Deja vu in GMUSD budget process, public participation sought

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2018 Telegraph Publishing LLC

GMUSD’s Finance Committee kicks off the budgeting season. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

Anyone attending the Green Mountain Unified School District Finance Committee meeting on Nov. 15 might have been struck by a sense of deja vu, but in reality, we have been here before.

Last year, after a series of meetings – mostly short, one-hour affairs just before full board meetings – committee members were unable to endorse a spending plan by January when the district’s annual report was due to be printed.

With a marked lack of enthusiasm, the district board sent a budget to the voters and in March, voters rejected it and sent it back. That rejection triggered a “visioning process” which was intended to settle on priorities to inform the second cut at the budget, but actually added to the indecision. Faced with another deadline, the board rejiggered the plan, dropping a few things asked for by the administration and on May 22, 382 voters (from Andover, Baltimore, Chester and Cavendish combined) showed up to pass the budget by a 60-vote margin. As soon as the budget passed, the visioning process disappeared.

This year, the finance committee is once again looking at a January deadline for printing the budget ahead of Town Meeting day in March, and its first meeting was again scheduled for just one hour ahead of the full board. Unlike last year though, board chair Marilyn Mahusky suggested several more meetings apart from GMUSD board nights so the committee will have time to work on the “wish list” from the administration. But members noted that it will still be reacting to “wants” rather than having a vision. This became apparent as Business Manager Cheryl Hammond walked the committee through the highlights of the 42-page budget.

TRSU Business Manager Cheryl Hammond (right) explains an aspect of the proposed budget.

Right out of the gate, a request from last year’s budget – an assistant principal for Chester-Andover  for $74,355 – was questioned.

“Why are we talking about that again?” asked board member Joe Fromberger. “We decided not to have that.”

“Well, we decided last year that we couldn’t afford it, but it doesn’t mean the school doesn’t still need it,” replied Mahusky.

“It’s still considered a need, even though it wasn’t accepted last year,” said Superintendent Meg Powden.

“It’s a want,” said board member Michael Studin. “I’m not so sure it’s a need.”

Highlights of the spending plan

Among the new items proposed in the budget are:

  • A grade 7-12 math interventionist at $66,086.
  • A half-time “capstone” coordinator at $27,266.
  • An in-school suspension/lunch duty para-educator for GMHS for $30,963.
  • The assistant principal at CAES for $74,355.
  • A full-time substitute teacher for the district at $57,980.
  • Increase Spanish teacher from five periods a day to six for $9,171
  • Fence for Cavendish Elementary for $9,000. This was listed in the operating budget although it appears to be a capital expense.
  • Two more paraeducators for CAES for $61,234.
  • A tuition hike to $17,000 for Baltimore students attending Springfield schools adding $46,000.
  • Payments on the GMHS roof bond of $24,360.
  • One special ed paraeducator at GMHS for $23,524.
  • A FY18 deficit, of $141,997, $93,000 of which was the take back of healthcare insurance savings the district  negotiated with employees.

In addition to those expenses, a number of items were proposed for the annual migration of budget lines between the school district budget and the Two Rivers Supervisory Union budget. This year, the SU is proposing to send the expenses for Technology, Nursing, Board of Education, Property Insurance and Capital Reserve over to the Green Mountain Unified School District. In the past, these expenses have been covered by the Supervisory Union and charged back in assessments to the districts, but the for whatever reasons – including “transparency” in the case of software purchases under technology – the SU feels these now fit better in the district budget.

There are still a number of areas – special education, central office assessment, vocational education, teacher salaries and transportation – which do not have firm numbers yet and will unfold during the process.

Community participation wanted

Mahusky said that in the past there has been discussion of having community members sit on the budget committee for their input. At the Nov. 15 committee meeting, Jeannie Wade of Chester joined the committee, and the group noted that it would be interested in more community members from the other district towns as well.

The next scheduled meetings will be at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 29 at Green Mountain High School and on Dec. 13 at Cavendish Town Elementary. The next GMUSD board meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Thursday Dec. 20 at Green Mountain High.

The Telegraph will have an analysis of the GMUSD budget next week ahead of the Thursday budget committee meeting.

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  1. Otis Nelson says:

    We need a new superintendent who cares for and provides for the kids. Preferably one who has a vision, is approachable, and cares about our communities. We don’t have that now. If you don’t want a repeat of last year get a new administrator in there, this one is bad news!