New OVUU district towns to face first school budget votes
BRANDON — Voters in the eight towns in the Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union school district will see three school budgets on their upcoming town meeting warnings, but it is likely that the vote on only one of those budgets will count.
That’s because those voters last month approved the new Otter Valley Unified Union School District under the Act 46 school consolidation law, but the towns warned school budgets under both the old system and the new one since that vote could still be petitioned for reconsideration.
A Jan. 19 election created a new side-by-side school district, comprised of the OVUU towns of Brandon, Goshen, Leicester, Whiting, Sudbury and Pittsford and the Barstow District towns of Chittenden and Mendon.
Under Vermont law, there is a 30-day reconsideration period from the date of the vote. A petition can be submitted containing signatures from between 5 to 20 percent of a town’s voting population (20 percent is required in Brandon, other towns may require fewer signatures) to rescind or reconsider the passing vote.
Therefore, RNeSU residents will see three school budgets on the town meeting ballot: their town school budget, the Otter Valley Union High School budget, and the new, overarching OVUU budget.
Residents in Leicester, Brandon, Pittsford and Chittenden will vote by Australian ballot; voters in the towns of Goshen, Whiting, Sudbury and Mendon will all vote from the floor of their respective town meetings.
The OVUU budget represents a commingling of budgets from each of the seven schools (Otter Valley Union High School plus elementary schools in six towns; Goshen and Mendon do not have their own schools) all rolled into one $22,604,806 spending plan. It should be noted that none of the schools’ proposed budgets rose enough to trigger the state penalty for going over allowable growth spending guidelines, even before the Legislature recently raised that cap by .9 percent.
As long as the OVUU budget passes on Town Meeting Day, the other budgets are irrelevant, but they had to be represented on the ballot because of the reconsideration period.
RNeSU Business Manager Brenda Fleming in a meeting Monday acknowledged that area voters are entering new territory, and that the district, for all intents and purposes, is reinventing the proverbial wheel.
“We are the first and only side-by-side school district in the state, so we’re kind of paving the way,” she said. “On Feb. 19 when we take our first breath and have our birth certificate signed by the Agency of Education, we can really begin.”
After Feb. 19, when the 30-day reconsideration window expires, there will be a district reorganization meeting of the OVUU and Barstow districts, with opening remarks by Agency of Education Secretary Rebecca Holcombe. The district boards will elect a moderator, a treasurer and a clerk. Town clerks will then swear in the OVUU and Barstow boards, which will then elect a board chair and board clerk. They will establish a meeting schedule and adopt a newspaper of record where district public notices and warnings will appear.
NEW DISTRICT July 1
On July 1, individual school districts in the six OVUU towns and two Barstow towns will no longer be responsible for their local schools. Holcombe will certify the formation of the new side-by-side district. All new accounts will be created and the district treasurer and OVUU will start disbursing education funds.
“They do offer a separation of duties, which is important to me,” Fleming said of the new financial structure. “The new treasurer will be responsible for disbursing funds after the board has approved them. I’m just the paper person.”
She emphasized, though, that principals of individual schools will still be largely responsible for their respective school’s budget, working with Superintendent Jeanne Collins and Fleming to build those spending plans and present them to the OVUU board.
“We want the board members to know the principals and build that trust,” Fleming said.
Overall, Fleming was complimentary of the Agency of Education and Commissioner Holcombe’s leadership in shepherding the new Act 46 school consolidation law and working with RNeSU to make it work.
“I have to commend the Agency of Education,” she said. “They worked really hard and created a system that can be duplicated as other supervisory union district proposals come through.”
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