By Angelo Lynn
In a reversal from a Town Meeting Day vote that saw the Otter Valley Unified Union School District budget go down to defeat, 522-462, district voters on Tuesday turned out in support of the $22.7 million budget, 420-359.
Voter turnout was lower than the March 1 vote by about 200 votes, said Brandon Town Clerk Sue Gage who tallied the district vote. That number was low but not surprising for a second vote in the spring, she said.
“What is surprising,” Gage said, “is that usually when the vote totals are low, budgets go down, so we’re happy to see high voter support of the budget even with the low turnout.”
The budget calls for a spending increase of 7.8%, even as district school taxes dropped five cents to levels of five years ago and school tax rates in most district towns were projected to go down, except for an increase in Whiting and level taxes in Leicester. The school district educated children in Brandon, Pittsford, Sudbury, Leicester, Goshen and Whiting.
Driving cost increases for the budget was a three-year contract in which teacher salaries are to increase 7% in the first year of the contract and by 3% the following two years. Inflationary increases of fuel and other material costs, which have jumped higher because of disruptions in the global supply chain, also added to expenses.
No new programs were added to the budget, even though additional federal funding is included in the budget to address extra student needs caused by hybrid and remote schooling in the past two years of the pandemic.
Passage of the budget is a huge relief for district administrators and faculty, who can now forge ahead with planning for next year’s curriculum and school activities.
“We’re very grateful and appreciative to the voters who went out on a rainy, gray day in late April to support the school and teachers,” Superintendent Jeanné Collins said in a phone interview after the vote. “It means that we can go into planning for next year with confidence and not cut more programs. We are in the hiring season, and this investment in the school allows us to get quality educators and staff.”
Collins noted that while the turnout continued to be low, as it was on Town Meeting Day, the district had tried to get the word out as best they could for the past six weeks.
“I’m not sure how to make people aware of the budget vote and how important their vote is,” she said, though she said the district would work to cultivate community involvement in the schools and in budget votes that are so crucial to the school’s success.
“The budget,” Collins added, “is a reflection of the values of the board, the community and the needs of the students. After two years of learning under Covid conditions, there are more needs than ever. This budget goes a long way to meet those needs.”