A lot of things happened at the Pawlet-Rupert-Wells merger public forum last Thursday night, but one thing I especially noticed was the way that certain phrases got picked up and reused by commenters on both sides of the school choice versus designation debate.
Three different commenters called the existing system— which designation would seek to replicate under the new Act 46 merger scenario— “a sweet deal.” This gave me pause. What’s so sweet about it? you might ask.
In a nutshell: when we send our kids to middle and high school in Granville and Salem, New York, we are getting a bargain price. Everyone agrees on this. We can educate our kids for roughly $8,000 per student tuition, even though in Vermont the state average clocks in at well above that amount: over $14,000.
So great!- right? But wait… why is New York State’s high school tuition so much lower than Vermont’s? Have they figured out something we don’t know? When I looked it up, I found something fascinating: New York State doesn’t spend less on education. In fact, contrary to what was said at the public forum, Vermont does not spend more on per student education than any other state in the nation. New York does.
I found a Washington Post article which lists the top five highest education spenders per student… Vermont isn’t one of them. But New York is. In fact, as of 2015, New York is the top spender of all.
I found lots of information online, varying by year, but all of it pointed to the same thing: New York pays more than any other state:
What gives? How can Granville and Salem secondary tuition be so low, when the state average for New York is so high? According to the most recent information I could find, actual Granville tuition per student is: $24,241. Salem is: $23,237.
So when we send our children to New York high schools, who is making up that $15,000 or $16,000 difference? New York State taxpayers, that’s who. As committee advisor Dan French explained to the merger committee at a recent meeting, New York provides “greater support” for education from a state level.
Is it ethical, I wonder, to combat rising education costs by sending our kids to a state that seems to have a worse problem with escalating tuition than we do? And asking them to pay for it?
Even if you the kind of person to say “ethics-schmethics,” consider this: there’s another, more practical concern here, which is the possibility that New York State residents will awake from their slumber to realize that we’ve been riding on the back of their education system courtesy a big fat loophole. And they could raise tuition. We have no guarantee that they won’t. Here’s a thought: what if they charged us what it really costs? By comparison with $23,000- $24,000 tuition, School Choice per pupil tuition waver of $14,000 starts looking downright frugal.
Which brings me to the other phrase I heard more than once from commenters at the meeting. In the absence of having our own secondary school, they said, School Choice is simply “the right thing to do.” As in, “Yes, rising taxes are hard, but we’re a community. We should all pull together and give our children choice in education because it’s the right thing to do.”
So ask yourself: down the line, what would you want to be in a position to tell our community’s children? That we based their education on “a sweet deal” with no long-term guarantees… or on “the right thing to do”?
No matter which side of the debate you find yourself on, I highly encourage you to show up tomorrow night for the merger committee’s vote, Wed. Sept 7th, 7PM at the Wells School.
“Designation or choice is your pivotal issue right now”
Advisor to the Merger Committee
I know what you’ve been thinking. You’ve been thinking: sure, things are happening with the Pawlet/Rupert/Wells School Merger Committee… but I really can’t get involved until something big is about to happen.
Well, friends, something big is about to happen. After a very, very long meeting last Monday (8/22/16) the Merger Committee decided to speed things up. The upshot is that there will be only one public forum on the merger. This is a change from previous plans, so to be clear, this is your one chance to have your voice heard on the proposed Pawlet/Rupert/Wells School merger— and specifically on the pivotal issue of School Choice versus Designation— and that will be at the meeting next Thursday, September 1st at 6:30PM at the Mettawee Community School. So tell your friends, share this post, do whatever it takes to get the word out.
Committee Advisor Dan French is planning a ten-minute power-point presentation to bring the public up to speed on the whole process that the committee has been engaged in this past summer and where we might go from here. French has consistently maintained that School Choice versus Designation is the key issue for this merger. (See below for a description of this issue.) He will have specific numbers to illustrate estimated cost differences between School Choice and Designation.
(Spoiler alert: under the current scenario the difference is about ten cents. For example: if the property tax rate were $1.36 under Designation, then we can estimate it will be about $1.46 under School Choice. Dan French notes that taxes go up under either scenario. And yes, the property tax rate would be the same for all three towns.)
After the Question and Comment period is over (which they estimate will be at 8:30PM) DON’T LEAVE! Why? Because the committee plans to vote right then and there which way they intend to go on the School Choice versus Designation issue. Yes! It’s a public meeting so stay and watch the fun!
Some key points to be aware of:
- Logistics: this evening the Mettawee Back-to-School Picnic will also be going on, so arrive early for a good parking spot.
- Important for parents: Child-care will be provided in the library from 6:30 to 8:30.
- Which way is the committee leaning? It’s hard to say, however at the last meeting the representatives from Wells clearly indicated that they are in favor of School Choice. If the merger committee fails to vote for School Choice on Sept. 1, the Wells representatives have expressed interest in dissolving the committee so that they may pursue the possibility of merging with Middletown Springs.(Middletown Springs is holding a forum to explore merger possibilities on Sept. 8th.)
- Can we include Middletown Springs in our merger? If the committee chooses School Choice, it is possible that Middletown Springs could be invited into the merger as well, by a simple vote of the committee.
- Can’t things just stay the same?: Although Rupert, Pawlet and also many Wells children have historically gone to Salem and Granville for public high school, under the current law, Act 46, there is no option to designate schools outside of Vermont. During the last merger meeting, RSWSU Superintendent Joan Paustian explained “right now that (ability) does not exist.”
School Choice versus Designation: What Does it Mean?
Because neither Pawlet, Rupert nor Wells has a high school of its own, the merger committee must make a decision whether or not to “designate” a high school or high schools. If so, between one and three high schools may be “designated.” in this scenario, if a high school student chooses instead to go to a non-designated school, he or she gets a voucher for the lowest tuition amount of the available designated options.
If, on the other hand, no school is “designated” each student receives a voucher for the state average announced tuition for Vermont high schools. For example, the average announced tuition of Union 7th-12th grade schools in Vermont in 2016 was $14,297.