Lamoille South board's first meeting

Lamoille South's first board meeting in August. From left are board members Leigh Pelletier, Cara Zimmerman, Karen Cleary, David Bickford, Stephanie Craig, superintendent Tracy Wrend, finance director Andy Lundeen, and board members Tiffany Donza, Penny Jones and Lisa Cross.

Another representative to the school board that oversees schools in Stowe, Morristown and Elmore has abruptly resigned, leaving Stowe with only one person on the seven-member board.

Stowe resident Cara Zimmerman resigned Monday at 4:33 p.m. by email, just an hour before that evening’s scheduled board meeting. Zimmerman was, up until then, the board’s chairwoman.

She cited personal reasons for her departure, but didn’t go into further detail.

In a statement to the newspaper Tuesday, she wrote, “I’d like to thank the Stowe community for electing me to serve on the school board, and my fellow board members for entrusting me with the chair position for the past three years. I have resigned from the board effective Oct. 21 for personal reasons. It has been a privilege to work with such a dedicated and professional team of individuals to steward our excellent schools through a very intense period of change that included the state-mandated merger, the transition to proficiency-based learning, a redesigned math curriculum, and the appointment of new principals to the elementary and high schools. I am proud of the work we accomplished and am confident that the vacant seats will be filled with dedicated community members who will serve the schools in our district well.”

Morristown resident Stephanie Craig, who was the board’s vice chair, led Monday’s meeting in Zimmerman’s sudden absence.

“Cara was an incredible asset to the board, our children and the entire (Lamoille South school district) community,” Craig said in an email Tuesday. “We are saddened to hear of her decision to resign but respect it. We will continue to focus on our commitment to high-quality education for all of our students and will be moving forward to fill both board vacancies as soon as possible.”

Zimmerman’s departure comes on the heels of another Stowe resignation — the board clerk, Leigh Pelletier, resigned Oct. 9.

Pelletier criticized the board’s recent handling of a wrongful termination lawsuit filed four years ago against superintendent Tracy Wrend by former Peoples Academy teacher David Bain, whom Wrend fired in 2014 for alleged misconduct.

While a U.S. District Court judge tossed most of the lawsuit, he did allow part of it to go forward and, on Sept. 11, a jury sided with Bain, saying his firing was done in retaliation. Bain was awarded $150,000 in compensatory and punitive damages. Wrend’s lawyer plans to appeal the case to the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals.

At the heart of Pelletier’s decision was a statement the board made at the end of a long executive session Oct. 7 meeting, which she refused to vote on.

That statement read, “With the information at hand, both Tracy Wrend and the former Morristown School Board have our support that the proper process took place surrounding the dismissal of David Bain.”

When asked this week how she felt about two members of the seven-person board abruptly stepping down with two weeks of each other, Pelletier said she thinks the jury verdict “played a significant role in the recent resignations.”

“As a lawyer, I was not comfortable with the flawed process that the board used to reach its decision to issue its statement of support; and I was unwilling to disrespect the court’s findings,” she wrote in an email Tuesday. “The finding of retaliation by the jury was aligned with certain feedback the board received in the past in public comment, articles in the local press, letters to the editor, and concerns raised in personal conversations with board members. Yet, the board chose not to move forward being responsive to the concerns raised by the community. The question the board should answer is: How does the board support statement benefit our community or help our community move beyond the verdict?”

Pelletier and Zimmerman are both lawyers, but Zimmerman remained tight-lipped.

“My decision was my own personal decision and should not be read together with Leigh’s decision,” she said.

Zimmerman’s departure now leaves Stowe with only one person — Tiffany Donza — on the seven-member Lamoille South board, which was formed only this year, after the state Board of Education forced a merger of the governance structure for the Elmore-Morristown and Stowe school districts.

Zimmerman, Pelletier and Donza all sat on the former Stowe School Board.

Show goes on

Even as the board seeks two new Stowe representatives, the rest of the board still has work to do.

• This is still a new governing body, and it still needs to come up with guiding policies for its operations.

On Monday, the board formally adopted 23 policies:

Limited English proficiency students, prohibition of firearms and weapons, pupil privacy, prevention of harassment, hazing and bullying of students, student conduct and discipline, 18-year-old students, student freedom of expression in school-sponsored media, board member conflict of interest, notice of nondiscrimination, role and adoption of school board policies, substitute teachers, volunteers and work study students, alcohol and drug-free workplace, HIPAA compliance, grade advancement, animal dissection, class size, visits by parents, community members or media, proficiency-based graduation requirements, capitalization of assets, travel reimbursement, prevention of conflict of interest in procurement, and mandatory drug and alcohol testing of transportation employees.

The board completed a first read on four policies — education records, public participation at board meetings, responsible use of electronic resources and the internet, and use of imaging and recording devices in school — that will be warned for adoption on Nov. 18

And the board held an initial work session on five policies that will be reviewed again at a subsequent meeting: transportation, participation of home study students in school programs and activities, Title 1 part A parental involvement compact, Title 1 comparability, and tobacco prohibition.

• Also Monday, the board reviewed community feedback from an Oct. 14 community engagement forum that drew roughly 200 people to Peoples Academy. The board is still looking for feedback on the community’s “hopes and dreams” surrounding three key components: quality, equity and facilities. The district has launched a survey to gather more feedback, which can be found online at lsuuhopesdreams.

• The board accepted a one-year bid received from Robert and Sons to handle snowplowing and mowing services for Morristown schools.

• Lamoille South finance director Andy Lundeen gave the board with a brief overview of the timeline for the 2020-21 budget. The board will begin reviewing the proposed budget Dec. 2.

It will be the board’s first budget that covers all three towns. This year’s budget came about largely by combining the budgets the individual school districts had crafted, just in case they prevailed in a legal fight against the State Board of Education attempting to halt the merger.

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