GM school board readies third budget proposal hoping to avert major penalty

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2024 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Last night was a make-or-break moment for the board of the Green Mountain Unified School District  as members met in Proctorsville to craft a budget that could win the approval of voters before the end of the school year on June 30 and avoid the penalties that would come to the district if it fails. The vote is being scheduled for Tuesday, June 4.

Superintendent Lauren Fierman explains the budget cuts proposed . Photos by Shawn Cunningham

The original proposed budget failed to garner voter approval in March. In late April, the board returned a budget to voters with $433,000 in cuts but that too failed. The board is now proposing a total of almost $1 million in cuts to the three schools within the district, which are Cavendish Town Elementary, Chester-Andover Elementary and Green Mountain Union High.

On Tuesday night, Two Rivers Supervisory Union Superintendent Lauren Fierman told the board and an audience of about two dozen at Cavendish Town Elementary and more than 70 on Zoom that if the budget is not approved by the end of the school year in June, the district will be obliged to borrow 87 percent of the current budget of $15.8 million budget or $13.8 million. If that happens, many things — including athletics, band, theater and even bus transportation — will be on the chopping block.

And a bill currently before the Vermont Senate, which aims to clean up some of the mess the legislature made with the Act 127 school funding changes, may make the situation even worse for the district should it pass and be signed into law and take effect on July 1. Fierman said that the current law mandates that a district whose budget fails with voters must continue to propose budgets until one passes. The new law proposed law would give a district three chances before the state imposes a “default budget” that it would calculate. Fierman said it was estimated that such a default budget would cut $3 million from the proposed 2024-25 budget, leading to even larger cuts in school programs.

So Fierman — after consulting the district’s three principals  — brought the board a list representing more than $578,000 in cuts on top of nearly $433,000 in cuts it approved  for the failed April 23 vote.  Those cuts would have brought the budget down to $16.4 million or a 3.74 percent increase over the 2023-24 budget.

Those proposed changes include:

  • ($43,985) – Cut for In-School-Suspension Coordinator
  • ($81,953) – Cut for 2nd Admin Assistant Position at GM
  • ($64,758) –  Cut GM Spanish teacher
  • ($48,420) –  Cut for STEAM Coordinator position
  • ($4,000) – Cut for STEAM supplies
  • ($8,447) – Reduce CTES Art Teacher from .4 to .3 FTE
  • ($59,293) –  Cut for .65 FTE Nurse position
  • ($38,797) – Cut for CAES building sub
  • ($100,000) – Reduce capital reserve
  • ($2,000) – Cut for CAES principal’s office supplies
  • ($2,000) – Cut for CTES principal’s office supplies
  • ($123,303) – Reduction in TRSU Assessment***
  • $7,274 – Increase to GM Admin time to cover 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • $5,959 – Dental increase budgeted 3% and it came in at 8.5%
  • ($11,508) – Change in benefits by employee
  • ($4,236) – Reduction in contingency due to cut position

Surviving the cut

The board discussed the value of each of those cuts and decided to put three  back into the budget. Those are:

  • the in-school suspension coordinator,
  • the Spanish instructor and
  • the Chester-Andover building wide substitute.

GM Principal John Broadley, center of the screen, advocates for keeping the In-School Suspension Coordinator.

In-school suspension was returned to the budget after the board heard from several members of the public — including the mother of a student who had been a regular in the program — of its value in helping kids get back into the classroom.

Green Mountain’s Spanish program has been plagued with problems in finding and keeping teachers. The position would have been cut and the school’s French teacher would fill in with first and second year students. But it was noted that Bellows Falls was down to one foreign language and that attracting tuition students would only be harder if Spanish was dropped – if only for a year. GM Principal John Broadley noted that colleges are currently looking for students with two to three years of foreign language.

Board member Kate Lamphere, center, says she is more concerned with what the cuts are going to do with students than just the budget.

Chester-Andover’s building-wide substitute escaped the cut because the school seldom has a day when it doesn’t need a substitute and having one on staff gives the school a measure of security. In return for being there every day, the building sub gets the same daily pay ($100) as a day sub plus benefits. CAES Principal Joey Blane noted that their substitute was well known to the students and therefore made less of a disruption to their day.

Cavendish board member Kate Lamphere wanted to give the public a chance to weigh in on the decisions before the board took a poll. Regarding the cuts she said she was more concerned with the “what it’s going to do to our kids, not just the budget.”

Public comments range from support to ‘doom loop’

During the first public comment period, former board member Abe Gross suggested – among other things – asking voters to say why they voted for or against the budget and to specify which areas of the school should be cut or increased. He also suggested that the curriculum director position be eliminated and that Green Mountain High be closed.

Stu Lindberg said that Act 46 was supposed to provide greater educational equity and save money by consolidation and did neither, calling the current situation of increasing budgets and falling enrollment a “doom loop.”

Several in the audience believed that the Cavendish Elementary nurse was being cut, but Fierman said that was not the case and that the budget proposal has one nurse in every school.

Martha Mott said she thought the board was doing a “great job” and noted the improvement in its working from months past.

Angela Cartier said she wants to see more trust in the principals’ decisions and she believes people should “always vote yes” on school budgets.  Several others advocated for making or reversing specific cuts.

Retired teacher Kathryn Martens said that teaching kids whose families are struggling economically takes time and love – not just money – and asked the board to remember those are the families that increased taxes hurt most.

What’s next?

One of the cuts on the list came from new reductions by the TRSU. Those cuts – compiled by the SU staff – would yield a reduction of $123,303 in the GM assessment by TRSU. The assessment is what GM has to pay for the services TRSU provides including the central office functions and special education.  But those cuts have yet to be approved by the six member SU board made up of three members of the GM board and three from Ludlow-Mount Holly. Those numbers should be made final at the May 2 meeting.

At 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, May 7, the GM board will meet to finalize the budget. The vote on the reduced budget is scheduled for Tuesday June 4 with an informational meeting before that.

The April 23 vote brought out only 540 residents in the towns in the towns of Andover, Baltimore, Cavendish and Chester compared with the 1,319 who turned out for the March 5 vote, which was a presidential primary.

Board member Lois Perlah said it made her sick that so few people turned out to vote, but officials from some of the four towns said many potential voters didn’t know about the April vote or only learned about it at the last moment and that the school board needs to do a better job of communicating with those voters.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Filed Under: AndoverCavendishChesterEducation NewsFeaturedLatest News

About the Author:

RSSComments (10)

Leave a Reply | Trackback URL

  1. Bill Dakin says:

    …officials from some of the four towns said many potential voters didn’t know about the April vote or only learned about it at the last moment and that the school board needs to do a better job of communicating with those voters.


  2. Sue Starr says:

    Where can we see the entire budget with all line items?

    If they want to learn Spanish, I can do two hours a week, Zoom only, for free. Get a decent textbook and it should be easy. I’m not a teacher, just someone who majored in Spanish at Washington University for a few years.

  3. James Clemer says:

    So, here’s another doom loop for you: what impact does it have on our school to cut to the bone?

    Fewer children will attend, because some of their parents can afford private schooling.

    Fewer young families will move here, because they can have better public schooling elsewhere.

    Fewer prime age laborers will move here, because they and their children will have better opportunities elsewhere.

    So, fine. Vote for a poorer next generation of Chester, it’s your prerogative.

  4. F. Patrick says:

    The proposed third round of proposed cuts are not significant nor reflect a thoughtful articulation of systematic budget planning for the good of the students served. What is needed is for the School Board and Superintendent to take swift and obvious action to consolidate K-12 services n a judicious manner that is both student-centered and fiscally sound. The District present challenge is not faced with a unique dilemna. There are sound school financing models that take into account the pressing fiscal issues of designing and delivering a budget that will meet the voters’ approval the third time. Now is the time to consolidate classrooms with low enrollments, implement staffing metrics based on student enrollments among other pressing needs. The voters did their job already by electing a school board charged with doing the right thing by all of the students. That is the clear charge.

  5. RAYMOND E MAKUL says:

    A few years ago, it was necessary to temporarily close the Chester-Andover Elementary School and relocate its operations to the high school. It was my understanding that younger and older students all got along under one roof and education proceeded with no deterioration of efficiency. It seems to me that closing down the elementary school again and sending its operations over to the High School would be a consolidation within the District that would produce considerable savings in heat, utilities, and central operations.

  6. Stu Lindberg says:

    There are a number of reasons the school budgets keep failing. The first and foremost, that I hear from my fellow citizens, is that they cannot afford any further taxation. They are being crushed financially. The second reason is students are getting out of school without the skills of reading, writing and arithmetic. These are basic survival skills. The third is the teaching of political agendas like DEI, CRT and age inappropriate sexual education.

    These are all valid concerns and the voters have every right to express their discontent through voting. This is the blessing of democracy inside our constitutional republic.

    I think everyone actively observing this process understands that the stage for our children’s education is set by our legislators in Montpelier. For years the loyal opposition has offered solutions that would correct the situation created by those entrenched group thinkers in the halls of power. The solutions include allowing for full school choice and a return of local control of education to democratically elected school boards.

    The only way to fix this sinking ship is to change the crew that is in charge of the boat. There is an election in November.

  7. Mike Farrell says:

    I see a whole lot of complaining on social media, but I very rarely see any one talking about actual solutions. The fact is, when school budgets continuously fail and have to make cuts that include important programs like the arts, sports, other extracurriculars and unique learning experiences the students lose the most, but communities are also losers. I see a lot of complaints of lower enrollment, which is mostly due to lower population. Well if the school becomes less appealing for parents to want to send their kids, what do you think that does to the population and quality of that community? Continuously voting no isn’t going to make anyone’s taxes go down by the way. I think many people have forgotten that we live in a society.

    The low turnout for the second vote was pathetic and extremely disheartening, but I do believe a lot of that had to do with people not knowing about the vote. Leading up to the vote, I saw one post from the Chester Town office and one post from the Cavendish Town office about a week in advance and really not a whole lot more. I feel it is the school board’s job to get the budget passed and part of that job is doing much better at letting as many people as possible know not just when and where the vote is happening, but educating people on what is actually at stake for our students and for our community and educating people on why the cost of education is so much. There are people who are anti public schools or anti voting for anything that raises taxes who will vote no no matter what, but I believe many of those no votes can be changed to yes if people are given information to make an informed decision. I also believe you can get more people to go to the polls if you are posting on social media every single day about this issue starting from the time the new budget is approved by the board on May 7. Social media is free and the best way to get out this message to as many people as possible. Members of the board should also be writing letters to the editors or our local papers like this publication and the Vermont Journal. I believe this is the best chance to finally get this budget passed.

  8. Chris Wuttke says:

    As I senior citizen on a fixed income, I can’t afford another tax increase. Our property taxes have increased over one thousand dollars each of the past two years, if this goes through, we will get another increase of over two thousand dollars, where are we supposed to come up with that kind of increase? This is crazy. We get the homestead exemption, land use, and income sensitivity and our property taxes are over 10% of our joint pretax income. We don’t have children but pay for everyone else who does. We live in a town with over 60% of the homes owned by second homeowners, they all pay slightly higher school tax rates and don’t have kids in our schools, the system should be flush with cash! I don’t mind paying to educate kids, but not when it comes at a personal cost to make ends meet. We all have to live within our means the schools need to do the same. They can’t keep using us taxpayers as their open bank account. It’s time to throw the present system out and start over, close some schools where enrollment is way down, consolidate schools, districts, increase class size, and cut down the top heavy administrations. This system is making it difficult for long time Vermonters to be able to afford to keep their homes.
    I’ve spoken to several folks who are considering moving out of state, where it is more affordable. Sadly, many homes are being sold to second home-owners, and many have become air B&B’s and the continuing slide of dropping school enrollment continues. Time to wake up!

  9. Bob Sartini says:

    I am mystified by the school budget. It always seems that the reality of the budget is obscured. I don’t expect there’s nefarious reasons for that. I just don’t understand why it’s not made clear how many students there are and how student teacher ratios have changed over the years. The impact of mandated spending. Retirements, turnover, cost of replacing staff. It’s complicated. But voters are asked to vote for one big number up or down. This recent list means what? We funded things we didn’t need for years? These were just nice to have but not important?
    What’s the up or down do to the tax rate? Is it significant up or down. Does the down vote save me $2 or $2000?

    I suspect this information is available if I want to wade knee deep into it. I don’t though. Maybe a web link would help.

  10. Arlene Mutschler says:

    What’s this in school suspension?? And why is ONE parent dictating the program? Just because her child is suspended the most?? Frequent flyer? And needs it?? I think this parent needs intervention?

    Why am I paying for cavendish schools ? Is this the act 46? I don’t pretend to understand that? I get Andover has always been married to Chester. As a childless senior I’ve been paying to educate others children for over 50 years. I’ve paid enough. I don’t see a return