GM board restores priorities, bets on programs to attract more students At least two board members will not run for re-election

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2020 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Presented with a 2020-21 budget that stripped out all of the educational priorities it adopted in mid-2019, the finance committee of the Green Mountain Unified School District on Monday pushed back to restore programs, teacher positions and supplies while taking a gamble that offering more would make GM High School a more attractive for school-choice students from Ludlow and Mt. Holly to attend.

“Are we really delivering?” asks GM finance committee chair Michael Studin referring to educational opportunities for students. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

The GM board oversees Cavendish Town and Chester-Andover elementary and Green Mountain High schools.

The budget presented by the Two Rivers Supervisory Union included proposed cuts of more than $500,000 with a spending total that was only $233,393 less than the $14.2 million budget that the committee saw on Dec. 9. The $13.9 million spending plan is 8 percent over the current school year’s budget.

TRSU business manager Cheryl Hammond said that a large part of the increase was due to a 12.9 percent hike in health-care costs and the decision by an arbitrator that Vermont schools must pay the first $4,200 of employees’ out-of-pocket health-care expense. She also noted that a number of items were added including a guidance counselor for the additional students at the high school, background checks for volunteers, a large jump in vocational education, the Fundations early reading program and a $40,000 capital reserve fund.

Board member Doug McBride pressed for information to help the board look as non-instructional spending. Telegraph file photo

But Cavendish board representative Doug McBride continued to push for a review of non-instructional spending. McBride noted that he had asked for an organizational chart for the entire SU but received one that was not complete. Superintendent Meg Powden told McBride that the chart showed the administration and that the rest of the staff “is in the budget.” She pointed to the staff directory on the SU’s website to answer his questions.

“I’m just hearing you’re not going to give me an org chart where these people reside,” said McBride, “You’re asking us to approve a million dollar budget and I’m being told there’s nowhere we can cut except in programming and I can’t look at non-programming, look at this organizational chart in a meaningful way. It’s challenging for me to understanding that.”

Committee vice chair Michael Studin said he thought that the district was being asked to pay more, “but pay more for what?”

“Are we really delivering on this?” asked Studin, who also wondered why Ludlow-Mt. Holly students would chose GM if the school is not providing more educational opportunities.

GM Principal Lauren Fierman pointed to the tuition dollars that can help the school, noting that they come from school choice students in grades 7 through 12 and some of that money should be used for things that make it more appealing to them.

Parent Patty Davenport questions some of proposed cuts at Chester-Andover Elementary School

Noting that the budget included only 45 of the 134 LMH students who would be using school choice tuition for grades 7-12, The Telegraph asked if the board or administration would add to the number that might still select GM. The SU has asked families of those students to reply to a questionnaire that asks for their choice of school to attend next year. To date 83 of 134 families have responded to the questionnaire.

The Telegraph noted that 30 additional students would bring in $510,000, money that could be used to restore all the proposed cuts and asked what portion of that would the committee be comfortable with.

The committee went on to look at estimates of how many students could reasonably be expected to chose Green Mountain. Studin started with 13, which would yield $221,000. After some discussion, the committee decided to see which items from the proposed cut list could be restored.

Back to the priorities

With a sense that there would be more room for the educational priorities that the district board had established, committee members went through the list of cuts and picked the items they believe would improve the schools. The total came to approximately $370,000 or about 22 additional students from the Ludlow-Mount Holly District. Those items include:

  • Restore STEAM teacher at GM to full time (1.0 FTE)
  • Restore Social Studies teacher at GM to 1.0 FTE
  • Nurse at CTES from 20 hours to 25 hours/week
  • Restore elementary school second language teacher
  • Restore long term substitute at CAES
  • Restore STEAM coordinator to .5 FTE
  • Restore STEAM supplies
  • Restore CTES supplies
  • Add a K-3 floating teacher for CAES

TRSU Business Manager Cheryl Hammond explains some of the increases that have come into the budget for next year

The GM STEAM teacher will bring programs like robotics to the middle and high school, according to Principal Lauren Fierman. The STEAM coordinator will help teachers in Cavendish Town and Chester-Andover elementaries bring similar subjects to their students. The long-term substitute will replace CAES teacher Frank Kelley during a one-year sabbatical and the kindergarten-3 floating teacher will help with the large class sizes in those grades where the board’s early literacy priority resides.

Committee member Marilyn Mahusky of Chester asked if it was time for a motion to adopt the changes, but Studin said that several numbers were still up in the air and suggested another meeting. McBride said he would like to take a long look at the budget for opportunities to cut without harming instruction.

The board decided to meet again at 6 p.m. on Tuesday Jan. 14 at the Green Mountain High School, 716 Rt. 103 south in Chester.

Retirements and elections

Cavendish representative Kate Lamphere announced that she would not be running for re-election in March and to urge Cavendish residents to consider serving on the board.  Lamphere is serving a term that should end in 2021, but due to a clerical mixup, she would be on the ballot in 2020 and she decided it would be a good time to leave.

Following Lamphere, long-time school board member Mahusky also announced that she would not seek re-election. Powden said that in addition to Lamphere and Mahusky, board members who would be up for election in March are Joe Fromberger of Andover, Fred Marin of Cavendish and Rick Alexander of Chester.

To run for office, a candidate can pick up a petition form at their Town Clerk’s office, collect the necessary signatures and submit it by Monday, Jan. 27. A petition must be signed by 30 registered voters of the town in question or 1 percent of the voter checklist, whichever is less. For more information on running for office go to the elections section of the Vermont Secretary of State’s website.

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  1. Sue Willis says:

    I am pleased to see that the board is looking at non-academical cuts! Seems to me there is plenty of other fat to be trimmed from the steak!