MONTPELIER — Montpelier teachers leveled charges of bullying, favoritism and bias, a lack of trust and fear of retaliation at school administration on Tuesday, publicly calling on the school board to hold the school administration accountable.
The charges were included in a prepared statement issued by the Montpelier Education Association (MEA) and read by Montpelier teacher and MEA Vice President Lester Orndorff at the monthly Montpelier School Board meeting Tuesday.
“Montpelier teachers are meeting today to protest the lack of progress being made by the district administration to improve the culture of the Montpelier School District,” according to the letter, which listed five specific points of teacher concern according to a MEA survey conducted earlier this year.
Teachers said the five specific concerns are: an atmosphere of bullying of MEA members; a fear of retaliation or reprisals for raising concerns; a belief there is favoritism or bias for certain individuals depending on friendships and family relationships; a feeling that teachers are not valued by administration; and a lack of trust that administration is willing or capable of making positive changes to improve the working atmosphere.
“Montpelier teachers have made it their goal and mission to positively change the school culture during the 2019-2020 school year; the MEA is hoping to work with the Montpelier BOE to ensure the administration is held accountable to accomplish this goal,” the letter said. About two dozen teachers, including MEA Co-President Stacie Yagelski, attended Tuesday’s board meeting, which concluded with a closed executive session.
After Orndorff read the letter, Superintendent Dr. Jamison Grime said he had met twice with teachers since the beginning of the year to address concerns, once on Aug. 19 and once on Monday, but didn’t hear specifics about their concerns at either meeting.
“I’m trying to listen ... I’m trying to keep open lines of communication ... I’m not sure what needs fixed,” Grime said.
Yagelski responded that Grime “yelled and screamed” during at least one individual meeting with her, which she said “makes it difficult to communicate,” a charge that Grime denied.
“I’ve made it clear to my staff, if you have issues, file a grievance ... there’s only been one filed and it (was resolved),” Grime said.
The MEA letter noted that as part of back-to-school activities in August, the administration invited noted motivational speaker Jim Mahony to speak about school culture, and that Mahony “stressed that school culture is everything, and that encouragement matters. The Montpelier Education Association wholeheartedly supports this position.”
First-year Assistant Principal Mike Bumb, though, questioned the teachers’ assertion that the culture within the school is negative, saying that from what he could see “the culture is fine.”
“We need to get things ironed out. It’s time to put this to rest, in my opinion,” Bumb said.
MEA member Barb Turner though, said in response to Bumb that he cannot see the negative culture because, “It’s all (done) behind closed doors.”
Yagelski said Grime did meet with teachers both on Aug. 19 and on Monday, but teacher concerns were not a topic of discussion at either meeting. “(Grime) did ask if there were other concerns, but that was not the time to bring up (the MEA’s issues),” Yagelski said after Tuesday’s meeting.
Orndorff and Yagelski said the issues date back to the beginning of the year, when the MEA vocalized its issues and asked the board and the administration to put some changes in motion. That ongoing lack of action precipitated the letter, they said.
“There’s been no productive action taken to address the union’s issues. That’s why we put this press release together. We’re trying to get the community aware of our issues. We’ve tried to have the board and the administration address these issues and we’ve seen no changes, so (the press release is how) we’re trying to get the community involved,” Orndorff said prior to the meeting.
Several teachers said after the meeting that no teacher will file a grievance because, as one MEA member said, teachers “are too scared” to put their name on it for fear of reprisal.
Orndorff and Yagelski said two board members on their own initiative have recently met with the MEA to discuss the issues.
“They listened. But there’s no action. But we have to open the lines of communication,” Yagelski said. She and Orndorff declined to identify the two board members in that meeting except to say the MEA felt they were more agreeable than the others to listen to their concerns.
Prior to the Tuesday meeting, board member Terry Buntain said she had heard two members had met with the MEA, but she was not one of them.
The MEA represents an overwhelming percentage of Montpelier teachers, and Orndorff said to date, the MEA is 100 percent united in its stand.
Grime, visibly upset, declined comment after Tuesday’s meeting, as did board President Darrell Higbie and board members Kim Friend and Nate Rose. Board member Jeremy Clinger was absent.