Oxbow Enrollment Drops, Leading to Budget Cuts

Valley News Staff Writer
Friday, March 16, 2018

Ballot voting for Oxbow Union High School District #30 will take place from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on March 27 at the Bradford Academy building and the Newbury Town Office. The annual School Meeting is scheduled for the same day at 8 p.m. in the Oxbow High auditorium.

Bradford, Vt. — Voters in the Oxbow Union High School District will consider a $7 million budget that would cut programming and deplete the district’s rainy day fund — consequences that school officials chalked up to a shrinking student body and reduced state funding.

In January, the School Board narrowly voted, 3-2, to recommend the budget to voters, with Pat Dwyer, Bill Ellithorpe and Adam Lornitzo in favor, while Barbara Briggs and John Brochu were opposed, according to meeting minutes.

Before the board vote, members of the school community in attendance expressed concern about the budget cut to programming, which includes a staff reduction of 10 positions. This is the second consecutive year of staffing cuts, with 3.5 full-time employee positions trimmed last year.

The Family and Consumer Science program was among those that would be axed under the budget, according to Principal Jean Wheeler, who called it “a difficult decision.”

Wheeler said some classes in the program, such as personal finance, will continue to be offered, and that the cuts represent a larger effort to match the school’s offerings with the needs of a modern workforce.

Spending in the proposed budget for the grades 7-10 school is down by $37,535, but the education property tax rate is expected to go up by 5.3 percent, in large part because of a statewide shortage in education funding that could leave a gap of as much as $80 million.

If the budget is approved, the education property tax rate in Bradford would increase to $1.37 from $1.30 per $100 of assessed property value. That would lead to an increase of $172 on the tax bill of a home valued at $250,000.

The actual size of the state’s funding gap will depend on how much spending is approved by local school districts across the state — the $80 million figure was based on an assumption of a 3.5 percent average increase in school district spending, though the latest projections from the Agency of Education suggest a smaller average increase is more likely.

Whatever the size of the gap, it will be filled by a tax rate increase that will affect school districts everywhere — including ones like Oxbow, that have flat-funded, or slightly reduced, their budgets.

The slimmed-down budget is meant to reflect Oxbow’s enrollment figures, which have declined by nearly 25 percent over the past four years alone. Wheeler said enrollment was about 400 students in 2015, and is expected to be 305 next year.

In order to blunt the impact of the squeeze on taxpayers and programming, the budget also calls for $251,000 in the unassigned fund balance to be spent on the budget, which will reduce the surplus fund to zero.

Also on the warning is a $420,000 bond proposal which, if approved, would pay for improvements on the school’s athletics facilities.

In addition, voters will be presented with a $2.2 million proposed budget for the River Bend Career and Technical Center. Because that budget is funded by state grants and tuition revenues, it is a tax-neutral article on the warning.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached at mhonghet@vnews.com or 603-727-3211.