By Angelo Lynn & Gene DeLorenzo/Addison County Independent
Otter Valley Unified Union School District voters will have another opportunity to decide the fate of their district budget via an Australian ballot vote on Tuesday, April 26.
The Brandon-area district will hold an informational hearing on Monday, April 25, before voters in the six-town district cast ballots at town polling stations or by mail.
That revote decision was made last week at the board’s regular meeting, at which board members also determined they would hold a special hearing at the start of their April 6 meeting to get public feedback on the budget. At that meeting, they will decide the amount of the budget to warn.
On March 21 the board had a lengthy discussion about the proposed $22,710,995 spending plan and the reason for its narrow 522-462 defeat on Town Meeting Day. Board members reported that most voters they talked with said they were either confused about why the school budget vote wasn’t included in their mail-in ballots along with the town ballots in Brandon and Pittsford or were upset at the school district for not making mail-in ballots available.
That misunderstanding, board members concurred, led to a significantly reduced turnout and possibly the budget’s defeat. Turnout on this year’s school budget was 984 total votes cast compared to almost 3,000 votes cast in March 2021, when the school mailed ballots in all six communities.
RNESU Superintendent Jeanné Collins again explained that the school district was prevented by state law from sending out mail-in ballots because all six-member towns did not also send out mail-in ballots for their town races. Of the six district towns, Sudbury, Whiting, Leicester and Goshen did not send out mail-in ballots; Brandon and Pittsford did.
Similarly, because not all towns were willing to handle mail-in ballots for the upcoming April 26 revote, school district residents will either have to vote in person at their respective town polling places or ask their town clerks for an absentee ballot.
Collins and Brenda Fleming, director of business and finance for the district said the district and board would attempt to answer all the public’s questions ahead of the April 6 meeting soliciting community feedback. Specifically, they hope to answer questions like:
What does this budget buy? What is the budget’s impact on the tax rate and how does that compare to others? What happens if the next budget doesn’t pass? What adjustments to the budget are proposed? What impact has the pandemic had on student learning and costs to the district?
They are also open to any other questions the public might raise.
Fleming did say that the budget is not “buying a lot of new,” but cast the budget as fairly conservative amount to cover the district’s needs. She noted the district spends $1,000 less per pupil than the statewide average, and while school spending was up in this year’s budget, the district-wide tax rate is down 5.5 cents compared to the prior year.
District voters who have questions are encouraged to go to the district’s website and connect with the Let’s Talk function or can send a text message to: 802-243-0461 or email [email protected]
The board also must find candidates for three open board seats. They may either appoint people to fill those seats for one year, or wait until the special election on April 26 if candidates step forward in time.
The vacant seats are: one year remaining of a three-year term representing Leicester; a three-year term representing Pittsford; and one year left of a three-year at-large term, which Len Schmidt of Brandon expressed interest in formally in a letter to Collins April 4.