Town Meeting: Pre-K coming to Tunbridge, Chelsea

By FRANCES MIZE

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 03-10-2023 11:14 PM

CHELSEA — Chelsea and Tunbridge voters approved a prekindergarten program for the First Branch Unified District Monday night at the school district’s annual floor meeting.

Voters also passed a $7.68 million school district budget by near-unanimous voice vote.

The budget was amended on the floor to include $20,000 to fund a part-time foreign language teacher. The White River Valley Supervisory Union, of which First Branch is a member, currently has three vacant foreign language teaching positions.

The budget as passed will result in education spending of around $19,200 per equalized pupil, which is 3.7% higher than spending for the current year.

Chelsea saw a significant dip in its Common Level of Appraisal over the last two years. The CLA is a measure of how close a town’s property assessments are to fair market value, and is an important element in determining school taxation levels.

The town will see an $80.44 increase in property bills per $100,000 of property value as a result of the decreased CLA and its impact on school tax.

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The prekindergarten vote prompted the most pushback of the night. The measure passed, 65-35.

Moderator Israel Provoncha, a Tunbridge resident and social studies teacher at Hartford High School, asked everyone to remain civil.

“The state of Vermont will allow me to throw you out and fine you $200,” Provoncha said. “Even though I don’t know how we’ll really do that.”

The article for child care provided by the district had drawn criticism from the Orange County Parent Child Center, or OCPCC, a Tunbridge-based nonprofit child care provider.

“OCPCC was assured collaboration was welcomed,” the program’s Executive Director Lindsey Trombley wrote in a post on the child care center’s Facebook page. “Unfortunately, OCPCC has not been invited to be a part of further planning and OCPCC was not asked if this could potentially cause hardship for Orange County’s local parent child center.”

The district maintains that it included OCPCC in the planning process, and that the center’s childcare capacity is inconsistent and doesn’t meet the full need of the community.

“I will take responsibility if there was a breakdown in communication,” White River Valley Supervisory Union Superintendent Jamie Kinnarney said. “But the first time I heard that there was one was on the social media post. From where I stand, it was not intentional. We found out like you did.”

Hesitation on committing $300,000 to prekindergarten also came from voters. “My concern is us trying to do too many things at once,” Chelsea resident Alan Ackerman said. He noted that before the merger, the school had shop class and foreign language classes. “Until we get our elementary and middle school programs back, we shouldn’t put so much money into something new.”

Rebecca Savide, a Chelsea resident and physician at the Chelsea Health Center, said her child has been on the waitlist for a year at OCPCC. “I now commute my kid to Westshire,” she said, referring to Westshire Elementary School in West Fairlee. “This isn’t because we weren’t able to figure it out. This is the reality of parenting here. This issue is urgent, it’s real, and it’s happening now.”

Principal Janet Cash said directives could soon be coming from Montpelier mandating prekindergarten programs in public schools.

“We can do this on our terms, or we can be told to do this later on and it will be really expensive,” Cash said.

Voters also elected Bill Smith to the remaining two years of a three-year term representing Chelsea in the First Branch district. Alan Ackerman was elected to a three-year term, representing Chelsea, and Jacqueline Garran was elected to a three-year term representing Tunbridge.

The district is also planning more than $6.1 million in capital improvements across its campuses, including lighting upgrades and replacing boilers and heating and air conditioning systems at the Tunbridge Central School.

Elected officials

Number of voters: n/a

Number on checklist: n/a

Moderator: Israel Provoncha

Clerk: n/a

Treasurer: n/a

School Board Director, Chelsea (3 years): Alan Ackerman

School Board Director, Chelsea (2 years): Bill Smith

School Board Director, Tunbridge (3 years): Jacqueline Garran

Frances Mize is a Report for America corps member. She can be reached at fmize@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.

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