First GMUSD budget meeting focuses on gathering info

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2019 Telegraph Publishing, LLC

The Green Mountain Unified School District board – acting as the finance committee – met on Sept. 25 and so began the budgeting process 50 days ahead of last year.

Board and budget priorities after the Finance Committee voted on them. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

The board was meeting as the finance committee to address the complaint that in the past, everything presented to the finance committee would have to be presented again to the full board. The early start was precipitated by overspending by the district and by the Two Rivers Supervisory Union as well as the sense that the budget process is done in too short a time and budgets are often a result of the pressure of making a Town Meeting publishing deadline. Several members have said that they don’t understand the budget and think more time would help them and the public get a better grasp of it.

The meeting followed a retreat held earlier in the month at which the board worked on defining the priorities it would take into the budget process. In fact, the first half hour or so was taken up with finalizing the priorities that the board would set for itself as well as the budget priorities it would direct the administration to use in the 2020-2021 budget and in the future.

Committee member Joe Fromberger argued for working with a simpler, less detailed budget form

Using a list for each set of priorities made at the retreat, each finance committee used five votes allotted per list to see which areas were most important to the committee as a whole. A member could use as many of the five votes on any area he or she wished.

In the end, the group decided that members would work on the board/administration relationship, data and outcomes and fiscal responsibility, while they would direct the administration to put a budgetary emphasis on basic skills (including early literacy), elementary world language and a STEAM program. STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics.

Committee member Doug McBride suggests a more detailed look at the past spending to inform budget decisions

The discussion then turned to how the committee would move forward and what items members would request from the administration. Among those was an analysis of spending in the 2018/19 budget. A line-by-line analysis of the budget was rejected by member Joe Fromberger in favor of looking at a more simplified format. But member Doug McBride suggested that the detailed 34-page budget was necessary for members to see not only the overspending but also the under-spending that reduces the deficit.

“If we have a question about detail we can go online and see exactly what it is,” said Fromberger.

Other topics to look at for budgeting was an analysis of maintenance and repair needs, an understanding of where the students stand with basic skills, student-to- staff ratios and personnel needs. In the end, committee chair Deb Brown requested that the administration provide information for the next meeting including:

  • Facilities committee report if available
  • Data on students’ basic skills
  • A list of administration priorities
  • Class sizes and student/teacher ratios
  • Five-year history of budget increases
  • Projections of budgetary changes from the State of Vermont
  • A list of expenses that are mandatory and unavoidable
  • An analysis of 2o18/19 budget discrepancies with color coding

Next meeting

While in recent board meetings members have said that more meetings were necessary to work on the budget, Superintendent Meg Powden said it would take three weeks to compile the information so the next meeting of the finance committee was scheduled for nearly a month later on Oct 22. That meeting will be held at 6 p.m. at Green Mountain High School.


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