Second budget vote secures support for West River school district

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TOWNSHEND — The West River Education District's elementary school budget received approval in a 341-211 vote Tuesday after being rejected earlier in June.

"We are very pleased that the voters of the West River Education District supported our students, our communities, and the budget," said Windham Central Superintendent Bill Anton. "We look forward to continuing to build an excellent education system."

On June 10, the elementary school portion of the budget was defeated 221-218. Voters from Brookline, Jamaica, Newfane and Townshend participated in Tuesday's vote. Brookline and Jamaica held their votes indoors while Newfane opted for curbside balloting and Townshend set up voting on the front porch of the Town Hall.

They also approved the high school portion in a 279-245 vote, which also included Windham. Still operating a separate elementary school district within the Windham Central Supervisory Union, Windham only votes on the high school portion of the budget.

Windham Central Finance Director Laurie Garland has called the West River district's budget "artificially split."

"It really needs to be voted yes all the way through or no all the way through," she said at an informational meeting before the first vote, "because the board will come back and look at it as a prek-12 budget."

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After the elementary school budget vote failed, school board members asked administrators to shave about $13,000 from the budget by managing spending. The board did not want to affect programming.

Hoping to inspire higher turnout, local residents received a flyer about the vote. This time around, 113 more people voted, representing an approximately 25 percent increase.

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"We gained a few of those folks who were on the fence and added a whole lot more in the plus column," said Al Claussen, board chairman. "With the confidence of our voters and community we look forward to setting the path for the future of the West River Valley's education system. It's nice to know that it was pretty overwhelming support, a pretty solid victory for the community."

Writing on the flyer, Claussen said the board's aim is to provide stability and direction during uncertain times. He explained that the overall budget — which covers Leland & Gray Union Middle and High School, Jamaica Village School, NewBrook Elementary School and Townshend Elementary School — was reduced four times since administrators first presented a draft. The initial vote was broken into two portions, about $5.79 million for pre-k-6 and more than $6.2 million for high school.

While the ballot says the elementary school budget would result in an increase of more than 9 percent per equalized pupil, Claussen said spending is only proposed to increase less than 2.8 percent. He also pointed to cost drivers that out are out of the board's control such as state-mandated health care, fewer tuition students and declining enrollment.

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"We are planning for the future to stabilize the tax rate and invest smartly in our students and community, join us!" he wrote.

The board is now involved in long-term planning for the district. Meetings on the subject are happening every second and fourth Monday via Zoom videoconferencing.

Claussen said he wanted to express "a huge thank you" to all the voters who came out Tuesday.

"Now heading into the summer season, it's nice to kind of have a foundation built as we celebrate America's independence," he said.

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com and at @CMaysBR on Twitter.


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