BARRE — A fledgling school board that just popped a $45 million question got the answer it was hoping for on Tuesday.
Voters in Barre and Barre Town collectively approved the first-ever budget for the soon-to-be-merged Barre Unified Union School District, 631-361.
The favorable vote was made to order for a new nine-member school board that was just elected last month and is now readying to assume operational responsibility for currently autonomous elementary schools in Barre and Barre Town, as well as jointly owned but separately run Spaulding High School.
The board’s chairman, Paul Malone, summed up his reaction to Tuesday’s results in two words.
“I’m happy,” Malone said shortly learning the budget passed while attending the first meeting of the new district’s facilities committee at Barre City Elementary and Middle School, after the polls closed and the results from Barre and Barre Town had been added together.
“For the first time it feels like we’re able to move forward with our heads above water,” he said.
Malone said $640,000 in budget adjustments approved by the board likely improved its chances of passing. The proposal, he said, was “reasonable” and its approval was a relief.
“We were really worried about what would have come next if the budget was defeated,” he said. “It would have been programs.”
Superintendent John Pandolfo was also breathing easier after learning the results and sharing them with members of the unified board, as well as the three boards it will replace on July 1.
“I think it’s a good sign for us moving forward as a consolidated district,” he said of the positive vote.
Pandolfo said the new board and the three existing boards played pivotal roles in crafting the proposal that was approved.
“The boards certainly worked really hard to develop a budget that meets the needs of the students and meets the needs of the taxpayers,” he said, welcoming the opportunity to “move on.”
Instead of hastily arranging a special board meeting to consider possible adjustments to a failed budget and warning yet another special election, Pandolfo said what has been an orderly transition to a state-ordered merger would continue unimpeded.
That is no small thing in communities where voter fatigue was becoming an issue and the expense associated with ordering ballots and paying poll workers had started to mount.
Barring a petitioned re-vote the favorable vote will also avoid any delay in mailing out property tax bills in July.
City Clerk Carol Dawes and Town Clerk Donna Kelty both welcomed results that will snap a string of special elections.
Kelty, who oversaw special elections in January and February, the Town Meeting Day election of members of the Barre Town School Board in March, and the election of the new unified board in April expressed her pleasure after learning the budget passed.
“Woo-hoo!” she exclaimed. “We’re not voting in June!”
Though voters in Barre and Barre Town saw the merger from decidedly different perspectives for most of the past three years, they were on the same page with respect to the $45.1 million budget that will finance the pre-K-12 school district.
Barre voters approved the budget, 191-88, and it passed, 440-273, in Barre Town. Neither vote was a landslide, but the budget passed with a comfortable cushion in both communities on a day when the combined result was all that mattered.
In addition to approving the budget for the new two-town, three-school district, voters approved a separate $3 million budget for the Spaulding-based Central Vermont Career Center. That budget passed, 674-316, by a combined vote of the two communities. The budget for the career center passed, 201-77, in Barre and 473-239 in Barre Town.
Barre is the first of the forced mergers ordered under Act 46 to hold a budget vote. A budget vote is scheduled next week in the merged district that will included the Stowe and Elmore-Morristown school districts, and several others, including the five-town, six-school Washington Central Unified Union School District are scheduled next month.