TRSU board OKs funds for LES kitchen

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2020 Telegraph Publishing LLC

The board of directors of the Two Rivers Supervisory Union approved the expenditure of approximately $17,000 from the coffers of the After School program to fund the re-installation of a kitchen in the Ludlow Elementary School, which Principal Karen Trimboli asserted was a matter of hot lunch equity.

LES Principal Karen Trimboli requesting funds from the After School Program to install kitchen equipment at the school

Trimboli told the board that there is no kitchen in the school that, until this year, had used the Ludlow Community Center next door as both kitchen and cafeteria. This year, meals – including breakfast and lunch – have been brought from the Community Center kitchen up to the school. Trimboli explained that food service had started with bagged meals and that they had tried moving hot meals from the center to the school but were unsuccessful in keeping them warm.

“That’s not equitable,” said Trimboli, “all other kids are having hot meals. Our kids at LES also deserve to have hot meals.”

“LES purchased hot boxes and a steam table,” said Trimboli,”but those won’t guarantee hot lunches because they still have to be brought up from the community center.”

Trimboli said that the school has had a kitchen in the past and already has a dishwasher and kitchen hood. The funds would go toward buying a convection oven, stove, refrigerator and freezer. She noted that After School Program director Venissa White has a surplus that “she needs to spend,” and upon asking White if the the program could help, Trimboli said, White replied “absolutely.”

Trimboli said they are working with inspectors to get the kitchen up and running by Nov. 1.

Board member Joe Fromberger questions the need for the TRSU board to take up the question

White, who was also at the meeting, told the board that, “A lot of the money we have in surplus is town money. Each year the Town of Ludlow gives the program $20,000 and, when that’s not spent, it doesn’t go back to the state and since it’s Ludlow money it seems fair.”

Green Mountain Unified School District board chair Joe Fromberger noted that the After School program was independent with its own board and he did not feel that the TRSU board needed to take up the issue. TRSU business manager Cheryl Hammond said that the program is under the TRSU umbrella and that it uses the SU’s tax identification number so the auditors said the board should pass on the move.

The board voted unanimously to allow the After School Program to pay for the appliances and installation.

Step II to Step III and ‘going remote’ following holidays

With Agency of Education Secretary Dan French’s announcement on Sept. 22 that schools could move from the more restrictive Step II to a less restrictive Step III, a number of choices opened up for how schools could operate, including allowing the use of cafeterias and gymnasiums for their intended purposes and the resumption of competitive sports.

AOE Secretary Dan French announces the move from Step II to Step III at a press conference on Sept. 25.

While the state will allow such changes, French made it clear that it is up to each school district how many of the changes are implemented.

And while Step III is less restrictive, according to an AOE document, “all of the basic, critical mitigation strategies such as staying home when you are sick, completing the daily health check, wearing a facial covering, physical distancing when feasible and washing hands frequently remain in place and must be followed.”

TRSU Superintendent Lauren Fierman told the board that the schools in the SU have been successful under Step II and don’t feel they need to use the gyms or cafeterias.  “We’re not going change it at this point,” said Fierman.

One thing that Fierman said will be discussed is how to handle the period around Thanksgiving and the holidays when college students will be returning home and families may be traveling. Fierman said that such travel and the need for quarantine after that raises the question of whether the schools should go fully remote learning during and after that period. She noted that administrators will be talking about this and district boards will be hearing about it, but no decisions have been made yet.

Pandemic alters budget, budgeting process

In introducing a budgeting process that will not be as long and perhaps as detailed as envisioned by the boards at the conclusion of the process earlier this year, Fierman said, “Coming into the superintendent role new, I had all manner of plans for how we would spend the summer and the first part of September pulling things together so that we could have a comprehensive budget proposal for you and those things all flew away on March 15th when we went into remote learning and then went through the summer.”

Superintendent Lauren Fierman explains the budget process shortened by Covid-19 preparations

Fierman said she wanted to work on a proposal that the board would be able “to work with and turn into your budget” and that she needed as much guidance as the board could give, although she noted she has a pretty good idea of what the board is looking for.

“What I’m going to be sharing with you (and Ludlow Mt. Holly and Green Mountain) at the beginning of November is a narrative of what our overall goals are, what our previous overall expenses have been, what our proposed expenses will be along with a narrative to explain why we are looking at any changes,” said Fierman.

Fierman said that the board will get explanations for the numbers in the budget spreadsheets. In the past, many board members have complained that they cannot understand the income and expense documents.

Noting that the school system will be proposing some changes, Fierman also said “I am committed to spending the least amount we can for having the kind of school we want.”

Funding complexities

Business Manager Cheryl Hammond explains the school funding situation which has been in flux since the beginning of the pandemic

Hammond told the board that the Federal Emergency Management Agency which had been looking into funding for schools had decided that no school costs related to the pandemic would be eligible to receive funding from the agency.

Earlier in September, schools were told that FEMA was looking at funding some expenses related to the Covid-19 pandemic, and the schools were asked to complete a FEMA Eligible Cost Survey and Request for Public Assistance.

Hammond told The Telegraph on Tuesday that neither of the documents were particularly difficult to fill out since much of the accounting for Covid costs had been done for other funding sources, but that the time frame to pull them together was so short that it was an extra burden on the already busy business office.

Noting that funding was still available through the CARES Act and and ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) Fund, but monies that come from those are subject to a clawback by the State of Vermont  aimed at softening the blow to the education fund. The procedures for this have not yet been finalized, so Hammond says it’s a good idea to tread carefully to lose as little funding as possible.

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