$5.5 million school bond defeated in OVUUSD

BRANDON — Residents of the Otter Valley Unified Union School District on Election Day narrowly defeated a $5.5 million school bond to improve school security and operations in three of the district’s buildings. The next day school board members gathered to discuss next steps but came to no firm conclusions.
The bond, which failed by 86 votes, 1,827-1,913, would have provided funding for various projects at Lothrop and Neshobe elementary schools and the Otter Valley Union middle and high school. The to-do-list includes walkways connecting various buildings, teaching spaces and a gymnasium at Neshobe in Brandon, and a balcony restoration at Lothrop, among other things.
At a Nov. 7 meeting, many school board members were optimistic after such a close vote. They discussed what steps should be taken moving forward, with some wondering if the same size bond offering could be refloated after more voter education and others saying the board needs to carefully listen to the voters.
More discussion on next steps is expected at an OVUUSD board meeting this Wednesday, Nov. 14, at 6 p.m., at theOtter Creek Academy at Leicester, otherwise known as Leicester Central School.
At this past Wednesday’s meeting, board member Barry Varian said that he felt that 1,827 community members sent a clear message that they thought this was the right thing to do for these schools and that the board should work toward making this happen in the future.
Board member Emily Nelson said she felt the “no” votes were just as important as the “yes” votes and more should be done to connect with the community and work together to move forward.
The board members agreed that more communication with the community needs to happen and that they will need feedback from the community about the proposed projects before they can decide the next steps. Lisa Kenyon, a board member, suggested that a social media broadcast, such as on Facebook Live, could help reach the community.
“I got the sense that some of the people would vote no to anything that raised their taxes at all,” Varian said. “Nothing we do is going to change those votes.”
Board Chair Bonnie Bourne said more details are needed when discussing these projects. Bourne said that when the board tells people in the community that they are building a high school gym at an elementary because it is more cost efficient, they need to have the numbers to show that. Board members should also be able to communicate what uses that gym could have for the community, she added.
“The purpose of schools are not to be the heart of the community,” Bourne said. “But to educate children to the best of their abilities at a cost the community can afford.”
The bond proposal had a direct correlation to the threat of a school shooting at Fair Haven Union High School in February last year, and in light of the Parkland, Fla., school shooting in which 17 students and a teacher were killed and 17 wounded. In response to those two incidents, the governor and legislature started a grant process to improve school security throughout the state. The grant was focused on access to buildings and mass notification systems. Last spring, Vermont State Police conducted safety audits at schools within the OVUU at the school administration’s request.
OVUU applied for and received awards for all buildings in the system. OVUU will receive a total of $148,000, of which $49,000 is for Leicester, Sudbury, and Whiting. The awards for the school buildings in Leicester, Sudbury, and Whiting were enough to cover their access and notification needs without additional bond funds.
School board members, however, reviewed proposals and determined that more than the amount of the grant would be needed for Lothrop Elementary, Neshobe and the middle and high school facility.
RNESU Superintendent Jeanne Collins says that she was disappointed in the result of the vote but that she appreciated how close the vote was and the feedback they received from the community.
“It was evident there was support,” Collins said. “The timing just didn’t work for many in the community.”
Board members last Wednesday did not make any decisions on what those next steps would be but the discussion will continue at future meetings.

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