Dear members of our six-town community:

We’re asking you to vote in support of the two items on the HUUSD ballot this year. Our board has developed a budget that ensures high-quality education for students and uses your tax dollars responsibly.

The first item on the ballot asks voters to approve a district budget for FY2021 in the amount of $39,772,342, which represents an equalized tax rate of $1.65.

Budget pressures faced by school districts across the state include double-digit health care cost increases, declining student enrollments and looming maintenance needs.

At HUUSD, we struggled with these same pressures. The school board reviewed eight possible budgets, choosing a budget with a 3 percent increase in spending and a 2-cent increase in the equalized tax rate. By rezoning Moretown’s fifth- and sixth-graders to Crossett Brook Middle School (CBMS) and combining all seventh- and eighth-graders at CBMS, we are realizing our long-term goal of bringing more middle-level students together and increasing their social and enrichment opportunities, while reducing our expenses by a net of $700,000-plus annually. To ensure adequate space for these additional students, the district will install a temporary annex at CBMS (the cost of which is already included in the budget).

The second ballot item asks voters to allocate surplus from FY2019 to the district’s maintenance reserve fund. Since the merger, we’ve been able to use this maintenance reserve to cover costs like repairing and repainting Moretown’s exterior ($101,000) and updating the boiler room in Warren ($125,000), costs that would have been challenging prior to the unification. Devoting this surplus of $1,880,109 toward maintenance reserve allows us to be responsible stewards of our campuses.

Our voters have raised important questions and we’ve tried to answer a few of them below:

If I vote no on the budget, will students still be moved to different schools?

When the board approved the budget, it identified a dollar amount for school district spending. That dollar amount is what the electorate will be voting on, not how the money is spent. Board policy and our district’s leadership team guide actual staffing plans and educational programming decisions. As voters, you are deciding whether to authorize the school district to spend $39,772,342 in the next fiscal year.

Once the board chose a budget to present to voters in mid-January, principals and teachers began the work of reconfiguration and families began their own preparations to ensure a smooth transition next fall. We do not expect that the board will ask our staff and families to change direction if the budget fails. Configuration of grades has never been contingent upon the budget passing.

How big will CBMS classes be?

Vermont’s Educational Quality Standards indicate that for grades four through 12, “when taken together, classes shall average less than 25 students per teacher.” Next year, we anticipate middle school class sizes on average to be just under 23 students per core class, with some as low as 21 and some as high as 25 (in the eighth grade). Applied academics classes will range from 16 to 22 students.

Are any schools closing?

No. The changes encompassed in this budget are to reconfigure Moretown Elementary School as a preK-4 school and to rezone the town’s fifth- and sixth-graders to CBMS and reconfigure Harwood Union as a nine through 12 school and rezone all seventh- and eighth-graders to CBMS.

As part of our planning, the board has discussed the possibility of closing Fayston Elementary School at some point. This is still in the exploration phase and the school cannot be closed prior to July 1, 2021, without Fayston voters electing to do so.

Why haven’t my taxes decreased with Act 46?

While your taxes have not decreased, they have been lower than they would have been without Act 46 for several reasons including:

  • The Act 46 Accelerated Merger tax incentive has already saved district residents 24 cents on the homestead tax rate – about $840 in property taxes over the last three years for a $350,000 house.
  • This year’s budget reflects two major changes in the configuration of our schools that would not have been possible before the merger and which will save $700,000 this year and $900,000 annually going forward. That is equivalent to about 3 cents on the homestead tax rate this year and 4 cents per year in perpetuity ($105 this year and $140 after that for a $350,000 house).

What is the impact on teachers?

We heard from over 100 teachers during the last couple months in our planning. A dominant theme of their comments was: We support moving the seventh- and eighth-graders together, we just want to wait another year.

Many teacher concerns revolve around the implementation of the middle school changes and these details couldn’t be fully developed until the board finalized its decision. With the decision made, teachers and staff are working with our principals on a transition plan and addressing the many questions from students, families and staff.

The reconfiguration will include reductions in staff districtwide and this creates a very real sense of uncertainty and concern for our staff and even our students. We hope that through retirements and transfers, we will be able to find positions for as many of our educators as possible. Our principals are working to confirm their staffing plan in the coming weeks so that our staff can confidently make plans for next year.

What happens on Town Meeting Day?

The school district’s budget questions will be voted on by Australian ballot on March 3 between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. We encourage you to vote yes on both questions on Town Meeting Day – or through early voting at your town office. We also welcome you to join us for our annual meeting on Monday, March 2, at 6 p.m. in the Harwood Union library to hear a detailed presentation of our FY2021 budget.

Thank you in advance for your support of our HUUSD schools.

Hollister is the chair and Smith is the vice chair of the Harwood Unified Union School District Board.