Voters nix GMUSD budget; Other area results Wunderle, Leahy win school board seats; Roper wins, Knapp re-elected to Chester Select Board

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2024 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Last year was a rocky one for the board of the Green Mountain Unified School District and to cap it off, on Tuesday, voters shot down the proposed $17.4 million budget by a vote of 699 to 620 in a turnout substantially higher than one year ago when a $15 million budget passed 415 to 302. Note: All election evening results are unofficial until confirmed by the towns.

Coming off the November 2022 narrow defeat of its $20 million school renovation bond, the district board had plenty on its plate in dealing with a high school that was being held together with strategic maintenance and luck. But instead of getting down to work, it got mired in the politics of branding identity. The months-long fight over the use of the name Chieftain in the face of a state law against discriminatory branding stymied the board and led to dissension that even the revelation that the high school building was contaminated with PCBs couldn’t stop.

Lisa Sanders of Cavendish was elected to a three year term after her appointment to the board was a bone of contention last year Telegraph file photo

The rows led to the resignation of Superintendent Lauren Fierman, who said she could represent board decisions without agreeing, but not when it came to the branding. Board member Dennis Reilly also left the board. Board members from Cavendish and Andover began talking about how to bring about school choice and accusations regarding board member conduct flew in both directions.

Cavendish representative Lisa Sanders, whose appointment to the board to replace Reilly was another bone of contention, was elected to a three-year term on Tuesday. She was running unopposed and received 294 votes.

In December, the board retired the Chieftain name for the second time and board chair Deb Brown resigned citing medical issues arising from a concussion.

The 1,319 votes came from the four towns that make up the district: Andover, Baltimore, Cavendish and Chester. According to the articles of agreement that formed the district under the state’s Act 46 merger statute, ballots are not counted by each town. Rather they are taken in their locked ballot boxes to Chester Town Hall where they are “co-mingled,” then counted by election officials so there is no way to know which town voted up or down.

Now it will be up to the board to work on the budget to present a version that will pass muster with the voters.

Contested races tote up wins for Wunderle, Leahy, Knapp, Roper in Chester, incumbents in Cavendish

In a closely watched race in Chester, Tuckerman Wunderle and Casey Leahy won seats on the GMUSD board scoring 444 and 377 votes respectively. Randy Miles, who was a vocal advocate for keeping the Chieftain, name polled 310.

There was also a contested race for two one year Chester Select Board terms which saw incumbent Arianna Knapp returned to her seat with 421 votes while Tim Roper pulled in 455. Political newcomer Lisa Rufa picked up 270.

In the only contested race in Cavendish, Select Board incumbents Shannon Devereux and David Norton prevailed with 251 and 211 votes respectively while Stu Lindberg took in 132 votes.

While there was discussion of extending property tax exemptions to the Cavendish Health Center and Fletcher Farm Foundation, both of those articles passed by wide margins.

In Chester, voters passed articles to borrow for paving, a dump truck and chipper as well as new ambulance by wide margins.  The ambulance purchase was passed last year, but the Vermont Bond Bank would not fund it due to a clerical glitch, so it was on the warning again this year.

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  1. Nick Boke says:

    Thank you, Shawn Cunningham, for being frank and clear about what has gone on since the defeat of the GMUHS renovation bond in 2022. Your explanation that the district board “got mired in the politics of branding identity” instead of taking care of the business the members were charged with taking care of. Let’s hope both the board and the voters will be able to do the right thing this time around, enabling the board to take care of “a high school that was being held together with strategic maintenance and luck.”

  2. Arlene Mutschler says:

    oh I thought we voted on an ambulance last year? Should have been explained better?
    Question? seems when a town/district wants a new school or mega $$ to fix up? they claim PCB’s or some such “the sky is falling” language? Worked in Burlington? But then they tried to sue Monsanto and it did not work. Just wondering if I am the only one to notice this? Not saying there is any duplicity?