Key budget vote Monday night for new school district

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WESTMINSTER — Residents from Westminster, Grafton and Athens will vote Monday night on the inaugural $6.9 million budget to support elementary schools, the first budget under the Act 46 forced school merger.

The special meeting of the new Windham Northeast Union Elementary School District will start at 6 p.m. Monday night at Bellows Falls Union High School. The vote is necessary to pay the bills of the two elementary schools in the new district, according to Jack Bryar of Grafton, the provisional chairman of the new school district.

"We need you to vote. This is literally a vote on public education," he said.

Bryar said Friday afternoon that when the budgets were passed at Town Meeting, there were a total of four "no" votes scattered in the three different towns. Grafton, he said, passed its school budget unanimously. He said there was one "no" vote in Athens and three "no" votes in Westminster.

"Do I sound a little annoyed?" he said, continuing to criticize the state Agency of Education over the Act 46 merger problems.

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While the three small towns overwhelmingly supported their schools in March, he said he hopes that level of support continues on Monday night. The vote approving the budget, along with other housekeeping articles contained on the special school district warning, is necessary so that tax rates can eventually be set and the school district can pay its bills. He said the school district was able to meet its July 5 payroll with funds on hand. But without the approval on Monday night the school district won't have the legal authority it usually has enjoyed to borrow money in anticipation of taxes. Bryar said because of all the Act 46 complications, there will probably need to be two tax bills sent out to the three towns once the state calculates the final school tax portion. Under the new financial organization, all the residents of Grafton, Athens and Westminster, share the costs of paying for the Grafton-Athens School and the Westminster Central School.

Grafton school taxes are expected to go up about 20 percent, Bryar said, while Athens will see a modest increase and Westminster will see little or no change.

"I have urged people to show up. I have urged people to confirm their support for education," said Bryar.

The school districts of Westminster, Athens and Grafton are three of the 30 school districts in the state that are legally fighting Act 46. But so far, the legal challenge has not had any success, although the so-called "Athens" case is now headed for a Vermont Supreme Court appeal, Bryar said.

In addition to approving the consolidated $6.9 million budget, which is made up of previously approved budgets from the three towns, voters will have to confirm the election of the members of the new district's transitional board: Bryar, and Jessa Westclark, both of Grafton, Cherl Charles and Melissa Carlstrom, both of Westminster, and Lyn Morgan and Charles Chase, both of Athens. The meeting will also authorize the district to borrow funds as needed, in anticipation of state aid to education.

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com or at 802 556-2147.


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