TRSU postpones budget while districts continue work on theirs

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2020 Telegraph Publishing LLC

While the surprise resignation of Superintendent Meg Powden took center stage at Monday’s meeting of the Two Rivers Supervisory Union, the work of finalizing the SU’s budget went on.

A lighter moment in Cheryl Hammond’s budget presentation. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

At its meeting of Jan. 2, the board had rejected a 9.54 percent increase and asked the administration to return with one closer to 5 percent. In response, Powden and business manager Cheryl Hammond brought “potential cuts” totaling $265,850 which – if approved – could reduce the SU budget increase to 5.32 percent.

Among the cuts were $84,250 in special ed expenses and $67,000 in transportation most of which ($50,000) was achieved by taking the transportation reserve fund off its ledger and putting it on GM, which pays into the fund anyway.

The remaining $114,600 came from central office reductions.  Those included cutting the existing half-time data specialist, reducing the superintendent’s salary 20 percent to $107,000, cutting the superintendent’s assistant also by 20 percent, cutting the director of technology by 20 percent and moving out of the Roost annex building, which would cut the annual rent at Fletcher Farm from $24,000 to $18,000 and save $1,200 in utilities. Hammond said these were not cuts that the SU wants to make.

LMH board member Dan Buckley reminds the board that adding back transportation to his district’s budget will have an effect on TRSU’s spending plan

Dan Buckley of the Ludlow-Mt. Holly Unified Union School District warned that the pared down budget does not include transportation for his district, which is likely to restore it even if it takes them over the “excess spending threshold” for which the towns’ residents will have to pay a tax penalty.

Powden noted that a “version 4.1” of the budget included the LMH transportation funds and asked that the board approve that budget of $6.758 million.

Chester-Andover Principal Katherine Fogg and Executive Assistant Mary Moeykens interpreted the  20 percent reduction in the superintendent’s salary as making it a part-time position of four days a week. Fogg worried that a part-time superintendent would not be able to do everything needed and Moeykens said she could not comprehend a superintendent doing the job in four days.

Superintendent Meg Powden listens to a question from the audience

GM Principal Lauren Fierman noted that lowering the salary does not mean making it part time. “If the goal is to reduce costs, make a different salary cap,” said Fierman.

After some discussion and a reminder from GM board member Fred Marin that time was growing short to approve the spending plan and get it printed ahead of Town Meeting, the board deadlocked 3 votes to 3 and the budget was not adopted.

GM board member Joe Fromberger said that his board had asked to see the SU budget before he voted on it, which prompted the reaction that they could have looked at the budget during the process.

In the end, it was decided that the GM finance committee (made up of the full board) could look at the SU budget on Tuesday Jan. 14 while the LMH board would put the final touches on its budget on Wednesday night. Then the SU board would meet at 5:30 on Thursday night ahead of the 6 p.m. GMUSD board meeting, where that district’s budget would be up for approval. If by then all the financial and programming stars align, they would make their printing deadline.

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