TRSU won’t to reopen budget for more cuts

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2019 Telegraph Publishing LLC

The Two Rivers Supervisory Union board of directors, meeting on Monday night, voted 4 to 1 against reopening the SU’s budget. The Green Mountain Unified School District Finance Committee had asked the board to look at reducing the assessment it bills to the district in the committee’s effort to lower its budget increase to a level acceptable to voters.

The committee was trying to reduce the increase in its budget from 4.3 percent to something closer to 3.3 percent. That 1 percent represents a little over $190,000. Board chair Marilyn Mahusky told the meeting that the Ludlow-Mt. Holly district had approved its budget including the TRSU assessment.

Joe Fromberger, member of both the GM Finance Committee and the TRSU board, said he thought that the higher number would not pass with voters in March and that would lead to a “slash and burn” session done in a hurry and guessing what the voters will approve in a second vote. The initial GM budget did not pass last year.

Fromberger said he did not believe that cuts in the assessment would reduce that much. “It’s not in the cards,” said Fromberger, adding that he  hoped the board would work to reduce the assessment.

Fromberger, center, explains his point about the transfer of technology expense and its effect on level funding the SU budget. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

Pointing to the central office budget, Fromberger noted that the SU had transferred $76,000 in technology expense to the school districts, then produced a plan based on last year when that money was in the budget. Fromberger said that the result was not level funding but an 8.56 percent increase, leaving room to “sharpen their pencil and decrease the budget accordingly.”

Mahusky said that was not the way it went when the TRSU panel was working on its budget. But that the board had discussed the technology transfer in the budget and that no motion was made to include it in determining the level of the budget.

The audience at the SU meeting consisted largely of administrators.

Saying he had serious doubts that the GM budget would pass without reductions, Fromberger, with a large audience of school system employees – including all of the principals – looking on, moved to reconsider the TRSU budget.

Mahusky noted that the only addition to the SU central office budget was moving the 60 percent portion of Curriculum Director Michael Eppolito’s salary paid for by the Consolidated Federal Grant to the taxpayer funded budget. The SU then added hours to an existing part-time math coach position and to hiring a half-time early literacy coach. As was explained at an earlier meeting, the primary function of coaches is to help teachers teach better.

Sara Stowell, who serves as a public member of the GM finance panel, said that the teachers in the district have “cut it to the bare bones” while the additions to the budget are at the administrative level.

‘Are our schools going to collapse if we don’t have Ogment and Michael’s salary isn’t supported by taxpayers? There’s a political moment here where we’re hearing from the top nothing gets cut, but from the bottom things do. It makes a difference with what the SU – which none of us voters can touch – does because the repercussions come out when our towns vote.’

Sara Stowell
GM finance panel

“We’re adding at the administrative level when we are asking at the bare bones – at the place our kids are actually being contacted – asking them to make cuts,” Stowell said.  She added that she did not think that this is the time to move Eppolito’s salary from the grant to the budget. She then questioned the wisdom of subscribing to a curriculum mapping software, calling it “untested.”

Sara Stowell tells the board that cuts are coming at the classroom level but not at the administration

“It looks like small numbers but it adds up,” Stowell said of the $8,600 per year Ogment license.

“Are our schools going to collapse if we don’t have Ogment and Michael’s salary isn’t supported by taxpayers?” asked Stowell. “There’s a political moment here where we’re hearing from the top nothing gets cut, but from the bottom things do. It makes a difference with what the SU – which none of us voters can touch – does because the repercussions come out when our towns vote.”

Mahusky asked SU business manager Cheryl Hammond to list the things that had been cut.

Hammond noted the cuts included $13,000 for software for changing over to the state accounting system, $3,500 for the Southeastern Consortium and $700 for equipment.

“Frankly, those were small numbers that are insignificant to the budget,” said Fromberger.

“That’s because you asked for level funding,” answered Hammond.

Fromberger countered that with the transfer of technology expenses to the districts included, it’s actually an increase of more than 8.56 percent.

Black River and Ludlow Elementary Principal Karen Trimboli defended the SU’s budget, calling Eppolito’s position “tried, tested and valuable” that shouldn’t be subject to federal grant cuts. Trimboli also said that the work of coaches has a direct impact on students.

“Black River, LES and Mt. Holly have made enough sacrifices for this merger,” said Trimboli. “We don’t want to see an impact on students.”

Mahusky, center, tells the meeting it’s critical to approve the 4.3 percent increase in the GM district.

Mahusky agreed that the Ludlow-Mt. Holly district “took the brunt of the merger with Black River High closing,” and that Green Mountain District needs to “invest to entice students to come to our school.”

“It’s critically important to approve the 4.3 percent increase,” said Mahusky noting that the statewide average increase this year is 3.5 percent and that the district has had a tight hold on its budgets for many years.

Mahusky asked if there was any more discussion and then called a vote on the motion. Mahusky and board members Paul Orzechowski, Fred Marin and Mary Alberty voted against reconsidering the budget while Fromberger voted in favor.

Why no curriculum?

At one point in the meeting, Mahusky said that a taxpayer had approached her shocked to learn that the SU has no system-wide curriculum except the Everyday Math program. Fromberger said he had also been surprised since the supervisory union has had a full-time curriculum director for more than five years and no curriculum.

“What have you been doing for five years?” Superintendent Meg Powden asked Curriculum Director Eppolito.

Eppolito said that when he took the job, the state was introducing new standards in most subject areas and at first he was working to bring the high schools up to speed on those.

After that, the legislature passed Act 77, which mandated the shift to “proficiency-based learning,” which was a major change in the way children will be taught.

Eppolito said his goal was to have a viable curriculum that must be clear, durable and easy to understand but that it would be a lot of work, which, he added, the Ogment program would help create.

“I am one person working with six schools and 130 teachers in a 24-mile span. My job is to have a clear, viable curriculum. It’s going to take us some time,” said Eppolito.

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