GM school board approves warning for 3rd budget vote on June 4

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2024 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Last night,  the Green Mountain Unified School District Board voted unanimously to approve a warning that will put a $16.5 million budget in front of the voters in Andover, Baltimore, Cavendish and Chester on Tuesday, June 4. This will be the third vote on the school budget since the first two went down to defeat.

Superintendent Lauren Fierman explains the budget cuts proposed on April 30. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

The budget funds Cavendish Town and Chester Andover elementary schools and Green Mountain Union High.

That began on March 5 with a 620- to-699 defeat of a $17.4 million budget. The board went back to the drawing board and cut $433,000 but, on April 23, a much smaller number of voters rejected that budget proposal by a larger margin – 220-to-340.

So on April 30, the board considered a list representing more than $578,000 in cuts on top of nearly $433,000.  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

The reduction of the Two River Supervisory Union — which provides central office functions, special education, transportation and technology to the GM and the Ludlow Mount Holly districts — was approved by the TRSU board on May 2. The SU board is made up of three elected members of each district board.

The board then removed from the menu of cuts:

  • a coordinator for the In-School Suspension program,
  • the Spanish instructor and
  • the building-wide substitute teacher for Chester-Andover Elementary.

With nearly $1 million in cuts, that brought the total budget down to $16,546,477 for the three schools.

Those cuts reduce the base tax rate for the four towns that comprise the district from $1.34 per hundred of assessed value in the current year’s budget to $1.255 per hundred in the proposed budget. But education tax is not that simple. Each town has its own Common Level of Assessment or CLA, which compares the market value of property to the value assessed by the town. When those numbers are far apart, they can play havoc with the residents’ actual tax bill. But of course, the school has no control over the CLA.

Factoring in the CLA, the projected tax rates can vary from $1.29 per hundred in Baltimore to $1.79 in Andover, and those are reduced from earlier budget versions by the nearly $1 million in cuts.

Playing with fire

Many residents have said they are voting against the budget for a number of reasons including poor academic performance and deteriorating buildings. But the school budgeting year starts on July 1 and if there isn’t a budget in place by then, the district will have to keep forwarding a new proposal until it gets one passed. To keep the school going, it can borrow up to 87 percent of its current year budget. That would be an even larger reduction requiring more and deeper cuts.

A bill currently in the state Senate that seems to change day to day could require a different way of handling rejected budgets. After the third rejection, the proposal has been put forward for the state Department of Education to calculate a deeply cut “default budget,” which the TRSU has estimated would trim about $3 million from the GM budget.

But the schools have contracts with teachers, state-mandated benefits and other unmovable expenses so the cuts will have to come from places that could include extra-curricular activities like band, theater and sports as well as bus transportation.

In a discussion Tuesday night of how to present the budget to voters, some Green Mountain school board members believed that pointing to those possible cuts as a reason to vote for this third budget could backfire with people who would feel they are being strong-armed. Even so, those cuts will remain a possibility if the budget vote continues to fail and the state moves in to mandate big reductions.

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  1. Kate Matracia says:

    I am reading the list of cuts repeatedly to try to understand the reasons for each of them and agree that some of them make sense. What I don’t see in the list is any reduction in sporting equipment or the program itself while a Spanish teacher, a STEAM coordinator, and a nurse are either cut or their classes are reduced. Before anyone thinks, “Oh, here’s another woman who doesn’t think sports are important in schooling,” let me be clear that I was on the swim team and girl’s softball team in my schools and enjoyed every minute of those experiences. However, isn’t the point of educating our children and teenagers to actually educate them? Shouldn’t the budget be adjusted to promote education so the current generation of students are being readied to become productive adults? Vermont, and a good deal of the United States in general, is falling behind the rest of the world in this effort. That has been clearly shown over the last few decades. If art, STEAM, and Spanish classes are taking a hit, shouldn’t sports and extra-curricular activities also be taking hits in their budgets? Wouldn’t that help to reduce the annual budget to an acceptable number that the community will approve? Frankly, I don’t get it.

  2. Arlene Mutschler says:

    I have paid to educate other people’s children for 50yrs.(my choice I understand) And I see less and less a return. Vermont is 50% NATION WIDE for results. and yet we are the HIGHEST in per student costs. in teh NATION> something is very very wrong. AND must be fixed. Is turning the budget the right way? NO< but it is our (taxpayers) ONLY way to get the point across. And yes reducing more is only going to make it worse.