GMUSD panel asks TRSU to reopen its budget

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2019 Telegraph Publishing, LLC

For the second time in the two years since its inception, the Green Mountain Unified School District Finance Committee is asking the Two Rivers Supervisory Board to reopen its budget to find savings that will help reduce its funding increase from 4.31 percent or nearly half a million dollars.

Cheryl Hammond, left, and Meg Powden present the revised GMUSD budget to the district’s finance committee. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

At its last meeting on Dec. 13, the committee asked the SU to sharpen its pencils and come back with a budget increase of less than 3.5 percent. Monday night, business manager Cheryl Hammond presented a list of cuts and adjustments to the previous draft budget that seemed to shave enough off to reach an increase of 2.63 percent or $330,031.

But a closer look at the budget revealed that when a $142,000 deficit from last year is included, the per pupil cost of operating the school will rise by 4.31 percent. The cost per pupil is one of the key numbers in calculating the education tax to be paid by the towns in the district. Currently, the district cost per pupil is $15,637.41. If the proposed budget were adopted, the cost would rise to $16,077.62.

Hammond and Superintendent Meg Powden told the committee that they had been asked to reduce the district’s budget for the 2019-2020 school year by a range of 2.5 percent to 3.5 percent and did not include the deficit in the spending calculations.

Committee member Michael Studin questions the need for an assistant principal at Chester-Andover

The discussion quickly turned from questions about the impact of some of the proposed cuts on services to students, retention of employees and deferral of maintenance to the need for larger reductions.

Noting that a number of elementary schools in the area with comparable or higher student populations have one principal, committee member Michael Studin asked if spending $74,000 on an assistant principal for Chester-Andover Elementary School was the best use of that money.

This prompted committee chair Marilyn Mahusky to question the committee’s authority to sign off on new positions saying that the decision to add an assistant principal was informed by experts with a compelling presentation of the need by CAES Principal Katherine Fogg.

Community member Sara Stowell suggests establishing markers to see if hiring an assistant principal at CAES is effective

Committee member Joe Fromberger told the meeting that all needs are serious and it’s the school board’s job to resolve how they are handled. “In the end it all shakes out to money,” said Fromberger. “If the voters reject it we’re back to the slash and burn like last year.”

Mahusky asked Fogg to bring the Power Point presentation justifying the hire to the next meeting. Mahusky pointed out that last year a full-time behavior interventionist was hired at around $40,000 instead of an assistant principal and that has not taken care of the problems. Hammond confirmed that the behavior interventionist position has been removed from the budget and that the net increase is in the range of $30,000 rather than the full salary of the assistant principal.

Community member Sara Stowell suggested that if the behavior interventionist didn’t work out, perhaps a set of markers could be set up to see if adding the assistant principal position works or not.

TRSU budget approved last week

The finance committee’s request to reopen the SU budget comes just a few days after that board approved its $6.3 million spending plan. While the TRSU board asked for and got a level funded central office budget, the overall budget including special education and transportation for the Green Mountain and Ludlow/Mt. Holly districts rose by 6.43 percent.

TRSU Board and GMUSD finance committee member Joe Fromberger has been quick to note at each meeting that the central office budget is level funded in part because $85,000 of technology expenses has been moved from there to the school district budgets.

The TRSU budget is not voted on by the public but rather by a self-selecting board made up of elected members of the Ludlow-Mt. Holly Unified Union School District and the Green Mountain Unified School District.

The finance committee is scheduling another meeting for 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday Jan. 15 at Cavendish Elementary School, 578 Main St. in Proctorsville.  The TRSU board is scheduling a meeting for 6 p.m. on Monday Jan. 14 also at Cavendish Elementary, but this meeting has not yet been confirmed. The calendar of meetings can be found on the TRSU website.

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