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Top 10 stories from 2018: School budgets pass as jobs and students are lost

Despite cuts in jobs and some increases in taxes, local residents supported all local school budgets and one major bond in March. But one school vote in November left a few hard feelings in its wake.
Addison Central School District residents backed by 1,674-523 a $36,762,479 spending plan for the 2018-2019 school year. It called for a 1.32-percent spending decrease and cut the equivalent of 20 full-time jobs, but also added a teacher at Middlebury’s Mary Hogan Elementary School, a rare facility not losing students.
By the end of the year the ACSD board’s facilities committee was looking to the future. The committee is seeking public input on a facilities master plan that district officials said is not focused on closing schools, a step that would require a separate process and voter approval. Rather, officials said they sought a way to look “more holistically” at the district’s assets to plan for its needs.
Mount Abraham Unified School District voters backed a 1 percent increase in spending to $24,746,279. The plan they approved called for a net reduction equaling 16 full-time jobs and a modest tax increase.
District voters did not smile upon a third bond proposal to renovate Mount Abraham Union High School and debate continued on its future; that situation became a major news item on its own (see story No. 4).
Addison Northwest School District residents in March backed, 952-551, a $21.1 million budget plan that cut $10,000 from previous spending, eliminated seven jobs, and reduced the hours of two principals and an assistant principal. Voting came a year after residents approved a budget that cut the equivalent of 20 jobs.
Voters expected the spending plan to increase tax rates by about 8 cents a year after rates dropped by more than that in Addison, Ferrisburgh and Waltham and were stable in Vergennes and Panton. But the final numbers proved to be kinder.
ANWSD residents also backed, 997-515, a $7.63 million bond to pay for energy-efficiency, security, safety and kitchen improvements to the four district schools. Work included major upgrades to the struggling Vergennes Union High School and Elementary School heating and ventilation systems. Due to energy savings and final payments on the 2001 bond than funded VUHS expansion and renovation, officials said the bond would not increase taxes.
Otter Valley Unified Union School District voters favored a $19,243,835 spending plan by 772-356. The plan came in $530,000 lower than the previous years and restructured elementary schools in Leicester (to kindergarten through 4th-grade), Sudbury (5th- and 6th-grade) and Whiting (pre-K). That change removed $210,000 and three jobs from the budget, and another 2.5 teaching jobs and one office position were cut elsewhere.
In November commingled balloting residents of Castleton, Benson, Hubbardston, West Haven, Fair Haven and Orwell voted, 2,216-1,615, that Orwell should join the Slate Valley Modified Unified Union School District. The Vermont Board of Education and a majority of the Orwell School Board favored the move.
But Orwell residents had three times voted against joining the district, voicing concerns that included their representatives on the Slate Valley board could be outvoted. One family reportedly sent mailers to residents of other towns urging them to vote no. Talk arose of a legal challenge to Vermont’s Act 48, which allowed the vote that dragged Orwell into the cost-saving district.

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