Winhall voters face tough choices on school choice

This article by Greg Sukiennik originally appeared Feb. 9 in the Manchester Journal.

WINHALL — For years, this town in the Green Mountains has been known not only as the gateway to Stratton Mountain, but as a community with a significant educational perk: Full school choice, from kindergarten to senior year of high school. But that selling point has led to an expensive drawback.

Burr and Burton Academy

PENALIZED FOR GROWTH: To prevent a tax rate increase of nearly 50 cents per $100 in assessed valuation due to an influx of students, the board has suggested the town pay the state average tuition of $15,130 to Burr and Burton Academy rather than the “sending town” tuition of $17,065. That would reduce the tax increase by 27 cents.

Last fall, 29 new students showed up in Winhall — far more than the 10 new students the Winhall School Board had anticipated for the 2017-18 school year. Suddenly, the town faced a staggering education tax hike of 50 cents per $100 in assessed value.

The Winhall School Board has developed an alternative solution, which it will present to voters at town meeting next month.

It reduces the tax increase to 27 cents per $100 by paying the state average tuition to Burr and Burton Academy next year, instead of the higher sending-town tuition rate. But that means Winhall will lose its sending town status with BBA, and it means Winhall BBA parents will need to pay nearly $3,000 per student to cover the gap.

“Nobody likes this position,” School Board Chairwoman Christie MacKenzie said. “Ultimately, the townspeople have to decide what they have to do. This is not our decision — everybody has a voice in this. It’s important that everybody knows this.”

With school choice costs spiraling, the board is asking voters to consider authorizing future votes on school choice as Australian ballot, rather than from the town meeting floor. That procedural step could point in the direction of joining the Tacoinc & Green Regional School District —a move that would likely reduce education property taxes, but also eliminate school choice for elementary and middle school.

All eyes will be on Winhall’s town meeting, at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, March 6, at The Mountain School, and there are concerns that the debate could get heated. Independent schools serving Winhall are making plans to mobilize parent support, and an informational meeting on that effort is planned for Monday at 5:30 p.m. at The Mountain School.

Read full story at the Manchester Journal.

(Fair use with written permission from the New England Newspapers Inc.)

Image courtesy of Burr and Burton Academy

One thought on “Winhall voters face tough choices on school choice

  1. This report is incongruous and biased. It says School Choice costs have an ‘expensive drawback’ ….and create a ‘staggering education tax hike…’.

    Compared to what?

    The BBA web site says: Tuition for the 2017-2018 school year was $16,700 for students for sending towns and $17,700 for students who do not reside in a sending town.

    The 2017-2018 Average Announced Tuition of Union 7th-12th Grade Schools was $15,130. That’s a $1570 difference for sending town students and $2570 for non-sending town students. That’s a $1000 per student difference given the Winhall school board proposal.

    But even if the $2570 per student cost difference is used for comparison, to what are these costs being compared?

    My BFUHS public union high school costs are projected to be $17,300 per ‘equalized’ student. And that’s using an inflated enrollment figure. The actual cost per student using the annual budget ($7+- million) divided by the actual enrollment (340+- students) is over $20,500 per student.

    Furthermore, BBA has consistently higher parental satisfaction and student test scores than the State average, which is why more people are clamoring to be in that school choice district.

    To the Winhall school board I would say – ‘Please don’t throw me in that briar patch.’

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