GMUSD approved budget for CTES sole principal, library contribution

CHESTER, Vt. – The Green Mountain Unified School District board got a first look at the proposed $14.7 million budget from Two Rivers Supervisory Union administrators and approved several of the TRSU recommendations, including a sole principal position for Cavendish Town Elementary School and the proposed $40,000 Fletcher library contribution. They then made a few recommendations of their own.

TRSU Superintendent Lauren Fierman walked the board through this first look at their budget recommendation for GMUSD, which includes Green Mountain Union Middle High School, Chester-Andover Elementary School, and CTES, during their Nov. 23 Finance Committee meeting with the caveat that they were still gathering information so numbers will likely change.

The fiscal year 2023 proposed budget of $14,707,839 amounts to a 3.28% increase over the current year. The primary drivers include $108,185 increase in the assessment from TRSU, driven largely from special education costs; $100,481 increase in cost of benefits; and $200,715 increase in cost of salaries. Of the total GMUSD budget, 63.23% is for salaries and benefits.

CTES in particular saw the biggest school increase recommendation from nearly $1.6 million to over $1.8 million, up 15.36% from last year. One key factor in the increase was the recommendation to return to a sole principal for Cavendish rather than the shared administrative model used since the resignation of former CTES principal Deb Beaupre at the end of 2020. Katherine Fogg has been serving as principal for both CTES and CAES, splitting her time between the schools.

According to Fierman, the change likely wouldn’t be recommended if not for Covid-19 becoming “way more disruptive this year.”

With Covid infections becoming a weekly occurrence and the recently implemented Test to Stay program, there is a need to have an administrator present full-time to “handle the ongoing stress level.” Part of Fierman’s recommendation would be to have the newly appointed CTES principal also take on some additional instructional duties in the SU, yet to be determined. CAES will continue with Fogg as their principal along with the current vice principal, Nicole Luz.

The board approved the recommendation, which will equate to an increase of approximately $44,000 to the Cavendish budget, but almost $92,000 to the overall GMUSD budget, by a vote of 6 to 3.

Board member Lois Perlah asked if the expense might be covered with Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief funds since Covid drove the need. Fierman said it was an interesting idea.

The board also unanimously approved the requested $40,000 in support of Fletcher Community Library staff and programming, which serves CTES students two days a week. Board member Dennis Reilly outlined the total budget expenses for the library at $120,000 and breaking it down that the library serves CTES a third of the time. “[It] seems to be a pretty good investment,” he concluded.

Fierman gave the breakdown of what other school libraries in the district cost, which reflected that CTES expenses were in line: Ludlow Elementary School with 80 students and two days per week cost $36,642; Mount Holly Elementary for three days per week cost $56,000; CAES with over 200 students and five days a week costs $103,000.

Fierman’s recommendation that the guidance counselor position at CTES be raised from a 0.8 position to a 0.9 position was upped further by board member Abe Gross who suggested the position become full-time. He explained that the students’ emotional needs warranted the increase, which would add approximately $5,000 to the budget. That motion was passed by a vote of 5 to 4. Other recommended and approved CTES costs included 3.75 new paraeducator positions and increased benefit costs.

Later in the meeting, in discussing district-level costs, Gross also suggested increasing the CTES nurse to a full-time position, resulting in a full-time nurse in each of the schools, which would result in an approximately $23,000 increase.

Although Fierman admitted that it would be better to have a full-time nurse at CTES, it was not her recommendation. The CTES nurse would serve 80-plus students versus the 210 that the CAES nurse serves and the 360 students served by the GMUHS nurse.

Fogg, however, said that it “would be very helpful with all the things that are happening.”

Board member Julia Gignoux said she had witnessed a medical situation first-hand at CTES without a nurse on duty when the administrative assistant needed to make a judgement call, which was an “uncomfortable and scary situation for me to witness.”

She also said the liability aspect of that situation was untenable and it didn’t speak to the highest safety of the students.

The board approved increasing the nursing positions to have one in each school by a vote of 7 to 2.

The other schools’ budgets were approved much faster with CAES showing an increase of just 6.04%, accounted for because of the revised principal structure and increased salary and benefits. GMUHS showed a decrease of 1.15% due to decrease in salaries as newer staff replaced higher step educators and with tuition students from Baltimore aging out of school.

Not reflected in the budget is the anticipated $2.9 million in round three of federal ESSER funding, which will be spent specifically on helping student reengage in the school setting following a year of Covid-driven disruption. Categories for funding use include programs and services for student engagement with the school system, academics, and mental health.

TRSU Finance Director Cheryl Hammond wrapped up the meeting saying that main things were still unresolved including revenue numbers, equalized pupil costs, and tuition rates for preschool and the tech school. She also mentioned the $1.1 million surplus in last year’s budget, which she recommended putting half into the budget next year for tax reduction.

The next meeting will include a fresh look at the budget with the approved changes, including up-to-date financial information, as well as discussion about the upcoming facility improvements that will likely require a bond vote. The board will also discuss their recommendations for the other half of the $1.1 million surplus.

The budget information is available on the TRSU website. The next GMUSD Finance Committee Meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 16, from 5-6 p.m., just prior to the regular GMUSD meeting from 6-8 p.m. at the GMUHS library and via Zoom.

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