Oxbow voters to decide school budget

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/8/2022 9:37:59 PM
Modified: 5/8/2022 9:36:19 PM

Voters in the Oxbow Unified Union School District towns of Bradford and Newbury, Vt., will meet on Thursday to consider a proposed $17.5 million budget for the coming year.

And in day-long balloting, they also will decide whether to adopt a change to the district’s articles of agreement that would spell out how the district could restructure grades among its schools.

Residents have expressed concern that Bradford and Newbury elementary schools and Oxbow High School could be reorganized without a public vote.

The process on Thursday’s ballot requires the district to hold at least one public hearing followed by a district vote at which 60% of the voters in each town must approve.

“Even if we are just talking about moving a classroom, that should be a discussion in the community,” Danielle Corti, chairwoman of the Oxbow district’s board, said in a phone interview.

Fear of school closure was particularly acute in Newbury, the smaller of the two towns, after the district was established under Act 46, the state’s school consolidation law.

That fear has abated, Corti said, but having a process in place will make it clear that the district can’t further consolidate schools without voter approval.

The new article of agreement is the only item to be voted on by Australian ballot. Polls will be open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. in both towns.

The other articles will be addressed at an in-person meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. at Oxbow High School.

Central to that meeting is the budget, which is a little over $300,000 higher than the current year’s, but will have little impact on taxpayers.

The main driver of the higher spending is a plan to add two new counselors at the high school. Serving under a pair of co-principals will be a team of social-emotional support staff, Emilie Knisley, superintendent of Orange Ease Supervisory Union, said in a phone interview.

After two years of “pandemic survival mode,” Knisley said, “there is a need for an increase of that type of supports for students in the schools.”

“We know it’s a need,” Corti said. “How much we can service that need, it’s going to be an adjustment, and it’s going to be there for years to come.”

More than anything, Corti said, kids just need someone to check in with at school. “A lot of it is just getting back into the routine and knowing the same people are going to be there,” she said.

The extra $170,000 cost is offset by a decline of $250,000 in direct instruction, which is attributable to teacher turnover, Knisley said.

The Oxbow board, which in addition to the two elementary schools and the high school also oversees Riverbend Career and Technical Center, decided to put $350,000 of undesignated funds toward defraying taxes.

The biggest aid to lowering costs was an increase in state assistance. Flush with federal money, Vermont lawmakers raised the yield from $11,385 to $12,937, which has the effect of providing more funding to public school districts.

As a result, Newbury will see a tax rate decrease of more than 8 cents per $100 of assessed value. Bradford’s rate will remain flat, because of a decline in the town’s common level of appraisal, a mechanism the state uses to equalize property taxes.

In Vermont, most residents pay education taxes on their primary residences based on their income. In both Oxbow towns, the projected income rate is 2.62%.

The district’s financial position and organization are a far cry from where it was in 2020, when it took four tries to pass a budget, partly because of pandemic uncertainty and partly because of local politics.

“I think people are excited about the possibilities for this district,” Knisley said.




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