GMUSD Finance Committee reverses strict cost per pupil mandate

GMUSD Finance Committee discusses TRSU proposed budget cuts
GMUSD Finance Committee discusses TRSU proposed budget cuts. Photo by Sharon Huntley

CHESTER, Vt. – TRSU administration, having been tasked by the Green Mountain Unified School District Finance Committee to return with a budget that showed a lower cost per pupil under $17,000, proposed one that showed approximately $507,000 in suggested cuts. The total proposed budget is for $13,982,741, which is up 8.08%, or slightly over $1 million versus last year.

Unfortunately for the committee, much of the priorities identified at their retreat earlier in the year were a significant part of those cuts, including STEAM, world language teachers, and early education.

Board member Doug McBride noted that the cost per student has gone up over $1,000 from last year, but none of their priorities are endorsed in the budget. “It’s as if the SU is making a statement, which is we’re not going to follow the board’s direction. That’s how I feel.”

Superintendent Meg Powden said that wasn’t her intention, but it was just the reality of what they were dealing with. Health insurance costs have increased by 14%, impacting the budget by over $200,000. “We need to keep the programs we already have.”

Marilyn Mahusky disagreed with McBride, saying, “I object to the idea that somehow the administration is undermining the goals.”

Board member Kate Lamphere suggested that some of the cuts recommended were cutting partial STEAM and language positions that already existed, signifying the administration was not trying to keep the programs that they currently had.

According to TRSU Finance Director Cheryl Hammond, part of the issue of looking at cost per pupil is that the school went from 722 students down to 706 students, which is impacting the cost per pupil. The tuition students who are coming from Black River Middle and High School district do not impact that number. The budget currently reflects 44 students coming into the district from Black River – 29 newly identified students and 15 who are currently attending. Those numbers are based only on the 85 respondents out of a possible 134 total students, leaving approximately 50 students and their school choice unaccounted for.

After some extended conversation and rough calculations, the committee agreed it was likely they were comfortable adding at least a minimum of 22 students, which would add over $369,000 to their budget revenue. This did not take into consideration the 23 students that had committed to the Black River Independent School. Increasing the cost per pupil to $17,500 would also add an additional $395,000 that would work to help the committee afford the restored cuts.

The committee then went back through all the proposed cuts and added back in $395,000, which restored a STEAM teacher to full-time, restored the social studies teacher to full-time, restored the world language teacher, restored a long-term substitute at CAES, and added an additional “floater” teacher at CAES, as well as restored other cut expenses.

The committee decided to have another meeting that would reflect the changes in the cost per pupil spending, add back in those proposed cuts that were restored, as well as the anticipated increased revenue by adding the 22 students.

McBride also wanted the administration to look back at the budget and look at $1.1 million of underspent money in the budget. These are dollars that were not fully spent in the past budget but were carried over in full in the current budget.

Studin also made the point that the TRSU final budget would also impact their budget. Fromberger noted that the TRSU next meeting is happening Monday, Jan. 13 and there is an expectation that the TRSU budget would go down.

The next GMUSD Finance Committee meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 14 at GMUHS at 6 p.m.

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