First Branch Unified School District voters approve budget on third try

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 10/20/2020 9:46:23 PM
Modified: 10/20/2020 9:46:18 PM

Voters in the First Branch Unified School District have approved a budget for the current school year, staving off deep spending cuts that would have affected the operation of the district’s two schools.

Chelsea and Tunbridge residents voted, 296-258, to approve a budget of just under $6.9 million in Australian balloting on Saturday. The successful vote follows two previous defeats at the polls, one in March, one at the end of June.

“(School Board Chair) Kathy (Galluzzo) and I want to thank the voters of Chelsea and Tunbridge for supporting our students, teachers, and faculty/staff,” White River Valley Supervisory Union Superintendent Jamie Kinnarney said in a written statement Tuesday. “We are excited to continue our work on how we can create more opportunities for our students while keeping an eye on efficiencies as we move forward with budgeting for 21-22. We also look forward to hearing the survey data collected from the FBUD Restructuring Committee.”

The budget will necessitate homestead tax rates of $1.64 per $100 in Chelsea and $1.58 in Tunbridge. That’s an increase of 5.5 cents in Chelsea and 10 cents in Tunbridge. Most Vermont residents pay education property taxes on their primary residences as a percentage of income, which will come to around 2.7% this year.

First Branch struggled to pass a budget in part because of tax increases that residents balked at, but also because subsequent votes were held by Australian ballot, rather than as part of a floor meeting where voters could discuss and amend the budget, district officials said in the lead up to Saturday’s vote. But Kinnarney said that if the budget were to fail this time around, the lack of consistent funding would require him to make deep cuts to school programs. Signs along Route 110 urged residents to approve the budget.

Voters also are uncomfortable with the new district, which was formed under Act 46, Vermont’s 2015 school consolidation law.

The district’s Restructuring Committee has recommended educating grades K-4 at Tunbridge Central School and grades 5-8 at Chelsea Public School, both to find efficiencies and to create larger cohorts that would encourage a stronger curriculum. Such a plan might also help knit the new district together.

Alex Hanson can be reached at or 603-727-3207.

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