On March 13, 2024

MVSU seeks public feedback

By Polly Mikula

Voter turn out was “huge” this past Town Meeting Day, March 5 — even a record in some towns in the Mountain Views Supervisory Union (MVSU) district.

Reading had the highest percent of its registered voters turn out, at 59%. All other district towns were also higher than average at over 45%.

Primary elections typically bring out more voters, but so do local hot-button Articles like high-dollar bond votes or increases in the budget.

This year, MVSU had both.

The district budget — 11% higher than the previous year (causing tax rates to rise by 25%-30% for many of the towns after the CLA is factored in) — passed with 60% voter approval.

The bond for $99 million to build a new middle school/high school in Woodstock, however, failed with 55% of the voters saying “no.”

While the bond votes were commingled, the budget results were tallied by town. Killington defeated the budget by the largest margin, followed by Bridgewater. All other district towns passed the budget.

At the MVSU district board meeting Monday night, March 11, district board representatives weighed in on what they had heard from constituents who didn’t support the bond measure and vowed to listen to as many concerns as possible from residents across the region before defining a plan to move forward.

“As a representative from Killington… I’m really looking forward to engaging more with folks in my town, to really understand and listen and hear what their concerns are, and bring them back to this group,” said Anne Karl, from Killington, adding that she wants “To make sure people’s concerns feel answered, that they feel really brought along in the process, because that’s a lot of what people are saying: That they joined the conversation, maybe late in the game, but at the same time didn’t feel sufficiently brought along. So I’m really excited — in the next year or whatever the time period is — to really listen …bring their concerns to this group.”

 

Courtesy MVSU
The chart above shows the voter turnout for Town Meeting Day, March 5, by town in the Mountain Views Supervisory Union district as well as percent changes.

 

Others representatives echoed Karl, calling for more listening tours in every town and encouraging diverse voices to join the conversation without judgment.

“I heard many who said it’s too fancy or too big,” said Carin Park, from Barnard. “I think when folks actually went to the info sessions and to the tours at the school, they understood that a renovation would cost almost as much and we don’t get close to the same value for it. They also understood that renovation and redesign have been looked into and this is what the board judged was best. That’s what a bond vote is, after all, not an A. B. or C. vote. But I do think we need more engagement around the reality of options.”

John Williams, from Woodstock, added: “There seems to be consensus that we need to do something and we need to do it soon. One of our challenges is that we really needed that momentum four years ago when we were coming off the design of the new build. Instead we were interrupted by the pandemic … Some people might feel like they were just handed the designs because we did all the work to engage the public on design from 2016-2019… so I just want to take everybody’s different opinions into account and hear what their proposals are — appeal to different parts of the electorate to get them excited about the vision, rather than feel like they’re being handed something.”

Others focused on the need to engage the state for additional aid.

Sam DiNatale, Woodstock, said: “I think we all need to be petitioning our state representatives and senators to reignite funding for new builds, because if that money still existed like it used to, I think a bond (for what was needed plus the state funding) would’ve passed… as gold towns we send so much money, and our taxes keep going up, but what are we getting for all this money? … Where are our state representatives fighting for this money?”

Josh Linton, a board member from Plymouth who was “openly opposed to the bond” echoed DiNatale, saying: “We need state commitment, for them to have skin in the game and help” if the plan is ever going to be affordable.

Lara Bowers, Bridgewater, added: “All the no votes I’ve heard have not been ‘no, we don’t want a high school in our town anymore’ rather everybody — both ‘yes’ and ‘no’ — wants a school to stay here. I would hate to see an education desert happen in the middle of our state if our high school fails and we start pushing our students out. I live way up the mountain in Bridgewater and I can’t imagine how long my student would have to be on a bus to get anywhere else.”

Ben Ford, vice chair of the board from Woodstock, who led the new build information sessions in each of the district towns, spent most of Monday’s meeting listening. But did add that he was “proud of the transparency” that the board had in its communication about the new build and made a commitment to be even more “clear on financials” moving forward, noting that the policy to cap tax increases at 16% got “lost in the shuffle,” but felt that it might be helpful to remind constituents about it moving forward.

Residents interested in voicing their feedback about the new build should contact their board representatives. A list of members by town with their email addresses is listed at: mtnviews.org/school-board-members.

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