On April 3, 2024

MVSU Board hears results of district survey on new build

 

By Curt Peterson

The Mountain View Supervisory Union (MVSU) board’s proposal to fund a new middle-high school in Woodstock with a $99 million bond was defeated about 60% to 40% last month on Town Meeting Day. The board subsequently distributed an information-gathering survey, to which 1,395 people responded. Board vice-chair Ben Ford reviewed survey results at the April 1 district board meeting.

Participation varied by district town: Woodstock had the greatest return rate with 37.3% of its voters responding, followed by Pomfret at 15.5% and Barnard at 15.0%. The other four towns in the district were less than half as responsive: About 8% of Bridgewater, Reading and Killington responded to the survey and only 4% of Plymouth recipients responded.

Of those responding, 43.3% voted in favor of the bond, 43.0% against; 6.6% had not voted on Town Meeting Day with 7.12% of the survey respondents marking that they were “ineligible to vote.”

When asked if they were interested in helping gather more information from voters, respondents were fairly evenly averse to participating with 2/3 saying “no.”

The short “essay questions” drew interesting responses. Ford listed several answers illustrating general attitudes by “Yes” voters. Of his dozen choices, five referred to need to replace the existing building. They voted in favor of the project, in spite of concerns such as finding more state money, more focus on pure education, and whether the new school was too large for current or anticipated needs.

A few mentioned the new school might attract young families to the area, in spite of the housing shortage. Quite a few participants thought the process of planning and proposing the new school lacked “transparency.”

The “turf field,” omitted for cost considerations was mentioned a few times.

Those who voted against the bond issue mentioned the project cost — they believed it too high — and the effect it would have on taxes. Woodstock residents cited other local tax increases and said they thought “another tax increase” was too much.

Unlike many of the “Yes” respondents, “No” voters suggested renovating the existing building was still an option. Other comments included: “fixing the education funding system,” “charging second homeowners higher taxes to help finance the project,” “student number projections are unrealistic,” “the new building won’t improve education,” “promotion of the project was overkill,” and “the whole idea is divisive – pitting new wealthy residents against long-time Vermonters in an us-versus-them scenario.”

It seemed quite a few want more emphasis on athletics. Nostalgia for the old facility came up a few times.

“Love the idea, hate the tax implications,” and “felt the proposal was being rammed down our throats” were also commonly noted sentiments.

Some interesting ideas for project success were offered, including asking local ski areas to contribute, asking Woodstock to finance the proposed theater with money they intend to use on the town theater, and more energetic fundraising from private sources.

The New Build Committee, Ford said, plans to tour the district with “listening sessions” led by local MVSU board members and volunteers in each sending community.

New informational materials will reflect concerns indicated in the survey, and the committee will continue to consult with architects, construction professionals and property owners to develop possible options to the current plan.

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