After rocky process, GM school budget goes to voters Assistant Principal for CAES was bone of contention

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2019 Telegraph Publishing LLC

On Tuesday, March 5, residents in Andover, Baltimore, Cavendish and Chester will go to the polls to vote on the Green Mountain Unified School District budget for the 2019/2020 school year. The $12,937,250 spending plan represents an increase of more than $405,000, or 3.23 percent over the current year’s budget.

The second annual budget for the district – which was created through an Act 46 merger – is the result of yet another difficult and sometimes contentious process that resulted in the finance committee being unable to agree on appropriating money for an assistant principal position for Chester-Andover Elementary.

The GMUSD board listens to questions during the recent information meeting. Six members of the public attended. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

That position was also requested last year as part of a plan to have both CAES and Cavendish Town Elementary run by one principal with “a dean of students” in each school. When Cavendish residents objected to the loss of a principal at their school, that plan was dropped, but the “dean of students” was included in the first budget sent to the voters in 2018. It was rejected at the ballot box.

This year’s process began with a proposal to spend nearly $13.3 million, which represented an increase of $761,284 or 6.07 percent. A sheet of budget notes showed prioritized expenditures with the CAES assistant principal position at the top, followed by a math interventionist/coach for the high school.

While the committee trimmed here and there, by Dec. 13, 2018, they decided to send the budget back to the administration with instructions to reduce the increase to between 3 and 3.5 percent.

When the committee came together again on Jan. 8, members requested that the Two Rivers Supervisory Union Board reopen its budget and look for savings that would reduce the amount it charges the district for its services.

TRSU Business Manager Cheryl Hammond presents the first version of the GMUSD budget on Nov. 15, 2018

On Jan. 14, the TRSU board rejected that suggestion and voted not to reopen its budget. Then on Jan. 15, GM finance committee members were unable to agree on what to either add or subtract from the budget. The committee asked TRSU Business Manager Cheryl Hammond to prepare a sheet with the choices they were considering to present to the full board two days later. This upset some of the staff who felt they had been asked to make cuts to reach 3.5 percent only to have the board suggest changes.

“I feel like we were taking the buffalo off the nickel to make it work so Katherine (Fogg, principal at CAES) could have the assistant principal…then you flipped the script,” said CTES Principal Deb Beaupre.

The options included in the four scenarios that staff put before the board included adding back $15,000 cut from the after-school program, adding back $9,100 to increase the Spanish teacher to full time and/or cutting the $74,000 assistant principal and adding back the behavior assistant for $42,000 which was to be cut.

The 11-member board of the Green Mountain Unified School District voted 5 to 5 with 1 abstention on Scenario D, which would have cut the assistant principal, reinstated the behavior position, made the Spanish position full time and added back the after-school program support, for a net increase of 2.97 percent over the current budget.

After more discussion, the board voted 8-3 to adopt Scenario A, which kept the assistant principal position, upgraded the Spanish position and reinstated the after-school support. The net increase was 3.23 percent over the current budget, which amounts to $405,107. Voting against the plan were Jeff Hance, Michael Studin and Rick Alexander. This was the same meeting at which Hance had told the board that teachers at CAES could not speak to him due to what he called a “gag order.”

With seats on both the district board and the finance committee, Joe Fromberger and Marilyn Mahusky clashed more than a few times during the budget process.

At a sparsely attended information meeting on the budget held at Green Mountain High School on Thursday, Feb. 26, board chair Marilyn Mahusky said that per pupil education spending would increase from $15,659 to $15,938 with the pre-CLA tax rate at $1.43. Mahusky noted that during the Act 46 debate, the SU had anticipated a tax rate of $1.53 for the upcoming year and that the actual rate would be 10 cents less than that.

The Telegraph pointed out that the Act 46 projections were based on a number of assumptions and asked how those assumptions compared to the actual conditions today, Hammond said she did not have that information at the meeting and Mahusky asserted that the 10-cent difference between the projection and the budget was real and meaningful.

The CLA, or Common Level of Appraisal, is a comparison of a town’s assessments with current property sales prices. It is a mechanism for making sure that each town is paying its fair share of education taxes. Once the state establishes an “equalized tax rate” for a district based on its spending, that rate is divided by the CLA for each town in the district to get the town’s residential rate. If market values are below the listers’ assessment (as is the case in Andover, Cavendish and Chester) the tax rate drops. If, as in Baltimore, the market value is higher than the assessments, the rate goes up. For more information see this explainer from 2014.

Anyone who has difficulty following the making of the Green Mountain Unified School District’s budget shouldn’t feel bad. At several of the finance committee and board meetings leading up to its adoption several board members admitted that they could not make heads or tails of the detailed 43 page budget and so relied on a simpler less detailed “condensed” budget.

A couple of notes on the detailed budget. Unlike most budget formats, in the program used by the SU, revenue is expressed in parentheses, as if it was negative. Also, the long chart of account numbers are off-putting, but the budget is much more understandable if you realize that the 3077 number (second from left) refers to districtwide numbers; 1063 refers to Cavendish Elementary, 1070 is Chester-Andover and 1124 is Green Mountain High School.

NOTE: There are other numbers used in getting to the tax rate and some of those may not be set yet so these numbers can change.

 

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