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Brookfield Voters Veto Tri-Town School Board; Randolph, Braintree Had Said Yes

Randolph — The decision to condense Orange Southwest Supervisory Union’s five school boards into a single eight-member board failed by 17 votes Tuesday night.

Voters in all of the three towns involved — Randolph, Braintree and Brookfield — had to vote in favor of the switch in order for the new regional educational district to be enacted. Brookfield voters, however, were the sole body to vote against the switch.

“There were 695 ballots cast and 312 said no, 295 said yes and 88 left it blank,” said Brookfield Town Clerk Jane Woodruff.

Brookfield Assistant Clerk Kasey Peterson said the fact that there were 88 ballots left blank led her to believe the vote failed for reasons other than voters not favoring the idea to switch to a regional district.

“We had 88 blanks which suggested to us that people either didn’t care or didn’t bother to read it or just didn’t understand it,” Peterson said. Forty-one voters in Braintree also left the question blank. “I think the wording had quite a bit to do with the fact that we had 88 blanks,” Peterson added.

The ballot question stretched one page long, “as required by law,” and could have been confusing to some voters, said Laura Soares, a member of the Randolph Union High School Board who also acted as the facilitator for the study committee behind the proposal.

“I will let the Legislature know it would be more friendly if a ballot could be more simplified, but that wasn’t for us to decide,” Soares said. “A significant number of people, even if they understood what the ballot question was about, were confused on how to answer it.”

It was tossed around the Brookfield town offices yesterday morning to possibly petition to re-cast ballots in the town, Peterson said.

Although Soares said this is possible, she said she wouldn’t pressure any of the three communities into changing their vote.

The measure passed overwhelmingly in Randolph, 1,330-506.

“The community gets to make their own decision and it must come genuinely,” Soares said. “(It’s a) decision of each community by themselves. Personally, as a voter in Randolph, I was proud of the decision that we supported the RED, but I would not instigate a petition to reconsider, if people in Brookfield personally didn’t feel that way.”

According to Vermont state law, any of the three towns involved can petition to change its vote. The town must file a petition with a minimum of 5 percent of the town voters’ signatures to the clerk’s office within 30 days and re-cast ballots within 60 days of submission.

In order for the vote to be effective, Soares said, not only a majority of people must vote in favor of the change, but there must be a two-thirds majority. The two-thirds majority must “exceed … the number of votes cast for the prevailing side at the original meeting” unless otherwise specified, according to state law.

Although Woodruff said she hadn’t considered a total re-vote, she said she had thought about recounting the ballots.

“There is enough margin there for

people to feel comfortable, but they could ask for a recount of our ballots to make sure we didn’t make any mistakes,” Woodruff said. “The Secretary of State’s office would be the one to decide.”

No decision to re-cast ballots or recount votes in Brookfield was made as of yesterday afternoon.

After a year of deliberation, a study committee unanimously favored the idea to combine the schools boards into a single district, citing increased efficiency and preservation of past board achievements as upsides. The supervisory union, however, will continue to operate the way it has been — with five boards; Braintree, Brookfield and Randolph Elementary, Randolph Union High and Orange Southwest Supervisory Union. A sixth advisory board, which makes recommendations to OSSU, Randolph Technical Career Center, will also remain the same.

“Nothing has changed,” Soares said. “We will continue to do our work and work with the staff and community to provide the best education we can. RED would have allowed us to do this in a more comprehensive and effective fashion, but it doesn’t stop the work that we have to do.”

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