GMUSD budget up less than 1% despite special ed hike

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2021 Telegraph Publishing LLC

The directors of the Green Mountain Unified School District approved a $14.2 million budget last Thursday. It represents an increase of less than 1 percent over last year’s spending plan, despite a recent 14 percent increase by the Two Rivers Supervisory Union, which charges its spending back to its two school districts. It will go before voters on March 2.

Business manager Cheryl Hammond.

According to Superintendent Lauren Fierman and TRSU Business Manager Cheryl Hammond, the increase was offset by a number of cuts including administrative changes in which Michael Ripley became interim principal at Green Mountain High without replacing his post as associate principal and having administrators from Chester-Andover Elementary also work at Cavendish Elementary rather than replacing former Principal Deb Beaupre, who resigned at the end of the 2019-2020 school year.

In addition to savings stemming from staffing changes, the SU’s assessment for transportation decreased due to several factors including the board’s decision to hold off on buying a ninth school bus. There were also some marginal cuts in the proposed special education increases and an increase in the General State Support Grant.

Director of Special Services Mary Barton pointed to a pair of programs that bring students back into the school system from out-of-district placement in programs at other schools. These programs – including one for autism – save the cost of both tuition for the out-of-district program plus transportation and attending staff. One estimate is that the new programs save the district approximately $1 million each year.

Following a presentation, the board approved the $14,241,241 budget, which represents a .94 percent increase over the current year.

In addition to the budget, the board approved the warning for voters to weigh in on the budget by Australian ballot on Tuesday, March 2. Members saw the text on their computer screens – including that it had been approved at a “duly warned meeting” – although the published agenda did not include that as an item.

Shifting plan for annual meeting

Board chair Joe Fromberger asked that the question of the district’s annual meeting be put on the agenda in light of the passing of a bill (H48) which gives municipalities (including school districts) the option of postponing the annual meeting. At its December meeting the board decided to an informational meeting via Zoom at 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 25 apparently followed by an in-person annual meeting at which attendees would be able to make nominations and vote any articles that are not voted by Australian ballot on Town Meeting Day, which is Tuesday, March 2.

GMUSD Board Chair Joe Fromberger.

Board member Wayne Wheelock of Baltimore moved to “leave it the way it is” prompting Fromberger to say that the prospect made him personally uncomfortable. “At my age, I am much more comfortable with an outdoor meeting. I don’t relish being in a closed space with another 25 people,” Fromberger said, adding he would not normally state his personal feelings, but, “I do feel strongly about this.”

Board members Kate Lamphere and Lois Perlah agreed. Wheelock’s motion was voted down and another was passed, dependent on Gov. Phil Scott signing legislation allowing meeting postponements. Scott signed the bill on Tuesday, Jan. 19, meaning that the GMUSD board will postpone its annual meeting to an outdoor venue at 6 p.m. on Thursday, May 27.

The district budget and the election of board members will nevertheless be on the Australian ballot in the district’s four towns on March 2. Preceding that — on Thursday, Feb. 25 —  and there will be an informational meeting via Zoom.

Cavendish Library request nixed as board finalized budget

Sandra Russo of the Cavendish Library.

Cavendish Fletcher Community Library treasurer Sandra Russo told the board that the trustees of the library were in the process of restructuring the finances and operations of the organization with an eye toward giving it a strong future.

According to Russo, the work of remaining relevant includes building and technology upgrades as well as library services.

She said that Cavendish Elementary benefits from the services of the library and asked that the board begin making an annual appropriation of $25,000 in the GMUSD budget, noting that the amount is equal to a .4  full-time-equivalent salary for a librarian. Russo said trustees felt this new request was fair and reasonable and she has given Principal Katherine Fogg detailed financials.

Fromberger told Russo he had reviewed the financials and asked for more information so board members could “do a deep dive” on what the district already pays for and what it may also be obligated to pay. He noted that there was not the time to do that, and the request would not be included in this year’s budget.  Finance committee chair Deb Brown also asked for a full financial analysis so the board could have an informed discussion.

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