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Newbury sticks with Oxbow district

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 12/30/2020 9:17:43 PM
Modified: 12/30/2020 9:17:35 PM

NEWBURY, Vt. — Voters have rejected a proposal to leave the Oxbow Unified Union School District and return Newbury Elementary School to a standalone school district.

In Australian and mail-in balloting on Tuesday, Newbury residents voted 169-140 to defeat the proposal.

Newbury had tried in 2018 to avoid joining the Oxbow district, which pairs the town with Bradford, Vt., and oversees an elementary school in each town as well as Oxbow High School and River Bend Career and Technical Center. The State Board of Education required the involuntary merger that created the district under Act 46, Vermont’s 2015 school consolidation law.

“It was disappointing, but not shocking to us based on what’s been circulating in town,” Marvin Harrison, a former Newbury School Board member who helped lead the drive to dissolve the district, said of Tuesday’s vote.

It wasn’t clear to him that voters were aware of the details of what they were being asked to consider, he said. And school officials posted to listservs and on social media to make clear that if Newbury voted to leave the Oxbow district it would be embarking on a process without a clear outcome.

The Bradford-Newbury School Advisory Group wanted to see a return to when Newbury and Bradford had three school boards between them, one each for their elementary schools and a third, shared board for the high school and tech center.

That arrangement provided greater oversight of the schools, Harrison said, and the two towns also had greater representation on the Orange East Supervisory Union board.

But Newbury’s vote to leave would have required Bradford to vote for it, too, and there was no guarantee that Bradford would then want to create a new high school district with Newbury.

“There were just a lot of options,” Danielle Corti, chairwoman of the Oxbow Unified board and a Newbury resident, said Wednesday.

Harrison said that the advisory group didn’t want to see a wider rift develop in the community, so it didn’t mount a social media campaign or post messages on the listserv about the vote, despite its complexities.

“The voters spoke, and we see what’s happened in Washington,” he said Wednesday, “and we don’t want to see that happen here.”

Corti noticed that word hadn’t gotten out about the vote and posted on the town listservs about it. As she started talking to residents, many expressed shock that the vote was taking place, she said.

Despite the ouctome, the Bradford-Newbury School Advisory Group, the informal panel Harrison and others formed to push for the Oxbow district’s dissolution, isn’t planning to disband.

“Our goal now is to continue to push the administration and board on the issues that we feel need to be addressed,” Harrison said.

The primary issue is the district’s connection to the community, something the board has already taken steps to address, both by expanding its numbers from four to six, and by naming committees to work on important issues.

Harrison, for example, is a member of the recently formed budget and finance committee, Corti said.

The pandemic has hindered those connections. Corti noted that it would be better if the board could meet in the school buildings, even though more people have been attending the board’s meetings online.

Having cleared this hurdle, now the Oxbow district needs to approve a budget.

A fourth vote is planned for Jan. 13, when the polls will be open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Bradford and Newbury residents need to contact their town clerks to get ballots if they want to vote by mail on the $16.8 million spending plan.

An online information session is planned for 6 p.m. on Jan. 4.

Alex Hanson can be reached at ahanson@vnews.com or 603-727-3207.




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