BY GENE DELORENZO

BRANDON – At its January 5 meeting, the Otter Valley Unified Union School Board offered the principal post to Michael Ruppel of Springfield, Vt.. Mr. Ruppel is currently the assistant principal at Springfield High School. He was named a Roland Fellow in 2017 for his outstanding work in education. More details will follow should he accept the offer. His anticipated start date would be July 1.

In other actions taken into consideration at Wednesday’s meeting, the board discussed potential time limits placed on public spoken presentations at meetings, considered the amount of involvement in the governance process by administrators, and reviewed the proposed budget for the fiscal year 2023.

The proposed budget for the fiscal year 2023 as presented showed a 7.87% increase from 2022. The amount to be spent in FY2021-2022 comes in at $20,060,086, while proposed expenditure for FY2022-2023 is listed at $21,696,910. In the budget, revenue is projected to increase by 2%, while spending per student is anticipated to be $17,236 compared to the current amount of $15,537. The state average is $18,023.

Addressing other issues, board member Kevin Thornton opined that the proposed two-minute limit designated for people to speak at a public forum “stinks” and called it a “horrible idea” as he believes it is contrary to the “Vermont tradition” of public expression. He stressed that there is a long tradition of “listening to constituents” and that the two-minute limit is a “panic reaction” by the State School Board association, which has suggested limiting public speaking at school board meetings.

Board member Derek Larsen, Brandon, disagreed and said the limit would discourage “redundancy” in public speaking. RNESU Superintendent Jeanne Collins eventually suggested that the topic should be “wordsmithed” and sent back for further discussion and analysis.

Supt. Jeanne Collins reviewed the district’s governance policy in light of her pending departure and the installation of a new superintendent. Collins noted the four broad parts of the “governance policy” are: global ends, executive limitations, management and delegation, and evaluation of the superintendent.

The board launched into a lengthy discussion regarding protocol surrounding the governance policy and the “voice of the board,” which elicited responses from Bill Mathis, Kevin Thornton, and Barbara Ebling. That discussion centered around management and delegation and evaluation of the superintendent. 

Mathis said the board needed to show flexibility and not be overly rigid, that the concept of a centralization of power needed watching by the board and others, and that the phrase “reasonable interpretation” (when viewed in terms of what the superintendent can/cannot do) is potentially dangerous. He also noted that the ability to modify policies needed to be a part of the overall package on an ongoing basis. Thornton echoed the thoughts of Mr. Mathis, as regards policies being very difficult to amend and that he believed the board has “no say” in the hiring process of a new superintendent.

Ebling countered his thoughts by saying there were avenues within the policy procedures for board members and citizens to have input surrounding the hiring process for a new superintendent. She feels that the constituents are “encouraged to be involved” and should be.

Board chair Laurie Bertrand thanked the members for their input and reaffirmed the consensus belief that Supt. Collins has done a fine job as superintendent and that the community “thanks her for her efforts.”

Collins concluded the meeting by saying she was concerned about the impact of COVID-19, Omicron variant, on Otter Valley High School and the State of Vermont. She cited “upwards of 30 cases” of the disease at OVUHS on Tuesday, January 4. She also mentioned the absence of 50% of the school custodians, along with two bus drivers. Finally, she praised the “incredible patience” of OVUHS parents, staff members, faculty, and others during this challenging time.