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White River Unified School District Budget Passage Marks New Era



Valley News Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Bethel — Voters from Bethel and Royalton approved a budget for their new unified school district by a wide margin and marked the end of an era for education in their towns.

After an inconclusive voice vote, seven people stood to request a paper ballot. The $11.6 million budget won approval by a vote of 119-49 with one blank ballot.

Sandwiched into the middle of the White River Valley Unified District’s first annual meeting was the last annual meeting of the Bethel School District. Royalton School District had held its last meeting on Monday evening.

When Bob Gray, a lifelong Royalton resident, got up to question school officials, he noted that he was “having a hard time” with the finality of the previous night’s meeting.

“I realized when that meeting was over that this is going to happen,” said Gray, a retired educator who’d served as principal of Vermont’s Fair Haven Union High School and Rochester School.

The budget vote followed a report by the board of the White River Valley district and relatively little discussion of the budget’s line items. The district’s ability to move forward hinged on the budget vote, school officials noted. Next week, school staff plan to introduce the curriculum, and having a budget will allow administrators to hire new teachers, Chairwoman Lisa Floyd said after the meeting.

“Until we knew that we had a budget, we couldn’t post those job openings,” she said. “It makes the path much more clear.”

Bethel resident Sam Ennis said he couldn’t support the budget without some sense of what the money was paying for. “We still lack actual classes,” he said.

The curriculum is complete, Bethel Schools Principal Owen Bradley said in response. Others noted that the district, which features a pre-K to fifth-grade elementary school in each town, a middle school in Bethel and a high school in South Royalton, is still a work in progress.

The board’s presentation described some of the educational benefits of the new district, including an expanded health program in the elementary grades, expanded world language, technology and outdoor instruction, more shop programs and a “makerspace” at each school building.

“We are so committed to making this the most excellent school, not just in the area, but in the state,” Bradley said.

Royalton residents will see a tax increase under the district’s budget, from the current $1.40 per $100 of assessed value to $1.50 next year. The owner of a home assessed at $200,000 would pay an additional $224 if they don’t qualify for Vermont’s income sensitivity program.

In Bethel, a projected tax rate decrease, from $1.59 to $1.50, would save the owner of a $200,000 home roughly $164.

Despite the historic nature of the meetings, they were sparsely attended. Only 81 of Bethel’s 1,362 registered voters checked in, while roughly 88 Royalton voters attended.

“This is wrapping up the Bethel town school district,” Moderator Eric Benson said as he called the Bethel meeting to order. “This is the last time this body will meet.”

Bethel voters elected Todd Sears and Tamela Ennis to the Bethel School Board and Pam Brown as treasurer to sit out the remaining weeks until the district ceases to exist on July 1.

“As Bob Gray was speaking earlier, this is quite a melancholy event,” Benson said, adding that he’d stood on the gym’s stage at graduation in 1974. “I think we’re all a bit saddened, and we’re all a bit excited for what’s to come.”