On June 26, 2024

MVSU to delay bond vote

By Curt Peterson

The Mountain View Supervisory Union FY2025 budget passed with 60% of the vote on Town Meeting Day. But the district’s $99 million bond for a replacement of the aging Woodstock Middle and High School complex, failed by about 10%.

Ben Ford, MSVU board vice-chair and chair of the finance committee, told the Mountain Times the bond failed even though there was very high voter turnout in the district. The board sent out a survey to find out why voters didn’t approve of the “New Build” project the 18-member board had spent years developing.

“We had an amazing response to the survey,” Ford said, “1,440 surveys were turned in. Of the respondents, half had voted in favor of the bond, and half had voted against.”

“The reason given for voting ‘no’ was that voters had not seen the years of planning and different plans and concepts and felt they were given one choice, take it or leave it, and they weren’t comfortable with what little they knew of the process involving so much money,” Ford said.

 “So we are reluctant to incur the cost of a large bond with the risk of large penalties,” Ford said.

Following the survey, the MVSU board decided to create options for voter consideration — four to be exact — which were presented last month.

One involved complete renovation of the existing complex with a current adjusted cost of $105 million, due to anticipated increased cost over time.

Another, Ford called “a hybrid project,” building a new high school, but renovating the middle school, at a projected cost of $90 million.

But that option would leave a middle school with only 10-15 years’ functional use, and take longer to complete because of demolition and inability to do some work while the original complex is still in use, Ford explained.

The third option involves two concepts: the first (3A) is the unchanged original proposal, with the new adjusted price of $105 million.

“With the current situation, if the bond was up for voter approval right now, I wouldn’t vote for it myself,” said Ford.

The alternate third concept (3B) is a less expensive version of the original proposal, using a flat roof instead of the peaked roof over the gym and auditorium, and eliminating the second floor planned for administration use – the cost estimate was $100 million.

Last week, the board decided to delay any vote on one or more of the options, at least until September, and possibly Town Meeting 2025.

A paramount reason, Ford said, is how school construction issues are being treated in Montpelier. 

The state suspended school construction financial support in 2017 because of recession, but never reinstated it. Any construction or maintenance of school infrastructure has since become part of the local school budgets. For that reason, any bond funds used to finance a new school such as the Woodstock complex, had not counted toward per student education spending when calculating penalties for overspending.

“That exception has been taken away in the new yield bill the Legislature reinstated over Governor Scott’s veto last week,” Ford said. “So we are reluctant to incur the cost of a large bond with the risk of large penalties.”

Carin Park, MVSU board member representing Barnard, pointed out that there are no bond payments for either three or five years in the proposed plan, and the board could assume the state would come up with a better education funding scheme in that much time. 

Ford, however, is not so sure.

The state had also created a task force meant to reinstate state spending in support of construction projects, but Ford said that commission has been absorbed into the group charged with redesigning the entire funding system, with new goals of finding a funding source for school construction by December 2025, when their final report is due.

“The new yield bill has delayed any chances for predictable help,” Ford lamented. “I’ve been known as a major proponent of this project from the very beginning,” he said, “but with the current situation, if the bond was up for voter approval right now, I wouldn’t vote for it myself.”

For more information, visit: mtnviews.org/breaking-new-ground.

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