SUNDERLAND -- Voters endorsed a school budget of nearly $2.4 million, and waved through a municipal budget and highway fund budget by wide margins.

The school district's budget passed by a 99-24 margin. The town's General Fund budget sailed through 104-18, and the highway budget was approved, 108-14.

Voters also approved the increase in Burr and Burton Academy's tuition to $15,400 from $14,875 by a 99-24 margin.

Sunderland School Board Chairman Gordon Woodrow said he was pleased by the strong support voters gave, but cautioned that school boards had work to do.

"I'm very happy," he said during a phone interview Tuesday night after the votes were counted. "Statewide, we need to be thinking about how we're going to transform education so that students here have the right opportunities at the right price."

While Sunderland's school budget increased about 8 percent from last year's total of $2.209 million, the school property tax rate is projected to rise by 18 cents, from almost 1.32 to almost $1.50, assuming an anticipated 7 cent tax increase in the base education rate comes into effect.

"People are going to have to start looking at the bigger picture," Woodrow said. "There are many small schools that are struggling and it will become more difficult to provide services."

During Sunderland's floor meeting Monday night, Town Clerk Rose Keough was successful in garnering support for a petitioned article which tied her compensation for her work as school district treasurer to 1 percent of the collected school taxes.

This change was opposed by the school board, but by a show of hands, voters gave their approval by a 30-22 margin.

Feasibility study

Voters also gave support to a proposal to spend $3,000 for a pedestrian and bicycle feasibility study. The money is the town's portion needed to apply for a state grant of $30,000 to explore the viability of constructing a path for pedestrians and bikers along Sunderland Hill Road, said Marie Lewinsky, a member of the committee of townspeople which has been working on the proposal.

In other business, voters at Monday's floor meeting also gave a thumbs up to a proposal to shift $34,000 from the town's paving reserve fund, originally slated for a $50,000 appropriation, and transfer that to the municipal office building reserve fund. That would boost the municipal building fund to $44,000, enough to finance a contract for $548,000 the select board had earlier awarded to Russell Construction Corp.

In two earlier rounds of bidding, the select board had been unable to find an acceptable contractor willing to bid at or below the town's budget of $511,000 for the construction of the proposed new town office building. A third round, conducted Friday, Feb. 28, finally produced a winning bid from the Russell Corp. Construction is anticipated to begin in the Spring.

After a short discussion, the transfer of $34,000 from the paving fund to the municipal office fund was approved on a voice vote.

There were no contested races for select board or school board races. Incumbent select board members James Ennis, Steven Bendix and David Kiernan all won reelection, as did incumbent school board directors, Leslie Perra and Melanie Virgilio. Newcomer Dineen Squillante, running unopposed, won election.