Study looks at BBA impact

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MANCHESTER — After years of what Board Chairman Seth Bongartz describes as "being on the defensive," Burr and Burton Academy is taking a proactive approach to demonstrating its contributions to the Northshire community.

The Academy's economic impact in particular was recently articulated by University of Vermont professor and economist Art Woolf, who recently released a study titled "The Economic Impact of the Burr and Burton Academy."

The study, commissioned by BBA, found that the school increases property values in the region while supporting more than 280 jobs, among other findings.

According to Bongartz, the study was commissioned to prove that independent schools like Burr and Burton are "part of the solution" when it comes to Vermont's educational system.

"We've been fending off almost constant attack from the Legislature and the State Board of Education," said Bongartz, citing issues including special education requirements and financial disclosure. "We decided that we really needed to be proactive about the benefits of independent schools and what they bring to the table, rather than just constantly being in a defensive position."

Through Vermont's longstanding practice of school choice, towns lacking a public school are able to pay tuition to send students to public or private schools of their choice at the same grade level. Manchester, lacking a public high school, has sent students to BBA under this arrangement for decades.

Critics of independent schools like Burr and Burton, however, argue that the practice allows independent schools to enjoy the benefits of public funding without the requirements and regulations that public institutions are held to.

As a result, Bongartz says that independent schools are urged to look and feel more like their public counterparts. Though some characterize independent schools as exclusive, he asserts that Burr and Burton benefits everyone.

"When the term 'private school' is used, it's usually used by opponents and it's used to conjure up the comparison that the independent schools are only available to people of means," Bongartz said. "With the independent school system in Vermont, we're for Vermonters regardless of socioeconomic status."

With a growing gap in the state Education Fund for 2018, which may total as much as $80 million, Bogartz anticipates that independent schools like Burr and Burton will be seen as "part of the problem."

Though demographic factors like Vermont's low birth rate impact that growing gap in education funding, some assert that the state's tuitioning practice also plays a role. The ongoing process of consolidating Vermont's school districts, prompted by Act 46, has prompted additional scrutiny of independent schools.

"We're a large part of helping to make the economy in this area stronger," Bongartz said. "That's the real message — we're part of the solution."

The study, which was finalized in May, aims to quantify Burr and Burton's impact on multiple sectors of the local economy including jobs, tourism, local spending, housing values, and attracting new residents.

Its findings indicate that the school employs one out of every 20 workers in the Town of Manchester, paying $8.5 million annually (in other words, one out of every 20 dollars in wages earned in Manchester.)

Additionally, the study shows that BBA generates more than $2.4 million in "export" earning for the local economy through factors like tuition from out-of-area students.

"Those of us who live and work around BBA recognize and appreciate the impact that the school has on our community," Bongartz said. "Not only by delivering a world-class high school experience for our kids, but also in supporting good jobs and area businesses."

The study illustrates BBA's role as an "economic multiplier" in the region, creating 282 jobs with a total employee compensation of $15.6 million in Bennington County.

According to Bongartz, the schools employees spend a significant portion of those earnings locally, with area vendors also receiving income for providing services and supplies to the school. BBA students also support businesses through spending on clothing, supplies, meals, and more.

That spending all contributes to the aforementioned multiplier effect, Bongartz says, which results in approximately $1.2 million in revenue to the state.

"In Bennington County, we know all too well how critically important BBA is to our economy and to our kids," said supporter Lyman Orton, founder of the Vermont Country Store and the Orton Family Foundation. "We have a gem of a school providing a world-class education to the next generation in the most beautiful place on earth. BBA is a central part of our efforts to bolster the local economy and create new opportunities for folks to live and work here."

Indeed, Burr and Burton does attract new residents to the area, according to Woolf's study. Its findings indicate that home-buyers are willing to pay 5.9 percent more for a home in a town that offers school choice, and 83 percent of BBA parents say that school choice was a factor in determining where they would raise their children.

"We've all heard the stories from parents who relocated to our town so their kids can attend BBA," Bongartz added. "We felt it's important to put numbers behind this organization and empower community leaders, businesses, parents, and the public with information they can use to help tell our story and attract more families to live and work in our corner of Vermont."

While Bongartz asserts that the school isn't seeking any particular results per se, he does hope that the study can equip the schools proponents with the necessary facts and figures to defend it.

"There are forces aligned against us," Bongartz said. "As a region, we have to stay vigilant. We have to pay a lot of attention and provide a collective pushback."

Reach Cherise Madigan at cmadigan@manchesterjournal.com, or by phone at 802-490-6471.

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