CHESTER, Vt. – The Green Mountain Unified School District board met in a special meeting Tuesday, April 17 and approved the re-tool of the GMUSD budget that will go before Andover, Baltimore, Cavendish, and Chester voters May 22. Despite the budget being approved easily, with only Cavendish board member Doug McBride voting no, transparency issues once again surfaced during the meeting.
The revised budget is a culmination of many meetings with several different committees over the six-week period since the original budget was rejected by voters in early March. The vision committee, which was formed as a result of the budget failure, was tasked with providing a focus for educational program improvements deemed lacking in the first iteration. The finance committee met with the vision committee to try to recommend budget changes to the full board. The Two Rivers Supervisory Union executive committee also met several times to reduce costs at the central office, which were criticized for being top-heavy. The resulting re-tool included both educational program additions and tweaks to staff and eliminating money from the central office budget.
As the board was preparing to vote, Cavendish resident Sara Stowell spoke from the floor informing the board, among other things, that it had just come to her attention that Reduction in Force notices had been handed out in March to all of the elementary school (CAES and CTES) reading interventionists whom had been covered by Title I federal grant funding. “So we’re sitting here having a conversation about we want to do in our schools, we have grant funded positions that are not fulfilled,” Stowell said.
Indeed, as the board questioned Superintendent Meg Powden and acting business manager Cheryl Hammond about what actions had been taken and why, it became apparent the board did not have any idea that the Title I funding was in question and that those positions might be reduced.
Powden said that they are anticipating that the Title I positions would be in the schools but “We had to give them Reduction in Force letters because without confirmation of the funding the SU couldn’t offer them a teaching contracts.” Mahusky confirmed with Powden that once funding is confirmed, contracts will be offered to those teachers possibly as late as the end of July.
When pressed further about whether the Title I reading interventionists positions may not be funded in full but rather some fraction, Powden responded, “It depends on the funding.” Powden went on to say that last year the boards were very supportive of keeping those positions in their schools and “increased the local funds to offset the cuts in federal funding.”
It was also discussed that the Ludlow Mount Holly Unified School District had chosen to put money into their budget to hedge against federal funding cuts impacting their Title I teachers. However, Hammond explained that doing so may eliminate the state perception that there is a need for the funds and could impact those grants even more.
With Powden and Hammond providing assurances that Linda Waite, who is in charge of grants at the supervisory union, had a best estimate that the positions should receive the full funding to Title 1 positions, the board decided not to make any additional changes to the budget for that program.
The revised budget was approved with McBride casting the only no vote.
The GMUSD revised budget includes the addition of a part-time math interventionist for Cavendish Town Elementary School. Chester Andover Elementary School is eliminating the proposed dean of students position and replacing it with a full-time assistant to deal with behavior intervention. CAES would also add a full-time grade 3 or 4 teacher. The foreign language position went from a proposed .17 position to a .20, which translates into one day per week for both elementary schools. A part-time STEAM program coordinator position was also added for the district with two days a week to promote science, technology, engineering, arts, and math programs. These positions added approximately $42,000 to the budget.
Budget cuts from the TRSU translated into a savings of $58,000 for the GMUSD. Overall, this netted a reduction of approximately $15,000 versus the original budget rejected by the voters for a total of $12,532,143. The cost per equalized pupil dropped slightly from $15,659 to $15,637.
There will be a public informational meeting on the revised budget on Wednesday, May 16 at 7 p.m. at GMUHS school auditorium. Voting will take place on Tuesday, May 22 by Australian ballot at the polling stations of the towns of Andover, Baltimore, Cavendish, and Chester from 10 a.m. – 7 p.m.