CLARENDON — A parent of four students in the Mill River Unified Union School District called for the resignation of Superintendent David Younce on the grounds that Younce allegedly harassed faculty, instructed them to break the law and hired multiple administrators — including his wife — without warning the public.
“We need a superintendent who doesn’t do their own evaluation,” said Clarendon resident Mike Spafford. “His culture of fear is unacceptable ... we demand Superintendent Younce’s immediate resignation, vote of no-confidence or ... Superintendent Younce’s termination.”
“He is entitled to his opinion,” Younce said of Spafford in an email. “I do not think it is appropriate for me to criticize a single resident’s public statements about my performance.”
Spafford opened the Clarendon floor meeting Monday night with a 20-minute speech claiming inaccuracies in the budget, misrepresentations of teachers and “threatening and retaliatory behavior,” all perpetuated by MRUUSD administration and Younce in particular.
Though the meeting also concerned the school district, that portion of the meeting was only warned on the Clarendon town website, and did not appear on the Shrewsbury, Tinmouth, Wallingford or the MRUUSD websites.
“This discussion is no longer about me, but it is about ‘we,’” Spafford began. “Tonight, I speak for dozens of teachers and parents who are afraid to speak out ...”
In the district budget, Spafford said, outgoing Mill River Union High School Principal Todd Finn had been listed as the physical education teacher, and Susan Striglia as the principal. Finn has announced he will leave Mill River and has accepted a job in Lewiston, Maine, where he will start this summer.
Spafford questioned when the position held by Beth Younce, the superintendent’s wife, was listed, created and brought to the community’s attention.
Younce’s proposed hiring of his wife doesn’t appear in the Jan. 3, 2018 MRUUSD personnel committee meeting minutes, but according to meeting minutes, during the next committee meeting on March 21, Beth Younce was approved as a new school nurse for the 2018-19 year, with her contract okayed “as proposed.”
Also, Spafford questioned why two communications positions were created for Alyson Popa and Sean Ruck, why Jodi Stewart-Ruck was the only candidate brought before the public for the Shrewsbury principal position and why a search hadn’t been conducted to appoint a replacement for Finn when he heard more than 2 dozen candidates applied for the assistant principal’s position.
“Can you imagine how many people would have applied for the principal position?” Spafford asked. “Why do we, the taxpayers of the community, not deserve to be involved in the decision-making, yet we are being asked to approve an $853,000 budget increase?”
Spafford questioned Stewart-Ruck’s time at the Mill River Union High School campus “conducting investigations” when she is being paid a principal’s salary at the Shrewsbury Mountain School, and why funds weren’t being used to hire math or reading teachers when MRUUSD math and reading scores are below average.
“This budget ... does not address our students’ greatest needs,” Spafford said.
Spafford also questioned the 25 percent increase in the health services budget and asked to see the superintendent’s, Beth Younce’s and each of the principals’ salaries, which were not specified in the budget. Younce was hired as superintendent in 2014 with an annual salary of $112,500.
In an email Tuesday night, School Board Chairwoman Tammy Heffernan said she couldn’t recall salary breakdowns being included in school budgets.
Spafford cited an article on vtdigger.org in which the American Civil Liberties Union alleged Younce violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, in which the superintendent instructed staff to dissuade parents from seeking school psychologist evaluations. In a series of emails provided to the Herald by staff members who asked not to be named, the instructions appeared to be because school staff was unable to keep up with the demand for evaluations, but under IDEA, the school system is obligated to provide them. One administrator admitted that this action would violate the law in an email and addressed to Younce and other staffers.
On Dec. 7, 2018 director of Student Services Coral Stone sent an email to David Younce and staff members reiterating that teachers should try to re-route parents who felt their child needed to be evaluated as a school psychologist, because they were “maxed out on the number of student evaluations that we can reasonably conduct.”
“Everyone, I just wanted to send out an email that I respectfully ask to you not to share beyond this group, but I need you to be aware that regarding special education evaluations of students, our system has reached a slightly precarious threshold,” the email reads. “I’d like you to please make every effort to curtail evaluation requests coming from your EST’s for the time-being ... please do not make any kind of formal announcement to your EST or to your staff that we aren’t accepting requests for any new evaluations (as this would violate the law in a number of ways), but it would be great if you could help teams and teachers devise interim supports that students can receive until such time that we get ahead of our backlog.”
In a Jan. 1 email sent from Stone to Younce and staff members, Stone identifies herself as the “case manager” for all caseloads at Wallingford Elementary and Tinmouth Elementary School, before asking staff to keep the issue quiet.
“Please recall that, unofficially, I’ve had to put a moratorium on special education evaluations,” Stone said. “As a reminder, I ask you not to communicate this information beyond those listed on this email, but until we restore our necessary staffing capacity and clear the log of evaluations that we currently have, all new evaluations are on hold.”
Younce had previously directed staff to follow instructions from Stone as well as other members of his leadership team, in an Oct. 4 email announcing his “Leadership Team Restructuring.”
“Why were people being asked to break the law rather than find the money to serve special education students?” Spafford asked on Monday. “Who is holding the superintendent accountable?”
Bus consolidation was allegedly supposed to save the district money, but Spafford said the bus ambassadors that the district promised remained to be seen, and elementary school students ended up riding with high school students and being dropped off farther away. According to Spafford, the Model UN team had to find extra lodging and their own way home when they were stranded in a snowstorm last month, which Spafford said the teachers paid for out of pocket when Younce wouldn’t authorize a bus.
Younce declined to answer questions about the allegation.
Younce deferred to Heffernan for any comments regarding his career and work.
“The Personnel Committee undertakes the evaluation of the superintendent and uses that information to evaluate his performance. The Board is pleased with the superintendent’s performance as of its most recent review,” Heffernan said.
This article has been updated.
A recording of Mill River Superintendent David Younce addressing his staff in a tense, angry meeting has surfaced, in which Younce compares staff who he felt were undermining him to a “cancer,” and “critters” who would scatter when the lights were turned on, indirectly accusing them of eroding his authority.
The recording illustrates how Younce’s approach had made teachers in the supervisory union feel threatened and marginalized, according to multiple teachers contacted for this story. In addition, these teachers feared that if they spoke up, their jobs would be at risk.
But in the recording Younce details how rumors about his personal life had negatively affected him and indicated deeper problems in the district.
He called the Oct. 19, 2018 meeting to confront the rumors in an Oct. 17 email — provided to the Herald by faculty who asked not to be named — addressed from David Younce to “All Staff” called for a mandatory meeting two days later at 8 a.m. “sharp” in the Mill Union River High School auditorium.
Someone in attendance recorded the meeting, and left the recording on Rutland area NAACP chapter President Tabitha Pohl-Moore’s porch. Moore, former chairwoman of the school counseling department, provided the recording to the Rutland Herald and confirmed the voice as being Younce’s.
“I was present for this meeting, and I can confirm the voice that I am hearing is indeed the voice of the superintendent,” said outgoing MRUHS Principal Todd Finn upon listening to the recording earlier this week.
English language-arts teacher Jennifer Little said she, too, had been at the meeting. She confirmed that it is Younce’s voice on the recording. Former MRUHS math teacher Gary Ackerman also confirmed that the man speaking on the recording is Younce.
“I acknowledge that I met with District employees to notify them that malicious and false rumors about me were unfounded,” Younce said in an email Tuesday. “I am sorry that a staff member chose to record the meeting without my knowledge or consent. That kind of conduct is not consistent with my understanding of professional behavior.”
After rumors spread that Younce had allegedly been inappropriately involved with another faculty member, Younce said his audience would be getting “unfiltered Dave.”
In the recording, he began by saying he personally requested a copy of the banner printed with the words “You Will Be Found,” an initiative started earlier that year by Finn as a suicide awareness campaign.
“Today I’m really going to focus on these last two lines ... ‘You will be found,’ and ‘Here, you matter,’” Younce said. “I have been struggling ... Personally, for the past, let’s say, roughly, month, I’ve wondered if I matter.”
In the recording, Younce said he heard a rumor that he was allegedly having an affair with another teacher in the district. He is married to Beth Younce, who serves as the district nurse.
Younce said he was called out of a superintendent’s conference in Montpelier by a phone call informing him of the rumor.
“If any of you know my wife or my marriage ... you know I live the best damn life there is,” Younce said. He said he and his wife talked over the impact the rumors would have on their children, and wondered what it said about the people working in the district.
“I’m a white, Christian male, over 6 feet tall ... I check all the boxes to be able to do whatever I want in this world,” Younce said. “... I got all the power in the world, especially in this context, in school — I can do anything I want.”
How would people in the district treat someone who did not have these things, Younce asked, if they would attack someone with “all the boxes checked.”
Later, Younce said his actions were analyzed regarding his relationship with the faculty member involved.
“The District investigated my behavior after learning of the rumors,” Younce said in an email. “It found the allegations unsubstantiated.”
In the recording, he claimed to have his hands in every project and to know more about the district than anyone has ever known.
“I also know more than any other Mill River parent knows ... about their teachers, about their administrators, about their School Board, about their communities. If other people knew what I knew, they might not be the proud Mill River parents that I am,” he said in the recording.
Younce said he didn’t feel confident or strong about the team of faculty and staff at Mill River, and he wanted every staff member to remember Oct. 19 as the day the Mill River community turned a corner.
“You’re going to be turning a corner, or you’re going to be gone,” Younce said. “When I was a kid ... I used to love turning over rocks and watching all the bugs and worms and beetles scurry away ... it’s time to start turning over rocks.”
Younce said the truth about Mill River was that some in the district were working against the schools.
“There has always been a cancer lurking beneath the surface,” Younce said. “And it’s doing its nasty work.”
Younce referred to the words “You Will Be Found,” and told staff he would be looking and listening for staff acting against him.
“I’m not telling you that as a positive today,” Younce said. “If you’re the critter that’s going to scurry when the lights come on, you will be found. You have former colleagues ... who have been found ... I’m not going to tolerate bugs underneath the rocks.”
Former MRUHS math teacher Gary Ackerman returned to teach at MRUHS in September 2018, but left in February to teach at Greenfield Community College. He said the meeting felt discouraging and uncomfortable.
“(I thought) if this is the culture and this is the way teachers will be talked to when situations arise ... it’s probably time for me to go ... if I talked to students this way, I’d probably be written up and reprimanded,” he said in an interview Tuesday.
Younce then referred to the Kid Rock song “Only God Knows Why,” saying “people get what they deserve,” before assuring the audience that he is directly involved in every piece of work done at Mill River, and would continue to be, whether they liked it or not.
“I guarantee you, I’m here for at least another three school years,” Younce said. “So if the stuff we’re doing ticks you off ... you’re still stuck with me.”
In the recording, Younce promised to protect anyone who came forward and assured the audience that they and their kids are more vulnerable than he was. He told them to submit if they had any knowledge of any other members of the Mill River community doing anything unethical.
“I’m dead serious,” Younce said. “I care about this place more than you know, and if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be standing here.”
Finn said Younce later approached him and said he regretted his negative reference to the “You Will Be Found” banner.
“The superintendent’s choices are his prerogative,” Finn said. “He’s the leader in charge of the district.”
Matthew Reveal became the newest member of the Board of Aldermen Tuesday.
The owner of Muckenschnabel’s, who defeated perennial candidate Dan White to claim the remaining year of William Notte’s term on the board, is the only new face in city government. Mayor David Allaire handily defeated challenger Michel “Champlain” Messier to win a second term, and voters returned all incumbent aldermen to their seats.
Messier campaigned on a pledge to keep the city budget less than $20 million and find new creative approaches to city government. Allaire ran on his record, which convinced a sizeable majority of the voters, propelling him to a 1,707 to 657 victory.
“Obviously, I’m very excited, very grateful to the voters in the city,” Allaire said. “I’m looking forward to the next two years. ... I think the voters were very clear in their choice, and it’s time to move ahead.”
Allaire congratulated Messier for running a positive campaign.
“I did my best,” Messier said. “This was a lot more fun than I expected. I’ll be back. I will continue to run for the highest office available.”
City Treasurer Mary Markowski beat Messier by an even wider margin, winning election to her first full term 1,963 to 429. Markowski was appointed to the position after Wendy Wilton resigned to take a job in the federal government. City Assessor Barry Keefe fended off another challenge from repeat candidate Kam Johnston, 1,834 to 489.
Reveal and White were head-to-head for the seat Notte vacated after his election to the Legislature late last year. Reveal, who won 1,510 to 597, thanked the voters for their trust in him.
“There’s a lot of decisions that get made,” he said. “We’ve got a lot on our plates. There’s a lot to do in the coming year, and I’m looking forward to jumping right in.”
Alderwoman Lisa Ryan was the highest vote-getter among the nine candidates seeking the six two-year seats on the Board of Aldermen. Ryan handily won re-election to a second term with 1,465 votes.
“I’m super excited; a little overwhelmed; very, very grateful,” Ryan said. “I worked hard, and I put myself out there in the last couple years in a number of capacities. ... I’m very humbled by the experience and my ability to serve Rutland’s people.”
Alderman Tom DePoy was right behind her with 1,404 votes. Alderman Christopher Ettori came in third with 1,389 and Alderman William Gillam — a long-serving alderman who returned the board last year as an appointee — took fourth with 1,353.
In fifth place was Alderwoman Melinda Humphrey with 1,257 and Alderwoman Rebecca Mattis with 1,039.
Missing the post were Matthew Merritt with 971 votes and former city fire chief Robert Schlachter with 873. Jacqueline “Beth” Fleck, who did not attend the PEG-TV candidate’s forum or respond to inquiries as part of the Herald’s election coverage, came in last with 752.
City voters approved everything on the town meeting ballot Tuesday.
That included a $21 million municipal budget, a $54 million school budget, two bonds totaling $10 million and every request from a social service organization.
“I think it’s fairly evident overall that people are happy with the way the city is moving,” Mayor David Allaire said. “I look forward to hearing everyone’s input as we march forward.”
The $21,454,605 city budget, up less than 1 percent from last year, was approved 1,564 to 985.
“We worked very hard to get that to the voters with as less of an increase as we could,” Allaire said.
The $54,779,194 school budget was up roughly 4 percent from last year. Voters said “yes,” 1,438 to 1,061. School Board Chairman Dick Courcelle did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
The bonds passed by even more decisive margins. The first, $7.4 million for various improvements to the sewer system — including equipment at the treatment plant, a new force main on River Street and two overflow prevention projects — was approved 1,910 to 648. The second — $3 million for work on the Grove Street Bridge as well as culverts on Park Street, Church Street, Allen Street, Grove Street and Lincoln Avenue — was approved 1,957 to 614.
On Monday, the Board of Aldermen approved three engineering contracts for the projects — contingent on the bonds’ approval.
“We hope to get a minimum of two of the projects, and hopefully three, at least started and hopefully completed in 2019,” Public Works Commissioner Jeffrey Wennberg said Tuesday. “There should be no delay. ... We’re right on track to get these completed as quickly as possible.”
Wennberg noted that despite the city’s financial struggles, voters have a long history of supporting infrastructure bonds.
“I think it’s because voters understand these are investments in their future and the future of their city,” he said.
“The United States will never move toward a single-payer health care system unless it makes good business sense.”
- Editorial, A4
The town’s representatives to the State House were grilled at Clarendon’s annual town floor meeting about how they voted with regard to H.57, “An act relating to preserving the right to abortion,” that was passed in the House a few weeks ago. A3
See the full page with results from Benson, Clarendon, Danby, Mount Tabor, Rutland Town, West Rutland. A10
Medical Job Fair
Career fair for nurses and others in health science fields. 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Castleton University Fine Arts Center, 45 Alumni Drive, Castleton, email@example.com.