BARRE — Most school boards and superintendents around the region are breathing easier following an unconventional election that, but for Barre, produced mostly run-of-the-mill results.
That was generally good news for boards that put their budgets to bed two months ago and subsequently saw tax rate forecasts brighten considerably due largely to a strengthening state economy.
Though Australian Ballot voting wasn’t new to most central Vermont school districts — Echo Valley is the exception — its use was amplified this year due to the pandemic.
Some districts — Montpelier-Roxbury and Washington Central among them — opted to send ballots to all registered voters this year. The move radically expanded the number of people who received ballots making predictions difficult.
Barre and Barre Town didn’t go that route and while turnout in both communities was strong, the results leave a reconfigured school board with work to do.
BUUSDVoters in Barre and Barre Town answered a $50.5 million question in very different ways on Tuesday, sending the budget for the Barre Unified Union School District down to defeat.
Barre voters said “yes” in a 739 to 729, whisper. Barre Town voters said “no” a lot louder. The budget failed in the town, 732 to 852.
What does it mean? When you add it all up, it means the budget failed to past its Town Meeting Day test by a combined vote of, 1,471 to 1,581.
No budget. Hard stop. That’s where things stand for a nine-member board that just added four new members — three of them in contested races decided by voters on Tuesday.
The split decision and the 110-vote margin will need to quickly be digested as the board and first-year Superintendent David Wells decide how to react to a budget defeat that stood out like a sore thumb in central Vermont on Tuesday.
The $3.3 million budget for the Central Vermont Career Center passed by wide margins in both communities and was collectively approved, 1,943 to 1,108.
It was the budget that finances pre-K-8 elementary schools in Barre and Barre Town and Spaulding High School that had a rough day.
The now-defeated budget reflected a 4.15% increase in spending and, according to latest estimates, would have required roughly a 6-cent rate hike in Barre where it narrowly passed and, thanks to be a soon-to-be-completed reappraisal, a 23.6-cent rate reduction in Barre Town where it failed.
Paul Malone, who until 7 p.m. Tuesday was chairman of the Barre Unified School Board, had a “they’ve got work to do” reaction to the results.
Malone was referring to the board that isn’t scheduled to meet for the first time until March 11.
When it does, it will replace Malone as chairman and welcome four new members.
In Barre Town, voters there settled a four-way race for School Board seats that were held until Tuesday by Malone and Victoria Pompei. Both chose not to run. Renee Badeau and Christine Parker picked up the open school board seats. Badeau finished first with 772 votes followed by Parker with 602 votes. Jody Emerson was third with 579 votes; Brent Young was fourth with 551 votes.
Due to two Barre board members’ decisions to step down, city voters also elected two new board members — one in a contested race.
Abigayle Smith easily defeated William Toborg, 738 to 470, to fill the three-year seat formerly held by Emel Cambel.
Meanwhile, former board member Sarah Pregent was elected to fill the two-year seat that had been held by Giliano Cecchinelli II. Cecchinelli stepped down after 12 years of school board service and Cambel, who was appointed last year, opted to run for the Ward 1 City Council seat which she won on Tuesday. Cambel defeated fellow School Director Tim Boltin in the council race.
Echo ValleyIn a first for the Echo Valley Community School District and its member communities, Orange and Washington, voters approved a school budget without the assistance of a gavel-wielding moderator.
The Australian Ballot made a pandemic-inspired pit stop in the two-town, pre-K-8 school district on Tuesday and the results were tough for those who have complained about the lack of participation and school district meetings to argue with.
The $5.1 million budget, which reflected a slight reduction in school spending passed, 333-215.
Harwood UnionWaterbury had three of the seven open seats on the Harwood Unified Union School Board to fill this Town Meeting Day. It returned incumbent Caitlin Hollister, running unopposed, to a one-year seat.
In a tight three-way race for two seats, incumbent school board member Michael Frank won a full three-year term as did newcomer Marlena Tucker-Fishman; they garnered 590 and 578 votes respectively. Culver also sought that office, but came up short with 518 votes.
The only other candidate for school board facing competition was Moretown incumbent Kristin Rodgers who won re-election handily, 372 to 116, over Sam Rosenberg. New candidates in Duxbury and Warren and incumbent Theresa Membrino from Fayston were all unopposed.
The Harwood Union school budget at $40.39 million won in its six communities easily, 1,808 to 1,180. A separate question to allocate a $2.2 million surplus with $1 million going into a maintenance reserve fund, $600,000 going into the fiscal year 2022 budget and just over $615,000 set aside for future operations or maintenance also won 1,931 to 1,045.
Also in Moretown, a question on the ballot via citizen petition on whether the town would want to leave the school district failed by a vote of 360-201.
Montpelier-RoxburyThe Montpelier Roxbury Public Schools budget easily passed on Town Meeting Day.
Residents approved a $25.8 million budget that would finance the operation of their pre-K-12 school system during the fiscal year that starts July 1.
The tax rate for Roxbury residents is expected to drop by 6.5 cents. Montpelier residents, meanwhile, are expected to see their education tax rate increase by 14.4 cents.
Part of the reason for the difference in the tax rates is that the common level of appraisal is different in each town.
The CLA is a figure the state uses to adjust local education tax rates based on how accurate it believes local property assessments are.
Roxbury saw its CLA increase, while Montpelier’s CLA slipped from 86.86% of fair market value to 84.44% of fair market value. That change accounts for 5.3 cents of the 14.4 cent increase.
A slight reduction in the number of equalized pupils adds another 1.2 cents to the tax rate increase and a drop in the state incentive — from 4 to 2 cents — accounts for 2 cents of the increase.
Roxbury voting results weren’t available by press time Tuesday night, but Montpelier residents approved the budget by a vote of 2,068 to 776, which is likely far more votes in favor of the budget than the potential votes opposing the budget cast in Roxbury could overcome.
Montpelier residents voted 1,887-907 to appropriate $250,000 needed to supplement the Capital Reserve Fund for the school district.
There were no contested races for the School Board. Amanda Lucia Garces and Mia Moore each ran unopposed for three-year seats.
Paine MountainVoters in Northfield and Williamstown handily approved a level-funded budget for their shared pre-K-12 school district on Tuesday.
The $18.5 million budget proposed by the Paine Mountain School board collectively passed, 624 to 269,
The budget actually called for spending roughly $2,400 less to operate the school system than voters approved a year ago, though spending per equalized pupil — $16,349 — is expected to creep up .41%.
Voters also approved the School Board’s request they authorize $100,000 of an audited fund balance be placed in the district’s capital improvement fund. The ballot measure passed, 671 to 246.
Two incumbents — Jessica Van Deren (Williamstown) and Emily Gray (Northfield) were re-elected to three-year terms on the Paine Mountain Board, and it appeared Will Eberle’s write-in campaign for a separate Northfield board seat would be successful. Eberle needed 30 votes to win the seat and was most of the way there before the polls opened on Tuesday, according to Northfield Town Clerk Kim Pedley.
Twinfield Union SchoolResidents in Marshfield and Plainfield did not vote on Town Meeting Day and will instead vote next month.
The two towns moved their annual vote to April 6 to help accommodate Twinfield Union School’s budget process, which school officials said was delayed due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
WCUUSDVoters in the five-town, six-school Washington Central Unified Union School District collectively approved the $35 million budget proposed by the School Board by nearly a three-to-one margin on Tuesday.
Ballots were cast in separate Town Meeting Day elections in Berlin, Calais, East Montpelier, Middlesex and Worcester and then transported to Berlin after the polls closed at 7 p.m. There they were commingled and fed into vote tabulators that spit out the results after 10 p.m.
In a district where ballots were mailed to every active registered voters in all five towns, the budget, which calls for spending about $450,000 less than voters approved last year, passed, 2,294 to 786, according to unofficial results.
Based on latest estimates, the budget’s approval would reduce the district’s equalized tax rate by 7.1 cents and result in common level of appraisal (CLA)-adjusted rate reductions ranging from 1.7 cents in Middlesex to 15.5 cents in Berlin.
School estimates project the homestead rate in Calais will drop 4.3 cents, Worcester’s will go down 5.7 cents, and East Montpelier will see an 8.3-cent reduction.
Washington Central voters also elected several School Board members though there were no contested races.
School Directors Jonathan Goddard (Berlin), Kari Bradley (Calais), Lindy Johnson (East Montpelier), and Chris McVeigh and Karoline May (both of Middlesex) will all be returning to the board.
There is still one open seat in Berlin and two in Worcester and it wasn’t clear at press time whether rumored write-in candidates in each community had secured enough votes to earn a seat on the 15-member board.
Staffers David Delcore and Eric Blaisdell, as well as correspondent Lisa Scagliotti, contributed to this report.