With little enthusiasm, GMUSD board sends budget to voters

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2018 Telegraph Publishing, LLC

The Green Mountain Unified School District board moved ahead in fits and starts Wednesday night, approving a budget proposal that a number of members were not happy with while Superintendent Meg Powden repeatedly sounded “retreat,” promising just such an extended board session “sooner than later” to sort out the board’s goals following the Act 46 process. Powden said that this budget would be maintaining the status quo until then.

TRSU Superintendent Meg Powden walks GMUSD board members through the latest version of next year’s budget. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

Earlier in the evening, the district’s finance committee deadlocked for the second time in a week and was unable to recommend the administration’s budget proposal to the full board. As Powden walked the committee through the budget – which they had only received the previous day – a number of appropriations for materials, supplies and equipment were trimmed but issues that were sticking points in recent meetings resurfaced.

While the principal’s position has been restored at Cavendish Town Elementary, a “teaching dean of students” for Chester-Andover Elementary was added at a cost of $72,659. According to Powden, both positions are one-year positions until the district can sort out its priorities at the retreat.

The “teaching dean” is being created to give CAES Principal Katherine Fogg the time to coach teachers to “improve outcomes.” Fogg said that she never has the time to implement her ideas since she spends so much time handling student behavioral problems. The rest of the teaching dean’s time will be spent teaching. Fogg said they had not yet fleshed out how much time the dean would be teaching versus “student matters.”

As administrators explained education standards that call for one principal for every 10 full time (equivalent) teachers as an ideal, Cavendish representative Doug McBride expressed concerns about the impact of adding that staff.

“If we start right-sizing now we set a precedent and it’s a big number,” said McBride. “It makes me hesitant to pass this budget knowing there is more to come.”

Powden said there were no plans to increase administration at Green Mountain while outgoing GM Principal Tom Ferenc noted 11 years of “to the bone supervision. ”

“I believe we are right sized now,” said Ferenc.

McBride noted that the Act 46 study estimates had 2 percent growth factored in and now the budget is going beyond that.

Cavendish representative Doug McBride, center, saying that the merger was supposed to be about the students and it’s now about teachers and administrators

“The plan for Act 46 was to save some money and focus on the students,” said McBride. “Now we’re not saving and the focus is on teachers and administrators. The way we improve our schools is thinking systematically and then moving outcomes forward.”

Powden pointed to the still-unscheduled retreat that she noted could be a Saturday in June as the place to do that planning.

“It’s a tough sell to expand learning by adding principals,” said McBride.

Chester representative Deb Brown noted that CAES has wanted an assistant principal for years. “Why now,” asked Brown.

Meeting chair Marilyn Mahusky noted that many of the students at CAES have greater needs than in the past.

At Tuesday’s joint meeting of the elementary school boards at Cavendish, Fogg said she was excited about the “Spanish opportunity.” On Wednesday, Powden revealed that the administration had budgeted to increase high school Spanish teacher Wendy Schultz to full time. At the moment Schultz’s position is .83 of a full-time or, put a different way, she teaches five of the six blocks in a school day.

“That’s not a lot of time to be in our elementary schools,” Powden noted, adding that Schultz would be able to connect with principals and work on putting together a program for the future. Fogg suggested that high school Spanish students might be able to teach elementary students as community service.

Andover representative Joe Fromberger objecting to the lack of movement on the food service deficit.

Another sticking point for several board members is the large deficit run by the food service operation at Green Mountain and Chester-Andover. In previous versions of this budget, the deficit was around $55,000. Powden told the board that Ferenc was working with Jack Carroll on closing the gap and the administration had reduced the budget number by $10,000.

Andover representative Joe Fromberger has brought up the food service shortfall at several meetings. “I had great hopes of looking at the structure of this,” said Fromberger during the finance committee meeting. “But what I see is very little. This is a great disappointment to me.”

Chester representative Tonia Fleming said that she saw enrichment in the budget and praised the administration’s work, suggesting that the board approve the budget and then try to under spend on food service.

Noting the ambivalence of several board members, resident Sara Stowell said the board should ask for more time.

“I will not vote for a budget that you are struggling with,” said Stowell. “If this budget is approved, I’ll go door-to-door telling people to vote against it.”

“If voters vote vote it down, we get a little more time,” said Fleming.

Problems with the budget notwithstanding, a deadline for printing the annual report ahead of a Town Meeting Day budget vote loomed and something has to be presented to the voters whether members find it palatable or not.

Fromberger moved to approve a budget for $12,547,513, which is $30,000 less than the administration’s request, saying it was an “opportunity to find those savings somewhere.”

The motion passed with only McBride voting no.

The district annual meeting will be held on Tuesday, Feb 27 in the Green Mountain High School auditorium at 7 p.m.  Voting on the budget will be by Australian Ballot in the Andover, Baltimore, Cavendish and Chester Town Halls from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 6, 2018.


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