The Harwood Union school district still doesn’t have a budget for the 2020-21 school year, and it likely won’t for a while.
Voters rejected the $39 million budget proposal on Town Meeting Day, so the school board needs to come up with a new proposal.
Since then, the world has changed dramatically.
Last week, school board chair Caitlin Hollister said the soonest the board could meet would be April 8, with a possible budget vote on April 28.
Now, that schedule for the vote looks impossible.
The Legislature is working on a bill to make public meetings legal over electronic space — right now all public meetings must be based in a physical location — but that’s just one hurdle the school board faces in moving a budget forward.
Hollister’s unsure when school administrators will have the time to update Harwood’s budget options — three leftovers from half a dozen budget possibilities floated before Town Meeting Day — or if they’ll even fit the economic landscape once Harwood residents are ready to vote on a budget.
According to state law, the school district can operate on 87 percent of the previous year’s budget if it misses the deadline for passing a new one. The new budget year starts July 1.
“An April vote, at this point, is highly unlikely,” Hollister said. The biggest hurdle is getting the board together to pick a budget to vote on, she said.
“We want to make our meetings accessible to our public while also protecting everyone's health right now,” she said.
She said she hopes state legislators will free up options to meet and vote on issues by the end of the week.
“We’re not alone in needing to hold a budget vote. I’ve been following South Burlington’s process as well,” Hollister said. (For information on the South Burlington school budget: otherpapersbvt.com.)
Another priority is filling a vacant Waterbury seat on the school board. James Grace of Waterbury resigned last week for mental health reasons after a district resident, commenting at a school board meeting, likened the board to rapists.
“The earliest we would meet would be April 8. And if we can make that work, I would like to,” Hollister said.
When the board does resume meetings, she said the topics would be pared down to those essentials, but it will be important to consider all the new elements at play. The economic landscape of the district changed overnight because of the coronavirus crisis, and Hollister said it’s be important that the new budget reflect that.
“I’m eager to hear the board discussion about whether we feel comfortable warning a budget that is higher, the same or lower than what we presented on March 3. And I think there will be a lot of compelling arguments for many different versions,” Hollister said.
“Our school leaders, our teachers, our staff are doing enormous work. And so we want to continue to support them, to continue to support families that rely on our district, and then also make a reasonable ask of our taxpayers, who are now facing a very different financial reality.”