TRSU board approves 14% budget increase

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2021 Telegraph Publishing LLC

TRSU Business Manager Cheryl Hammond presenting the budget to the board. Images courtesy of Okemo Valley TV

Last Thursday night, the board of the Two Rivers Supervisory Union unanimously approved a budget of $6.548 million, which taxpayers in the SU’s two districts will see as assessments in the district budgets for the 2021/22 school year. The spending plan included an overall increase of $807,764 — 14.07 percent — over last year’s budget of $5.74 million. While spending in some areas declined or only rose in small amounts, the vast majority of the increase – $644,060 – came in special education.

The overall budget is actually $7.769 million, but the $1.221 million difference represents several federal grants that pay for several programs such as Title I. According to SU business manager Cheryl Hammond, this revenue and expense is passed through and does not affect the taxes that each district must collect.

While “central office” expense and transportation at the Green Mountain Unified School District have declined and transportation at  the Ludlow Mount Holly Unified Union School District has only increased with the purchase of a bus at, special education expenses continue to balloon in an area where privacy regulations make analysis of spending nearly impossible.

Director of Special Services Mary Barton tells the board that 20 students requiring special education have moved into the district this year

Mary Barton, Director of Special Services, told the board that 20 new students requiring special education services have moved into the district since the beginning of the year. According to the detailed special education budget, that brought the total number of children receiving special education services to 231.

The federal government mandates that school districts offer special education services to students who need them, including those whose disabilities are so severe that the district does not have the facilities to help them  and must send them to programs outside the district. In such instances, the district is required to pay for tuition and transportation.

In the past two years, TRSU has developed in-district programs for children with autism and with social and emotional problems, allowing the schools to save money by keeping those students closer to home. Barton told the board that the SU is also looking into establishing a “life skills” program that could bring keep more students in the district and cut costs.

The rollout of 2018’s Act 173, which will save the state money by moving state reimbursement from a percentage of a district’s special education expense to a block grant, has been postponed for a year but at some point increases such as those in next year’s budget will be an even larger problem for local budgets.

Supervisory union budgets are voted on by a board made up of school district board members and are not directly voted on by the public. Since a supervisory union is not a municipality and therefore cannot raise taxes, these expenses are assessed back to the Green Mountain and Ludlow Mount Holly school districts and become part of their budgets, which will be voted on by their constituent towns in March.

Superintendent’s report

TRSU Superintendent Lauren Fierman tells the board that the state will require a plan to help students catch up on lost learning during the pandemic

Superintendent Lauren Fierman told the board that she was excited to be returning to in person learning after more than a month of remote learning as a precaution around the holidays. She noted that in addition to those who opted for in person instruction at the beginning of the school year, a number of students have decided to return from remote learning. She also told the board that the state will be requiring schools to have “recovery” plans to help “mitigate learning losses” during the pandemic. But, as yet, the state has not issued guidance for such plans.

And while the state no longer allows schools to ask if families have had multi-household gatherings, those gatherings remain  prohibited and families who do so should quarantine.

She also noted that in the most recent Covid testing, a little over 120 staff members were screened on Dec. 16 and that with an unstable vaccine supply, she does not know when teachers will be able to get shots.

According to Fierman, sports were set to begin on Monday Jan. 11, but only what she termed “fundamentals” and she noted that there is no information available when games can begin.

 

 

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  1. The taxpayers were promised huge savings from ACT 46. Didn’t happen. We were also promised equality of education. That did happen, sort of. Vermont students now all get an equal amount of no education.

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