To the Editor:
This year's Manchester School Budget approval vote is shaping up to be fascinating and the outcome will be pivotal to the direction of education in our town for years to come. Leading the charge in one direction is Millennial School Board Member Jon Wilson who is embarking on a grassroots effort to improve the Manchester Elementary Middle School (MEMS) through its current configuration. Leading the charge in the other direction is Gen Xer School Board Member Stephen Murphy who vows to make MEMS great again by breaking it down and building it back up. A yes vote will yield improvement to the current MEMS model and a no vote will signal significant change. I urge the townspeople to do their homework and vote. Personally, with 22 years of educational experience, I am still undecided and probably won't be able to decide until I am in the voting booth.
The school budget passed by a narrow margin of a 3-2 vote, but the board as a whole agreed that status quo at MEMS is not acceptable. According to the Agency of Education (AOE) http://education.vermont.gov/data — the last 7 years have not been good for MEMS. In 2009 students were proficient at a rate of 77 percent in math and 80 percent in reading. Scores steadily declined to 60 percent in math and 69 percent in reading. In 2009 the average teacher salary stood at $48,307 and today it is at $59,765. K-8
enrollment was at 385 and now it is at 350 and declining. Free and Reduced Lunch (FRL), numbers used by Federal Government to classify children of economic need, has risen from 23 percent to 39 percent. In a 10 year period the cost per pupil has gone from $11,142 to $15,099 per student. Lastly and not quantified by the AOE, there does not seem to be good feel about MEMS right now. All this data brings a stew of questions on what direction to go and thus the 3-2 vote.
By voting yes to the current budget, status quo will exist for a year or two more until change will occur through Act 46, school unification legislation, by collaborating with partner schools and benefitting from common efficiencies. This will allow schools to spend more money on student improvement. Property taxes would go up some over the next few years before the efficiencies of Act 46 are realized. This is a prudent path that allows time to study many models of change. Wilson is interested in a new more cooperative middle school model that has a lot of merit. Other possibilities could be explored.
By voting no the budget will be sent back to the school board and change will occur immediately. Budget cuts would be made that would create a need to do work differently at MEMS next year. Property taxes would either stay level or go up a nominal amount. Murphy is the Co-Chair of the Manchester Ad Hoc Governance Options Committee which is studying drastically different models to educate Manchester's K-8 students. It would be safe to assume any ideas that come from that committee would be woven in
the discussions pertaining to a no vote.
There are no easy answers, but one thing that is clear is that every person in Manchester will be impacted by this year's school budget vote. Both Wilson and Murphy are affable people who like to talk education. I would encourage people to read their Op-Eds and contact them as well. This is not the year to be on the sidelines.