The school budget is creeping up. On December 12, Harwood Unified Union School District (HUUSD) Board members spoke with Superintendent Brigid Nease about the ways in which they expect the budget to increase this year. The board passed three budget-related motions that night: First, to include a professional development fund for staff, second, to add funding for anti-racism work and, finally, to consider a budget draft that includes a human resources (HR) consultant position.
Nease started the budget discussion by informing the board of the district’s new staffing requirements. According to Nease, the district needs a new teacher at Fayston Elementary School (FES), a new special educator at Waitsfield Elementary School (WES), and it needs to change the part-time nursing positions at Moretown Elementary School (MES) and FES to full-time positions. “The world of nursing has changed so significantly in the last three to five years with the number of mental health needs, the increased number of student allergies, and now, COVID,” said Nease, who was adamant that each school must have a full-time nurse.
With these new staffing requirements, one can be sure the budget won’t be lower or even level with last year’s. When asked what it would take to achieve a level-funded budget, Nease said 17 teachers would need to be reduced.
RESTORING PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT
Meeting these new staffing needs will surely bring the budget up; however, that night the board was not eager to make the same budget cuts as last year to compensate for these rising costs. Last year, the board eliminated $80,000 worth of professional development (PD) workshops and classes for staff in a last ditch effort to lower budget costs.
On December 16, however, the board voted to restore the PD funds to the budget. “PD is woefully low,” said Nease. “Do you really want to be that district? Do you want to be that district that cannot approve conferences and workshops for staff and goes down to the bare minimum?”
The board was in unanimous agreement that teachers should have access to PD workshops. Lisa Mason, Moretown, echoed the sentiments of the board. “That was supposed to be a temporary cut,” she said. “It’s not in the best interest of our district to keep it long term.”
That night, the board also voted unanimously to add funding to the budget for anti-racism work. “We’re anticipating needing about $36,000 there,” said Nease about the anti-racism fund. That number includes $18,000 for a second inclusivity and diversity training session with Rebecca Haslam, $4,000 for an all-district book read and a professional learning community workshop around that read, and $14,000 for “building work” related to anti-racism. When asked what she meant by anti-racism building work, Nease said that part of the anti-racism fund has “yet to be identified.”
Finally, the board voted to bring forth a budget draft that includes a human resources (HR) consultant position. The idea to hire an HR consultant came after the board toyed with the idea of hiring an HR director for the district to relieve Nease of her HR duties. Nease claims that balancing her superintendent duties with her HR responsibilities has led her to full blown “workaholic status,” and hopes the district will remedy this problem by hiring an HR specialist.
While an HR director would be a full-time salaried position, an HR consultant would be a temporary one. Board member Alec Adams, Duxbury, was in favor of the former. “If you bring an HR professional in, you start getting your house in order. You start putting into place the fundamental practices that give the district a far more stable and professional HR presence,” said Adams.
However, other board members thought the district would be better off with a temporary HR consultant to help Nease through the end of her term. Jeremy Tretiak, Waitsfield, moved that the board bring forth a budget that replaces the HR director position with an HR consultant position. The motion passed 51.25% to 43.5%, with seven board members voting in favor of the HR consultant budget draft, six board members voting against it and one abstaining.