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Voters in Bradford and Newbury, Vt., to vote on Oxbow school budget amid Act 46 outcry



Valley News Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 29, 2019

BRADFORD, Vt. — Voters in Bradford and neighboring Newbury next month will weigh the plan for the newly formed Oxbow Unified Union School District to spend $16.3 million on the district’s four schools.

School officials expect the combined budget for the 2019-20 school year — up from the $15.6 million that the schools are spending now under separate district budgets — to raise Bradford’s property-tax rate for education by 3.1%, to $1.46 per $100 of assessed valuation, and Newbury’s by 3.67% to $1.47.

“The big takeaway right now is that we’ve been able — between the staff of the schools and the new combined board, during the transition to a single district — to put together a budget that is pretty reasonable in terms of tax impact,” Assistant Superintendent Bruce Williams said on Wednesday. “People have made a real effort to meet the needs of the children in a prudent budgetary manner.”

Voting at the special district meeting will take place from the floor, Town Meeting-style, at 6 p.m. on June 17 at Oxbow High School in Bradford. The district’s schools are the elementary schools in Bradford and Newbury, Oxbow High School in Bradford and the River Bend Career & Technical Center.

School officials expect to spend $66,000 more on maintaining facilities, $22,000 more on pre-kindergarten programs at Bradford Elementary and Newbury Elementary, almost $50,000 more on guidance districtwide, and $58,000 more on library services.

Helping to offset those increases are $85,000 less spending on direct instruction, $145,000 less on special education, $30,000 less on technology services, and $53,000 less on School Board expenses.

The merger of the Bradford and Newbury school districts, under Vermont’s Act 46 consolidation law, remains a sore point for many residents, particularly in Newbury. The Newbury School Board is among several statewide seeking court relief from involuntary mergers. The organizational meeting of the new district was adjourned on Feb. 25, in hopes that a judge would delay those consolidations. The judge subsequently declined to issue an injunction but did not rule on the underlying appeal.

This week, 47 Newbury residents signed a commentary, posted on news website VtDigger, asking the Vermont Board of Education to revisit the merger. The signatories pointed in particular to their fear of “an expanding bureaucracy at the supervisory-union level and diminishing support for our school as the locus of meaningful decision-making moves miles away.”

Williams, a Norwich resident and former principal of Hanover’s Ray Elementary School who came out of retirement to help the transition to the new district, said this wasn’t his first time seeing pushback after a school merger. He recalled similar concerns from residents when he served as superintendent of the Two Rivers Supervisory Union for schools in the Chester and Ludlow area of southern Windsor County.

“It’s such a big change in the minds of many people,” Williams said.

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com and at 603-727-3304.