Families want more opportunity


Readers: This story was edited at 4:45 p.m. on Friday, March 24, to correct that switching to Vermont schools from New York schools would lead to a tax increase in Rupert and Pawlet, but not as large an increase as opponents of the move claim.
Also, a sentence in which Charles Armentrout was quoted as saying New York schools are "not up to par" was removed, as Armentrout said he was misquoted.

RUPERT — More than 80 people filled the Mettawee School gym on Monday night to get misinformation cleared up about the current state of education options in Rupert and Pawlet.

Families for Education in Vermont (FEV) presented a research-based report that has also been submitted to the Vermont State house and Senate Education Committees. It examines the impact and outcomes of the secondary education funding system on families.

State Sen. Kevin Mullin and State Rep. Robin Chesnut-Tangerman attended the forum.

Many high school students in the two towns attend Salem or Granville, N.Y. high schools. This is due to the fact that the town didn't build their own high schools, so they're allowed to designate another school as their high school, per Vermont state law.

The issue is that many parents in the two towns want more opportunity for their children to attend schools in Vermont.

For example, Vermont gives families $5,495 to attend a New York school, but it costs $15,000 to attend a public or independent institution in Vermont. According to Melanie Cole, roughly 72 percent of Rupert is income-sensitive and cannot afford the extra $10,000 per year, per child.

"We just want to change the funding mechanism for the Vermont state average to give kids more opportunities," she said.

The closest public high schools are in Poultney or Arlington, roughly 22 miles away.

Cole said that surveys given out at the forum resulted in support for school choice versus designation.

"So we're still trying to reach out and inform people who want to continue with the designation," she said. "It's really not about the quality of education — it's about opportunity."

Aside from opportunity, curriculum is changing in both states. New York schools may offer only Spanish whereas Vermont schools offer two or three foreign languages. Cole also said 80 percent of Vermont schools have integrated virtual learning into the curriculum.

FEV consists of about 100 parents who worked to communicate with the towns' merger committee, Cole said.

Charles Armentrout, who lead Monday night's presentation, works as an adjunct public policy researcher and staff officer at the RAND Corporation, a public policy think tank.

He said there was more clarification than questions during the presentation.

For income-sensitive taxpayers in Rupert and Pawlet with incomes of $50,000 and a home valued at $250,000, the impact on the tax bill would be $155, Armentrout said Friday, March 24 in a follow-up conversation with the Journal.

That is a good deal less than the 28 cents per $100 of valuation increase that some in the community have predicted would result from sending students to Vermont, he said.

For the remaining residents of the two towns who are not income-sensitive, the impact on the tax rate depends on how many families want to make the switch, he said.

The estimated increases range from a low of 10 cents per $100 if everyone sending students to New York continued to do so, to a high of 26 cents per $100 if every one of those students opted for a Vermont school. Both are unrealistic, Armentrout said.

"Most estimates produce a realistic number of 14 cents per 100, but no one knows for sure," he said.

"[Monday night] was not [about] trying to advocate but really address misinformation," Armentrout said. "I started with understanding the current landscape — here's whats going on and what the rules are. Then I went in to clear the slate."

Cole said that many residents were told taxes would be increased much more than they would be in reality.

Visit "Families for Education in Vermont" on Facebook for more information.

Reach staff writer Makayla-Courtney McGeeney at 802-490-6471 or @MC_McGeeney.


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