Explainer: GMUSD FY20 budget process has begun

By Shawn Cunningham
©2018 Telegraph Publishing LLC

On Thursday night, Nov. 29, the Finance Committee of the Green Mountain Unified School District will take up its 2019/2020 budget. At its last meeting, the committee called for representatives of the public to join in the work and added Jeannie Wade of Chester to the committee.

The Two Rivers Supervisory Union and the district are proposing an additional $572,303 in spending, which includes retiring a $141,997 deficit. Most of the deficit — $93,059 — was explained as the savings negotiated from healthcare expenses that the State of Vermont took back from the schools. In the interest of getting everyone on the same page, The Telegraph is providing an “explainer” for the budget documents presented so far.

To begin, the State of Vermont has mandated a Uniform Chart of Accounts for all schools to use starting with the 2020 fiscal year, which is this budget and runs from July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2020.

A chart of accounts is basically a list of all the categories of income and expense. This one is much more complex and, with up to 27 identifying numbers per expense, it looks a little like the Dewey Decimal System exploded. Making one chart of accounts standard across all the schools in the state is supposed to make it easier to analyze education spending.

The detailed, 42-page budget presented on Nov. 15 has two pages of revenue at the beginning. Pages 3 to 8 are expenses for the entire district. Pages 8 to 16 are expenses for Cavendish Town Elementary, Pages 16 through 25 are expenses for Chester-Andover and Pages 25 to 42 are expenses for Green Mountain High School. A summary of the changes from last year is here.

According to TRSU Business Manager Cheryl Hammond, the 42-page document will serve as a base for the work, while for Thursday’s meeting she has also provided a simpler format showing numbers in revenue and expense categories without breaking them down by school. That version includes a list of additional expenses prioritized by the SU and school principals.

Expense shifts

It seems that almost every year something is moved from the SU budget to the school budget or vice versa. For example, within the past few years, the state moved special education spending and transportation from the district budget to the SU budget.

This year, the Supervisory Union is proposing to move a number of expenses for “Technology” into the GMUSD and the Ludlow-Mount Holly budgets. Mostly this made up of  software subscriptions and there will probably be questions concerning the move.

The supervisory union is saying that technology is being moved “to increase transparency and allocate service costs to the budget in which they are used.” With regard to transparency, the SU maintains that technology, as part of its central office budget, is not voted on by taxpayers and is therefore less visible. As for the allocation of the cost of services, that is being done in the proposal and it’s hard to understand why those numbers could not be part of the assessment that the SU charges each of the two new districts.

Another reason for moving technology to the district might be that the TRSU board has repeatedly balked at signing onto a long-term contract with the firm that makes a curriculum management software called Ogment. Curriculum Director Michael Eppolito had maintained that it was a powerful tool for developing and using curriculum, saying that currently the loose leaf binders used for curriculum just sit on the shelf. TRSU Board members were unhappy that the program could not be tried out without signing on for a six-year contract but, at a recent meeting, Eppolito told the  board that the contract would be year-to-year after initial setup expenses are paid. TRSU Board members also said that teachers should have a voice in the decision and that the curriculum could  “sit in the cloud just as it sits on the shelf.”

One question regarding the technology move is what happens if the expense for a software application is approved by one district and shot down by the other.

In addition to expenses moved from the SU to the school districts, several are being changed from individual school expenses to district-wide expenses. These include nursing, board of education, property insurance and capital reserve.

New Positions – prioritized by staff

Several new positions were discussed at the first finance committee meeting, and for the second draft, the staff came back with those posts prioritized.

  1. Among the new positions proposed in the budget is an assistant principal for Chester-Andover Elementary. Last year, this position was called a “teaching dean” and was proposed as a way to reduce the time Principal Katherine Fogg said she was spending in disciplinary situations so she could have more time to coach teachers. Although the position was not approved, the board did add a PBIS assistant for the school at $33,653 to help with student behavior. PBIS stands for “positive behavior interventions and support.”
  2. GMHS is looking for a grade 7-12 math interventionist at $66,086. A math interventionist helps students who are having problems with math attain their grade level.
  3. A para-educator to cover in-school suspension and lunch duty for GMHS at $30,963. According to administrators, changes in the high school’s block system have made covering these periods difficult.
  4. The proposed budget calls for an increase for the Spanish teacher from  83 percent to 100 percent of full time for $9,171. This was also in last year’s budget as a way to begin working on a foreign language program for the elementary schools, but was not carried out.
  5. A proposed new position would be a full-time substitute teacher who could work in any of the district’s three schools — Green Mountain High and Cavendish Town and Chester-Andover elementaries. According to officials, the hire would ideally have an education background and would get “teacher pay” and benefits rather than “sub pay.” But since the budgets for “regular education” substitutes either remain the same or rise for the three schools, the board may question the purpose of the position. The tab for the district substitute with benefits in the first version of the budget was $57,980. The second cut reduced that to $36,325, which is less than the $40,332 proposed before benefits in the first budget. We’ll have to wait and see what the administration has in mind here.
  6. While the budget calls for a half-time “capstone” coordinator at $27,266, in a letter to editor of The Telegraph in support of the second budget vote in May, the GMUSD board pointed to a full-time Flexible Pathways/Capstone coordinator, leading to the question of how the effort is allocated. Will there be a full-time Flexible Pathways coordinator and a half time Capstone coordinator or the other way around? Flexible Pathways is a state mandate for providing multiple ways for students to obtain an education. It became law through Act 77 in 2015. A Capstone is a project, portfolio or other means of demonstrating that a student had achieved the educational goals set out for him or her. Capstone programs are not mandated by state or federal law and are done by local initiative.

Required or Safety expenses

Several expenses were characterized as “required or safety” in the second draft of the budget, these include:

  • Three new para-educators including  two paras to help with larger kindergarten classes, at $61,234, and one special ed para for GMHS at $23,524.
  • Installation of fencing at Cavendish Elementary for $9,000 rather than as a capital expense.
  • Payments on the GMHS roof bond at $24, 360 begin in FY20.
  • And tuition for Baltimore students who attend Springfield schools and were grandfathered in the Act 46 merger will rise to $17,000 each. Before the merger, Baltimore received a discount on some of these students. According to the budget, the overall increase will amount to $46,000.

Other changes in budget draft No. 2:

Estimated payment for new buses – $147,892 (place holder until decision is made)

  • Teacher Leader Stipends – $ 18,196
  • Adjustments to tuition – $ 23,010 (high school and pre-k)
  • 25 percent share of Safety Grant- $ 6,350
  • Reduced District Sub – ($21,655)
  • CTES Math Interventionist – $30,034 (missed in draft No. 1.1)
  • SU Assessment change – $ 8,667 (net change Central Office +$35,328 Special Education – $26,661)
  • CAES Asbestos Reserve – $ 3,500

Other budget items that will come up are a new oil tank for Cavendish Town Elementary, the capital budget; a districtwide food service director; transportation issues; and a district transportation and facilities position.

Odds and ends

In last year’s budget, one of the main sticking points was the question of what educational opportunities would come from Act 46. In addition to the small increase in the Spanish teacher to begin working on an elementary language program, the board asked for a coordinator to work on a STEAM program (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics.) The position was set up as 40 percent of full-time, but in the new budget is reduced by $4,157 in salary so committee members will probably be asking what’s happening on the STEAM front.

Several very large numbers remain to be finalized into the budget, including special education, the central office assessment, transportation and vocational education but that’s for another meeting.

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