GMUSD budget committee weighs increases

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2018 Telegraph Publishing LLC

With an increase in spending of more than $217,000 since the draft budget was first rolled out two weeks before, the Green Mountain Unified School District Finance Committee took its second look at the spending plan for the 2019-2020 school year in a meeting that was scheduled for just one hour.

TRSU Superintendent Meg Powden, left, and Business Manager Cheryl Hammond present a second version of the GMUSD budget for the next school year. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

The first draft, reviewed in another one-hour meeting on Nov. 15, showed an increase in spending of $544,061.  With the additional $217,000, the proposed budget for the three schools in the district is $761,284 or 6.07 percent higher than last year.

Business Manager Cheryl Hammond brought a simplified six-page budget rather than the 42-page document that was introduced two weeks ago. The larger document is still the basis for the budget but the summary format is less cumbersome.

In addition to the budget was a single page of notes broken into categories one of which Superintendent Meg Powden said was prioritized by the principals of the three schools in the district. That list appeared to show the top priority to be an assistant principal for Chester-Andover Elementary at $55,000 plus $19,000 in benefits. CAES Principal Katherine Fogg told the committee that she would not be outlining the justification for the position at that meeting because she had intended to meet with her teachers on the topic but two snow days had made that impossible.

Finance committee member Joe Fromberger questions the addition of an assistant principal for CAES based on the student population

Powden told the committee that she understood that there was an assistant principal at CAES in the past, and that when the position was eliminated, “we experienced quite a bit of turnover” in principals. Powden suggested that the turnover was due to the lack of an assistant principal.

While committee chair Marilyn Mahusky noted that there has been an assistant principal at the elementary school in the past, members Joe Fromberger and Michael Studin questioned the number of students in the school back then versus the number today. Fogg said the numbers have increased from 197 when she was hired to 240 this year. Fromberger noted that when the school has an assistant principal, the student population was upwards of 300.

Green Mountain High School Principal Lauren Fierman said that while the three principals discussed the needs of their schools, they did not establish a relative priority among the schools. Fierman said that it was not appropriate for one principal to say that her building’s need is greater than those of another building.

Mahusky said that it would be helpful for the committee to get some sort of “groupthink” from the administration about the priorities.

GMHS Principal Lauren Fierman explains the idea behind a full-time district-wide substitute teacher

Another proposed hire is for a district-wide substitute who would be full time and would work in any of the three district schools. In the second cut at the budget, the position was reduced from $57,980 to $36,325. Fierman explained that initially the salary for the position was based on a certified teacher, but  while that would be nice, it was not necessary. Powden and Hammond noted that the salary was pegged at $20,000 which is somewhat better than a day-to-day substitute who would be paid $100 per day. The position also includes benefits.

The committee was told that the district spent $86,748 for substitutes last year and that the budget was for substitutes this year was being spent quickly.

“In my school last year, every adult lost a parent or had some major issue,” said Cavendish Principal Deb Beaupre, explaining the time off. In addition, Beaupre noted that many are also involved professionally, which can mean time away from the school for conferences and presentations.

There was discussion about the amount of money already budgeted for substitutes, but the numbers seemed to get confused in the amount one substitute would cost for the 178-day school year or $17,800. A close look at the budget shows that, under regular education, $53,200 has been budgeted. That’s up $2,000 from the current budget.

Under special education, the three schools budgeted $18,800 for substitutes, which is up $7,700 from FY19. In total, the FY20 budget includes $92,000 for substitutes. At $100 per day, that would come out to 920 days of substitute coverage or 5.1 per day for the year. The $92,000 does not includes $16,325 for benefits for the proposed full-time position.

New jobs, old jobs unfilled

When discussion turned to adding a full-time math coach/interventionist for the high school it came to light that the part-time math positions for Chester-Andover and Cavendish Elementary approved in this year’s budget has not been filled.

Fierman said that math teachers are in great demand, making it difficult to fill a part-time job. Fierman noted that the high school’s four math teachers do not have enough free periods to provide additional help for students who are struggling to reach proficiency.

Committee chair Marilyn Mahusky, left, asks the administration to create a recap of budget items passed last year and what’s been done about them

In addition, the needs of some students have math help as part of their Individual Education Plans, which allows less time for other students who need help. While neither of the part-time math coaches have been hired for the elementary school, there are no postings on SchoolSpring – the online recruiting site used by the school – for those positions.

Another part-time position approved last year and not filled was at Chester-Andover. In the budget that voters approved in May, the district intended to create a 20 percent of full-time position of foreign language coordinator to begin working on an elementary Spanish program. Apparently, that was never done and the increase to full-time for a Spanish teacher is for the the high school language program.

There is a 20 percent of full-time world language coordinator in the budget for this year and for FY20 and according to Powden, Curriculum Director Michael Eppolito is heading up a search. Powden said she will be interviewing a candidate soon with an eye toward a hiring recommendation at the GMUSD board meeting on Dec. 20.

There was also a question regarding the part-time capstone coordinator. At one point during the runup to the second budget vote in May, the capstone position was part of the Flexible Pathways job, which was created this fall. Fierman said that the capstone program is not required by the state, but is a good thing. Characterizing it as a “want,” she told the committee that the position has been put at the bottom of the priority list.

At this point in the meeting Mahusky asked the administration to create a recap of what was budgeted last year and what was actually done.

New positions already hired

The committee also learned that the three special education paraeducators (two for CAES and one for GMHS) in the FY20 budget have already been hired since their work is required by Individual Education Plans. These positions add up to $84,758 and were not part of the current budget. Powden told Fromberger that these are not reflected in the deficit of $142,000 being carried forward since the expense will be in next year’s shortfall if there is one.

Eppolito said that a group of “teacher leaders” have been volunteering to design and plan the in-service days for the district. He added that he would like to have them also work on curriculum development and pay them a stipend. The administration is proposing a $1,200 stipend for each of six teachers.

Studin points to education vs. admin expenses

In the end, Studin questioned the increases, noting that of more than $760,000 in additional expenses, and about one seventh – around $100,000 are for what he characterized as “education.”

Studin pointed to the math interventionist, increases in Spanish instruction and the capstone position as education. Powden told Studin that she would consider the teacher leader stipend and the CAES assistant principal as education expenses.

“I think some people would see that as administrative positions,” said Studin.

“We’re all about education Mike,” replied Powden.

The next meeting of the Finance Committee will be held at 6 p.m. Wednesday Dec. 5 at Green Mountain High School. That meeting will not have the one-hour limit of the meetings to date.

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  1. Otis Nelson says:

    It’s almost laughable, how this administration can’t seem to put the actual education of our students first! Non-hires for budgeted positions is unacceptable, especially when asking to expand more non-educational spending! Just wow!