GM budget panel nixes CAES preschool, urges fund-raising for CTES playground Puts money into STEAM, literacy, early foreign language

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2019 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Chair Deb Brown with Vice Chair Michael Studin takes the committee through the priorities. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

The Green Mountain Unified School District Finance Committee rejected a number of administration initiatives on Monday night in favor of fully funding the priorities it established at a September retreat.

The committee took up a two page document titled Administration Priorities, quickly calling it a “wish list.” Committee chair Deb Brown moved the panel through the list (which totaled $1.3 million or just over 10 percent of the annual budget) for a yes or no on each of the items while asking staff members not to comment or lobby for items that had already been discussed at the previous meeting.

The board oversees the budgets for Cavendish Town Elementary, Chester-Andover Elementary and Green Mountain Union High.

Preschool Collaborative director Stephanie Racz outlines the benefits of starting a preschool in the former bank.

The committee rejected the biggest initiative – buying the TD Bank to establish a preschool there for more there $500,000, but considered funding a new playground at  Cavendish Town Elementary School before deciding that the $150,000 project should be the objective of a fundraising campaign as it was at Chester-Andover Elementary.

Early Education Collaborative Director Stephanie Racz told the board that there were many advantages to having a preschool near the elementary including proximity to the playground and school library and that a public preschool would be a better option. “The quality of private pre-schools vary from one to the next,” said Racz.

Chester resident Jeannie Wade told the meeting of her plans to open a preschool at her home on Main Street and that the administration’s plan would be a problem for her. Longtime board member Joe Fromberger recalled that when the collaborative was founded, it was decided that it would not put people out of business but rather collaborate with people doing the work. The committee also noted that the preschool would not be self-supporting and cost the district in the range of $144,000 each year and decided to say no to it.

Cavendish reps Doug McBride and Kate Lamphere felt that Cavendish residents were ready to start fundraising for a playground

Speaking to the playground issue, CTES Principal Deb Beaupre said the school’s support group was very small and that based on a lack of parental involvement, she decided not to pursue fundraising. She also said that since most of the fundraising would come from school families she was uncertain how quickly she could raise the money

Board members Doug McBride and Kate Lamphere, both of Cavendish, told the meeting that residents they have spoken with understand that playground funds were raised by the Chester community and not out of school funds and that people are ready to start fundraising but might need some help with grants.

Chester playground committee chair Chris Meyer offers help in getting the fundraising started

Chris Meyer, who headed up Chester’s fund-raising, told the meeting that his group was made up of five dedicated parents and they raised $40,000 from the community and the rest from grants. Meyer said he was happy to support Cavendish and help them get their fund-raising going.

The three priorities established at the September retreat were to support basic skills by putting an emphasis on early reading, establishing a world language program in the elementary schools and a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) program in elementary and high school.

To that end, the committee funded positions and supplies to support early literacy and increased the current world language position from a .2 position to full-time rather than the half-time put forward by the administration.

STEAM coordinator Lisa Holderness explains the importance of the equipment and supplies to her program

The committee also rejected Superintendent Meg Powden’s proposal to increase the STEAM program coordinator to full-time and make it but a supervisory union-wide position that would be shared with the Ludlow-Mount Holly district. Powden and Curriculum Director Michael Eppolito called the move a matter of equity, and that this would make it possible for LMH to feed prepared students to the GM middle school. But committee members noted that this was their priority and they wanted the full attention of the STEAM coordinator to be put toward the district. They added that the LMH board can make its own decision on this.

STEAM coordinator Lisa Holderness told the board that just as important as a person is the equipment and supplies needed for the program. She noted that a neighboring SU (which is larger) budgeted $20,000 for things like science and engineering kits and robotics supplies. She urged the committee to budget $8,000 for the GM district.

One sticking point was a full-time K-2 teacher  at Chester-Andover to help with large classes in those grades. Board chair Brown had asked if a 5-6 teacher – where the class sizes are much smaller — could be repurposed to that position. CAES Principal Katherine Fogg told the board that moving a teacher from the upper grades would disrupt the math program recently established. Fogg noted that with Act 173, the state is pushing for fewer para-professionals and more “highly qualified teachers.”  Fogg said she and her faculty would be piloting a team approach to using a new teacher across six classrooms while letting three paras go, probably through attrition. She said that that would make it a wash for the budget. Committee members were wary that the paras could creep back into the budget during the year, but after discussion, decided to fund the teacher and see if the pilot works.

Several committee members agreed that all of the initiatives should be evaluated to see if they are working.

Green Mountain and Ludlow/Mt. Holly school choice

The district’s ability to keep to its priorities and improve education will depend on how many students from the Ludlow-Mount Holly district bring their tuition dollars to Green Mountain High School. With a tuition of $17,000 per student, it would take 35 students to cover the items approved by the committee. 

Business manager Cheryl Hammond outlines the number of Black River students expected to attend various high schools

Powden and business manager Cheryl Hammond told the board that so far, of the 130 students who would have attended Black River High but who will have school choice next year, 23 have opted for the new Black River Independent School, 20 for GM, 18 for Mill River and 11 to other schools. Fifteen former Black River students are already attending Green Mountain and  are presumed to be coming back. That leaves 43 students who have not returned the paperwork to designate school choice to them by the Supervisory Union. Black River is set to close in June 2020.

Another factor in this is that the new independent school in Ludlow will need to get approval from the State Board of Education before it will be able to take public funding. If that doesn’t happen or is delayed, the 23 students who have chosen it will have to make a second choice.

Powden told the committee that her assistant was calling the families who have not yet returned their papers. There was no discussion whether any sort of sales “pitch” was in order.

The Finance Committee’s next meeting will be at 6 p.m. on Monday Dec. 9, 2019 at Cavendish Town Elementary School, 573 Main Street in Proctorsville.

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