TRSU Board looks to level fund central office admin and staff salaries

LUDLOW, Vt. – The Two River Supervisory Union board unanimously voted to offer the central office administrators and support staff no salary increases for next year due to the COVID-19 pandemic impact on budgets, with indications that both district boards would be extending the same offer to teachers and staff in their districts.

The May 7 remote TRSU meeting through Zoom began with special meetings of both the Green Mountain Union School Board and the Ludlow-Mount Holly Unified Union School Board, with both boards entering into a joint executive session to discuss bargaining agreements for teachers and support staff. Once they emerged, both boards decided not to make any public announcement, each saying they would enter their decision into the record at their next individual board meetings.

At the end of this meeting, the TRSU board went into executive session for the same purpose and emerged with their decision to offer no salary increases and recorded that decision on the public record.

GMUSD board chairman Joe Fromberger mentioned during the TRSU budget discussion that the boards were “not offering salary increases to anyone,” which seemed to suggest the decision of the joint session. The district is currently in the midst of negotiations for teachers as well as non-bargaining education staff.

Comments offered from district principals and the Superintendent Meg Powden heaped high praise on all teacher and support staff efforts throughout the district during the remote distance learning.

Even with the focus on staffing and budgets, the TRSU board agreed to two new hires, both for special education positions. The initial reaction of several board members was reluctance to add staff with the budget crisis at hand; however, discussion on both hires focused on the substantial savings that two district-wide special education programs, the Autism Program and the new Social and Emotional Learning Center, would provide for the budget’s bottom line. Estimated savings through both programs ranged from $400,000 to $600,000.

During the Superintendent’s report, Powden announced that the district had received final approval from the Vermont Agency of Education on the required Continuity of Learning Plan submitted to the state. The AOE had asked for additional information in several areas, which had since been provided. The AOE made note of how pleased they were with how the district had worked to remove obstacles, such as unreliable or unavailable internet, to improve learning for students.

During discussion on returning to school in the fall, Powden said that the guidance from the AOE had not been finalized yet, but she was under the impression that it would include many social distancing guidelines such as limited group size as well as temperature screenings for anyone entering the buildings. Decisions on district procedures would be determined once the AOE had made their final recommendations.

TRSU Finance Director Cheryl Hammond updated the board on her continued monitoring of state budget Finance Committees and the House Ways and Means Committees as the state continues to figure out how to manage upcoming education expenses. Possible sources of help include CARES Act money, FEMA emergency loans, possible tax increases, creative temporary taxes, etc. Hammond assured the board that the TRSU wouldn’t want to make a plan to spend money before they know what options are available.

According to Hammond, the Central Office has gone through their current budget and were able to find approximately $25,000 in savings, largely because a TRSU part-time position ended in March, and a lot of planned professional development didn’t happen. There is also an expectation for approximately $28,000 in transportation costs. The news for special education wasn’t as positive, with approximately $280,000 in cost overages needing to be billed back to the districts, largely because two new students needing services had been added to the district.

The next TRSU meeting is scheduled, via Zoom June 4 at 6 p.m. The next GMUSD Board meeting is May 21, and the LMHUUSD board meeting is May 13.

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