First GM Unified School District budget goes down in defeat

By Cynthia Prairie
©2018 Telegraph Publishing LLC

The voters of the towns of Andover, Baltimore, Cavendish and Chester — well, 739 of them anyway — rejected the first ever proposed budget of the new consolidated Green Mountain Unified School District. The ballots were all brought to Chester Tuesday night to be counted together since the votes are tabulated by the full district and not by town.  The final tally was 394 No votes to 345 Yes or 53.3 percent of the voter to 46.7 percent, a respectable victory for those who expressed their dismay about the budget and the process.

The defeat will actually give voters — should they attend the meetings — more say in the budget, which will now be returned to the GMUSD board of directors for rejiggering.

Reached last night, board chair Marilyn Mahusky, “I’m disappointed by the outcome, but respect the views of the voters and look forward to working with the board and the administration to craft a new budget.”

GMUSD was formed in the state-mandated Act 46 merger process with the twin goals of reducing costs and increasing educational opportunities for students. It did simply governance as the six boards that represented the four towns are sugared down to one.

During the budgeting process, several deadlocked votes by the district’s finance committee and pressure to meet print deadlines for Town Meeting Day reports, the new GMUSD board approved the plan at its Jan. 17 meeting, just one day after it received a final draft from the supervisory union. If it had been approved, the $12.5 million budget was to operate Chester-Andover and Cavendish Town elementary schools and Green Mountain High with an an equalized per pupil spending of $15,659.

But it wasn’t the size of the budget that bothered a number of “no” voters. Sara Stowell of Cavendish said, “My ‘No’ vote was not that the budget was so high. It was that it wasn’t transparent.”

Counting the school budget ballots in Chester. Photo by Shawn Cunningham

The lack of transparency was a common complaint throughout the process not only from parents but school board members as well.

Many felt the budget was opaque and difficult to understand, while others voiced concerns over the cuts that were proposed in the nursing staff and the loss of the principal position in Cavendish. These were then restored with “temporary” positions that made many nervous that the changes would be made again at a later date.

Others, including The Chester Telegraph, questioned executive sessions that were not within the bounds of the Open Meeting Law.

Still others also felt that the allocation of the budget was not acceptable, with a new “teaching dean of students” for Chester-Andover being chosen while dropping the full-time Spanish language teacher for both elementary schools, which was touted in the run up to the Act 46 merger vote.

Those who voted in favor of the budget were concerned that turning it down would send it back to a school board that would then slash teachers and programs, a view that some teachers held as well. While the budget will go back to the board, many board members who voted yes under the pressure of a Town Meeting Day deadline openly expressed displeasure with the lack of added educational programs.

The next meeting of the Green Mountain Unified School District board is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday March 13, 2018 at Cavendish Town Elementary School. The Telegraph will publish meeting warnings as they become available to us.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Filed Under: Education NewsFeaturedLatest News

About the Author: Cynthia Prairie has been a newspaper editor more than 30 years. She has worked at such publications as the Raleigh Times, the Baltimore News American, the Buffalo Courier Express, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Patuxent Publishing chain of community newspapers in Maryland. She and her family moved to Chester, Vermont in 2004.

RSSComments (1)

Leave a Reply | Trackback URL

  1. Tim Roper says:

    I’ll begin by saying that I’m unclear about much of how this new system of consolidated school boards works and need to learn more. I doubt that I’m alone in that.

    Something I have learned and think is important for all voters to understand is that, of the $12.5 million included in the proposed GMUSD budget, over $6 million will pass through to the TRSU. While that, nearly 50% portion, pays for our special education programs, it also pays for the TRSU’s expenses, including the salaries and benefits of the TRSU staff. This is the system that was pitched to voters as a path to reduce costs through reduced redundancy and increased negotiating strengths, among other “efficiencies.”

    In fact, it seems that this system is fraught with the potential for abuse of power since the voters of the individual towns being billed for these expenses have no direct path by which to oversee the TRSU. I’d like to see that changed to somehow include a separate vote on the portion of the budget money that our towns hand over to the TRSU, making that body more accountable to us. As it stands, we’d have to regularly attend the TRSU meetings, be closely attentive to their dealings and vocal in questioning their planning. That’s impractical, inefficient and ineffective. A new system needs to be devised to empower each town’s taxpayers with the ability to approve, or disapprove the significant amount of money we are being asked to send to the TRSU and to start to build accountability through transparency.