GMUSD: Are we getting what we voted for?

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Cavendish is now part of the Green Mountain Unified School District (GMUSD), which becomes operational on July 1, 2018. Instead of there being three boards and budgets for Cavendish Town Elementary School (CTES), Chester Andover Elementary School (CAES)and Green Mountain Union High School (GMUHS), there is now one GMUSD board, and budget, that reports to the Twin River Supervisory Union (TRSU).

There are several big changes between the current Two Rivers Supervisory Union (TRSU) that Cavendish is part of and the GMUSD. For starters, the Ludlow Mount Holly Unified Union School District (LMHUUSD),  also part of the TRSU, is not part of the GMUSD. However both GMUSD and LMHUUSD will continue to be under the supervision of the TRSU.

In years past towns voted on their own school’s budget. Now there is one budget for the GMUSD that is voted on by Australian ballot by the members of the GMUSD (Andover, Baltimore, Cavendish and Chester). There will no longer be a school informational meeting as part of Cavendish’s Town Meeting. Instead there is one for the GMUSD, which will take place in Chester on Feb. 27.

The recent GMUSD Finance Committee and board meetings have brought up considerable concerns for Cavendish residents. One looming question is how much administration is needed at the district level to oversee two preschools, two elementary schools and a high school?

According to the TRSU’s staff directory, -noting that it covers the schools of the GMUSD along with Ludlow/Mt Holly-they have in addition to the superintendent Meg Powden,  six administrators at central office (Directors of Finance, Information Technology, Student Support Services, and Educational Advancement/CPF Team Leader; Curriculum Coordinator; and Early Education Collaborative Director). The administrative support team includes eight additional staff (two administrative assistants; three bookkeepers, human resources, operations and Medicaid Clerk). 

Special education is included under the TRSU budget. This currently includes 27 teachers and nine support staff. In addition there are four other staff -2 IT support-technicians, TRSU Mail Courier and Bus Driver/Coordinator-Plymouth. Each school has a principal, teachers and support staff, including paraprofessionals who provide one on one for students with special needs.

No where is there any mention of programming for those students who are gifted and talented. As one parent noted, “It’s as if they are catering to the bottom and ignoring the needs of the top.” As it is, two new opportunities that would benefit all students are also being rescinded; second language instruction for the elementary schools as well as increased technology options. 

While voters were promised a tax break if they voted for the formation of the GMUSD, it turns out any savings have evaporated due to changes at the state level.  In addition, there are a number of additional costs to address the multi tiered administrative system of GMUSD/TRSU, none of which translates into direct benefits to student education.

While discussions have been underway regarding where economy of scale can be achieved for GMUSD,  the proposed budget doesn’t appear to be offering that. In fact there is concern by some parents that the newly formed GMUSD and TRSU are not adequately leveraging technology to find administrative efficiencies.

Among proposals discussed was one principal for the elementary schools in the GMUSD along with a Dean of Students at CTES and CAES. However, the decision was recently made to replace retiring principal CTES principal George Thompson with a full time principal along with adding $72,659 to the budget for a “teaching dean of students” at CAES. This is being done so CAES Principal Katherine Fogg can “improve instruction and improve outcomes.”

The per pupil costs appears to be going from $14,800 to more than $16,000. This has been explained in part by the increase in health insurance benefits for the elementary school staff being brought up to the level of the high school staff, which will add more than $200,000 to the budget.

Ultimately, the voters were sold on the formation of GMUSD by saying it would save money and provide more educational opportunities for students. As the GMUSD is unfolding, it is doing neither as the budget is increasing to support functions that have nothing to do with educating students.

At Tuesday night’s GMUSD Finance committee meeting, no budget was passed. The next Finance Committee meeting will be on Jan. 17 at 5 pm followed by a GMUSD meeting at 6 pm both at GMUHS. To follow the GMUSD meetings-including agendas and minutes, go to https://sites.google.com/trsu.org/greenmountainunifiedschooldist/home