Our Act 46 Committee of Rupert, Pawlet and Wells fell apart in Sept. after the Committee had voted in favor of Choice. Yes, they voted YES for choice, but the majority of the Pawlet/Rupert committee did not like the results and disbanded. It was crazy. Those at the meeting just shook their heads. From where I sit Rupert and Pawlet’s Act 46 Committee were pretty much hand picked for status quo results with Wells being in favor of Choice. It was small town control at it’s worst! This spring, summer and fall HUGE amounts of parents turned out at meetings in support of this committee.
At the end of October the local school boards of Pawlet and Rupert called a special meeting within 48 hours to discuss a non-binding vote for support for Designation or for Choice (to receive the state average tuition). The town clerks accepted the referendum at the 11th hour; it was a hurried and divisive to the core. A NO vote was a vote Yes for choice. We said words matter, but they were in such a hurry to reach their deadline and were in no mood to offer anything else. Over 35 VT School Equity road signs were stolen as well as one dead skunk delivered!
A little history, back in the 1970’s an Interstate Compact was established for Rupert, Wells and Pawlet; it allowed our students to attend NY high schools. At that time the schools were very desirable; it is said they were much better than BBA. When I moved to Pawlet 30 years ago there were 114 kids in the Granville School from Pawlet and 5 going elsewhere. Now today in 2017, 62 students go to Granville HS and 57 go to other schools. I have watched this trend grow with preference towards Long Trail and BBA. Our students can take the tuition from those NY Schools and apply it to other schools. It is around $7,700 for Salem and $8,800 Granville, which is a big jump for many parents to get a VT. high school education. Over a million VT dollars leaves the state for the NY school system.
Many community members feel it is time for our kids in Pawlet and Rupert to be able to attend high school in VT and to receive the state average of $14,950. Pawlet student numbers are growing and Rupert is declining and is now the oldest population in the state. I personally know many families that have moved out of Rupert and Pawlet when their kids were ready for high school or did not buy a house in either town due to this issue.
Designation won in both towns, but I’d say it was a good first try for choice. There is no doubt that school choice will eventually come to Pawlet and Rupert. The state may need to show more incentives they did when we combined 2 towns and 4 schools to build the Mettowee Community School. I will be sitting on the sidelines during this next process and cheering for the younger generation. My hope that some of the other long term school board members would too. School equity is vital for the growth of our small towns.
(above letter submitted to The Vermont News Guide, 1.9.17)
I was a past school board member in my community many moons ago. Vermont has enacted a new state law to help control some local costs and combine resources - although it is proving to be easier in some towns than others. I can't even begin to describe this law, but can say our communities are having a tough go of it. Our town, a rural town that has been struggling to break out from the 2009 recession has just about hit bottom. We had a reappraisal of property this summer and most homes were valued at 20% less than their value which in turn dropped the grand list value and raised our school tax from $1.21 to $1.40. A damn big jump for nothing.... it would have well paid for our school choice decision! The real estate folks have spoken that education is the first thing a family asks about when looking at homes as well as taken into consideration when they appraise a home in Pawlet or Rupert. We need to bring that grand list back up! It's a great place to live.
We learned a lot. I learned a lot, some of it painful, hurtful and downright unbelievable. Good people did bad things. Good people told many a granny that they would loose their homes if they voted for school choice. A renter was told his rent would go up if he voted for choice. A well respected past state rep. and fellow co-partner wrote a letter to the community using worse case scenario numbers that were well off the charts scary; they used numbers that 100% of students were to leave our designated school in NY state. Boo-hoo. How do you counter that....???
It is a delicate issue to say the least. Questions that arose- I don't like local money going to private schools....there are no public schools within 40 miles and the school in Manchester, BBA is their local school. We heard that over and over. So many other issues came to the fore. I my opinion it won't be long until the tipping point will be so obvious that it will change naturally; we are almost there and by the looks of the families at the Act 46 meetings this summer there will be many more down the road that will be heading south for high school.
It's funny to reflect back at comments made before all this started. I said to one local woman," The Mettowee School has brought so many great new families to town." And she said, "Do you mean the people here are stupid?" Hummm, no that's not what I meant....you can see how heated this can get. The school board members are not allow to comment on Face Book due to the Open Meeting Law. FB a handy and somewhat precarious tool to share information, etc. I was willing to stick my neck out and try to put the facts forth. Needless to say it's easy to get tripped up by idiotic comments made, but I tried to keep to facts as best I could. One less than proud moment I was called rich as well as another local friend....oh boy, she went back and forth many entries until she finally said, I may well vote for choice but I hate all you people!!! Yes, she actually said that in public. Wow. profound and telling isn't it. Couldn't believe she actually said it. She hates the people "from away". Jeez Louise! I've learned long ago to just try to do the best I can and help the community in ways I can. Yes, readers of my blog know I got involved in helping our general store try to stay open or raising money for the Irene flood victims or saving the top of our little hill Haystack or getting a community school bond vote thru and designed!
Having my shop in the middle of the village it's easy to become involved but there are times to step away. I'd like to help our village become vibrant again. I've talked about organizing a Pawlet Tales story night to help raise money for our town hall that has been in revitalization for the past dozen years. Oh, there's always something to do in a little town. It's easy to slip thru the cracks in a big town, but here all hands are needed.
ps I was notified by the school nurse that I had incorrectly spelled Mettowee. It is Mettawee.