Angry Warren residents wanted answers they didn't get at a special school board meeting held Tuesday, July 7. Photo: Rachel Goff

After a standing-room-only Warren School Board meeting that took place Tuesday, July 7, a group of community members has put together a petition calling for a vote of no confidence in three members of the school board due to their decision not to renew the contract of the school's administrative assistant, Laurie Jones.

At a special meeting on Friday, June 19, Warren School Board chair Mike Ketchel and members Rob Rosen and Adam Greshin voted for the nonrenewal of Jones' employee contract. The fourth school board member, Matt Staples, voted against the nonrenewal.

Jones accepted the board's separation agreement on Thursday, July 2, which included "a very healthy benefit," Ketchel told the public on Tuesday. As for the board's reasons for dismissing the woman who had worked at the front desk of the school for 27 years, he said nothing.


"There's limited information we can give you about what, where, why and how," Ketchel said of the board's decision not to renew Jones' contract. "There are very few details we can share," Ketchel said, due to privacy laws regarding personnel issues and "because of the respect we have for Laurie," but the over 100 community members who came out to last Tuesday's meeting questioned that respect.

According to Warren resident Alycia Biondo, who addressed the board last Tuesday, Jones "was not given the opportunity to retire in honor, as she totally deserves," she said, explaining that the school board's nonrenewal decision showed "callous disregard for a pillar of our community."

"Laurie was not ready to retire and was not planning for it at this time," Warren resident Mollie German said, speaking for the administrative assistant, and others questioned the ways in which the public was notified of the board's discussions at meetings leading up to their decision to dismiss Jones.

While Ketchel said that all of the board meetings at which Jones' nonrenewal was discussed were properly warned, members of the community said they felt blindsided by the decision. "Where's the honesty, transparency and communication?" Warren resident and former school board member Charlotte Robinson asked.


Of the residents who stepped up to the microphone at last Tuesday's meeting, almost all of them called into question whether the board was accurately representing their community.

"I've never been in this building and seen so many tears on people's faces," Warren resident Nick Morehouse said of the public's reaction to the nonrenewal of Jones' contract.

The administrative assistant was, for many students, their introduction to Warren School. She knew every student's name and she took care of them, parents told the board last Tuesday. "She made the school feel like my own home," student Rachel Goodwin said, and "I never got the chance to say goodbye."

In dismissing Jones, "It feels like you're dismantling our world," Warren resident Ashley Woods said, explaining that she felt like the board was slowly trying to take away what made the school special. Others suggested that the nonrenewal of Jones' contract was an example of the administration's attempts to "institutionalize" Warren School.

"I'm concerned about the incessant stirrings of dissatisfaction all around me," Warren resident Meredith Jacoby said, explaining that she is not alone in questioning the intentions of the school board, the principal and the superintendent of Washington West Supervisory Union (WWSU).


Warren School principal Jill Ballou, who was new last year, was not present at last Tuesday's meeting. Ballou is currently away on medical leave, Ketchel explained, and it's "directly related to the stress of this situation," he said.

WWSU superintendent Brigid Scheffert Nease was present at last Tuesday's meeting, where she spoke out against residents' claims that the supervisory union was trying to take away what made Warren School special or institutionalize it.

"I have seven schools," Scheffert Nease said. "They are all very different. I'm OK with that. I'm not trying to clone schools," she said. "I have not asked Warren School, since I have come to town, to change anything," Scheffert Nease said.

As far as Scheffert Nease's role in the board's nonrenewal of Jones' contract, "If you are under the mindset that this is some sort of unilateral decision ... that is absolutely not true," she said. "As the superintendent of schools, I have almost no authority or power."


When asked if the board's decision was part of an effort to cut back on ever-increasing school costs by replacing older, more experienced staff with new employees with low starting salaries, "It's absolutely not about money," Ketchel responded. "It's not about the budget."

While, due to the privacy laws regarding personnel issues, they could not explain their decision to dismiss Jones, "Times change, people change and organizations must adapt," Greshin read from a statement the board had prepared for Tuesday's meeting.

"New legislation in Montpelier – Act 46 – is creating greater scrutiny of each school's contribution to a smaller, tighter statewide education system," Greshin read, and "school administrations are under significant pressure to adapt curriculum and resources."

According to Scheffert Nease, Warren School was having trouble adapting, as a lot of its accounting and records were "out of compliance," she said.

As for Jones' personal ability to adapt to the requirements of the new legislation, "I will tell you that she was given many opportunities to change what needed to change," Ketchel said.


While, legally, Jones is not permitted to talk about the circumstances surrounding her nonrenewal, after Tuesday's meeting she said she was "overwhelmed by the community support and the affection people are showing for me in this difficult time in my life."

Staples, the one member of the school board who voted against dismissing Jones, stayed quiet up until the end of Tuesday's meeting, when he praised the community for coming out and speaking. "I think it's important that this kind of involvement ... and this showing of interest continues," he said.

At the end of the discussion, Alycia Biondo was appointed to the school board to fill a position vacated by Laurie Greenberg who resigned from the board to accept a position as 3/4 grade teacher at the school. (See related story Page 7.)

Moving forward, a group of community members dubbed Friends of the Warren School has drafted a petition calling for a vote of no confidence in the three Warren School Board members who voted for the nonrenewal of Jones' employee contract.

The petition reads: "We, the undersigned citizens of Warren School of Washington West Supervisory Union, hereby express a vote of no confidence in the school board members Rob Rosen, Michael Ketchel, Adam Greshin. We respectfully ask that these board members resign from their positions and that a special vote take place to appoint the new leadership positions of our Warren School Board."

Friends of the Warren School plans on posting the petition in public spaces throughout The Valley. The community members are also working on a petition calling for the removal of Scheffert Nease to go out sometime next week. {jcomments on}