After months of acrimony with district officials, parents and taxpayers unhappy with proposed changes went to the polls and defeated the proposed Harwood school budget by almost 800 votes.
By a vote of 3,048 to 2,254, voters across Duxbury, Fayston, Moretown, Warren, Waitsfield and Waterbury defeated a proposed budget of $39,427,342, which is $826,480 — or 3 percent — higher than the current budget of $38,600,862.
Because Harwood is a unified school district, ballots are commingled, meaning it is impossible to know how residents in each town voted. However, for several months, a number of residents from Fayston and Moretown have come to the school board meetings to express their opposition to changes proposed by the board.
Voters did approve the transfer of a $1.8 million surplus to a maintenance reserve fund, 2,957 to 2213.
In races for the school board:
• In Moretown, Lisa Mason defeated W. Chris Noyes, 472 to 169. Mason will replace outgoing representative Gabriel Gilman, who did not seek re-election. Mason has been vocal in her opposition to the proposed reconfiguration of Moretown Elementary from a K-6 school to a K-4 school, and the merger of all seventh- and eighth-graders at Crossett Brook Middle School.
• In Waterbury, Kelley Hackett defeated Michael Frank, 961 to 817, replacing outgoing board member Maureen McCracken. In recent months, Frank was a familiar face at Harwood board meetings, where he bucked the trend of most members of the public when he expressed support for the changes at Crossett Brook and Moretown.
• In Waitsfield, incumbent Christine Sullivan — who was the lone name on the ballot — survived a strong write-in campaign from challenger Russ Bennett by a vote of 439 to 290.
The Waterbury Record will post budget results on its website when they become available.
The votes follow five months of heated school board meetings. In that time, board members voted in November to plan to make a plan to reorganize the district, which includes closing Fayston Elementary, moving all seventh- and eighth-graders to Crossett Brook Middle School and changing Moretown Elementary from a K-6 school to a K-4 school. The plan to make a plan did not include an implementation date, and under the articles of agreement that governed the district merger, the board cannot unilaterally close a school until 2021 without voter approval in the town where the school is located.
In December, the board voted against a plan to move the seventh- and eighth-graders to Crossett Brook in fall 2020, but in January, after receiving a legal opinion giving them the go-ahead, board members approved a proposed budget that called for the changes to Moretown Elementary and the middle school configuration, effective this fall.
The move led to numerous board meetings with large crowds, with many people expressing their opposition to the changes. The climate deteriorated further when the board refused to allow a vote on a pair of petitioned articles that sought to give the electorate a greater say in school closure and reconfiguration. A federal court upheld the board’s decision.
Harwood voters have until June 30 to approve a budget; if there is no budget in place on July 1, state law allows the district to borrow as much as 87 percent of the current budget, which would amount to a budget cut of $5 million.
Previously, board chair Caitlin Hollister indicated that, even if the budget failed, the board will go forward with its plans for Moretown Elementary and Crossett Brook Middle School.
It is unclear at this time how, if at all, the budget defeat will affect plans to go out for a $30 million bond in early June.