GMUSD finance committee gets first look at proposed FY23 budget

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2021 Telegraph Publishing LLC

The Finance Committee of the Green Mountain Unified School District got a first look at the administration’s proposed 2022-23 budget as it met on Tuesday, Nov. 23 at Green Mountain High School. The almost $15 million  spending plan for running the high school plus Chester-Andover and Cavendish Town elementary schools represents a 3.28 percent increase over the current year. But there are also Covid-19 related funds and other grants that will supplement the operation but do not appear in this budget,  shows the spending that will be part of the property tax calculation.

Superintendent Lauren Fierman presents the draft budget to the GM Finance Committee on Nov. 23. Images courtesy of Okemo Valley TV

After a presentation by Superintendent Lauren Fierman, the discussion of expenses was divided up by school with “districtwide” spending as a separate category. Fierman said that the 15.36 percent budget increase for Cavendish Town Elementary is due in part to ending the two-year “principal-sharing” between Cavendish and Chester-Andover and giving each school a full-time principal while Chester-Andover will also retain an assistant principal.

Fierman said that in her opinion, the 81-student Cavendish school does not need a full-time principal and she would be looking for someone who could also act in another capacity for the district — perhaps as a coach or interventionist in a subject like math or reading. In the first of several motions to add staff time to CTES, board member Abe Gross objected to the district-wide duties Fierman was suggesting, saying that there should be one full-time administrator at CTES and two at CAES.

Board member Michael Studin objected to Fierman’s idea from a different point of view, saying that the schools shouldn’t create a position and figure out what that person would do later. After some discussion it was agreed that all principals may have other duties within the district and Gross’s motion passed 7-2.

A slide from the administration’s presentation showing budget increases for Cavendish Elementary

Gross also made motions to increase the hours of the nurse at CTES from a .665 to full-time and to increase the guidance counselor from .8 to full-time. Fierman pointed out that nurse positions are a districtwide expense and 2.665 positions currently cover the three schools. Business manager Cheryl Hammond confirmed that the additional hours would add $23,179 to the district-wide budget. It was also noted that CAES – with 240 students – has one counselor and that the superintendent’s recommendation was to increase the CTES counselor from .8 to .9. Fierman said she had no objection the increase and both of those motions also passed by wide margins.

Cavendish board member Abe Gross moved to increase several CTES budget items above the recommendation of the administration

The board also voted to pay $40,000 to the Cavendish Fletcher Library as a contribution for the public library standing in for a school library.

In addition to the administrative change and the library contribution, the CTES budget number also represents 3.75 new paraeducators and changes in what benefits are taken by staff. Even before the other additions proposed by Gross, the Cavendish budget was $1,823,663 or roughly $22,514 for each of the school’s 81 students.  By comparison Chester-Andover’s budget works out to about $14,154 for each of its 240 students and Green Mountain High’s budget represents approximately $15,388 for each of that school’s 362 students. These numbers do not include the district wide expenses and are not the complex per pupil cost used as part of the formula for calculating tax rates.

Chester-Andover’s proposed budget of $3,397,149 represents an increase of 6.04 percent over this year, which comes mainly from changes in benefits benefits chosen by staff, returning a to a full-time principal position and adding three paraeducators.

A slide from the presentation showing the main increases at Chester-Andover Elementary

In contrast to the elementary schools, Green Mountain High’s budget of $5.57 million is showing a 1.19 percent decrease from this year. The reductions are due to new staff members who are lower on the salary scale and a reduction in tuition paid by the district on behalf of Baltimore students who attend other schools. This came out of an agreement made during the Act 46 consolidation meetings that created GMUSD. As part of the consolidation agreement, those Baltimore students already going to a non-GMUSD school could continue through graduation with tuition paid by the district. As those students graduate, the costs to the district will continue to decrease. GM also saw an increase in benefits costs, but those did not completely offset the reductions.

The districtwide budget of $3.9 million is up 2.55 percent with a $108,000 increase in special education accounting for nearly all of that. While special education goes up by large amounts each year, the board spent more time discussing a $10,000 line to pay for computer devices that are not returned by students who move away or staff that quit.

There are still unknowns

Business Manager Cheryl Hammond reminded the board that there is a cost per pupil threshold within the education tax calculation formula. It is calculated using the amount of state aid the district needs and the number of “equalized” pupils. Equalizing takes the number of actual children in the school and weights it for a number of factors that make the educating the children either more or less expensive.

TRSU business manager Cheryl Hammond cautioned the board that there are several unknown items that can affect the budget

Exceeding the threshold triggers an added tax penalty based on how far over the threshold the school’s spending goes. Last year, the GMUSD budget resulted in a per pupil cost of $17,421 with a threshold of $18,789. At Tuesday’s meeting Hammond told the board that the proposed budget would result in an equalized per pupil cost of $18,368 and she did not yet have this year’s threshold.

Hammond also pointed to several pieces of information coming from the state that could affect the bottom line. Since then the state has set the threshold at $19,977 per equalized pupil.

GM board chair Joe Fromberger noted that a bond issue for about $20 million of work the schools which has been discussed at recent GM board meetings would add about $1 million to the budget every year and that would go into the calculation for raising taxes. On Tuesday Nov. 30, Hammond told The Telegraph that while the bond payment would raise the per pupil cost, the state does not penalize schools for going over the threshold for such capital spending.

Unlike finance committee meetings of the past, there was little or no discussion of whether the schools’ spending plan would pass muster with the voters of Andover, Baltimore, Cavendish and Chester — the towns that make up the district. They vote on those budgets every March.

The next finance committee meeting will be held at 5 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 16 at the Green Mountain High library and via Zoom. It will be followed by the GM board meeting. The meeting will be open to the public and links to materials for the meeting can be found on the Two Rivers Supervisory Union website’s home page below the slide show.

 

 

 

 

 

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