New TRSU school boards meet on budgets GM dismisses proposal; Ludlow-Mt. Holly OKs its for vote

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2018 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Last week saw both of the new Two Rivers Supervisory Union districts formed under Act 46 meet to discuss their  budgets. The Ludlow-Mt. Holly Unified Union School district board approved a budget to send to the voters of those towns while the Green Mountain Unified School District board began attempting to identify reasons that voters rejected their budget earlier this month. (Did you vote against the GMUSD budget? If so, why? Tell us why here.)

One topic addressed at both meetings, however, was the supervisory union budget and whether its approval could be revisited. That budget involves central office personnel, benefits, special education and transportation, among other items.

GMUSD looks for ed opportunities, central office budget cuts

Although Superintendent Meg Powden brought a new, $60,000 slimmer version of the voter-rejected $12.5 million budget to the GMUSD meeting last Wednesday night, the board was not interested. Instead, it preferred to look at why the previous plan was defeated rather than cutting willy nilly.

Superintendent Meg Powden brought nearly $62,000 in cuts to the table, but the board was more interested in strategic planning.Photos by Shawn Cunningham

Members generally agreed that it was not the size of the budget that voters disliked, but other issues including trust and transparency, the supervisory union budget and the unfulfilled promises of the Act 46 merger that created the district.

Board member Doug McBride suggested that the board level-fund the budget using special education savings noted by Powden in a previous meeting and by not hiring a teaching dean of students for Chester-Andover Elementary, among other cuts.

McBride said that then the board could add educational programs that would make the school attractive to students from choice towns including Ludlow in 2020.

“You get 100 more students and you’ve solved all of the revenue problems,” said McBride. “And then it’s easier and easier to become excellent.” Every Ludlow/Mt. Holly student would bring tuition equal to the per student cost for the GM district. One hundred students would increase the funds available for education by around $1.6 million or more than 10 percent of the current budget proposal.

A proponent of a bilingual school, McBride also pointed to STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) or STEAM (with arts added) programs available from the Gates Foundation and others as well as an apprenticeship program touted by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders as the types of things that would make Green Mountain attractive to students.

Board member Joe Fromberger, who represents Andover, called McBride’s ideas “pie in the sky,” and said that the board has to live in the real world.

McBride countered saying that this was the board’s opportunity to think big or the school would shrink and “just bump along the bottom.”

While some members questioned how to engage the public to see what they want for the schools others – and audience members – said that the 18 month Act 46 process turned up plenty of public opinion and that they should look back at that and run with it.

Five members – McBride, Kate Lamphere, Erin Lamson, Deb Brown and Marilyn Mahusky – volunteered to meet to form a vision committee (See below) to look at what educational opportunities were favored by those who attended Act 46 meetings and look into the feasibility of such programs. The first of that meeting was held last night (Monday, March 26) and we are working on that story now.

Ludlow-Mt. Holly sends $7.2 million budget to voters

At the formation of the new Ludlow/Mt. Holly district, Bruce Schmidt was elected moderator and ran the majority of the formation meeting.

Last Monday, March 19, was the first meeting of the Ludlow-Mt. Holly district board and after the voting for moderator and officers and other initial business, the new the board got down to work on its 2018-19 budget.

Members of the board who also serve on the finance committees of Ludlow and Mt. Holly elementary schools and U-39 had met several times and worked out a budget, but board chair Paul Orzechowski opened the discussion with the question of whether the approval of the budget should be put on hold “until we open up the TRSU budget and then see how it works.”

There was discussion of whether the supervisory union budget could be revisited and if so would there be time to do it before June 1 when the state needs the school district budget for calculating taxes. U-39 board chair Bruce Schmidt, who was elected moderator for the new district, told the board that for the sake of the teachers sense of security “We’ve got to get a handle on this.”

“It’s ironic, most of you voted for the (TRSU) budget and now you want to open it back up,” Schmidt continued.

LMHUUSD board chair Paul Orzechowski, center, asks if the TRSU budget can be reopened.

Also on the table was what to do about what board members saw as an under-funded “social work” position under the budget line “home/school liaison” and “reduction in force” notices that went out to the Title I teachers.

The notices, which had to have been sent out by March 15, tell teachers that they may not have a job in the upcoming school year due to cuts in federal Title I funding. Teachers might also face a reduction in their status from full time to part time as a result of cuts. Title I is a program to help underprivileged children meet academic standards.

From the audience, Mt. Holly board chair Dave Venter recalled the old FRAM oil filter commercial tagline “you can pay me now or you can pay me later” as he pointed to the work of Title I teachers. “You’re spending money to save money.”

To handle both the school/home liaison and the possible shortfall in Title I funding, the new board added $53,500 to the budget bringing the total to $7.2 million or $17,346.71 per student and passed it with one dissenting vote.

Public participation encouraged

A second Vision Committee meeting will be held at 5:30 p.m. Monday, April 2 at Chester Andover Elementary School, 72 Main St. in Chester. At the first vision meeting,Cavendish Principal George Thompson had expressed disappointment that no one from the public was in attendance. The public is encouraged to attend the second meeting.

In the meantime, the Executive Committee of TRSU has scheduled a meeting of the full supervisory union board to again review its entire budget, mostly made up of central office, special education and transportation, which it passed on Feb. 22 after three tries. The meeting will be held at 6 p.m. on Thursday April 12 at Cavendish Town Elementary School, 573 Main St. in Proctorsville. The Executive Committee is tentatively scheduled to meet before the full committee at 5:30 p.m.

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