by Tyler Molleur, Commmuity Journalist
STANNARD – A cloudy March 7 brought just over 20 voters to the Stannard Town Hall, to gather for the first time in three years on the first floor of the building to discuss the operations of the municipality and the schools.
COVID-19 guidance steered the meeting to the parking lot in 2021 and 2022, with both meetings being pushed forward to May, to allow for such an opportunity under a warmer sun.
This day, however, the warmth could be felt in the lively discussion among neighbors and the coffee brewing just as Moderator Tom Gilbert gavelled the assembly in for 2023.
As the municipal warning came before the voters, Gilbert encouraged new residents to step up to the plate and serve in public offices.
“This small town is built on the lifeblood of volunteerism and community service,” he said. He encouraged anyone willing to serve in a position to nominate themselves.
Katy Knuth volunteered for two positions, one as auditor, the other as grand juror and was unanimously elected to both. Joseph Gresser, who was a long-standing auditor prior to Knuth’s election, offered to vacate the seat if someone else was interested in serving.
The town’s municipal budget passed by floor vote at a total of $262,491.43, a slight decrease from the $263,861.42 requested last year.
Selectperson Ben Hewitt briefed those in attendance on work that has been done on grants to improve trout habitat and flood resilience at two locations in town that will coincide with bridge replacement. The first is on the Hutchins Farm Road, which is anticipated to be completed in fall 2023, with road closures in effect at that time.
The other is a larger bridge replacement project at the intersection of Stannard Mountain Road and Lazy Mill Road, which will require a temporary bridge to be constructed and a long-term projection on timeline. When completed, that bridge will remain a one-way bridge.
A passing school budget for the Orleans Southwest Union Elementary District (348-116) made it through Australian ballot with approximately 75 percent of voters in favor. The town school district budget also passed with a unanimous vote from the floor.
The $272,048 Stannard budget for students in grades 7 to 12 brought a slight decrease to the homestead tax rate. The $7,415,157 OSUED budget brought a slight increase to Stannard’s share of the homestead tax rate, with a net decrease in the homestead tax by two cents when both budgets were combined and pro-rated.
The other topic of discussion brought up by the town school board were drafts of bills S.56 and H.258, which in review of the proposed legislation by the board, had the potential to limit options for secondary school students and their families to have choice in where to attend school for grades 7 to 12 to as few as three schools.
“Personally, I don’t feel like it’s my responsibility to tell you where to send your kids to school,” said Diane Janukajtis of the Stannard School Board. Janukajtis said what confounded the situation further is the “seventh and eighth grade hole”, which means that schools that do not have a middle-level would not be good options to designate on the limited list of schools, as Stannard also tuitions those students as well.
Last year, Stannard had nine tuition students attending four schools: Hazen, Craftsbury, Thaddeus Stevens, and East Burke. Janukajtis said many factors influence how families decide which school is appropriate for them, including options for transportation and student fit.
John Miller described his experience in deciding on schools as a parent 30 years ago.
“Each school we interviewed had something about it that made it a great place,” he said, describing school choice as a treasure of the town. “It’s certainly something worth cherishing and defending.”
State Representative Chip Troiano discussed this matter as part of his update from the legislature and reported recent discussion related to the proposed legislation in the education committee did not include discussion regarding limitation to school choice.
The town will continue to review the condition of the backhoe to determine a timeline for repair or replacement. The current machine has logged more than 10,000 hours and expenses to repair the backhoe are approaching the trade-in value. A replacement will run somewhere around $107,000 after trade of the existing equipment.
Although the purchase could not be brought to a vote at this meeting, the select board made residents aware this may be warned for a special town meeting, as the capital equipment fund will not cover the full value of the replacement backhoe. Many residents were concerned that not taking prompt action on the matter may result in further depreciation of the equipment.