Vergennes-area school district sets corrective revote for May 22
VERGENNES — Articles originally voted on at the February Addison Northwest School District (ANWSD) annual meeting, as well as decisions made by the ANWSD board at a regular meeting — including a land swap with the town of Addison and the creation of a district-wide capital fund — will be properly decided by district voters in May 22 Australian balloting.
District officials said legal advice confirmed that those earlier meeting and board decisions this winter constituted “public questions” that, according to the Articles of Unification that created ANWSD, require residents to weigh in at the ballot box.
According to a statement on the ANWSD website and Facebook page, “We recently learned that the term ‘public question’ can be interpreted more broadly, and therefore, we need to open the polls and use Australian ballot to decide upon topics that were previously determined by voice vote from the floor of the District Annual Meeting held on February 26, 2018.”
Officials acknowledge that they sought that legal opinion after a resident questioned whether ANWSD had followed proper procedures. They said all those decisions had been made in good faith and in the same manner as they had ben done before unification, when the district operated as the Addison Northwest Supervisory Union.
ANWSD officials have scheduled a public forum on Monday, May 14, at 6:30 p.m. at Ferrisburgh Central School. There they will be available to answer questions on the overall issue and the specific decisions that voters in Ferrisburgh, Vergennes, Waltham, Addison and Panton will be asked to ratify.
The warning for the vote itself includes four articles that do not fully outline all those specific decisions. Article 1 is boilerplate that sets the legal groundwork for the meeting.
Article 2 asks voters to allow the ANWSD board to borrow money in anticipation of tax revenue that will arrive later in the year, something that is standard operating procedure for school districts because tax money does not typically show up in time to pay bills that arrive early in the school year. Unlike other articles on the warning, this issue has not been previously acted upon, district officials said.
Article 3 deals with the ANWSD board’s decision to create a “capital improvements and facility repair and maintenance reserve fund,” and the placement into that fund of $124,650 from a surplus from the previous fiscal year. The creation of that fund clearly rose to the level of a “public question” requiring voter approval, officials said. Although the board had acted upon this previously, officials said the amount is now finalized because audits are complete.
Article 4 on the May 22 ballot is vague in print. It acknowledges that action was taken at the school meeting even though “the vote on such public questions should have been by Australian ballot,” but does not list any action or actions. It then asks voters to back a statement that “any act or action of school district officer or agents pursuant to be readopted, ratified and confirmed by the voters.”
According to information on the ANWSD website and Facebook page those actions were threefold:
• Establishing salaries for ANWSD board members at $850, $1,275 for the chairperson, and $3,000 for the treasurer.
• Allowing the board not to mail out a printed annual report to all residents, but instead to give residents 30 days notice that it is available to those who would like a copy before the annual ANWSD meeting.
• Approving the long-planned trade of two parcels of land near Addison Central School, one owned by the town of Addison for one owned by ANWSD. Each parcel is a third of an acre. ANWSD will receive land close to the school that will benefit the elementary school, while the town will receive land close to its former town hall that could benefit Addison if the building is eventually renovated into a new town clerk’s office and community center.
As part of the agreement originally reached by the Addison selectboard and the Addison Central School board, the town has also pledged to build a bus pad on the current school-owned property if it develops the land it receives in the deal. School buses currently use a bus pad on the land ANWSD will trade to the town, and the new pad would replace the old pad if necessary.
Polls will be open on May 22 in Addison, Ferrisburgh, Panton, Vergennes and Waltham during normal voting hours in each community. Officials also want to remind residents they may stop in to clerk’s offices and vote any time by absentee ballot.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected]
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