A former Stowe School Board member who requested three months of superintendent Tracy Wrend’s emails came up empty-handed in his fishing expedition — though some fellow ex-board members found themselves caught in his net.
“There’s no smoking gun,” Drew Clymer said of his request.
Clymer last week said he had filed the request because he suspected Wrend of machinations related to Stowe’s vote to leave the Lamoille South school district.
It wasn’t until he read last week’s Stowe Reporter, in which Wrend said she felt Stowe is best served by remaining in the merged district, that he felt validated in his request.
Clymer suspected Wrend was talking behind the scenes about keeping Stowe part of the merged Lamoille South school district, even as a faction of Stowe residents worked to pull the town out.
A vote on withdrawing from the merged district is scheduled for May 11.
Reading through the 300 pages of emails from Wrend, it appears Clymer is correct — most of the correspondence is benign discussion about merger withdrawal between current board members; numerous Front Porch Forum digests in which merger divorce appears as a topic; and a raft of weekly newsletters from the local COVID-19 human services task force, for which Emily Rosenbaum, one of the former school board members included in the request, works as communications director.
Clymer, who served on the now-defunct Stowe School Board for two months in 2017 following a resignation, filed an April 12 public records request for “all emails, texts, letters, memoranda, reports or other writings issued or received” by Wrend and her staff related to the May 11 vote. This came before Wrend’s appearance at an April 12 Stowe Selectboard meeting, in which she made herself available to answer merger questions.
“I wanted to know if people had primed her on what she should be discussing,” he said.
Although she recently said she thinks Stowe is better off in the merged district, Wrend on Tuesday dismissed any notions that she was trying to steer anyone in one direction in her question-and-answer appearance before the Stowe Selectboard.
“My job as superintendent is to let people know the facts and implications of important educational matters such as possible withdrawal from (Lamoille South) so that people can make informed decisions,” Wrend said. “That’s what I’ve done — communicated the facts. Any assertion that getting the facts out there is a way of campaigning for one direction or the other is ridiculous.”
Clymer’s request covered a roughly-three-month period, from mid-January through the first week in April. He expanded his search to five former Stowe and Lamoille South school board members — Cam Page, Emily Bradbury and Rosenbaum, all served on the former standalone Stowe board; Norm Williams, who served only on the merged school board; and Cara Zimmerman, who served on both.
The reason for their inclusion: they were among 14 co-signatories to an April 1 letter in the Stowe Reporter which posed a raft of questions surrounding Stowe potential leaving Lamoille South.
“In the past, we were two school districts and then became one,” the letter read. “Now, we are one district considering becoming two. These are very different things.”
On the other hand, Clymer is a signatory on a pair of letters in this newspaper on April 8 and April 15, urging Stowe voters leave the district. The signatories on those letters were also former school board members: Clymer, Richard Bland, Jim Brochhausen and Leigh Pelletier.
Clymer loosely separated the two factions into two categories — those who support the embattled superintendent, Wrend, and those who don’t.
“That’s what it really boils down to,” he said. “They drink Tracy’s Kool-Aid or they don’t drink Tracy’s Kool-Aid.”
This newspaper reached out to all five former board members Clymer included in his public records request, and all declined to comment.
Page, a long-serving Stowe School Board member — she was first elected in 1996 and served until 2017, most of that time as board chair — said she signed the April 1 letter because, as a former board member, she understood the issues that needed to be considered in deciding how to vote.
“If I do not know the answers to these questions, I assume many Stowe voters do not,” Page wrote in an email. “Asking questions does not indicate which way I will choose to vote once I am better informed about the educational and financial implications of each choice.”
Clymer, who is also the chair of the Stowe Development Review Board, said his request “was all about Tracy,” and wasn’t aimed at his former colleagues.
He is able to disagree with people who have differing opinions on school issues but still respect them, he said.
“I just don't want to be viewed as somebody with an agenda, or with an axe to grind,” Clymer said. “I really need to be above that kind of reproach, where my character would be called into question.”