Voters reject $99 million bond for new Woodstock high school

Valerie LaCroix, left, and Will Maginnis, right, fill out their ballots  at Town Hall in Barnard, Vt., on Tuesday, March 5, 2024. Voters in the Mountain Views School District, which includes the Upper Valley towns of Barnard, Bridgewater, Pomfret and Woodstock, rejected a $99 million bond to replace Woodstock Union Middle and High School. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valerie LaCroix, left, and Will Maginnis, right, fill out their ballots at Town Hall in Barnard, Vt., on Tuesday, March 5, 2024. Voters in the Mountain Views School District, which includes the Upper Valley towns of Barnard, Bridgewater, Pomfret and Woodstock, rejected a $99 million bond to replace Woodstock Union Middle and High School. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news photographs — James M. Patterson

Barnard Town Clerk Diane Rainey, left, and Justice of the Peace Ellen Miles, middle, register Nicole McLeay, right, to vote at the Barnard, Vt., Town Hall, on Tuesday, March 5, 2024. McLeay said she registered when she moved to town in 2022, but was pregnant with her child Hadley and did not vote last year. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Barnard Town Clerk Diane Rainey, left, and Justice of the Peace Ellen Miles, middle, register Nicole McLeay, right, to vote at the Barnard, Vt., Town Hall, on Tuesday, March 5, 2024. McLeay said she registered when she moved to town in 2022, but was pregnant with her child Hadley and did not vote last year. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

By CHRISTINA DOLAN

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 03-06-2024 10:39 AM

Modified: 03-06-2024 9:01 PM


WOODSTOCK — A $99 million bond proposal for the construction of a new middle and high school building in Woodstock failed by 340 votes in Town Meeting Day balloting in the supervisory union’s seven towns.

Voters rejected the school building bond proposal 1,910-1,570, according to preliminary results issued Wednesday by the Mountain Views Supervisory Union, formerly Windsor Central Supervisory Union.

The margin, 55% to 45%, was “a little shocking,” Ben Ford, Woodstock representative and vice chairman of the Mountain Views School District, said Wednesday. “Personally, I’m disappointed. We put a lot of work into it.”

Any next steps the school board may take are unclear at this point, Ford said.

Voters in Woodstock, Barnard, Pomfret, Plymouth, Barnard, Reading and Killington took to the polls Tuesday after months of enthusiastic and sometimes contentious debate over the building project.

Leaving the Pomfret polling place Tuesday afternoon, one resident, who has a daughter in kindergarten, gave an animated head shake when asked about the school bond.

“I voted no,” the resident, who declined to give his name said. “I can’t wrap my head around that number.”

Woodstock resident Lee DeBeauchamp went to the polls Tuesday, with her grandchildren in mind.

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“I voted yes for my grandsons’ future,” she said.

In the weeks leading up to Tuesday’s vote, letters to the editor in local publications and comments on town Listservs both for and against the school bond proliferated and, in some cases, exceeded the bounds of civility, board members said.

In late February, the Mountain Views School Board blocked nine individuals from emailing board members and school officials due to hostile and threatening content, the board said. Some of the emails engaged in personal mockery of board members and accused them of deliberate deception and evasion. “These people are crazy,” one note said of the school board members.

It will take time to evaluate the voter dynamics that led to the results because a town-by-town breakdown of bond voting is not available, Ford said.

Under Vermont law, school bond votes must be “commingled,” or mixed together without regard to town, and then counted by hand. There isn’t any easy way to determine how to focus efforts on any future bond votes, Ford said.

The problems go beyond Tuesday’s vote. In what may be a burgeoning secession movement, Killington residents on Tuesday approved an article allowing the Selectboard to study the possibility of leaving the Mountain Views Supervisory Union altogether.

“We have a problem in Killington; that’s not a surprise,” Ford said. “They were openly hostile at public information meetings.”

Woodstock’s high school building was constructed in 1956, with the middle school added in 1968.

The Vermont Agency of Education in 2022 assessed the building as being in poor condition, with failing heating, ventilation, electrical, septic and plumbing systems. The concrete slab construction of the middle school renders it irreparable, according to a 2019 options analysis conducted by the supervisory union.

The presidential primary along with the polarizing school bond vote made for a busy day at polling places Tuesday.

“We’ve been swamped,” said Cindy Ansardy, a ballot clerk in Bridgewater.

“Elections are always a 16-hour day,” Woodstock Town Clerk Charlie Degener said. And this year’s increased volume and unique counting requirements made it especially challenging.

Results were originally expected to be available shortly after polls closed at 7 p.m. Tuesday, since most of the towns within the supervisory union use electronic “tabulators” that scan and record ballots instantly.

But a last-minute recognition by the supervisory union of the school bond vote counting rules required by Vermont statute meant that the results were delayed until Wednesday.

Voters in the Mountain Views Supervisory Union member towns also approved a $29.8 million school budget Tuesday, a 14.6% increase over last year’s budget of nearly $26 million.

There were no contested races for the school board on this year’s ballot. Keri Bristow and Ernie Fernandez of Woodstock, Barnard’s Heather Lawler, Robert Crean of Pomfret and Briedgewater’s Ryan Townsend were all elected to three-year terms.

Christina Dolan can be reached at cdolan@vnews.com or 603-727-3208.