GMUSD budget passes by 60 votes in low turnout First budget was defeated in March by 49 votes

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2018 Telegraph Publishing LLC

The long and winding road to a spending plan for the new Green Mountain Unified School District came to its end Tuesday with the yes votes outnumbering the no votes by 60, with just 382 ballots cast in Andover, Baltimore, Cavendish and Chester combined.

Large crowds attended both board and committee meetings between the defeat of the first plan and the finalizing of the budget that passed today. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

The $12.5 million budget will cover the annual operating costs of the three schools within GMUSD: Green Mountain Middle/High and Cavendish Town and Chester-Andover elementaries.

The final total was 221 “yes” to 161 “no” after the counting was done at Chester Town Hall. The poor voter turnout was half of what it was back in March for the first budget vote.

That first budget was defeated back in March on Town Meeting Day, 394 to 345, turning on a number of issues that had less to do with money and more with choices that were made by the Two Rivers Supervisory Union in reorganizing the system after the Act 46 merger, which voters had approved the previous year.

Choices such as eliminating the principal position at Cavendish Town Elementary in favor of a dean of students to be supervised by the Chester-Andover Elementary principal, the elimination of elementary level foreign language touted in the runup to Act 46 and big changes in the provision of nursing services in the schools made many wary and distrustful of the supervisory union.

So even when those positions were re-instated on a “temporary” status, voters remained leery. At several meetings leading up to the first vote members of the public noted that the best way to demonstrate their displeasure was to vote down the budget.

As the budget came down to a deadline, new board member Michael Studin insisted on more teaching and fewer administrative positions.

In response to the defeat, the board began a “visioning” process meant to decide what priorities should be part of the budget, but several meetings were taken up with long exercises led by SU employees like Curriculum Director Michael Eppolito.

In the end, the committee was hung up between planning for the future and acting on the questions at hand for next year.

Between public opinion and the insistence of several board members, the SU proposed a budget that included more money for instructional personnel and fewer additions to administration. It also took advantage of savings realized when the Ludlow-Mt. Holly and Green Mountain boards asked the TRSU board to reopen that budget and look for more savings.

Among the changes that made it into the budget voted today were:

  • Eliminating a $73,000 dean, in favor of a $34,000 full-time assistant for the Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports room, which would free up one special education teacher who has been working there.
  • Eliminating a proposed $59,000 full-time “math interventionist”  in favor of a grade 3 or 4 teacher for Chester-Andover Elementary School.
  • Adding a $42,000, part-time (40 percent of full-time) STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) coordinator.
  • Restoring the Flexible Pathways coordinator for $36,000.
  • Eliminating the proposed $30,000 transition coach to help in getting Black River students to come to GM in 2020 in favor of a part-time math interventionist for CTES.
  • Finally, the position of Foreign Language coordinator was increased from 17 percent of full-time to 20 percent at an additional cost of $1,830.

The final $12,532,143 budget was a reduction of $15,370 from the original budget, which is a per pupil cost of $15,637. It is also a substantial increase from the separate Green Mountain and Chester-Andover budgets  and a decrease for the Cavendish Town Elementary budget of 2017.

In the end, transfers of spending between the school district and the SU made the budgets difficult to understand and board members have expressed frustration with that opacity going forward.

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  1. Arlene Mutschler says:

    Would’ve been nice if the vote was more publicized. A sign outside town hall, say VOTING TODAY.. or something. I remember reading something about 2 weeks ago…then NOTHING! And you wonder why people don’t vote?