Oxbow school district budget passes on fourth try

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 1/14/2021 2:11:38 PM
Modified: 1/14/2021 10:55:38 PM

BRADFORD, Vt. — On the fourth attempt, voters in the Oxbow Unified Union School District approved a budget for the 2020-21 school year in Australian and absentee balloting on Wednesday.

Voters in the district’s two towns, Bradford and Newbury, approved the $16.8 million budget by a count of 552-351, with one spoiled ballot.

“I was really surprised by the margin,” Danielle Corti, chair of the Oxbow district’s board, said Thursday morning. “That, to me, meant we didn’t just win a few people over.”

The last vote, on Nov. 24, saw a higher turnout, as voters rejected the same budget, 593-578. For that vote, the two towns sent ballots to all voters, but for Wednesday’s vote, only voters who requested ballots from their town clerks received them.

The Oxbow district, which comprises Bradford Elementary School, Newbury Elementary School, Oxbow High School and River Bend Career and Technical Center, faced serious financial challenges as it continued into the school year without a budget in place.

The schools had restricted spending on supplies, and if the budget situation had persisted would have faced major cuts in personnel, as Vermont allows districts that haven’t approved a budget to spend only 87% of the previous year’s budget through bank loans.

The financial crisis the district was facing, and a more thorough explanation of what’s in the budget brought voters around to support it, Corti said.

“I got a lot of feedback from people saying, ‘Oh my gosh, this is so much easier to understand,’ ” Corti said.

Oxbow board members will begin discussions about the budget for the next year at a meeting at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, conducted online. There will be $85,000 to $100,000 in interest costs incurred this year that will have to be paid in next year’s budget, Corti said.

Other numbers look more favorable: The draft budget for the Orange East Supervisory Union, which oversees public schools in Bradford, Corinth, Newbury an Thetford, shows an increase of only a quarter of 1%. 

Two weeks ago, Newbury voters rejected a measure to leave the unified district, and Corti said she thinks the conversation around that proposal has helped knit the district together.

“I think that the information that was presented gave people a much better idea of where we are going,” she said. 

The promise of a merged district is better school programs and greater efficiency, and now that Oxbow officials have a budget to work with, Corti said she hopes the district can begin to realize some of that promise.

“I think we’ll have to be really creative,” she said.

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

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