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Oxbow High School Budget Misses by 5 Votes

Bradford, vt. — The $7.3 million Oxbow Union High School Budget was voted down by just five votes yesterday in all-day balloting, leaving school administrators and board members unclear about the path forward.

After the results of the 170-165 vote were read aloud at last night’s school meeting, School Board Chairwoman Vicky Carson declined to reveal any specific plans for what would happen next.

“We’ll be meeting very shortly,” Carson said. “The Budget Committee will meet again and re-evaluate.”

The rise in the budget, up 1.7 percent from the current year’s, was driven by health insurance costs and increased costs for special education.

It would have raised the Oxbow portion of the school tax rate for Newbury residents to 72 cents per $100 of assessed value, an increase of 3.1 percent.

For Bradford residents, the tax rate would have risen by 5.3 percent to 73 cents per $100 of assessed value.

“(The budget is) fairly bare-boned, there’s not a lot of fat to cut,” said Carson. “I like (the idea) of just putting it back out to vote as it is, but I’m not sure that I have enough courage to do that, so we’ll have to regroup and rethink.”

Carson referenced last year’s $7.2 million approved budget, which included an increase of $214,000 — or 3 percent — and was cleared by a vote 211-156.

“Last year was the first year that it passed straight on through,” she said. “That was the exception, this is the rule.”

There were no public comments made against the budget at last night’s meeting, though several of the roughly 20 people who did turn out urged school administrators and board members to consider returning to the traditional school meeting model, as opposed to voting by ballot.

The traditional model, they said, encourages participation, and allows voters the chance to tweak the parts of the budget they may not like, as opposed to vote-up-or-down on the entire package.

Many in attendance also raised concerns about a failure to deliver copies of the Oxbow Schools’ Annual Report into the hands of Newbury residents.

“There could be a considerable part of the population that had no idea voting was today,” said Bradford resident Peter Terry.

Carson said that the informational packets were currently sitting in New Jersey due to a mix-up with the printer, which she said has been a source of “significant frustration” for the board.

Positions on the Oxbow School Board will be voted on in May, when Bradford and Newbury residents will vote on their respective town school budgets.

Despite turning down the budget, voters approved an article that will use $60,000 from the 2011-12 school year’s $388,000 surplus to repay a $791,000 loan the district took out for years ago.

The remainder of the surplus funds would be funneled back to the taxpayers to offset the impact of the higher school tax rate.

Ben Conarck can be reached at bconarck@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.

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