The message from voters could not have been clearer this week regarding a proposed $59.5 million bond for upgrading and remodeling two of the schools in the Harwood Unified Union School District.
The proposal, aimed at bringing Harwood Union up to code, increasing efficiencies, modernizing learning and expanding Crossett Brook Middle School to accommodate all district middle schoolers, was voted down 2,599 to 975. A total of 3,575 ballots were cast, representing 32% of registered voters in the six towns in the district.
Individual voter turnout rates ranged from 37.5% in Waitsfield to 37% in Duxbury, 33.5% in Moretown, 32. 4% in Fayston, 31.3% in Warren and 27.8% in Waterbury. Those numbers are higher than the number of voters who participate in Town Meeting each year, and it’s significant that voters turned out at these levels for a single-issue election.
There were no other ballot measures on Election Day – just this one.
The fact that the bond was defeated by such a large margin – 73-27% – is telling. The margin shows that the proposal was either misunderstood by voters, or poorly communicated to the public by the board, or simply not the right proposal.
Maybe the writing was on the wall. The board worked hard at community outreach, holding multiple forums for people to learn about and ask questions about the bond. Most of these were attended by a handful of people. Earlier this fall, a board survey included a section where people could leave general comments.
In those comments as well as those on social media and community bulletin boards, voters specifically objected to moving all middle schoolers to Crossett Brook and adding another gym at Harwood. They repeatedly asked the board to break the bond down into needs and wants. The writing was on the wall – or all least on social media – which is too bad.
The work still needs to be done. If done piecemeal, it means the school will be under construction for a decade and taxpayers will see elevated property tax rates for a least that long because the repairs paid for via budgeting will increase the district’s per pupil costs to the point where state penalties for overspending are assessed.