CHESTER, Vt. – COVID-19 related expenses continue to mount for the Green Mountain Unified School district as additional staff and custodians are hired, and required air handling improvements are approved at the GMUSD Meeting Aug. 20. Total impact to the budget is likely upwards of $150,000.
The GMUSD board approved Superintendent Lauren Fierman’s request for adding three general educators and aides, one for each of the three schools in the district, to help with coronavirus-related tasks as well as be available as a substitute teacher in each of the buildings, as in-person instruction is set to resume Sept. 8. The hybrid schedule includes four in-person instruction days Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday.
Fierman said that additional help was needed for tasks such as temperature checks, help with check in, coverage during lunch for teachers, and helping escort kids back and forth to services. In addition, ongoing difficulty in finding teaching substitutes is also a concern as students return to classrooms. The general educator hired would be able to fill in for all of these needs.
Katherine Fogg, principal of both Cavendish Town Elementary School and Chester-Andover Elementary School, agreed there was a need especially with the new safety procedures now required at the schools.
“Everything’s going to be more difficult,” Fogg said. Someone who is available to fill in with different tasks “would be a gift for so many reasons,” she added.
The cost for the three hires is approximately $90,000, or $30,000 each. TRSU Finance Director Cheryl Hammond said they might be able to fund the positions with CARES Act funding through December, but the positions would span the entire year and the board would need to approve those dollars.
Two additional part-time custodians at each elementary school were also approved. The increased amount of cleaning required during and after the school day, as well as necessary backup and sick coverage for full-time custodians were the safety considerations discussed. Each position will add approximately $13,000 to $18,000 to the budget for a total of approximately $35,000.
Upgrades to the air handling systems to all three buildings were also approved as part of state-mandated changes to improve air quality in schools. The Facilities Committee submitted a recommendation for Stage 1 equipment installation and Stage 2 maintenance and upgrades, totaling approximately $92,000, the largest portion going to GMUHS building. The project is being developed with Efficiency Vermont, who is offering grants for up to $25,000 per building as part of this initiative. The actual grant award amount will be determined after the grant application is submitted with the plan. If the entire $75,000 is awarded, the additional cost of $17,000 would be covered through the budget. According to Hammond, there is a capital improvements fund with over $100,000 that can be used for the project.
According to Green Mountain High School Facilities Director Todd Parah, the upgrade would increase the school’s energy efficiency and dramatically improve air quality in the buildings and that the project was “something we would do anyway.”
The current building systems can run now and be compliant for state regulations until the upgrades are completed.
As for other coronavirus-related expenses, Fierman said that as of now the district has what it needs in terms of safety equipment but she cannot guarantee that will not change. Everything they talk about is “as of this moment,” she said.
The pandemic has also impacted several teacher positions, with several resignations happening in the district and other teachers opting to teach virtually only.
Chrissy Chambers, a part-time first grade teacher at CTES, has resigned. CTES teacher Amanda Gross, who was the other part-time first grade teacher, will take over her schedule and move to full time. According to Fogg, an art teacher at CAES has resigned as well as two paras from each elementary school who left to be home with their own children.
Five elementary teachers from the supervisory union, three in GMUSD, are moving to online instruction. GMUHS has four full-time and four part-time teachers going virtual.
GMUHS school hours will be changing slightly this fall. According to Principal Mike Ripley, the teacher’s school day will start and end 15 minutes earlier to allow for additional check in time and will now span from 7:15 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. The students’ school day will remain unchanged but students cannot be dropped off until 7:15 a.m.
According to the most recent survey to parents of elementary school children, with 350-400 students accounted for, 73.3% of students will be attending in-person instruction, 17.8% will attend virtually-only through the Two Rivers Virtual Learning Academy, and 8.9% will be homeschooling.
High school and middle school parent responses, which account for 250 students, show 74.7% will attend in-person instruction, 22.9% will attend Green Mountain’s virtual option, and 2.4% will be homeschooled. Final numbers for both groups are still to come.
The next GMUSD board meeting is scheduled for Sept. 17 at 6 p.m. via Zoom. Links can be found on the TRSU website page.