ROCHESTER - A committee of local residents in Rochester want the
local school board to consider closing the elementary school and
replacing it with an independent one.
"It comes down to enrollment," said Rochester resident Gretchen
Cotell, and a member of the Rochester Independent School
Investigatory Study Committee (ISIS.) "We have too few children. We
have a hard time keeping up."
Cotell said enrollment has dropped 50 percent in the last eight
years. Currently, the school, which educates students from
kindergarten through 12th grade, has 220 students, according to the
school's website. ISIS claims that about 150 of them are in
Jolanta Labejsza, who chairs the Rochester school board, said
she did not think the school could sustain itself.
"It will mainly be funded by taxes, but a lot of the funds will
have to be raised," she said. "I don't know if the committee can
raise $1 million a year."
Labejsza said a number of school services, like special
education and sports, would require more support than taxpayers may
be willing to give.
"Once the community is informed, they'll need to know those
facts," she said.
The ISIS Committee will be holding public forums on Jan. 31 and
Feb. 15 in the Rochester town hall at 6 p.m.
For an example, the committee looked to North Bennington, which
recently closed its elementary school in favor of an independent
one. To do that, the voters first had to approve it, and the state
had to grant permission. However, the state board rejected the
request at first due to doubts about the new school's ability to
meet special education needs.
"It could mean loss of local control, and less money going to
the supervisory union," said Labejsza. "Declining enrollment is a
problem all around the state. I've been to different meetings to
discuss the options, like consolidation or closing the school."
Windsor Northwest Supervisory Union board member Carl Groppe
said the supervisory union was keeping an eye on the situation.
"Rochester has been concerned about declining enrollment for a
number of years," he said. "If I had to consider it, closing the
school would be the least attractive option."
Under the ISIS proposal, Rochester would become a non-operating
school district, which means it would still operate the facilities
and lease the building to the independent school. The new school
would charge tuition, and taxpayer money would be provided for
Rochester students. A board of trustees would govern the school,
and voters would still decide the school budget.
As a tuition town, Rochester parents could use the tuition money
to send their children to any school they wish.
Cotell said she hopes that the independent school would bring more
families to Rochester.
"We're hoping property taxes will come down," she said, "and
we're hoping it would bring more people in. Families, not just
Cotell stressed that the group just wants the school board to study
the question right now. Her husband, William, is a member of the
Rochester school board.
"He's dedicated to doing his best for the education of
Rochester's children," she said.
The full ISIS committee proposal, and their findings, can be
found at, www.rochesterisiscommittee.weebly.com