TRSU pushes consolidations in transportation, food service, GM priority programs

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2019 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Last week, a new committee of the Two Rivers Supervisory Union began discussing a plan to merge the transportation operation of the Green Mountain Unified School District with that of the Ludlow-Mount Holly Unified Union School District under one full-time transportation director as early as next July.

The TRSU Transportation Committee meets for the first time on Nov. 26. Photos by Shawn Cunningham unless otherwise noted.

Under the new arrangement, the transportation director would be a full time TRSU employee, supervising  transportation for the six TRSU communities with nine bus routes.

Currently, the LMHUUSD has one bus that serves Mt. Holly, while buses under the Ludlow Municipal Transit System serve Ludlow Elementary and Black River High. But when Black River closes next June, the municipal service will stop operating. While the Ludlow-Mount Holly district is looking to buy one or two of the newer used Ludlow municipal buses, Green Mountain completed its lease for buses last summer and purchased eight new buses that were delivered in August.

Bus transportation for GM is currently handled by Todd Parah, who also serves as Green Mountain High’s part-time facilities supervisor and its athletic director. Parah told the meeting that there should be a job description to discuss, but that he felt he could do the extra work. He added that the $50,000 transportation director salary that Superintendent Meg Powden spoken with him about was more than reasonable.

Parah is currently paid $27,648 for the half-time post of coordinating six routes in the GM district, according to Green Mountain’s FY2019/20 budget.

The additional duties would include supervising a new route to pick up Ludlow and Mt. Holly students attending Green Mountain High beginning in the fall 2020 and one route each for Ludlow and Mt. Holly.

Committee member Joe Fromberger of the GM district objects to “another bureaucracy”

Joe Fromberger, a member of both the GMUSD and TRSU boards and an Andover resident, said that he was against creating “another bureaucracy” and that if the LMH district needs transportation services it could contract with Green Mountain to manage them. “GM knows how to run transportation,” said Fromberger.

Powden responded that transportation is a function of the supervisory union and that Parah is a TRSU employee as the bus supervisor and a GM employee for the rest of his work. But an examination of the GMUSD budget shows Parah’s salary is in the GM district’s spending plan, not in that of the supervisory union.

“By state law, (transportation funding) funnels through the SU, but we do the work. We decide what happens,” said Fromberger.

“I think that needs to change,” said TRSU Business Manager Cheryl Hammond.

“It’s not creating another (position),” Mt. Holly Principal Craig Hutt Vater said directly to Fromberger. “It’s adding two routes to what Todd does now. And it’s sharing the governance of it equitably and not having you hold all the cards. Really, what are you talking about?”

The statute laying out the responsibilities of the supervisory union board says that it must “provide transportation or arrange for the provision of transportation, or both in any districts in which it is offered within the supervisory union.”

Parah’s many hats

Responding to a question of whether he could work full time on transportation while working his other jobs, Parah said he would not give up on the other positions. “I think it’s only fair that I be afforded the chance to keep doing all three,” said Parah. “After a while, I’d be the first to say if it’s not working out because I care so much about what I do.”

When the question of yet another full time position – that of facilities supervisor for all three GMUSD schools  – came up, Powden asked Parah if he could handle all three jobs.

“That has been weighing on my mind a lot,” said Parah, “the last thing I want to do with the district growing  is losing something where I can’t afford to work in the district anymore.”

In addition to $27,648 for the bus supervision, Parah is paid $26,138 as a half time facilities supervisor and $14,175 as athletic director for a total of $67,961. The additional pay for SU-wide bus supervision would bring the his total compensation to $90,313 before any decision on the GM district-wide facilities supervisor is made.

75/25 split for cost, operation of buses

While the GM district has eight new buses and one older model, the Ludlow-Mt. Holly district will need to buy at least two buses for its runs. These could include one or two of the older, smaller buses from the Ludlow Municipal fleet or new buses like those purchased by GM for about $85,000 each. Parah told the committee that the smaller buses are less useful in a fleet where you might be transporting 50 kids at a time and that the cost of operation is not so different that there’s a large potential for saving money.

On Monday night, Dec. 2, the Ludlow Select Board passed a motion to offer all four buses in the municipal fleet to the school district for $50,000 or any individual buses for 50 percent of their estimated value. Only bus that the TRSU board expressed firm interest in was the 2017 Freightliner with 32 seats which would cost the district $27,500 plus at least $7,500 to refit as a school bus.

A newly delivered GMUSD bus in its original livery on July 30

Hammond said that she had calculated the transportation assessment based on the number of students in each district but not including those who go to high schools other than Green Mountain. That would make Green Mountain’s assessment 75 percent and Ludlow-Mt. Holly’s 25 percent.

In actual dollars, that comes to $437,430 and $148,781 respectively. The overall transportation budget would cover all the costs including the purchases of GM’s eight new buses, although a decision has not been made on whether LMH’s buses will be new or used, standard sized or small.

GMUSD’s Bus 1 displaying the TRSU livery on Aug. 19.

“I have no instructions from my board on how to approach this,” Fromberger said adding that it would be on the GM board’s agenda for Dec. 12. Powden countered that it would be on the TRSU agenda for Dec. 5. As of Dec. 2, the concept of the new plan was not on the agenda, but a copy of the proposed transportation budget was in the packet.

Buses have been a sore subject for several members of the GM board since last summer, when the district bought eight new buses at a cost of $684,000 and, through an error at the school, they were painted with the livery Green Mountain Union High School rather than Green Mountain Unified School District. But instead of correcting it, TRSU had its name painted on the buses at a cost of $3,575.

At the time, GM board member Doug McBride, of Cavendish, said, “I guess I was set back by a school district that’s running a $150,000 deficit spending $3,500 to paint a name on a bus. It didn’t seem a good way to spend our money.”

Another concern that is likely to come up when the GM board meets is that the new TRSU transportation panel has five members with only two coming from the GM district. At its Nov. 26 meeting, the new committee decided that it would meet Monday Dec. 16, which would be after the meetings of the TRSU board on Dec. 5, the LMH board on Dec. 11 and the GM board on Dec. 12.

SU-wide Food Services director proposed

GM food services director Michael Kennedy Photo provided

Also on the horizon is a TRSU proposal to create a position of SU-wide Food Service director with Michael Kennedy overseeing meal prep at all of the schools and GM hiring another person to handle Kennedy’s “non-director” work. Food service in the LMH district had been provided by a vendor that is not interested in continuing after Black River closes. Unlike transportation however, food service is not a statutory responsibility of the supervisory union.

GM principal Lauren Fierman has praised Kennedy’s food in previous meetings noting that more students are eating lunch at school. At the Nov. 25 meeting Fierman also said food service costs were down.

STEAMing forward

On Monday, Nov. 25, the TRSU proposed that the GM district share its full-time STEAM coordinator between the two districts, a proposal that was rejected by the Green Mountain board.

Over the summer, the GM board had identified STEAM as a top priority for its three schools — Cavendish Town and Chester-Andover elementaries and Green Mountain Middle-High. It then, at it’s Nov. 12 meeting it moved toward funding two full-time positions — a GM-wide coordinator and middle school STEAM teacher — to push forward in the areas of science, technology, engineering, arts and math.

When asked to share the position at the Nov. 25 GM finance committee meeting, members wondered whether the LMH board had also identified STEAM as a priority. A review of the LMH minutes for this year show the first time that the term STEAM was mentioned was when Powden and Eppolito brought it up on Nov. 13.

While the GM board has budgeted those positions, it has not voted to adopt the budget yet, which would still have to  go before the voters for final approval.

 

 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Filed Under: Education NewsFeatured

About the Author:

RSSComments (1)

Leave a Reply | Trackback URL

  1. Chris Walker says:

    I do not believe anyone can do 2 full time jobs at the same time. Mr. Parah might have good intentions but no way should anyone have 2 halftime jobs and one full time job within the school. I would probably tell my boss I could do more if he offered me an additional 26k a year too. But personally I do not think one person should be spread that thin in any job. If so I’ll take those jobs and do it for 75k total that would be a significant savings lol.

Leave a Reply

First name or initial and last name required. COMMENTS WILL BE DELETED WITHOUT THEM. No aliases accepted.