The Harwood Unified Union School District (HUUSD) Board continues to ask the public to weigh in on options for a bond that will come before voters in November 2024. On Tuesday, December 5, the board hosted a public forum at Warren Elementary School – the third in a series that will wrap up in January.
If passed, the bond will fund repairs, renovations, and other improvements to Harwood Union High School (HUHS). A list of potential projects drafted by the HUUSD Board totals about $71 million. Most of the items on the draft list were carried over from a 2021 bond, which was voted down by taxpayers.
At Tuesday’s meeting, the HUUSD Board stressed that the bulk of these projects are crucial infrastructure work – updates and repairs to systems that are failing. These include electrical and plumbing systems, roofing, windows, lighting, repairs to the school’s outdoor track and others totaling $64 million. Ray Daigle, HUUSD director of facilities and operations, said that some of these systems are simply not functioning properly.
Jacob Pitman, who has worked for the school district as a coach for track and cross-country teams, said that when he graduated from HUHS a decade ago, “students were saying ‘wow this school is in rough shape.’ It was creating a general negative culture to some degree.”
“A lot of students still feel that way about the school,” he said, “it’s definitely time for improvements.”
Of the entirety of potential projects on the board’s draft list, Superintendent Michael Leichliter emphasized that “we’re not selling a bond – we’re offering options. It’s not a sales pitch.”
HUUSD board member Ashley Woods said that the board is engaged in a process of collecting input about what to include in the bond over the next four months – primarily through a series of public meetings and a survey that community members can fill out online. She said that the board is adding an additional online meeting for those who cannot attend these evening forums in person.
HUHS senior Will Burks said that he and several other student representatives on the HUUSD Board are planning to distribute the board’s survey among the student body. He said they will also be producing a video that will feature interviews with students concerning the bond and what they think needs improvement at the school. “That was definitely something missing from the  bond – the student voice,” he said.
Community members raised several questions about opportunities for career-focused learning at HUHS – offerings for students interested in the trades, and classes akin to home economics. These questions gestured to a category of improvements that the board calls ‘Educational Alignment’ – including a center for trade and technical education, a STEM learning center, a demonstration kitchen, and other spaces based at HUHS. These potential projects are a small slice of the overall draft list, totaling about $3 million.
NOT JUST ONE PATH
HUHS co-principal Laurie Greenberg said that these programs and spaces are important because for students, “there’s not just one path.”
Community members also asked for information about property tax increases that will come with the bond. HUUSD director of finance and operations Lisa Estler said that tax implications are complex, as the state is changing how tax dollars are allocated to school districts beginning in 2025, via Act 127. To make estimates regarding the bond, she said that the district is awaiting figures from the Vermont Agency of Education, which will then feed into tax commissioners’ estimates of property taxes.
Estler said that with the new funding formula, homeowners in the district would be eligible for a tax rate cap of 5% if the district does not increase spending per student more than 10% from year to year. She said that she will share more information when it becomes available.
The next public meeting about the bond will be held on December 14 at 6 p.m. in the Crossett Brook Middle School cafeteria.
Here is the QR code for the board’s online survey.