GM finance panel deadlocks, sends budget options to full board

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2019 Telegraph Publishing, LLC

On Monday night, the Two Rivers Supervisory Union board rejected the request of the Green Mountain Unified School District to reopen the SU budget and look for some cuts that would lower the district’s assessment for SU services. So on Tuesday night, the GM finance committee was back in session trying to get a 4.3 percent budget increase down below 3.5 percent.

But, in the end, the panel deadlocked and decided to present a menu of options to the full GMUSD board, which must finalize a budget at its monthly meeting at 6 p.m. on Thursday Jan. 17 at Cavendish Elementary School, 573 Main Street in Proctorsville.

TRSU business manager Cheryl Hammond presents the revised GM budget to the finance committee. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

Supervisory Union Business Manager Cheryl Hammond presented a new budget that brought the increase in expenses down to 3.49 percent and included some found money like students who were tuitioned to Springfield from Baltimore but did not live there (take away a $68,000 expense) and some creative savings like $25,ooo from asking teachers to hold on to their computers for a sixth year rather than trading them in.

But several other cuts – like reversing course on increasing the high school Spanish teacher to full-time from .83 of full-time, cutting back on field trips and eliminating a $30,000 contribution into the capital reserve fund — were less popular with the committee. And one expense that remained in the budget – an assistant principal for Chester-Andover Elementary School – was singled out by four of the six members as a target for cutting and even a source for restoring a few items. Among those discussed were:

  • After School Program Coordinator Venissa White explains the need to fund the program

    A $20,000 cut to the After School Program, where students get help with homework, activities and in some cases tutoring. ASP coordinator Venissa White argued that the five-year grant funding of this program – which serves 130 elementary school student at a cost of $200,000 per year – depends on a formula that includes a three-part support system of federal grant, parent fees and local funding. According to White, removing the local funding by the school complicates and endangers future federal grant funding. “Taxpayers are asking for educational opportunities,” said White, “and 130 Cavendish and Chester-Andover kids are getting them.”

  • Committee member Michael Studin told the board he was uncomfortable cutting the $30,000 capital reserve fund and concerned about another unforeseen problem like the water leak in Chester. Superintendent Meg Powden noted that the district is spending a large amount on several capital items for Cavendish Elementary this year and next (including a new underground oil tank to replace the 60-year-old one, a safety fence to separate the parking lot from a play area and replacement lunch tables that are considered unsafe.) Members determined that with these expenses and using the remainder of the merger transition grant there would be  about $80,000 left in the capital reserve.
  • Committee member Michael Studin questions cutting the capital reserve fund set aside of $30,000.

    Making the GMHS Spanish teacher full time, which would add another class for middle schoolers. This would reduce class sizes. Restoring the cut would cost $9,153.00.

  • During the discussion of the assistant principal position at CAES, Principal Katherine Fogg said she felt there was support for the added administrator. “If the committee doesn’t favor this, don’t make me come back and do (to justify the position) again,” said Fogg. Committee chair Marilyn Mahusky asked Fogg to make the presentation on Thursday nevertheless.

Cavendish Principal Deb Beaupre vented her frustration with the process, saying she thought it asked for across-the-board reductions, but instead used a programmatic approach.

“I feel like we were taking the buffalo off the nickel to make it work so Katherine could have the assistant principal…then you flipped the script,” Beaupre told the committee. “I’m writing my principal’s report and it’s amazing what the teachers in this school do, hitting it out of the park everyday. I would wish my kids could go to this school if they were little again.”

While there are bound to be changes in the budget at Thursday night’s meeting and the state’s calculations will likely  change based on updated numbers, the spending plan proposed on Tuesday would represent a per pupil cost of $15,904.59. The SU calculated an estimated tax rate of $1.49 before an Act 46 merger credit reduction of $.06. The tax rate would be further increased or decreased by each town’s Common Level of Assessment. The higher the CLA above 100 percent, the lower the tax rate for that town and the lower the CLA the higher the tax rate. This year, the CLA for Andover is 100.87 percent, Baltimore is 97.17 percent, Cavendish is 113.67 percent and Chester is 117.73 percent*.

*NOTE: Every taxpayer’s situation is different and early calculations like these may not hold true for everyone.

 

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