As The Valley Reporter goes to press on March 13, the newly reorganized Harwood Unified Union School District Board is meeting to begin the process of reducing the $50.8 million budget that was rejected with 1,439 yes to 2,640 no votes at Town Meeting last week.



The board is hoping to finalize a new budget by April 10 and hold a revote on May 10 or later.

At the March 13 board meeting district finance director Lisa Estler is presenting the board with initial cuts of approximately $1.5 million. At a March 8 board meeting, board members agreed that cutting the budget by 5% was a good starting goal.

Given the budget defeat by the voters, the board moved up its reorganization meeting to Friday, March 8. The group elected Ashley Woods, Warren, as chair and Cindy Senning, Duxbury, was elected vice-chair.

“At the end of this conversation tonight we need answers to two questions, when does the board want to have its second vote and what additional information do you want us to bring for the next meeting,” Superintendent Dr. Mike Leichliter said.

HUUSD finance director Lisa Estler presented slides showing various budget spending levels and the resulting tax hikes. The $50.8 million budget that was defeated carried an 11.94% increase and a final tax rate of $1.58 (after a state discount of nine cents). That increased the equalized tax rate by $0.14 or 9.9% before the Common Level of Appraisal (CLA) was factored in.

The original budget resulted in tax increases of 22% to 31.7% with Duxbury seeing the lowest and Warren the highest increases due to each town’s CLA. Those figures represent a yield (funds from the state) of $9,775 per equalized pupil. An earlier yield of $9,171 for that same $50.8 million budget projected tax increases of 30-40% across the district.


In her presentation, Estler demonstrated the impact of several levels of cuts from $1 million up to $4.5 million:

  • Cutting $1 million would mean tax increases19% to 28.4%
  • Cutting $1.5 million would mean tax increases of 17.4% to 26.7%
  • Cutting $2.7 million would mean 13.9% to 23% increases.
  • Cutting $3.6 million would carry increases of 11.1% to 19.9%
  • Cutting $4.5 million would drop tax increases to 8.6% to 17.2%.

Put another way, those scenarios gradually cut annual spending increases from a high of 9.74% (to support a budget of $49.8 million) to a low of 2.03% (for a budget of $46.3 million). The $50.8 million budget that voters rejected last week represented a 11.94% increase over the 2024 school budget.


Estler told the board that there is now talk at the state level of the Legislature increasing the yield to $10,000 and told them that the higher the yield, the lower the tax rate. Because the yield reflects education spending across the state and because 30 budgets failed and 10 have yet to come before voters, projected reductions in spending could increase the yield, she explained.

Estler then went through the same scenario, using a projected yield of $10,000 per student, showing budget cuts of $1 million to $4.5 million with resulting tax increases ranging from a high of 16.2% to 25.4%, to a low of 8.4% to 17% and year over year spending increases ranging from a high of 9.74% to 3.86%.

During the two-and-a-half hour meeting the board spent time talking about approaches to cutting the budget, discussing whether a specific number should be used to determine reducing the budget, or whether a targeted goal of reducing staff and or programming made more sense.


Moretown board member Ben Clark asked Estler at what point her budget-cutting would require staff reductions.

“Our community is deeply concerned about tax rates that reflect their own values, but also peoples’ livelihoods and making sure that we’re honoring the fact that we’re talking about peoples’ jobs. Can you tell me with which scenario we’re making cuts to live human beings in our district?” he asked.

Clark’s spouse, Jennifer Durren works as a co-principal at Crossett Brook Middle School.

Estler replied that the scenarios calling for cuts of $2.7 to $4.5 million would require staffing cuts.

She reminded the board that the proposed $50.8 million budget included $1 million for the district’s maintenance reserve fund. It also relied on transferring the 2023 budget surplus of $535,000 to the maintenance fund. Voters approved the surplus transfer on the ballot last Tuesday. Estler said she was hopeful that foregoing the $1 million for maintenance and cutting $535,000 from budget would help avoid cutting staff positions. The surplus would still be put into maintenance.

Board member Mike Bishop, Fayston, said he might frame things differently than Clark and asked: “Where are there enrichment classes, per se, that might affect the student experience from kindergarten to high school? Where in this budget can we ask a question like that? Where can we find programs that are not required to be taught?”

Jonathan Young, Warren, noted that all board members are going to have something they want to protect from budget cuts and said he didn’t want spending cuts to be made without full board consideration.


“This is not going to be a simple matter. It’s not going to be fun and it’s not going to be easy. We need to get a sense of what is important to this board to protect and what does the board think can be on the table. If we’re making cuts, what are we cutting? It can’t just be Lisa giving us numbers. This has to be a lot of line items and going over lists,” he said.

The board also considered how to engage the public between now and adopting a budget on April 10. One idea was to hold town-by-town budget hearings with tax implications specific to each town, but board member Danielle Dukette, Fayston, suggested holding one budget meeting at Harwood instead, which Woods favored.

At Young’s suggestion, the board agreed to hold at least one extra board meeting as Estler continues to work on budget scenarios and as public feedback is provided.  In giving Estler some direction, Woods said, “I don’t think people want to know pre-CLA tax implications but they do want to know post-CLA tax implications and the impact on each town and the tax impact based on the value of your home.”

She also asked Estler to provide suggestions for cuts short of cutting teachers and then to show the impact of cutting 10 teachers.


As the meeting concluded, Leichliter said a measured approach is best and he cautioned that deep program cuts would make it harder to hire staff.

“We’re going to end up starting the school year with more vacancies than we have now. From what we’re being told, we have four more years of challenges. If we cut too much too soon, we won’t be able to meet our legal obligations to students. This board doesn’t set tax rates or CLA. All we can control is the increase to our budget. It’s important that we don’t pass a budget that our community can’t absorb and afford but also important to propose a budget that can adequately fund our classrooms and our needs,” he said.

In addition to choosing its new leaders for the next year, the board’s reorganization involved: naming Bobbi Rood, Waitsfield, as finance officer and Dukette as assistant finance officer; Clark as recording secretary and Bishop as Harwood’s representative to the Central Vermont Career Center School Board. School administrators were approved to serve as truant officers. The board also designated The Valley Reporter and the Barre-Montpelier Times Argus as newspapers of record. The board said it would consider a request to add the Waterbury Roundabout online newspaper to that list at an upcoming meeting.