TRSU Board rejects budget with 9.5% increase

TRSU Board rejected draft 3 of the budget proposal at their Jan. 2, 2020 meeting.
TRSU Board rejected draft 3 of the budget proposal at their Jan. 2, 2020 meeting. Photo by Sharon Huntley

CAVENDISH, Vt. – Budget woes continue for Two River Supervisory Union administrators after the TRSU Board again rejected draft number three of the budget during the Jan. 2 meeting.

The TRSU budget, which includes costs for the TRSU administrators’ central office, special education for the entire district, and district transportation, was presented with a total of $6,913,018, an increase of 9.54%, or $601,829, over the previous year.

The largest portion of the budget, over 60%, was special education, totaling $4,161,932 and also showing the largest increase of 14.36% or $522,651; central office totaled $1,084,024, an increase of $24,471 or 2.31%; and transportation totaled $617,448.85, an increase of $57,682.85 or 10.3%.

Superintendent Meg Powden began her report by saying it was “a very challenging budgeting year for us,” and that both districts were looking at significant cuts in their budgets.

In the central office portion, changes from draft two of the proposed budget removed an earlier proposed increase to a data specialist, removed the summer professional development, and removed an early literacy coordinator. A 12.9% increase in health insurance was the largest contributor toward their 2.31% increase.

In special education, costs have been impacted with 16 new students who will need services and are moving into the district. In addition, a new program is being proposed for a “Social Emotional Learning Center,” which would add four staffers and a cost of $225,286. According to Mary Barton, TRSU director of Student Support Services, this program would allow for three to four students to return to their home schools for services, which costs between $40,000 and $50,000 per student to send outside of the district, saving that tuition. It would also save transportation costs for those students, which can equal nearly the same amount per student.

“That’s a big savings there,” Barton said.

An “Intensive Needs Program” started last year, which works with children with autism and costs approximately $272,000 but, according to Barton, saves the district well over $600,000 in tuition costs as well as additional money for transportation.

Last year, the TRSU also bought a wheelchair-accessible van, which eliminates additional transportation costs of taxis or other modes of transport for special education students.

Former board member David Venter, speaking from the audience, suggested that the savings realized from these additional programs be presented so the public could see how the budget would be impacted without the programs.

Powden agreed to create a document to show the savings resulting from changes they’ve made, including the addition of the van and the Intensive Needs programs. She will also show how the Social and Emotional Learning program would provide savings.

Additional salaries for bus drivers for sporting events and field trips largely impacted the transportation budget, which was not included last year. Board Chairman Joe Fromberger questioned a line item for bus repairs, which was up by $11,000 even though the fleet was comprised of new buses. Powden agreed to discuss the costs with Todd Parah to see if that number could be reduced.

After budget details were discussed, Fromberger asked if anybody thought they could pass a 9.5% increase in the budget, with the board agreeing that would be problematic. “We have to go out and sell a budget that the people think is reasonable and that they can afford,” he said.

Despite suggestions that the administration come back with budget that reflected a 5% budget increase at most, the TRSU Board agreed that might not be possible. Board member Dan Buckley pointed out that about 92% of the budget may be non-discretionary, including contracts, insurance, and building maintenance costs as examples of things that can’t be changed.

Powden agreed that the administration would come back with a budget that reflected those non-discretionary costs to see where the budget stood after identifying those mandatory requirements.

Green Mountain Union High School Principal Lauren Fierman suggested that part of the job of the TRSU Board is to communicate with the community and voters that if there is a necessary increase needed for the schools “that the voters will believe you.”

Venter agreed, “If you can justify it, then it’s fine by me. If you can’t justify it, then we don’t need it.”

The TRSU Board agreed to meet Monday, Jan. 13 at Cavendish Town Elementary School at 6 p.m.

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