CAVENDISH, Vt. – At the Semi-annual meeting of the full TRSU School Board last Thursday, Feb. 1, TRSU board members overwhelmingly rejected the Supervisory Union budget at the end of a meeting that was filled with criticism for a budget that lacked detail, included previously unseen budget items, and falsely presented the budget as a decrease compared to last year.
The budget also had initially included a 5.58 percent raise for Superintendent Meg Powden, which would have increased her salary from $125,580 to $132,590. However, during the 5:30 p.m. Executive Committee meeting prior to the full board meeting, committee members met in executive session and emerged, having removed the Powden raise from the budget. Instead, the committee added a 2.5 percent contingency amount for across the board SU staff increases, which may be needed after upcoming contract negotiations. According to Board Chairman, Bob Herbst, “It is the decision of the executive committee that we would determine the Superintendent’s salary after a performance evaluation has been conducted, and we will decide on her contract and her salary amount following that performance evaluation, which we hope to do in the very near future.” This would indicate that the raise of the Superintendent Meg Powden is not completely off the table for this budget year.
Board Member Dave Venter commented that the February version of the budget that they were looking at, did not look anything like the January version they had last seen, saying there was “a lot of difference between the two.” Venter led the discussion going through individual line items for clarification. During that process, an “equipment” line item for $5,900, up from $1500, was determined to be slated for new furniture for the SU conference room. Another line item for “Meeting Food” for $4,500, which was not in last year’s budget, was for opening day festivities for staff at each school. Both these items drew criticism from the board and later, a portion from both these items were eliminated.
One area of contention from the board was that approximately $100,000 of shared tech and software expenses that had been in last year’s SU budget was now being transferred to the individual schools. Lisa Schmidt from Ludlow was concerned that her school would now be burdened with the expense without her administrators weighing in on their relevance and importance to their school. According to Schmidt, “I’m just concerned that from now on we are going to look at the school budget and we have some new assessments in there, we have some new software, but now we’re going to [have to] look at cutting staff, we’re going to look at cutting markers, we’re gonna look at cutting [budget items that have] direct impact to the students…I just want to make sure that this is something that the administrators are part of and not being done to us.”
Herbst clarified that administrators had agreed with transferring those dollars to the schools.
Despite the contention from Herbst that the bottom line on the budget showed a reduction of 4.52 percent, board member Doug McBride from Cavendish pointed out that the way the budget was presented, falsely gave that impression. “If you take a look at everything that goes up and you eliminate everything that gets transferred …you end up with an increase of $225,000.” In addition to the tech/software numbers, the Preschool Private Collaborative, totaling $324,151, was also transferred down to the local school level. McBride went on to say that even though $225,000 may not seem like a lot in a 6 million dollar budget, that number represented several teaching positions that could educational offerings in drama, STEM, and language.
McBride reiterated his position from earlier budget discussions, that the goals outlined in Act 46, which were supposed to improve the educational programs for the students, were not reflected in the budget. “I don’t see new programs enhancing children’s education reflected in this budget. I see marginal improvements but not systematic changes,” he said.
McBride continued with further criticism on the lack of detail surrounding the special education portion of the budget, which constitutes $3.6 million in a total budget of $6.2 million. McBride said it was challenging to approve something when he can’t tell how many people, buildings, and programs are involved in that budget. He requested that the budget be broken out in greater detail so that everyone could understand it.
Board member Kate Lamphere from Cavendish also pointed to the SU monthly building expenses totally approximately $95,000 as “significant” considering all the available space in many of the TRSU schools. The executive board has indicated that they will be looking at other possible options in the future, specifically if Black River Union High School building might become available, depending on the results of the re-vote on the Ludlow Mount Holly district merger.
Bruce Schmidt, U39 Board Chair spoke from the floor calling the budget “sloppy.” Schmidt voiced the concern that board members feel a disconnect from the SU and that there is a lack of trust between the individual boards and the central office. “We’ve got to find a way to work together because it’s not going to be any easier for us,” said Schmidt.
Once the budget was voted down, the board requested that the SU go back and rework the budget, provide more detail specifically for special education, and show the overall net budget that clearly identifies when the dollars are transferred to the local level.
The date for the next meeting to review the revised budget has been set for Thursday, Feb. 15 at Cavendish Town Elementary School at 6 p.m.