Snow sports program up in air, GMUSD board considers budget additions

CHESTER, Vt. – The Two Rivers Supervisory Union Superintendent Lauren Fierman announced at the Nov. 18 Green Mountain Unified School District Board meeting, that the schools will not run the snow sports program this year. Also, as budget talks are about to start in early December, the board heard about several upcoming issues that could impact the budget, including a possible allocation for the Cavendish’s Fletcher Community Library and possible reimbursement for optional elementary learning.

The TRSU is not organizing a ski program through the schools this year. Although if schools have volunteer groups that want to fulfill that role, that would be allowed. Fierman said logistics of making the program work are too difficult with all the additional Covid-19 issues. She said next year she is hopeful they will return to normal and run it through the schools again.

CTES will continue with their snow sports program run by a separate group. GMUHS and CAES are exploring volunteer options as well.

The Board of Trustees of Fletcher Community Library, which is a public town library connected to the Cavendish Town Elementary School, has asked the GMUSD board to approve an appropriation of $40,000 to cover the costs associated with two full days per week of programming provided to students. The money would not necessarily be spent on FCL’s full time librarian Kata Welch’s salary per se, but the number was arrived at by looking two days worth of salary and benefits. Welch holds certification both as a librarian and as a teacher.

According to Sandra Russo, who is both a FCL Trustee and also a member of the Cavendish Selectboard, the library’s reserves are dropping – something they cannot continue if they are to be sustainable for the future. This is the reason for going to the board and asking them to pay for “their fair share.” CTES has received benefits of the librarian for 24 years without contributing to their salary.

“We provide a service, and we feel we should get paid for that service,” she said.

Fierman spoke in support of the contribution, saying the amount goes towards “paying our share of the benefit we’re receiving.”

The librarians for the other schools in the district are paid for by the schools.

Several board members expressed confusion over the arrangement between CTES and the library. While the library is attached to the school, the town owns it. Although Welch is hired by and answers to the Trustees, she is considered a municipal employee and receives an allocation and benefits from the town, largely for accounting purposes. The Trustees then reimburse the town. The TRSU also pays a portion of the utilities for the library.

Board member Dennis Reilly asked why this request had come up all of a sudden. Fellow board member Abe Gross, a former FCL Trustee, said that due to school district unification, everyone is sharing the costs, and it is no longer appropriate to have this cost picked up just by Cavendish.

Several board members asked to see a more detailed accounting breakdown of the library costs. Decisions on approving the appropriation request will happen during budget talks, which are slated to begin this week.

Board member Abe Gross also brought up the question of whether or not the board should reimburse parents who are choosing to send their elementary school students to either other private schools or with instruction through an online learning programming.

Fierman said that the question boils down to whether the board feels this is an expense the school should shoulder. Her opinion, however, was the TRSU should not be under any obligation to pay for those other choices or schools. “Public schools are the only ones required to provide a free, appropriate public school education. In my opinion, that should not go to pay for schools that we don’t oversee,” she said.

Fierman informed the board that in recent weeks, there have been Covid-19 cases in all of the five schools within the TRSU. The teachers have implemented the Agency of Education’s program, “Test to Stay” very quickly, which helped over 100 students stay in school to keep learning as a result.

Test to Stay allows for anyone identified as close contact who is asymptomatic to take daily rapid antigen tests and, once negative, return to class.

In recent school vaccination clinics for students ages 5 to 11, 37 Cavendish Town Elementary students received the vaccine and a total 45 vaccines were given. At Chester-Andover Elementary, 155 were vaccinated with just over half being students at CAES. Green Mountain Union High and Middle School currently has 61% of students vaccinated.

The next regular GMUSD Board meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 16 at 6 p.m. at GMUHS library and via Zoom.

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