Harwood Unified Union School District (HUUSD) Board members tabled a motion to accept the recommendation to bring a $36 million bond to voters, effectively delaying a planned June 2019 vote.
The board took that action on March 4 after holding its annual meeting at the Harwood Union library. After the annual meeting, the board convened with board members and community members hearing presentation from the board’s executive facilities committee and TruexCullins architect David Epstein.
The presentation called for the board to approve Option 2, which envisioned sending all middle-schoolers to Crossett Brook Middle School next year and proceeding with Priority 1 and 2 renovations at the high school. Priority 1 items are code and deferred maintenance items. Priority 2 items are deferred maintenance and further enhancements.
The price for Option 2 as presented is $36 million. The estimated bond amount for keeping seventh- and eighth-grade students at Harwood Union was $39 million. At the prior meeting, the board was divided on whether or not to move the seventh- and eighth-graders with some board members asking if that decision could be separated from the Harwood bond decision.
After hearing the presentation, board and community members offered their opinions on the bond and the future of the middle school.
Skip Rodgers, a Moretown resident, asked for the cost of busing if the district was to vote for Option 2, where all seventh- and eighth-grade students would be housed at CBMS. Board chair Christine Sullivan said that would need a separate cost analysis.
Brian Fleisher, Waitsfield, brought up the Act 46 articles of agreement about school closing and said the board needs to follow the article of agreement about closing a school following a merger. The articles of agreement for Act 46 call for no school closures for four years without the consent of the town/school in question. Fleisher brought up pursuing a lawsuit if it comes to that.
Peter Langella, Moretown, said that that board is setting itself up for failure by pushing for a merged middle school when the focus should be on the Harwood bond and renovation. Langella challenged the board, asking how many times the middle school proposal had to be voted down.
Moretown resident Valerie Edwards voiced concern that the vote was coming prematurely for the middle school merging.
"We want to be here for our schools, but we don't want to see this willy-nilly $31 million bond come to us without very clear planning for our future," Edwards said.
Warren resident Whitney Phillips said the middle school option and the bond should be separate. He said kids would be isolated in their age group of five through eight in middle school rather than the current seven through 12 at Harwood, which Phillips passed through himself, noting that his older brothers and friends helped with that transition.
Jim Casey, Moretown, said that this discussion about what happens when the state property tax incentives run out began three years ago.
"Everyone trusts the educators until they hear something that they don't like. In the meantime we have tax rates that are still going up. We want to ask for a $40 million bond and we have no savings to show for it. Nothing. What's going to be the pain point that is acceptable to this board for the tax rates for the local towns?” Casey asked.
Fayston HUUSD representative Theresa Membrino expressed her concerns with the future of Waterbury, whose elementary school is already overcrowded and which will overflow to Crossett Brook Middle School. She questioned how moving all seventh- and eighth-graders there would work given Waterbury’s growth. She also brought up having a school in The Valley that would become a dedicated middle school to utilize the existing assets.
Fayston HUUSD representative Jill Ellis took issue with being presented with the same information this week that the board had rejected on several prior occasions.
"I think if we just try to put it forward again and again and we're just seeing the same information, that's insanity. We are not going to change our minds if we're looking at the same information. I feel uncomfortable taking a vote on something I don't have to implement. There will be four new people at this table shortly who are going to have to be a part of that heavy lift," she said.
Maureen McCracken moved to table the discussion until the next meeting to move forward with the understanding that a June vote would not happen.
Board members Caitlin Hollister (vice chair), Waterbury; Alex Thomsen, Waterbury; Rosemarie White, Warren; Garett MacCurtain, Duxbury; and board chair Christine Sullivan voted against McCracken’s motion. Gabe Gilman, Moretown; Torrey Smith, Duxbury; Alycia Biondo, Warren; Jill Ellis, Fayston; Theresa Membrino, Fayston; Melissa Phillips, Waterbury; Linda Hazard, Moretown; and McCracken voted in favor of tabling the motion.