Barnard Will Act on School Merger Plan

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 3/1/2017 12:20:49 AM
Modified: 3/1/2017 3:25:26 PM

Barnard Town Meeting will be held at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, March 7, at Town Hall.

Barnard — With no unusual budget proposals on either the town or school warnings, the big decision facing Barnard voters at Town Meeting will be whether to approve joining the proposed Windsor Central Unified School District, which would change Barnard Academy into a pre-K through 4 school and send the town’s fifth- and sixth-graders out of town.

How the town’s approximately 700 voters will vote is anyone’s guess — voters without students enrolled at Barnard Academy may well weigh the plan differently from voters with school-age children — but the gravity of the issue was on display when this month’s issue of The Barnard Bulletin gave over its front page to a statement from Barnard Academy staff. Referring to the state law that is pushing smaller school districts like Barnard to merge into larger ones, the piece ran under the headline, “Vote No for Act 46,” and detailed 16 reasons why residents should reject the consolidation proposal.

“We feel compelled to respond to false or misleading statements made in support of the proposal …” the school’s staff wrote, adding that the “justifications” advanced by the Act 46 Committee charged with designing a plan to comply with the state’s mandate “simply do not warrant splitting up our exceptional elementary school.”

Supporters of the plan have described it as a thoughtful response to declining enrollment and the state’s mandate.

“We really thought about how do we attempt to pull our resources together to give equity across the board to all of our kids, pre-K to 12, to get the best outcomes possible,” said Paige Hiller, vice chairwoman of WCSU, in January, after a study committee came up with the plan.

Richard Lancaster, editor of the Bulletin, said the newsletter is not taking a position on the Act 46 plan and was only filling its role to communicate the views of Barnard Academy’s staff. Last November, the Bulletin published a synopsis from the Barnard School Board, which did not take a stand on the plan.

“I honestly don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Lancaster, who is a town lister. “But I’d put it pretty close to a horse race, maybe 10 percent either way.”

If voters approve the measure, fifth- and sixth-graders at Barnard Academy will be moved to either Prosper Valley School in Pomfret, Woodstock Elementary School or Killington Elementary, according to Barnard Academy staff. The consolidated district would be governed by an 18-member board, with six representatives from Woodstock, and two each from the six other towns, including Barnard.

If voters reject the proposal, the committee said, the state will unilaterally implement a redistricting plan in 2019 and Barnard Academy “most likely” would lose $1,000 in state tax dollars per pupil and other financial benefits. State statistics showed the school has 70 students enrolled from preK through sixth grade.

The School Board is proposing a budget of $1.2 million which, if approved, will result in spending of $15,564 per equalized pupil, which the board said is almost 4 percent higher than spending in the current year.

Barnard School Board Chairman Chip Davis did not respond to requests for information regarding the school budget, but according to estimates prepared by the Windsor Central Supervisory Union, the Barnard Academy school budget would result in an education tax rate of 76 cents per $100 of assessed property property value, or $1,900 for a property valued at $250,000.

Factoring in taxes collected to pay for Woodstock Union High School, which Barnard students attend, the total rate would be $1.48 per $100 of assessed property value, a 15 cent decrease from the current year’s total education tax rate of $1.63. A property owner whose home is valued at $250,000 would see a $375 decrease in the education tax bill, from $4,075 to $3,700.

On the town side, the Selectboard is proposing a $1.8 million town and highway budget, up from the $1.6 million voters approved last year.

Total highway spending is proposed at about $1 million, an increase of $77,000.

Total municipal spending is proposed at $766,000, up from $610,000 last year, according to the Selectboard’s proposed budget plan, of which $547,000 is to be raised from taxes (the muncipal spending and tax revenue figures in the budget plan are each $5,000 lower than the figures that appear on the town warning, which Selectboard chairman Rock Webster attributed to “clerical error” and will be flagged to voters at the beginning of the meeting).

Webster said about $100,000 of the increase in proposed municipal spending is attributable to spending associated with the new fire station building that is expected to break ground later this year and was covered by last year’s tax rate increase of about three cents per $100 of valuation.

Webster said he expects the tax rate to climb “a little over” one cent per $100 of valuation, or about an additional $25 annually on a home assessed at $250,000.

Nominations for Selectboard are made from the floor, and a three-year position is up for election this year. As of Tuesday, the town office had not heard of any residents intending to put their names forward, although that could change by March 7.

John Lippman can be reached at

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