On November 20, 2019

Windsor Central school district leaves new build questions unanswered

By Curt Peterson

The Windsor Central Unified School District Board’s “new build committee” met for the first time on Nov. 6. Woodstock representative Ben Ford told the Mountain Times the committee’s mission is “to advance our endorsement of the new building option.”

Ford outlined options for financing the razing of the existing Woodstock High School/Middle School and creating a modern, efficient and education-friendly campus for an estimated $68 million— a number that also includes renovations to the district’s elementary schools, including mitigation of moisture at The Prosper Valley School in Pomfret.

Board co-chair Paige Hiller of Woodstock had charged the committee with a goal: to identify a project and financing that would raise education taxes a maximum of 15-18%. (If the full amount were bonded over a  30-year period, which no one is recommending, it would produce a 31% tax increase impact — over $500 on a $250,000 home belonging to someone with no income-sensitive deductions.) Most board members agreed that a bond of  about half that might pass.

Assuming the proposed design and estimated price tag, Ford said approximately $30 million in private donations and grant funds were needed to reduce the necessary bond amount to $40 million and meet Hiller’s suggested goal.

Woodstock representative Clare Drebitko suggested community focus groups to spread information about the need for the new school. She urged focus on soliciting the alumni – there are 1,300 followers on the alumni Facebook page.

Ford suggested an additional avenue could be “local option tax,” in each town, to raise funds.

“Local option taxes are only allowed in certain towns,” said Haff, who is also a select board member in Killington. “Not all seven towns are eligible. And if you try an option tax in Killington, where it is allowed, it wouldn’t pass anyway.”

Pomfret representative Bob Coates thought “naming opportunities” a good idea – people donating money to have a building named for them. He also suggested hiring a full-time marketing person to oversee public relations and fundraising.

Superintendent Banios urged Board members to talk to state representatives and senators.

“Tell them why the state should be helping us,” she said.

Though the district is 200 students smaller than in 2003. Ford thinks making the district a “destination school system,” meaning that people would move within the district because of the schools, will be possible with the new campus.

Scoping study

Ford said an anonymous benefactor pledged $200,000 in matching funds to help pay architectural firm Lavallee Bresinger for necessary pre-build work expected to cost $400-$450,000. Since the meeting Ford announced an additional gift of $25,000.

Things got sticky when Ford made a motion to contribute money from the current 2019-2020 district budget to free up some of the matching funds. Discussion included options from $25,000 to $200,000.

“This will indicate to potential donors the board has skin in the game,” Ford said.

Superintendent Mary Beth Banios said she believed she could find available money in the budget without diminishing programs or staff time.

Ford said the Board would be able to recoup the $450,000 from the proceeds of the bond.

Barnard representative Pam Fraser objected to spending $450,000 before the voters have approved the bond, stating that a vote is necessary before any work is done.

“People ask me about the impact on their taxes, and I say, ‘I don’t know,’” Fraser said. “All we are talking about are dreams, and we are moving ahead without knowing the actual numbers.”

Killington representative and Board co-chair Jennifer Ianantuoni said the board has already paid the architects $150,000 that was privately donated funds.

Killington’s other representative, Jim Haff, explained the $450,000 pre-bond work will provide the numbers Fraser wants.

There were several unanswered questions when the meeting ended and many district board members were frustrated either with the lack of a vote to move forward or with the committees suggestion that the board move forward with funds for a project not-yet approved by the board or district voters.

The board tabled the motion to use funds for a scoping study until its Nov. 25 meeting.

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