BRATTLEBORO -- Concerned parents filed into Halifax Elementary School's small library on Wednesday, Jan. 18, to discuss the possibility of nixing school choice and designating Twin Valley High School for secondary students.
Halifax School Board Chairman Homer Sumner said it is a suggestion, not a proposition.
"No one is advocating that," he said in a telephone interview on Wednesday. "It's just a suggestion to help save money."
As there is no high school in Halifax, all graduating eighth-graders must chose a secondary school in another town. If a public high school is chosen, the school board is required by Vermont law to pay the tuition, Sumner said. If a Halifax youngster picks a private institution, the town pays the average tuition of a Vermont union high school and the student's family foots the difference.
Sumner said money could be saved with this new suggestion. Instead of taking care of the tuition of any public school, the town would only pay the rate negotiated between Halifax and the town of what's known as the "receiving school," (which in this case is TVHS). Sumner said that though each town would be able to have only one receiving school, Halifax students could still pick any school they wanted -- their families would just have to pay the difference.
It would also work that way for a private school, he said.
Halifax Elementary School is the only school of any sort in the town.
According to the Deerfield Valley News, the fiscal year 2013 budget increased to $13,347 per pupil compared to last year -- $12,069. At the meeting, Sumner suggested investigating TVHS to be the designated school because it's "the closest and cheapest school to bus to, and they have partially proposed that their tuition rate would be $1,000 less than (Brattleboro Union High School)," according to the Deerfield Valley News.
He said Halifax could save roughly $69,000 by designating TVHS at the lower tuition rate.
According to the Valley News, some parents vocalized their concern in regards to the transition TVHS is involved with. A question was raised as to what the school would do with its building, and it was also suggested that naming it as the designated school was a drastic decision in the midst of the potential shake-up in order to cut down on transportation costs.
Halifax Selectboard chairman John LaFlamme attended the meeting "mostly because I have two kids that are in school now." He said his daughter is a freshman at Franklin County Tech in Turners Falls, Mass., while his son is a sophomore there.
"I sympathize with the board's situation because it's all a financial matter, but it would reduce the quality of education and I'm not in favor of eliminating school choice," he said in a telephone interview. "No one school is perfect for every kid and this gives students options. And my own two kids are perfect examples. They are both on the honor roll in high school. So it's been very good for them.
"The state is really pushing what (the school board has) to been spending and if you don't meet the guidelines, you get penalized," he continued.
He added that the biggest consideration people make before deciding buy a piece of property somewhere is quality of the local education system.
LaFlamme said the deadline is today for any petition articles being included for a vote at Town Meeting. He said he's concerned that it might come up for a vote because he said there are more citizens without children than with them. He went on to say that he knows all parents will rally against eliminating it, however.
Members of the school board reportedly said they would like to continue to look more options, though it is unclear what those options are. The decision has not been made on whether to put the proposal on a warning to vote on Town Meeting Day -- set for Tuesday, March 6 -- has not yet been made.
Domenic Poli can be reached at email@example.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277.