The Harwood Unified Union School District (HUUSD) Board voted on September 15 to warn a $59.5 million bond in a single question for voters on November 2. The board approved warning a bond not to exceed $59,545,312 with Kristen Rodgers, Moretown, voting against and Scott Culver, Waterbury, absent. Theresa Membrino, Fayston, said she did not support the addition of a new track being included in the bond, but still voted in support of the bond. Board chair Torrey Smith proposed rounding the bond up to $60 million, but board members dissented and carried a motion to warn the exact proposed amount. The bond will be the sole item on the ballot in November.
The proposed bond will cover compliance and repairs to the Harwood building ($21,934,081), efficiencies and improvements ($14,343,440), educational alignment ($17,235,124) and expansion of Crossett Brook Middle School to accommodate moving Harwood’s seventh- and eighth-grade students to the building ($6,032,666). Compliance and repairs include updates to the HVAC system, plumbing, internet, electric, floors, security/safety, stormwater management, parking lots, vehicle storage and updates to the science labs. Efficiencies and improvements include replacing windows, adding insulation, replacing lighting, adding dehumidifying, moving Harwood Community Learning Center to Harwood’s main building and moving the central office to Harwood. Educational alignments include adding a second gym and a new track to Harwood, adding learning hubs and a ninth-grade team space and adding special education support spaces and community spaces. The additions to Crossett Brook Middle School add space and parking for an additional 100 students and 15 staff. A rough estimate projects moving the students would save approximately $600,000-700,000/year.
“I was originally skeptical about the gym, but I do recognize there’s a high need for that,” Jonathan Clough, Warren, said. “Putting it all together is the cleanest approach and would be a huge improvement to this campus and our set of schools.”
“It (the bond) will bring more people into our town and attract new educators,” Marlena Fishman, Waterbury, added. “I think it’s really exciting.”
Lisa Mason, Moretown, again asked whether solar panels could be integrated into the plans for the Harwood building. Board leaders will meet with Aegis Renewable Energy of Waitsfield to discuss the possibilities for solar on the building.
“I support the bond but I don’t support including a new gym or track,” said Kristen Rodgers, who voted against the bond.
The board will be looking at a variety of funding opportunities to finance the bond. A public informational meeting about the bond will be held at Harwood Union at 6 p.m. on October 27. An informational video about the bond will be made available in October.
The bond will increase property taxes for homeowners with a $350,000 home by $611 a year for 20 years. In a letter Smith shared about the effects of the bond on income-sensitized homeowners, she wrote, “In speaking with Lisa Pinkus of the Vermont Department of Taxes, she explained that for most income-sensitized taxpayers, an increase in the education tax rate (as from a bond) also increases the credit they receive towards their property taxes. Generally, the increased credit on their income taxes will cover the increase in property taxes. According to Ms. Pinkus, for most income-sensitized taxpayers -- assuming their income doesn’t change -- the bond will not create an added tax burden on their households.” The letter says approximately 2/3 of district taxpayers are income-sensitized. Smith referenced Vermont’s online property tax calculator available at tax.vermont.gov to determine the impact on individual’s taxes.
Also discussed at the board’s September 15 meeting was the timeline for the search for the new superintendent to replace Brigid Nease next school year. The board decided to extend the application period for new candidates, beginning the search in early December. Kelley Hackett, Waterbury, Kristen Rodgers, Moretown, and Cindy Senning, Duxbury, were approved as members of the ad hoc committee that will draft the superintendent job description and contract.
Vice chair Tim Jones gave an update on the PCB testing at the Harwood building. He said the state is working on creating guidance for the threshold of air quality and he recommended waiting to do sampling until that guidance had been issued. There is $200,000 included in the bond for PCB testing. Jones said we should know in the next few weeks whether that will cover the testing needed.