Voters in Elmore, Morristown and Stowe have approved a combined budget for their new merged school district by a ratio of more than 3-to-1.
An Australian ballot vote on the $31.1 million merged Lamoille South Unified Union School District budget was held on Tuesday, May 28, in the three towns. The final tally? Of 453 total votes, 351 were in favor and 102 against.
The numbers are modest, but the occasion is significant. The Elmore-Morristown and Stowe school districts lost their fight to avoid a state-mandated merger, and the result is the newly created Lamoille South Unified Union School District. Without the budget approved Tuesday, the district would have been hard-pressed to begin operations July 1.
Battles against the merger, waged in the courts and the Legislature, both proved fruitless. A legal appeal filed by both boards was dismissed, and legislation postponing the merger and others like it for a year died when the state Senate and House couldn’t find common ground.
The Lamoille South district, and the new seven-member school board overseeing it, held its organizational meeting in April, and officially takes over schools in Elmore, Morristown and Stowe on July 1.
The outcome of Tuesday’s vote was no surprise; voters in the Elmore-Morristown and Stowe school districts overwhelmingly approved their school budgets in separate votes in March.
The $31.1 million merged budget basically combined the $14.5 million Elmore-Morristown budget and the $12.7 million Stowe budget approved in March.
Both budgets passed by wide margins then; the Elmore-Morristown vote was 453-289 while Stowe’s was 464-138.
The $31.1 million budget includes some budget items, such as special education and transportation, that used to be in the Lamoille South Supervisory Union budget. With a merged school district, the money needs to be included in the total voted on by the electorate.
“It includes reimbursed expenses historically in the SU budget,” Lamoille South Superintendent Tracy Wrend said. “Now it’s all in one budget. There’s no impact on taxpayers. It’s offset by revenues received by the district, there’s no impact on the local tax rate.”
Turnout for school votes and meetings has been notoriously low in recent years, especially in Elmore-Morristown since their merger, and the same was true for Tuesday’s budget vote.
Only 66 of Elmore’s 746 voters — just under 9 percent — cast ballots.
Turnout was even lower in Morristown: 208 of 3,839 registered voters — a 5.4 percent turnout.
And Stowe’s was even lower than that: Only 179 of 4,239 registered voters, 3.5 percent.
The three towns have a total of 8,824 registered voters, so 453 ballots votes cast on Tuesday made the overall turnout just over 5 percent.
“We’re pleased by the margin of support for the budget,” Wrend said. But, she hopes that holding future annual meetings and budgets votes on or around Town Meeting Day, when voting is on people’s minds, will allow the school district “to engage more voters in sharing their voice on budgets, and other important matters.”
Creating the new district has required several votes, which she thinks was “a lot to ask of the electorate.”
“We’re grateful for the participation we had,” Wrend said.
First annual meeting
A few dozen voters turned out for the first annual meeting of the merged school district, held last Thursday, May 23, at the Stowe High School auditorium. All told, there were 16 Morristown voters at the event, 15 Stowe voters and five from Elmore.
All four articles on the warning easily passed.
“There was very minimal questions or discussion,” said Sara Haskins, Morristown town clerk.
The meeting also served as the legally required informational meeting for the merged budget proposal. The only money item on the agenda for last Thursday was Article 3, which asked voters to approve using just over $1.3 million in surplus funds from the current budget toward the next school year’s budget, to reduce the amount needed from taxpayers.