GUILFORD -- Guilford taxpayers voted by a margin of 130 to 91 to send next year's seventh and eighth graders to the Brattleboro Area Middle School, marking a new chapter in the history of the Guilford Central School.
Ninety minutes of public discussion from the floor of Town Meeting made it clear that many people had mixed feelings about whether to send the middle-schoolers to Brattleboro and end a tradition of educating them in a smaller, community oriented setting.
The Guilford School Board spent many hours over the past year researching and discussing the pros and cons of the move as well as negotiating with the Windham Southeast Supervisory Union over a four-year reduced price contract to send Guilford students to Brattleboro.
School Board member Penny Lussier noted that although the decision to recommend the move to BAMS was a unanimous board decision, it was not made purely for economic reasons. If students remained in Guilford the budget would increase by 6.9 percent and sending them to BAMS would have the budget increase by 3.2 percent. She cited increased options for students as one of the more important reasons to support the move.
Kelly Young, a parent of students in grades 3 and 6 spoke for many people in the audience when she said she did not support the move. She worried that parents would have a smaller voice in decision making with a move to Brattleboro.
Carol Jensen also echoed a number of opinions when she said that, "I have flip-flopped and am not sure how I will vote." She spoke about the issue of social diversity and the welcoming attitude of racial differences in the Guilford school. Jensen also expressed an often-heard concern that the social issues in Brattleboro may be a bad influence for Guilford seventh and eighth graders.
Rebecca Potter, who graduated from the Guilford School four years ago, said that BAMS provides a lot of opportunity. She balanced some of the "bad influence" rhetoric about Brattleboro saying, "Big bad Guilford also exists. Bad stuff happens no matter where you are."
Two other graduates of the Guilford school had an opportunity to present a different view in support of keeping students in Guilford. Maia Fulton-Black noted that, "Community involvement is more beneficial than a year of German."
Tilden Remerleitch, another Guilford graduate said in an emotional plea, "I wouldn't be who I am now if I had moved to BAMS."
When asked what he thought about the vote to move the students to BAMS, Guilford Central School Principal John Gagnon said, "We have a special program. We have fine teachers. I support my School Board."
In other school business voters approved a school budget of $2,902,630, an increase of $272,948 or 10 percent over last year's budget. Fund transfers of $11,495 and $83,505 were also approved for the purpose of defraying taxes.
Vita Pisciotta voiced opposition to the budget citing too many paraprofessionals on the staff. She said, "The people are hurting." She also characterized some of the budget as "gravy and padding" but in the end the overwhelming majority of voters did not agree with her.
Don McLean proposed to add $17,000 to the school budget to offset cuts to the music program. A number of people spoke in favor of his amendment, but it was defeated by a vote of 70 to 62.
The School Board was asked to research the issue of asbestos removal at the school at last year's Town Meeting and they presented their findings. They recommended spending up to $50,000 for asbestos abatement. According to School Board member Tara Henry, the estimate for the work based on competitive bidding is $34,855, but there may be added costs as the project moves forward. The $50,000 expenditure was approved with a few voices of dissent.
The town portion of the meeting was less contentious as voters approved a highway budget of $801,900, an increase of $33,040 or 4 percent over last year, and a general fund budget of $712,285, an increase of $207,929, or 41 percent over last year, with minimal debate and discussion. Part of the reason for the large increase in the general fund budget is because new accounting procedures now include the Fire Department budget.
Highway commissioner Dan Zumbruski and his crew were commended for the service they have provided to Guilford. It was noted that the Guilford Center Road needs $12,500 for new guard rails and that there is more FEMA work to be done. Zumbruski said that if mud season is not too bad the budget should be OK for the rest of the year.
Selectboard member Anne Rider explained that the town has changed the way it does budget reporting in an effort to make the budget process more transparent. There has been a change from having an assistant town treasurer to creating a position of bookkeeper in order to provide more checks and balances and financial oversight.
Peter Hetzel has been hired as the new bookkeeper and that means that town clerk Penny Marine can cut back on the hours she has devoted to treasurer work.
A reserve fund was approved to be used for any surplus from the general fund. Rider said, "It is a good cushion for us to have." Voters also approved $1,000 for efficient management of invasive species. There was a lengthy discussion over this issue and John Kristensen cited a number of examples of how invasive species are making their mark in Guilford.
The Guilford Volunteer Fire Department's budget of $201,726 was approved by unanimous voice vote. Fire Chief Jared Bristol said that, "Trim is rotting off the building because it was not sealed properly. We have to deal with that and then build up a fund for future painting and maintenance of the building and trucks."
Seventeen human service organizations received $24,230 in yearly allotments without discussion. The budget of $27,000 for the Guilford Free Library also easily passed.
The number of Justices of the Peace was increased from nine to 10 by a floor vote. There were also offices filled by voice vote from the floor that include: Todd Mandell, Trustee of Public Funds; Merton Garland and David Franklin, Grand Jurors; Judith Serkin, Library Trustee; Robert Stack and David Franklin, Trustees of the Warren Wilder Fund; Robert Stack, Cemetery Commissioner.
Lister Lisa Barry noted the recent death of Frank Rafferty who had been a lister for the town for the past 31 years. Because of the timing of his death it was too late for someone to run for this office so the selectboard will appoint someone.
One of the more welcome announcements of the day came from Friends of Algiers Village board member Fred Humphrey who informed voters that a contract has been signed with someone who will be running the Guilford County store. He said the store could be open sometime in May.
Results of the town's Australian ballot voting included a new school board member, Steve Redmond, who was the sole candidate for a three-year seat and received 221 votes.
Incumbent Carole Mills won 222 votes for a one-year term to retain her seat on the school board. There were no listed candidates for a second one-year term on the board, but incumbent Tara Henry received the most write-in votes with 26.
Selectboard member Anne Rider was unopposed and received 234 votes.
Richard Davis is a registered nurse and executive director of Vermont Citizens Campaign for Health. He writes from Guilford and welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reformer staff writer Mike Faher contributed to this report.