Town Meeting: Oxbow spending up with teacher contract

By ALEX HANSON

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 05-04-2023 8:59 AM

BRADFORD, Vt. — So far, this has been a straightforward year for approval of Vermont school budgets.

With the state education fund providing more per pupil funding, many districts have been able to increase spending without corresponding tax rate increases. The proposed budget for the Oxbow Unified Union School District, which comes up for a vote on Tuesday, follows that pattern.

“This budget came together pretty well,” Danielle Corti, chairwoman of the Oxbow district’s board of directors, said in an interview. The Oxbow district comprises Bradford Elementary School, Newbury Elementary School, Oxbow High School and River Bend Career and Technical Center.

The proposed $18.4 million budget is about $900,000, about 5%, higher than the current year’s spending.

But if the voters of the district’s two towns, Bradford and Newbury, adopt it, they would see property tax rate increases of 1.6% in Bradford and 0.4% in Newbury. For the owner of a $200,000 home, that’s around $53.60 more in Bradford and $11.60 more in Newbury.

The higher spending is driven primarily by a tentative contract with the district’s teachers and support staff. The budget includes roughly what it would cost to implement the higher salaries.

The pay raises are intended to help the district recruit and retain teachers and paraeducators, Corti said. It’s been particularly difficult to keep paraeducators, who assist teachers in the classroom.

“Our big thing is, like a lot of schools, we are struggling to get paraeducators, to get them to commit to those positions,” Corti said. The importance of those staff members has grown as schools try to help students recover from learning losses sustained during the coronavirus pandemic.

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In addition to raising wages, the budget also adds some spending on facilities upkeep, Essential Early Education (for children ages 3 to 5 with disabilities), guidance and counseling and technology services.

Also on the annual meeting warning are proposals to place $300,000 in surplus funds from fiscal year 2022 into the district’s capital improvement fund, and another $190,000 into a separate reserve fund.

The district holds an in-person meeting, scheduled this year for 6 p.m. on Tuesday. Officers are elected from the floor, so it’s unclear whether there will be any contested races.

Incumbent School Board members Angela Colbeth, of Bradford, and Timothy Ross, of Newbury, plan to run for reelection, Corti said.

As easy as it was to put this budget together, Corti said she expects more difficulty in the next few years. Federal funding related to the pandemic will go away, and the district is going to have to address some outstanding projects, notably at Oxbow High School, which is now 50 years old.

“There’s a good chance we’re going to need to take out a bond at some point,” Corti said.

An informational meeting is planned for 6 p.m. Thursday, and the annual meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday. Both meetings will be held at Oxbow High School, 36 Oxbow Drive in Bradford.

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

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