Towns to Vote on Budget for New Windsor Central Modified Unified Union School District

Valley News Staff Writer
Saturday, February 24, 2018

The budget for the new Windsor Central Modified Unified Union School District will be presented to voters during an informational meeting at 7 p.m. on Tuesday at the Woodstock Union Middle School gym. The budget will be voted upon at polls in Barnard, Bridgewater, Killington, Plymouth, Pomfret, Reading and Woodstock on March 6. In Woodstock, voting will take place from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. in Town Hall. A Floor Meeting to address business not on the ballot will take place at 7 p.m. on March 12, at the Woodstock High School/Middle School Teagle Library.

Woodstock — Voters will get to make their first-ever decision on a budget for the Windsor Central Modified Unified Union School District, which was created by a vote last year in six towns.

After a round of cost-saving measures including a workforce reduction, voters are being asked to approve a $17.96 million budget for the district, which covers Bridgewater, Killington, Plymouth, Pomfret, Reading and Woodstock (in addition to 7-12 grade students of Barnard).

Paige Hiller, chairwoman of the new 13-member School Board, said there are some savings in the new budget. In addition, more special education costs have been shifted to the Windsor Central Supervisory Union. Finance Director Richard Seaman said the reduction of costs will be offset by a reduction of revenues, which also are being shifted to the supervisory union.

The district also has implemented some cost-cutting measures that Hiller said have been made to adjust to a new, streamlined administrative structure at the high school and middle school, and reduced student population.

“The low-hanging fruit was at the middle school and high school,” Hiller said. “Very little changed on the elementary school level.”

Hiller said the district will lose the equivalent of 5.2 full-time positions in the Woodstock High School/Middle School, including 3.2 teaching positions and 2 administrative positions.

She said the district also is benefiting from a two-year plan to reduce the cost of food services by $300,000.

One downside of the merged district is that voters will no longer have the opportunity to interact with School Board members during a floor meeting at Town Meeting time.

“Vermont is historically run by very small boards,” Hiller said. “This is a real shift for people in that it’s now one board, one budget. There are no longer those fireside chat-type town meeting conversations about it.”

Hiller encouraged voters in all seven towns to come to an informational session that is designed to fill the same function of allowing for open communication between School Board members and voters.

The meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. this Tuesday at the Woodstock Union Middle School gym.

In part because the per-pupil spending rates within the new district are being equalized, the state’s education funding formula will result in a varied impact on tax rates — in Killington and Plymouth, the education property tax rate will go down, while in Bridgewater, Pomfret, Reading and Woodstock, it will go up.

Under the proposed budget, Killington’s education tax rate would decline to $1.64 per $100 of assessed property value from $1.68, while Plymouth’s would decline by about 7 percent, to $1.68 from $1.80.

Bridgewater would see its education taxes go to $1.78 from $1.76; Reading’s would climb to $1.68 from $1.63; Woodstock’s would go to $1.74 from $1.66; and Pomfret would see the steepest hike, to $1.67 from $1.54, about a 9 percent increase, though a chunk of the increases have to do with a drop in the common level of appraisal for those towns, Hiller said.

Barnard, which has its high school (but not elementary school) students in the district, will see its education tax rate increase to $1.52 from $1.48, or 1.85 percent.

Though the changes for the schools have been significant, Hiller said there is more to come.

“In three to five years, this school district is going to be unrecognizable in the leaps and bounds that we’ve made,” she said. “We’re ready to be bold with our moves and I think we’re more focused now on where we want to make those shifts.”

Last month, the board voted to allow for school choice within the district, which allows students in Bridgewater, Killington, Reading, Plymouth, Pomfret and Woodstock to choose an elementary school in the district. It also has moved to equalize the tuition at the elementary schools at $15,000, starting for the upcoming school year.

The budget will come before voters from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 6, at Barnard Town Hall, Bridgewater Town Clerk’s Office, Killington Town Hall, Reading Town Hall and Woodstock Town Hall, as well as from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Pomfret Town Hall and from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Plymouth Municipal Building.

Voters will set the pay rates for the School Board members, and elect a board clerk and treasurer, among other items, at a floor meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. on Monday, March 12, at the Woodstock High School/Middle School Teagle Library.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached at mhonghet@vnews.com or 603-727-3211.