Oxbow Budget Restrung

Ballot voting on Oxbow Union High School’s redrafted budget will be held tomorrow for Bradford and Newbury voters from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Bradford Academy auditorium and the Newbury Town Office.

Bradford, Vt. — School officials are crossing their fingers that voters tomorrow will pass the 2013-2014 Oxbow Union High School budget after it was narrowly defeated earlier this year.

Last month, School Board members took another look at the proposed $7.3 million budget, after residents rejected it in March by just five votes, and shaved more than $94,000 off to arrive at a lower figure. Only 335 out of 2,600 eligible voters turned out for March 26’s 170-165 vote.

School Board Chairwoman Vicky Carson expressed the importance of passing the budget this time, saying it’s crucial for the smooth functioning of the high school.

“It’s important to pass the budget so that the school can continue to operate,” Carson said. “Instructional supplies, faculty and staffing, facilities and utilities are pretty much (cut) to the bare bones.”

The revised budget, which is just below $7.2 million, goes before Bradford and Newbury town voters tomorrow. Voters in both towns can cast ballots at their corresponding town location at the Bradford Academy auditorium or Newbury Town Office.

The trimmed budget represents a 0.75 percent increase over current-year spending, an amount that Carson said is “more than fiscally responsible and accomplishes our mission of delivering an appropriate education for all students.”

She noted valuable educational programs could be lost if voters again reject the budget.

“I don’t even want to go there,” Carson said. “Other things that this budget represents are maintaining programs for students and if we have to go back for a third vote, that’s the next thing that has to give.”

Orange East Supervisory Union Superintendent Don Johnson echoed Carson’s concern.

“Any future trimming is going to have an impact on programs,” Johnson said. “Reduction of programs would mean reduction of staffing,” he added.

After voters turned down the $7.3 million budget, which called for a 1.7 percent increase over current year spending, the School Board fine-tuned it to arrive at a lower figure.

Health insurance premiums and increased special education costs were the driving factors behind the increase. By the time officials went back to look for additional savings, Carson said the district had in hand firmer insurance estimates that came in 4 percent less than projected.

“That was $25,000 (in savings) right there,” she said.

To trim further, the board targeted salary and benefits. With two anticipated science position vacancies, it voted not to fill one of the positions, resulting in $68,400 in savings. Still, Carson said, that’s hardly ideal.

“Not filling that science position worries me,” Carson admitted. “Tax payers in Newbury and Bradford are letting a very small majority make a decision about their tax dollars.”

As reported, a glitch at the post office hindered distribution of the annual report to Newbury residents, which could have hurt voter turnout.

The projected tax rate under the proposed budget wasn’t available last night. Based off prior predictions, if passed, the $7.3 million projection would’ve raised the Oxbow portion of the school tax rate for Bradford residents by 5.3 percent, to 73 cents per $100 of assessed value, while Newbury residents would’ve seen a 3.1 percent increase, to 72 cents per $100 of assessed value.

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@gmail.com.