermont needs committed citizens to step forward to serve. Strong board members are invested in education excellence, willing to focus on a broad range of concerns (not just a single issue) and able to work with other board members, administrators, and citizens. Their job is not to run the schools. Rather, they are trustees on behalf of the community, assuring the delivery of quality education and good value for taxpayers. Now is the time to consider investing in your children and your community and the future of the state of Vermont. If anyone has questions about the role of a school board member, call the Vermont School Boards Association at 802-223-3580.


Regional Meetings Wrap-up By David Cyprian In September and early October, VSBA Executive Director Steve Dale and I hit the road and met with board members at ten locations representing all eight regions of the Association (we split two of the larger regions into separate meetings). From this view, the meetings were a success in that Dale and I were able to exchange ideas and viewpoints with a diverse cross-section of board members, reaffirming the Association’s positions on certain issues while causing us to rethink and adjust our understanding on others. It was also a good opportunity for many members to meet and connect with Dale for the first time (he joined the VSBA this past January). Some of the topics that generated the most conversation included: 1) How VSBA could improve its support for boards during collective bargaining negotiations, 2) whether expanding public school choice (as proposed by Gov. Shumlin) would be good for education, and 3) the extent to which board development workshops should be made available and expected of novice and experienced school directors. A full slate of regional officers were also elected from each of the eight regions to serve on the VSBA Board of Directors. At our annual conference in October, statewide officers were also elected, and together, the regional and statewide officers comprise the entire Board. We look forward to working with them as VSBA continues to reassess and refine its positions and priorities over the next 12 months.


2011-2012 VSBA Board of Directors Officers President Ken Fredette 1st Vice President John Fike 2nd Vice President Emily Long Treasurer Ken Swierad

Regional Officers Jane Low, Addison Pres. Kristin Bristow, Addison Vice Pres. Ed Hemmer, Bennington-Rutland Pres. Joe LaRosa, Bennington-Rutland Vice Pres. Deb Cogan, Caledonia-Essex-Orleans Pres. Ray Lewis, Caledonia-Essex-Orleans Vice Pres. Darren Carner, Chittenden-Grand Isle Pres. Jill Evans, Chittenden-Grand Isle Vice Pres. Elaine Carpenter, Franklin-Lamoille Pres.

Member-at-large Peter Herman

Judy Schultz, Franklin-Lamoille Vice Pres. Chris Preston, Washington-Orange Pres. Ann Howard, Washington-Orange Vice Pres Russell Capron, Windham Pres. Richard Werner, Windham Vice Pres.

Member-at-large Junius Calitri

Carl Groppe, Windsor Pres. Jeanice Garfield, Windsor Vice Pres.

Past President Kalee Roberts


Vollmer, Governor Headline VSBA / VSA Conference By David Cyprian

VSBA President, Ken Fredette & Former VSBA Associate Director Winton Goodrich

by 4th grade, and that middle and high school students should be exposed to age-appropriate workforce experiences, including an internship opportunity prior to graduation. Shumlin also suggested that more could be done to link high school and college coursework, such as expanding dual enrollment so that high school students graduate with several college credits already completed. Lastly, the Governor made clear that he does not believe in extensive standardized testing in schools, nor does he support mandatory consolidation of small schools or small school districts.

The annual VSBA / VSA Conference took place on October 20-21 at Lake Morey Resort in Fairlee, VT, and a majority of attendees indicated that they were pleased with this year’s speakers and workshops. Congressman Peter Welch Governor Shumlin, Congressman Welch, Commissioner Vilaseca, NSBA President Mary Broderick and national education reformer Jamie Vollmer headlined the two-day event. In between, many others presenters offered specificinterest workshops and Friday’s lunch featured some light-hearted ribbing and acknowledgement of Winton Goodrich, who left the VSBA in August. What follows is a brief description of some of the highlights. Gov. Shumlin outlined a vision for educational priorities that he supports and other that he does not. He stated that all students should be reading at grade level 8

Congressman Peter Welch offered some lunchtime remarks and was followed by a congressional panel featuring representatives from each member of Vermont’s Washington

VSBA President, Ken Fredette

delegation. The speakers highlighted the contentious political climate in the capitol city and described their perspective on the interplay between the Obama administration and Congress on ESEA reauthorization and the NCLB waiver process. Mary Broderick welcomed the conference attendees and commented on the energetic and pro-education spirit she had experienced in her time in Vermont. Broderick than explained how she became involved with the National School Boards Association after a stint as president of her state association in Connecticut. She then commented on some federal education policy issues, particularly explaining NSBA’s perspective on the ongoing congressional reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act and the Obama administration’s solicitation of NCLB waivers for states. Jamie Vollmer spoke about his personal journey from businessman, to professional education reformer, to a “reformed” education reformer. Vollmer’s message centered on the need for schools to adapt education delivery to the needs of an information-age society. In particular, Vollmer emphasized the need to involve the larger community outside the school in a “great conversation” about the future of education and priorities for an effective education system. Vollmer theorized that without robust community support, transformative educational change is nearly impossible to achieve.

Sorsha Anderson, Middlesex School Board Member voicing her opinion with Past President Kalee Roberts at the 2011 VSBA Business Meeting

Junius Calitri, long standing Cornwall school board member

Thank you to the attendees and our workshop presenters. We hope to see many of you at next year’s event! Y Dinner at the 2011 Annual Conference


VSBA—PROGRAMS AND STAFFING UPDATE VSBA—WHAT IT DOES The Vermont School Boards Association exists to support high quality education through effective school boards and strong public education policy. It provides five major services to members. Advocacy • Representation in the general assembly. Bill monitoring and testimony. • Bi-weekly newsletter during the legislative session: “Education Legislative Report” • Federal legislative advocacy through the National School Boards Association • Representation in education policy formulation with governor, legislature, and DOE Board Development • New member orientation for all newly elected board members • Ongoing board training opportunities • Phone consultation for board members • On-site workshops or meeting facilitation Communications • VSBA Website • VSBA DVD Lending Library • Bi-Monthly newsletter: From the Boardroom • Regular e-mail VSBA Update for School Board Members • Education Legislative Report (during legislative session) • School Board Resource Directory • Media outreach on key issues Legal and Policy Services • Updates on changes in law and regulation • Phone consultation around legal questions • Legal training for boards and superintendents 10

• General support for school boards regarding collective bargaining—general preparation and information for boards on current contracts • Vermont Education Policy Services (in conjunction with VSBIT and VSA) • Potential support for legal action having significance for boards statewide (e.g. lawsuit, unfair labor practice, etc.) Consulting Services on a Fee-forService Basis • Superintendent Searches • Superintendent Evaluations • Strategic Planning • Governance Studies TO ARRANGE FOR VSBA SERVICES, CONTACT KERRI LAMB AT 800-244-8722 or STAFFING TRANSITION 2011 has seen many changes at the Vermont School Boards Association. At the first of the year, Steve Dale took over from long-time Executive Director, John Nelson. Winton Goodrich, who had been VSBA’s primary outreach person, left the organization in August to become the Assistant Superintendent in South Burlington. A new staff team is gradually taking shape to serve our members. We are a small organization and all chip in to get work done. However, general staff responsibilities are emerging as follows: VSBA Staff Steve Dale, Executive Director: Steve brings a Master’s Degree in Education and a wealth of experience in teaching, human services, public policy and management theory and practice. He served on a school board for five years. Steve can be a general go-to person for requests for assistance. During the legislative season, he will spend the majority of his time in the

Statehouse. He also does some direct support work for boards. Nicole Mace, Associate Director for Legal Services: Nicole began work on October 17. She holds a Master’s Degree in Public Policy as well as a law degree. She is a licensed attorney and will specialize in guiding boards toward answers to their questions. She will also develop a special expertise in collective bargaining and in school district policy. Nicole will provide some back-up support during the legislative session, but much of her time will be spent fielding/general inquiries from boards. Learn more about Nicole on page 12. Kerri Lamb, Operations Manager: Kerri has been the go-to person at VSBA for the past eleven years. She maintains the VSBA website and produces video and print information for members. She also handles most administrative support functions for the organization. When in doubt about who to call, contact Kerri at 800-244-8722. Board Development Specialist: This position is under recruitment. The new person will be organizing a statewide approach to new board member orientation and to ongoing board development. The new person will also provide specialized workshops and facilitation services for individual boards. David Cyprian, Legislative Analyst: David’s position is supported jointly by the VSBA, the VT Superintendents Association and the VT Principals’ Association. David does detailed policy analysis, monitors bills in the Statehouse, and produces communications including From the Boardroom and the Education Legislative Report.

Additional Contractors Assisting VSBA Laura Soares, Policy Governance Coordinator and Board Development Consultant: Laura has been on the Randolph board for many years. She has also served on the VSBA board and has worked with VSBA in supporting Policy Governance practices. Over the next year, Laura will gradually phase out of this role as she assumes the position of CEO of the Vermont School Boards Insurance Trust. If you are seeking Laura’s assistance, contact Kerri or Steve. STAFFING continued on page 12


STAFFING continued from page 11

John Nelson, Coordinator of Vermont Education Policy Services: John was the former Executive Director of the VSBA. John is working very part time to update model policies and to support individual boards who have struggled to keep policies updated and relevant. John can be contacted directly through VSBA to explore his services. John Everitt, Coordinator of Governance Consultation: John was the former Superintendent of school districts in Montpelier and South Burlington. John works for VSBA on a very part time basis to serve as the primary contact person for districts

seeking help with a formal governance study. John will help the district clarify its objectives and will help identify possible consultants to do the direct work. Other Consulting Services: VSBA works with a number of consultants around board development, strategic planning, superintendent search, and superintendent evaluation services. General requests for any of these services including workshops and retreat support should contact Kerri or Steve. The VSBA will continue to take form over the next year. We will keep you apprised of evolving roles. We urge you to avail yourself and your board of our resources.


New Associate Director for Legal Services Joins the VSBA In October, Nicole Mace joined the VSBA as Associate Director for Legal Services. She comes to the VSBA from Voices for Vermont’s Children, a children’s advocacy organization, where she served as Research Director and Senior Policy Advocate for two years. Mace focused on identifying strategies to ensure our local systems have the resources and support they need to provide an excellent education to all our young people, particularly those who struggle due to barriers created by disability, poverty, or language. She was a member of the Pre-K-16 Council, where she advocated for approaches that support students living in poverty to access high quality educational opportunities that prepare them to succeed in college, career, 12

citizenship, and life. Mace also served as a member of the Burlington and Winooski High School Transformation Steering Committee, where she focused on building systems to engage the community effectively in school transformation planning efforts. Mace holds a law degree from the University of Pittsburgh, a Master of Science in Public Policy and Management from Carnegie Mellon University, and is a member of the Vermont Bar. She is thrilled to be a new member of the VSBA team. “I look forward to getting to know board members from across the state as we work together to expand educational opportunities for all children, strengthen quality educational governance, and promote strong community support for our schools.” Mace lives in Winooski with her husband and daughter.


Mary Gilbert Retires from the VSBA By David Cyprian Hardworking, no-nonsense administrative assistant Mary Gilbert retired from her everyday position at the VSBA on November 30. Mary had been an indispensible fixture at our offices for 17 years, even in a part-time capacity, and prior to that, she worked for our officemates at 2 Prospect Street, including the Vermont Principals’ Association, the Vermont Superintendents Association and the Vermont School Boards Insurance Trust. Mary has a well-earned reputation for arriving early, pitching in wherever she can, and going about her business with an unflappable and cheerful demeanor. More than a few of her colleagues were charmed by her strong traditional values starting with family, simplicity, and work. Reliable, thoughtful, and earnest, she is a great friend to many that have known her.

Every time I saw her in the hall and she began a conversation with her trademark, “Oh, I don’t know …” I inevitably found myself agreeing with her wisdom on those particular human traits of arrogance, selfimportance, and indulgence. Still, other people’s problems rarely seemed to bring her down; it was as though Mary knew that she had already baked her own personal recipe for peace and happiness while the rest of us were still thumbing through the cookbook. Working alongside such a centered soul was always a treat. Although we expect to see her helping us in short stints going forward, the VSBA wishes her the very best in her retirement. She lives with her husband George in Williamstown, where they operate a Christmas tree farm, not far from many limbs of her large, extended family.


STATEWIDE FY2013 FISCAL INFORMATION FOR BOARDS By Bill Talbott, Chief Financial Officer, VT Department of Education December 1, Tax Commissioner Mary Peterson sent her recommendations to the Legislature for the key FY2013 statewide education tax-rate components for school budgets. The recommendation acknowledged that under current law the base education amount (which has been frozen at $8,544 since FY2010) should be increased by 4.1% to $8,891. If the Department of Education’s estimate that education spending will increase 1.7% statewide in FY2013 holds true, the statewide homestead tax rate must be increased by $0.02 (to $0.89) in order to ensure sufficient revenues for the Education Fund. The nonresidential rate would also be required to increase $0.02, to $1.38.

Governor Shumlin is hoping to avoid an increase in the education tax rates by encouraging school districts to keep education spending at the same amount as this year. He recently noted that the total number of school staff has begun to decrease, which many have expected to see given the declining pupil counts over the past 14 years. Continuing this staff decline should make it easier for boards to hold the line on spending. If districts do keep spending level in FY2013, the Governor recommends that the base education amount increase 2.1% to $8,723 and that the base education tax rates would remain at $0.87 and $1.36. The result would be that most districts that level fund would have a marginally lower equalized (i.e., pre-CLA) homestead tax rate in FY2013. 13


Governor Recommends Level-funded Education Spending By Steve Dale,VSBA Executive Director On December 1, Governor Shumlin publicly urged boards to again level-fund education budgets for FY2013. He began his comments with very high praise for the work done by boards, and then announced that if boards are able to level-fund education, we will not need any statewide tax increase. We are all painfully aware of the ongoing economic challenges faced by Vermont and the nation. School boards have done extraordinary work controlling costs over the past two years. The VSBA response is as follows: 1.

We appreciate the Governor’s recognition of the hard work done by boards to date.


We appreciate the severity of the economic times facing all of us and all boards take very seriously the need to be as frugal as possible while assuring quality education for our children.



Although some school districts will be able to approve a level-funded budget, there are many upward pressures including salary, health insurance, and energy costs. After two years of level (or decreased) funding, level funding across the state may not be possible while also meeting the needs of students. Early projections from the Department of Education and Joint Fiscal Office estimate that education spending will increase 1.7% this coming year.


We appreciate the fact that the Legislature and Governor have to juggle many considerations in addressing competing interests statewide. However, we are concerned that the Governor’s proposal would underfund the base education amount for the third year in a row. This follows a 2012 “permanent reduction” of $23 million in the state’s annual contribution to the education fund, an action that helped close state government’s budget gap, but which shifted Education Fund costs to the property tax. We are concerned that ongoing actions of this kind will erode our ability to provide quality education and will likely result over time in significant increases in property taxes, contrary to the intention of Act 60/68.


Want more? Visit the VSBA website to find... • Streaming videos on varying topics; • Examples of governance study documents; • Legislative information; • Teacher negotiation data; • School model policies;

Reflections on a Nine-day Teacher’s Strike By Sean-Marie Oller, Chair, Mt. Anthony School Board All the member school districts of the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union including the Regional Technical Center, with the exception of the Woodford school district, have had a single Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) for the last 17 years. This CBA covers close to 400 teachers. From my perspective, the bargaining team had many challenges to overcome. I say this because of the difficult economic times as well as the desire for a more equitable K-12 contract in terms of student contact time. We started the process of negotiating a new CBA in December 2009; the prior contract expired on June 30, 2010. In the 18 months that followed, there were faceto-face negotiation sessions, proposals exchanged, mediation and participation in fact-finding. During this time the board team modified many of its original requests. However, these efforts failed to result in a contract acceptable to the teachers. Under Vermont law (Title 16, chapter 57), after all the steps above were followed, school boards have the authority to impose a one-year contract. On June 20, 2011, the seven boards represented in the CBA unanimously voted to impose a contract for the FY2011 school year (the year which had just finished), and the boards pledged to continue negotiating for the upcoming years. Imposing a contract was a step that was not taken lightly. Nonetheless, had the boards not imposed a contract, teacher salaries would have automatically increased, teacher contact time with students would have remained unchanged at the secondary schools and teachers would have continued to pay 15 percent of their health care insurance. The boards

felt that the communities they represented could not afford to let this happen. Four months later, teachers responded to the imposition by electing to strike. So, what lessons can I take away from this experience? I believe we did the right thing when we voted to impose a contract but it was not easy. When the strike started on October 19 after an all-night negotiation session, all involved hoped it would be resolved quickly. Perhaps we should have followed the advice, “Hope for the best, plan for the worst.” With nine days gone from our calendar, the boards were racing to figure out how to plan make-up days for students, in service days for teachers, and state assessment requirements after missing parts of NECAP testing. Over three meetings, the Mt. Anthony board discussed extracurricular activities and whether they could continue during the strike; at the third meeting, we reversed our initial decision and allowed varsity and senior activities to proceed. After the second day of the strike it was decided to provide food at local firehouses and community centers so students would not go hungry. It also became obvious that the boards would have benefited from a comprehensive communications plan. During the strike, board members often found themselves on the defensive in the “court of public opinion.” The Vermont-NEA employs someone to handle communications and there is no reason they should not have someone who reaches out to the public. However, the SVSU school boards do not employ a communications specialSTRIKE continued on page 16


STRIKE continued from page 15

ist so there were times when the public was only hearing one side of the story. In hindsight, perhaps we should have designated a single board member spokesperson to handle public comments regarding the strike. Out of an abundance of caution, our board team often sent out communication that contained some very precise and lengthy language explained in legal terms. While these statements were accurate, I believe they were not the kind of messages that wins hearts as well as minds. The board team was resolved not to negotiate in the media and adhered to the original ground rules on communications that had been set with the teachers. The ground-rules called for no communication with the public and the media on the terms of the contract negotiations. At the point when the teachers elected to strike, the union began reporting information in carefully worded statements that I believe were misleading to the public. The public should have been able to hear from both sides in language that explained not just what was happening but how it affected them on a personal level. Vermonters can make up their own minds if they have the information. We have a duty to remind them, for instance, that when the boards are trying to save money on health insurance, it is on behalf of the people who live in our towns and pay property taxes. We wanted community members to know how the boards wanted more student contact time with teachers and how their was inequity between elementary and secondary teaching schedules. During the strike, our area had the rare experience of having both our local newspapers and several television stations covering the story. Board members need to be savvy and thoughtful when it comes 16

to media relations. We learned that the media is bound by a rigid schedule so it is important to have board contacts that are available in a timely manner. If one side has a spokesperson on scene and the board has no clear spokesperson or one who is unavailable, reporters still have to file a story. It is critical that boards make an effort to reach out to reporters and share their perspective. There was some disagreement in our district about whether contract negotiation meetings should be warned to the public. While I know that those meetings will usually take place largely, if not entirely, in executive session, I believe they should be warned so the public knows about them. Because some meetings were not warned, some members of the public were unaware how the issues that led to the contract imposition were discussed over the prior 18 months and did not just crop up last summer. There were also disputes as to the commitment to negotiate and it was unclear which side had done more to cancel prior negotiating sessions. There’s no denying that the process was hard on the boards and the school community. Both sides believed that they were right and both want the public’s support. I think it would be naïve not to be aware that in a negotiation, the other side may be looking for ways to make you look bad. Therefore, I believe it’s also important to plan for a healing process following the resolution of the strike. We are still early in that process ourselves. Communication will be a key element. We need to remind ourselves that we need each other’s trust and support to reach the real goal of all this structural work: The education of our children.


Sean-Marie Oller is chair of the Mt. Anthony school board and is a member of the SVSU supervisory union board.

Budgeting Tips from Superintendents duty to meet the educational goals set by the boards with sound fiscal oversight and efficient use of resources. These procedures include frequent monitoring reports that update the boards on the overall financial picture of their districts.

By David Cyprian By the time this issue reaches your mailboxes, it will be crunch time for school budget development in most school districts around Vermont. This critical and difficult work is not made easier by the trying economic circumstances including high unemployment, stagnant housing values, and reduced state support for public education. From the Boardroom spoke with three school superintendents about specific techniques and approaches they and their boards use to encourage productive meetings and effective budget development.

Brent Kay Superintendent of Orange Southwest S.U. Brent Kay emphasizes that it is the board’s role to set a vision and clear expectations for the district and student outcomes, and to monitor progress against those goals, but that the administrative team should professionally develop and manage the budget. Instead of engaging in micromanagement, the boards of the Orange Southwest S.U. (OSSU) maintain extensive policies and procedural and process manuals that detail how the administration will fulfill its

Kay states that it is the role of administration and not of the board to manage line items in the budget. In lieu of frequent line item reports, the information OSSU provides to boards focuses on analysis of revenues and expenditures, and monitoring actual expenditures versus budgeted expenditures. Analyses also include expenditure comparisons over time and across districts. Kay believes that budgeting is a yearround process in the sense that boards should constantly be evaluating student outcomes against the goals of the district so that when budget decisions must be made, the comprehensive analysis will have already occurred. Therefore, although budget-related conversations occur over 12 months, relatively few budget deliberation meetings are necessary to finalize decisions. Frank Perotti Superintendent of Springfield S.D. Frank Perotti’s first priority in working with a new board is to ensure that the district has an active strategic plan in place that addresses the needs of the district and the community’s vision for BUDGETING continued on page 18


BUDGETING continued from page 17

its children and school system. His boards must be focused on what they need to achieve as a district and must set policy that conveys these expectations to the administration. Springfield S.D. has a formal budget committee comprised of two school board members and several community members with diverse viewpoints on school priorities. This committee monitors the budget and breaks out into subcommittees that then meet with individual building and program leaders. This helps to develop a deeper understanding of the specific goals and challenges within the school system.

Frank Perotti Perotti also emphasizes frequent and transparent communications around budget issues. All expenditures large and small must have a paper trail for monitoring and justification. Board members are given frequent reports on the actual expenditures versus budgeted expenditures including a comparison to prior years. The administration strives to keep all board members apprised of budget issues in a straightforward manner that can be explained in a supermarket conversation. Springfield S.D. also 18

makes frequent use of media to communicate school and budget issues to the community at large, particularly utilizing their local public access channel. Tracy Wrend, Lamoille South S.U. Tracy Wrend approaches the budget as a whole-year all-board member process. Wrend notes that there are three components of budgets (revenues, expenditures, and tax implications), and the tax implications are generally unknown until very late in the process. Therefore, the board must have already completed evaluations of programs and services against best practice research, cost analyses, and the vision for the district. Then, when tax information becomes available, the board is prepared to make sound final decisions in a limited timeframe. Wrend encourages her board members to each take responsibility for chunks of the budget. Then board members can make time to meet with senior staff to understand the context and prior decision-making that went into that section of the budget. Communication lines must be open between the administration and the board, among board members, and between the board and the community. She believes board members should not be shy about working with the administration to develop talking points to use when discussing the budget. Wrend emphasizes that all budget decisions must be made with students in mind – the students in school today and the children that will be attending 20 years out as well. This requires budget decisions to be filtered through a forward-looking vision for the schools in addition to a pragmatic analysis of today’s fiscal and educational environment.


Board May Request Authority to o Improve Energy Efficiency By David Cyprian Are buildings in your district candidates for energy efficiency improvements? Depending on the condition and age of a school building, new technologies in lighting, insulation, and heating may dramatically improve a building’s energy usage and efficiency. For many projects, the potential for savings is so significant that the money saved would immediately exceed the cost of principal and interest payments on the project! Projects that meet this standard are nearly “no brainers” and boards would be wise to consider the investment. Nevertheless, in today’s tight fiscal environment, many boards may be reluctant to ask voters repeatedly for authority to borrow money for a series of efficiency projects, even when the savings from each project would be real and immediate. Therefore, the 2011 Legislature created an opportunity for school boards to request from its electorate a five-year window in which the board could incur a limited amount of debt solely for making energy efficiency improvements to buildings. Specifically, in a single ballot item, the school board can request the authority to borrow no more than $350,000 per building during a five-year period, if the purpose of the borrowing is make energy efficiency improvements that will save more money annually than the cost of the debt service. This provision was approved as section 32 of Act 58, and the language can be found in 16 V.S.A. § 562(11).

To learn whether buildingss in your school district may have eligible cost-effective improvements, contact Norm Etkind, the School Energy Management Program Director, who can conduct a free building energy audit and answer questions about potential energy improvements (email, or call 802229-1017). What follows is ballot language that your school board could use to request this authority from district voters: Shall the electorate of the ________________ school district grant general authority to the school board to incur debt for cost effective school building energy improvements at any time during the next five years, not to exceed $350,000 per building in any three-year period, provided that the avoided costs attributable to the financed improvements exceed the annual payment of principal and interest of the indebtedness, and that the debt incurred is payable over a maximum period that does not exceed the useful life of the improvements, but not to exceed ten years? No indebtedness shall be incurred unless Efficiency Vermont, an independent licensed engineer, or an independent licensed architect has certified to the district the cost of the improvements to be financed, the avoided costs attributable to the improvements, and the adequacy of debt service coverage from the avoided costs over the term of the proposed indebtedness.



A Sound Investment for Years to Come Choosing the Right Energy Upgrade for Your School By Richard Donnelly, Efficiency Vermont Making an investment in today’s economy may seem like an ill-advised endeavor, but low-risk, high-return investments still abound — and your school can take advantage them. By investing in energy efficiency opportunities in your facilities, you can cut costs now and well into the future, helping to ensure your school’s current and long-term fiscal health. These opportunities may not be immediately apparent, but it doesn’t take much to find them. How to uncover your school’s energysaving opportunities Speak with your facilities manager and principal. Chances are, they’re already aware of multiple areas for energy savings. Ask them whether they have a recent “SEMP” report from the School Energy Management Program, which would detail the opportunities available. Let your school community know that you’re interested in supporting projects that reduce energy usage. They will likely have good ideas as well.

What do you need to know to evaluate the opportunity? You need only to know these three basic things to determine whether an energy upgrade is a solid investment for your school: A) Scope of work – what, precisely, is being proposed as a project? B) What are the estimated costs of implementing the project? C) What are the estimated savings your school will achieve by implementing the project?

Once you have these, calculating the rate of return is simple. This is a good point in the process to contact Efficiency Vermont. Their expertise will be helpful in verifying your projected return on investment, and they will partner with you to create a sound financing plan (including Efficiency Vermont incentives). Some funding strategies have little to no impact on a school’s budget, making it even easier to move forward. For more information on how to take an energy efficiency project from start to finish, see Efficiency Vermont’s Making the Grade: a Step-by-Step Guide for School Energy Champions, available online at or by calling 888-921-5990.


Richard Donnelly


Should we consider heating our school with wood pellets? That’s the key question that many schools are seeking an answer to. To help with that decision, this year the Chip and Pellet Conference is adding a special track to inform decision makers about pellet systems and their applicability for schools and other commercial/ institutional users. The conference will be held at the National Life building in Montpelier on Monday, January 16.

The pricing of pellets versus the cost of fuel oil is very attractive.

Heating with pellets is one way to utilize a renewable resource that supports good forest management and employment in the forest industries while saving precious education dollars. A link to further information about the conference will be posted as soon as it is available on the Vermont Superintendents Association’s website If you are interested in more information on pellet systems, for answers to your energyrelated questions, or to see if your school is eligible to receive a free school energy audit contact: Norm Etkind, Director, School Energy

Pellet furnace at Elm Hill School in Springfield

There have been many changes recently that improve the viability of the pellet option for schools: • There are now pellet manufactures in Vermont and in nearby states. •

Pellet suppliers are now willing to enter longer-term, stable-cost contracts.

There are more efficient, cleanerburning, automated pellet boiler systems.

Newer systems require little maintenance.

More local contractors are familiar with the systems and how to install and maintain them.

Management Program Email:


Phone: 229-1017

Pellet silo at Craftsbury Academy


Safe Drinking Water, “What role does the School Board play”? By Paula C. Jackson VT Rural Water Association In Vermont many schools have their own drinking water source which serves school staff and students. This drinking water source falls under the same federal and state regulatory requirements as a municipal or community drinking water source. School boards are tasked with heavy agendas which don’t always include the drinking water system until it is in an urgent state. What is the chain of command when it comes to drinking water system responsibility? 1. The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) 2. State of Vermont Water Supply Division 3. The School Board 4. Responsible person (i.e., the Principal) 5. Water Operator: Predominantly the maintenance/custodial staff or a contract operator The EPA develops the regulations which include which contaminants schools must test for and the frequency. The state of Vermont Water Supply Division ensures that the regulations are being followed and that contaminant testing is being done according to the federal regulations. EPA and The Vermont Water Supply division require an operating permit for all water systems. This operating permit is like a driver’s license. The

operating permit describes the water systems components to include standby disinfection or continuous disinfection. The operating permit also lists any required water treatment such as corrosion control. Every 3-5 years the Vermont State Water Supply Division sends out sanitary surveyors to inspect your water system and make sure it is in compliance with federal and state regulations. When they have finished the sanitary survey they issue a new operating permit. EPA and the state of Vermont Water Supply Division requires water systems to have a certified water operator. The state of Vermont manages the Operator Certification Program which provides guidance and training options to water operators. The water operators are responsible for up keep of their Water certification. School boards often do not budget money for Operators to keep up their certifications which require travel, training session fees and certification renewal fees. What responsibilities does the school board have? The biggest responsibility of the school board is budgeting for water system costs. In order to budget for water system costs the school board needs to know some of the federal and state regulations and requirements that must be adhered to. Here is a basic list of WATER continued on page 23


WATER continued from page 22

budget items a school board must take into g consideration when developing their school budget. Keep in mind that a water systems ms will have unexpected failure of equipment that won’t be budgeted for. Every water system will have different operating costs depending on size and complexity. • Operator certification / upkeep of certification • Contaminant sampling • Permits • Maintenance Resources for learning more about your school water system EPA Resources for school water systems drinkwater/pdf cfm?t_id=49&s_id=50s/Drinking-WaterBooklet.pdf drinkingwater/schools/guidance. cfm#sdwa Vermont Water Supply Division resources http://www. vermontdrinkingwater. org/ Contact Paula Jackson at pjackson@



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December 2011 From the Boardroom  

Vermont School Boards Newsletter

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