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People are often surprised to hear that in Pawlet and Rupert we don’t send our kids to high school in Vermont. It’s been a quietly contentious issue for decades, but the merger requirements of Act 46 have now brought the issue to a head. Next Tuesday residents will vote to find out once and for all: should our towns maintain high school designation in New York State?

Rumors abound, as do speculations and fears. No matter what we decide, there are no guarantees. No matter what we decide, taxes will go up. We just don’t know what the numbers will be.

If we vote “No” on article 3, we make sure that kids don’t have to get stuck in a school that’s not working for them. Contrary to some rumors, voting “no” to designation doesn’t mean our kids can’t still go to high school in New York- they can. Nor does it mean that our town’s property taxes will have to accommodate any school a kid wants to go to. It only means that child will receive the Vermont state average tuition.

In fact, it all comes down to this question: are Pawlet and Rupert willing to pay the average tuition to send their kids to school? Not pie-in-the-sky tuition. Not boarding school in Europe prices. Not the highest tuition in our state… but also not the lowest.

Which is what we have right now: the lowest tuition in the entire state of Vermont.

Right now, because we send kids to New York (where tuition is heavily subsidized by New York State) we have the lowest high school tuitions in the state of Vermont, ($8,755 and $7,739) which, on the face of it sounds like a good thing, right? Unless you are a kid who would do better elsewhere. Because then, that’s the same amount you get towards tuition at a different school. Vermont state average tuition ($14,297) is well above these numbers, which means: forget about private school, you can’t even go to a public school in Vermont.

Let me say that again: our tuition rate is not high enough to send a Vermont kid to a Vermont public high school.

Once upon a time, around the turn of the last century, the town of Pawlet actually did have its own high school. It was a two-year program with a 70% graduation rate, which for that time was actually pretty good (well above the national average). Nevertheless, around 1939, the town made a bold decision: they would pay more money in order to send the kids across the border to Granville High School instead.

Just like today, the residents of our town were faced with a difficult choice: should we stay with what we already have, which is pretty good, and spend somewhat less on education? Or do we go with something new, and more costly, in hopes of an even better outcome for our children?

As we now know, they made the choice to spend more. Mind you, this was no flush period of economic prosperity either; the late 1930s were the tail end of the Great Depression. And yet still, they decided to spend more money on education.

The Superintendent at the time said this: “It is more sensible to sacrifice money to save children, than to sacrifice children to save money.”

Pawlet and Rupert residents, I urge you: let all our children have access to the Vermont state average tuition. Vote “No” on Article 3.

 

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