GM board endorses budget, but doesn’t vote Waiting to see what cuts come from supervisory union

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2018 Telegraph Publishing LLC

When the GMUSD Vision Committee could not see its way clear to a direction for adding educational opportunities to next year’s course of studies at its three schools on Monday night, it asked TRSU Superintendent Meg Powden to come up with a plan based on its discussion and put it into a budget draft. On Tuesday, April 10, Powden returned with plan that did reflect the committee’s work so far – a little bit of everything.

Powden told the board’s Finance Committee that she did not want to hand out the list of changes because members would focus on the numbers. Instead, she insisted on explaining the proposed changes first, then passing the document around.

The GMUSD board meeting to consider budget changes proposed by TRSU Photos by Shawn Cunningham

First, the SU proposed to cut the “teaching dean of students” which was intended to take dealing with “student issues” off Chester-Andover Principal Katherine Fogg’s plate for part of the day while teaching during the remainder.

In place of the $73,000 dean, was a $34,000 full-time assistant for the Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports room, which would free up one special education teacher who has been working there.

Next, was the addition of a $59,000 full-time “math interventionist” who would work with students in Cavendish and Chester-Andover elementary schools. This along with a $42,000 part-time (40 percent of full-time) STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) coordinator would, in Powden’s words, help the schools “develop a robust, rich STEAM program.”

Powden also added $36,000 to restore the new position of Flexible Pathways coordinator to full-time, and added a part-time (40 percent of full-time) transition coach to help in getting Black River students to come to GM in 2020 for $30,000.

Finally, the position of Foreign Language coordinator was increased from 17 percent of full-time to 20 percent at an additional cost of $1,830. The increase brings the position from 6.8 to a full 8 hours per week but if it’s rolled out the way it was envisioned it would make Spanish instructor Wendy Schultz an overtime employee at 41.2 hours per week.

Overall, the proposed changes would add $67,557 to the overall budget bringing it to $12,615,070.

New board member suggests substantial changes that will add instructional staff instead of administrators.

Finance committee member Michael Studin asked if there was any room for an additional 3rd or 4th grade teacher. Powden said they did not look at that.

“We were hoping to see more room for teachers,” Studin said, adding that this had been requested for months. “You don’t have an option for that?”

“We don’t,” said Powden.

Pointing to the transition coach position, Studin said it was great to recruit to bring kids to GM, “but not at the expense of teachers for the elementary school.”

Powden said that more Black River students will raise the budget and provide more opportunities.

Referring to the proposal, one audience member said it looked “adminy” with not so much teaching.

Studin proposed eliminating the part-time transition coach in favor of adding a part-time math interventionist at Cavendish. And, since there is already a full-time math interventionist at Chester-Andover, Studin suggested eliminating the proposed math interventionist  adding a third or fourth grade teacher at CAES to go back to dedicated grades rather than the 3/4 combination classes.

The finance committee voted unanimously to recommend the budget at the full GM board meeting that followed.

At first, the board considered approving the budget, less $25,000 in labor costs that the food committee suggested, decided that since it had asked the SU to reopen its budget to look for savings, it was fitting that they wait to see if that results in any reductions for the district. The board will meet again at 6 p.m. Tuesday April 17 at Chester-Andover Elementary.

Temporary principal

Sara Stowell tells the board that the principal’s position in Cavendish should not be interim

Cavendish residents Sara Stowell and Christine Balch reiterated their objections to hiring an interim principal to replace George Thomson, who is retiring this summer after 29 years at the Cavendish Town Elementary.

The night before, Powden told Stowell that the process of hiring an interim was too far along to change. At Tuesday’s meeting, she said a permanent principal would have required a different pool of candidates.

Stowell said that would not be the case if Powden had changed the position to permanent when town residents asked.

$1 millon line item that cannot be known

Board member Doug McBride told the board that he does not understand the roughly $1 million budget for “out-of-district” special education services. McBride said that he has asked for information and that he has received nothing from the SU.

Doug McBride told the panel that he cannot carry out his fiduciary responsibility as a board member without details of special education spending. Telegraph file photo

Citing his fiduciary responsibility as a board member, McBride said he could not vote for a budget without understanding its components. “We can’t even know what’s being done,” said McBride.

Powden said that replying to his request in the format he provided would have revealed confidential information but that Director of Student Services Mary Barton was working on answers for him.

Stowell said that the conversation is important, but that McBride doesn’t need all of that information.

“I think you are looking for efficiency,” said Studin

“But the team is looking at that,” said board member Tonia Fleming.

“Our job is to look at what the professionals are doing,” said McBride.

Fleming called this “micromanagement.”

“It’s a million bucks,” said McBride.

Powden said she would put an executive session into the April 17 board meeting  where she will provide answers on the transportation budget.

Why so little teacher input

At Monday night’s joint Vision and Finance Committee meeting, Chester resident and Act 46 study committee veteran Bill Dakin repeatedly asked where the teachers’ perspective was in these decisions. On Tuesday, McBride asked the GMUSD board why teachers don’t speak up at meetings.

Teachers who were present cited fear of a perception that they were advocating for their own interests and that they work 10 hour days and have family commitments that make attending meetings difficult. But there’s also “a lot of fear,” said grade 5/6 teacher Amanda Tyrrell. “Teachers are scared to come to board meetings for fear of repercussions … they are afraid.”

Thomson said that one of his teachers is assigned to go to board meetings and report back to the others. That teacher “is sometimes the only person in the audience,” said Thomson.

Fogg said that teachers are encouraged to go to board meetings.

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  1. Otis Nelson says:

    First of all, it seems Ms. Powden can’t keep her eye on the ball! One being addressing the need of another teacher! Her proposal to add more administration to the budget without addressing the need for an added teacher is ridiculous, to say the least! Second, she should have absolutely changed the principal back from interim to full time after her initial proposal was not liked by so many parents and board members!

    Second, Mr McBride is absolutely correct to be looking into the efficiencies of the special Ed budget! If they need more info they should look at how New Hampshire does it for half the cost of what Vermont does!

    Third, and not least, TEACHERS SHOULD NOT BE AFRAID TO PUT FORTH IDEAS! They are the ones teaching our kids one on one! They should feel welcome into any public gathering with comments/ideas to increase the student outcomes! This idea of keeping them in the shadows of public gatherings and withholding their ideas and exchanges of ideas to the betterment of students has lasted too long! That’s WHY OUR SCHOOLS KEEP FAlLING IN GRADE PERFORMANCE! It should NO LONGER BE ACCEPTABLE FOR NOT ALLOWING TEACHER TO HELP SOLVE THE PROBLEMS WE FACE IN OUR SCHOOLS!

    Thanks you Chester Telegraph for your excellent coverage of these meetings!

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