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School budget fails in Strafford

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 3/3/2020 7:21:16 PM
Modified: 3/3/2020 7:21:10 PM

STRAFFORD — Frustrated with ballooning costs over which they’ve had minimal control, voters rejected the proposed $3.4 million school district budget at Strafford’s School District meeting on Tuesday.

After easily passing a $1.2 million town budget amended to include an extra $98,000 for road improvements during the town portion of the daylong meeting, voters put on the brakes when presented with a school budget reflecting an increase of about 5.4% over the current year’s budget.

Many voters voiced anger that budgets handed down from the White River Valley Supervisory Union have increased steeply since the 10-town supervisory union was created several years ago under pressure from Montpelier. Some said there had been promises that consolidations would reduce costs.

“The Supervisory Union and the whole shift has caused so much turmoil for the students, the parents, the towns,” said Toni Pippy, a former School Board member and current Selectboard member. “We’re in trouble.”

The School Board in late January had crafted the budget to keep seventh and eighth graders at The Newton School for the 2020-21 school year, though on a 3-2 vote.

And on Tuesday, voters directed most of their ire at the Supervisory Union, which controls about 90% of the budget.

“The SU is incompetent. They did a lousy job,” Strafford resident Stephen Marx said.

White River Valley School Superintendent Bruce Labs said that the SU also has little control over many of the major budget items, including health insurance and special education costs.

After rejecting the budget, 54-39, voters will have to have a second School District meeting. Some voters said they hope the move sends a message to the Legislature that mergers under Act 46 aren’t working as planned. Some also asked the board to look into options for leaving the supervisory union.

The approved town budget, including the $98,000 amendment, will add about $114 to the property tax bill on a $200,000 home. Voters also approved a $7,000 proposal for a regional energy coordinator who will be shared among several towns.

Mary Linehan and Rhett Emerson were elected to replace outgoing Selectboard members Lauri Berkenkamp and Kate Siepmann, and Patrik Kelly was reelected. Meg Teachout and Aaron Dotter were elected to replace outgoing School Board members Jeff Solsaa and Sarah North.

Sarah Earle can be reached at searle@vnews.com or 603-727-3268.




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