Voters OK Rivendell School Budget

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 3/21/2018 12:17:58 AM
Modified: 3/21/2018 12:18:03 AM

Orford — Voters approved a $10.6 million Rivendell Interstate School District budget on Tuesday during what turned out to be a relatively calm annual meeting.

Few people voiced opposition to the School Board’s spending plan, which amounts to a roughly $100,000, or 1 percent, increase over this year’s.

Instead, residents of Orford, Fairlee, West Fairlee and Vershire voted, 139-18, to support the proposal in a paper ballot vote.

They also spent much of the nearly two-hour meeting asking questions about district accounting practices and discussing the expanding role of school auditors.

The scene was markedly different from last year’s meeting, where multiple ballot votes were required to push through a 3.5 percent budget increase over the course of about three hours.

School officials attributed the change in climate to the “responsible budget” being presented to voters on Tuesday.

“I would put our fiscal austerity up against any school district in the state,” said School Board Vice Chairman Bruce Lyndes, of Fairlee. “I don’t know anyone else that’s able to keep their budget increases to such a minimal level.”

School officials proposed a nearly level-funded budget, aside from an additional $100,000 earmarked to provide students with mental health support.

Superintendent Elaine Arbour said the district wants to give more aid to students in need of support, but it’s not yet clear what programs will be produced with the money.

Educators still are developing ideas, she told voters.

The plan includes salary and benefit increases mandated under collective bargaining agreements with educators, Arbour said, as well as a $130,000 reduction in debt service payments. The district recently paid off a bond for asbestos removal, she explained.

School officials also were hoping to save money on library costs by shifting the responsibility of maintaining the collection at Rivendell Academy to an elementary school librarian.

In place of a high school librarian, the district has proposed a new position that could help teachers and students learn through projects, mathematical modeling, web design and electronic portfolios.

“This represents a very responsible budget to the taxpayers and it also allows us to continue the quality of education that we’re offering,” said School Board Chairman Marc DeBois, of Orford.

Voters also approved by a voice vote the district’s request for an additional $70,000 for its capital reserve fund, which is used to maintain Rivendell’s buildings.

The fund was depleted during the last year to pay for roof repairs and upgrades for people with disabilities, officials said.

The district predicts the two spending measures will result in a tax rate of $18.79 per $1,000 of valuation, or $4.697, on a $250,000 home, for Orford residents.

Fairlee residents are expected to pay an estimated tax rate of $1.74 per $100 of a home’s valuation; West Fairlee’s would be set at $1.97; and Vershire’s would be $1.88.

The owners of a property valued at $250,000 in Fairlee who are not eligible for Vermont’s income sensitivity program would expect to pay $4,346 in property taxes to the district.

Owners of a home of the same value in West Fairlee would expect to pay $4,926; and in Vershire, the bill would be $4,694.

Rivendell voters also were provided an update about plans to convert the former Orford Academy building into new apartments for seniors.

The School Board recently extended a memorandum of understanding with Littleton, N.H.-based nonprofit Affordable Housing, Education and Development, or AHEAD, for two more years.

The move will allow the group to search for additional funds for the project, DeBois said.

The nonprofit — known for renovating old buildings in the North Country — aims to use a combination of loans, grants and tax credits to pay for the $3.5 million conversion.

The project has faced criticism over the past year, with opponents arguing the nonprofit will make payments in lieu of taxes instead of property taxes.

Some also object to stipulations that the apartments be open to all seniors, not just those from the Upper Valley.

Last week, voters in Orford rejected an attempt to derail the renovation, voting, 110-63, during Town Meeting to allow the project to move forward.

Tim Camerato can be reached at or 603-727-3223.

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