GMUSD vision committee awaits other board input; questions transparency

CHESTER, Vt. – The GMUSD Vision Committee met for the third time in three weeks, this time along with the Finance Committee, in an effort to provide focus and direction to the Green Mountain Unified School District Board and the TRSU administration as they attempt to re-tool the GMUSD budget that was rejected by voters in early March.

finance committee
The GMUSD vision committee met with the finance committee and residents to discuss the budget. Photo by Sharon Huntley.

Vision committee members began by reiterating their opinions expressed during the first two meetings. Committee member Doug McBride pushed to use the existing data gathered over the last 18 months and “force ourselves to come to a conclusion about what we would like to ask [Superintendent Meg Powden] and her team to put into a budget.”

Committee member Kate Lamphere expressed her frustration with not having a clear process that would help her identify the gaps that currently existed in students’ education. And committee member Deb Brown suggested more research was needed on what programs had more value, for example STEM programming or language. “I don’t think we’ve done enough to know which one is the one we want invest in.”

Board Chair Marilyn Mahusky disagreed with moving forward with a recommendation, pointing to the lack of information received so far by administrators about what programs were currently in place in the schools. She said, “I don’t feel confident that I really know what’s going on to make those decisions.” She added, “Based on the visioning that we did, I didn’t feel we could start writing goals.” Mahusky brought up an idea that had been discussed previously – the need for a one-day retreat that would include board members, teachers, administrators, and parents with the goal to reach a consensus.

Resident Frank Bidwell suggested that computer programming was essential for job placement in the future. He also suggested that language should not be solely pointed towards Spanish or French but that Chinese might be the language of the world economy. Other community members talked about the need for apprenticeship programs to deliver skilled laborers to the marketplace.

The vision committee did agree to regroup again after other committees had met over the next several days. The finance committee and the full GMUSD board were both meeting the following day, Tuesday, and the TRSU executive committee was meeting on Thursday to discuss elements of the budget relating to central office costs. The discussion suggested that separate committees were all dealing with separate parts of the budget, and that, along with continued questions of transparency at the TRSU, was impacting the GMUSD re-budgeting process.

McBride brought up concerns about some transparency issues he encountered when he was refused his request to participate in an executive session at the latest TRSU executive committee board meeting. There, he planned to discuss the Special Ed transportation budget. The response he received was that he would only be invited if his input was needed. He added, “That’s a great example of something that’s not very transparent.”

Board member Joe Fromberger said that it was a matter of state and federal law and had to do with confidentiality about Special Ed students and their needs. McBride countered, “I’m on the board.”

Cavendish resident Sara Stowell also called for the need to see transparency in the contingency fund money that was rejected as a raise for the superintendent but put into a contingency fund without designation for use. “I’d like to see that identified as contingency for Spanish, or STEAM or STEM.” She expressed her hope that those contingency funds would not go back into something the voters have said they don’t want to support.

Lamphere later voiced her agreement, “We need to see what happens on Thursday. If there are going to be savings there, that’s going to help us.”

Fromberger spoke about the list compiled the previous week that outlined what the vision committee wanted to see for the students. “What I do not see is a focus on how we get there and how we pay for it. This is going to be a long process, will take years. My hope is that we will have a budget that the voters will approve as a foundation for going towards the next one. I hope this committee will come up with something to propose to the finance committee.”

Mahusky agreed that though the vision committee was committed to long term planning, “We need to come up with something to suggest in between. We need to present a budget.”

Superintendent Meg Powden, who was meeting with the TRSU principals the following day, offered to gather recommendations from the principal staff on what gaps were missing from current programming and pass that information onto the finance committee.

Fromberger responded, “As a member of the finance committee, I’m going to listen to what Meg is providing as far as input from principals… I would be happy to look at whatever takes us to getting a budget that we think is going to pass.”

The Finance Committee met on Tuesday, April 10 at CAES with the full GMUSD board following after. The TRSU Executive Committee meeting is scheduled for Thursday, April 12 at 5:30 p.m. with the full TRSU board meeting at 6 p.m. at CTES.

The Vision Committee will meet the following Tuesday, April 17 at 6 p.m. at CAES.

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