Leland & Gray budget fails a second time


TOWNSHEND -- One vote.

That was the margin of defeat for the Leland & Gray Union Middle and High School budget on Wednesday as residents in five member towns voted 300-299 to reject the fiscal year 2015 spending plan a second time.

It was unclear Wednesday night whether a recount could be triggered to review the results. But Leland & Gray School Board Chairwoman Emily Long wasn't thinking about that, instead pledging to cut the proposed budget and try again.

The board meets at 7 p.m. Tuesday to discuss the matter.

"We're going to have to address the issues that are in front of us," Long said. "Now, we have to make a decision about what budget we can propose that meets the needs of the voters and the needs of the students."

The first Australian Ballot vote on the regional school's nearly $7 million budget -- which is up 2.8 percent from the current year -- happened on Feb. 5 amid a snowstorm. The cumulative tally in the five towns was 132 against the spending plan and 122 in favor of it.

A majority of voters in Jamaica, Newfane and Windham supported the budget, while a majority in Brookline and Townshend rejected it.

Turnout was just 7 percent of the towns' total number of registered voters.

Board members subsequently heard and speculated on multiple reasons for the school's first budget rejection in more than a decade. Some possibilities included proposed tax hikes, a planned $32,500 investment in food-service upgrades and even the school's sometimes-rocky relationship with its host town of Townshend.

But just as Leland & Gray board members were preparing to cut the spending plan for a second vote, they received a petition signed by nearly 200 residents calling for reconsideration of the same budget. Officials said they were legally obligated to heed that request.

The revote happened on Wednesday. Officials had pushed for more residents to show up this time, and they did -- the 599 votes cast represented the highest turnout ever for an Australian Ballot on the Leland & Gray budget.

"The goal was to have a high turnout, and we got that," Long said. "I'm really pleased about that."

School officials cannot be pleased, however, about the result. It's the cumulative total that matters, but the budget actually received majority approval in four of the five towns:

-- Brookline: 41 yes, 40 no.

-- Jamaica: 47 yes, 22 no.

-- Newfane: 129 yes, 97 no.

-- Townshend: 41 yes, 127 no.

-- Windham: 41 yes, 14 no.

The Leland & Gray board is scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the school. Long said the budget vote will be first on the agenda.

She recalled that administrators from the school and from Windham Central Supervisory Union had been instructed to begin cutting the fiscal 2015 spending plan after the initial vote.

"Our board had already been prepared to respond to the defeated budget in February. I'm certain that our board will go back and do the same thing," she said. "That process of reducing the budget was suspended because we received the (reconsideration) petition."

Officials have said statutes provide for a shorter turnaround time for the third vote on the school budget. But Long said board members also will "make sure that we are informing our voters appropriately" about the revised plan.

"Our focus is on making sure that we get a budget that passes to the satisfaction of a majority of our voters," she said.

Mike Faher can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.


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