On February 7, 2024

Renovation of middle/high school is a more prudent option

Dear Editor,

The Mountain Views Supervisory Union has recently been holding meetings with local communities asking for voter support to build a new middle and high school building on the site of the current complex in Woodstock. Having attended the recent meeting in Killington, I would first like to compliment the MVSU for their nerve in proposing this expense at this time. It takes a lot of chutzpah to come to the voters, some of whom (as in Killington) saw the state’s education tax increase 18.5% this past year, are looking at another potential 17%-18% increase this year and ask them to support an additional increase of 16% to pay for a new middle and high school. Nerve like that deserves our congratulations. Their request for support, however, should be falling on deaf ears.

MVSU argues that paying $99 million for a new school is a better option than paying approximately $51 million for renovation of the current structure. Their argument is that the current building is more than 60 years old, is in very poor condition, and that renovation would potentially be a waste of money as the building might need to be replaced 20 years from now anyway.

Unfortunately, while we can accept that the current facility needs a lot of work (probably) due to underfunded maintenance over a number of years, they offer no evidence to support this alleged risk of replacement 20 years out. They also argue that renovation would be disruptive to students and teachers, as if the process could not be effectively managed to minimize disruption. With the current facility designed to serve 600 or more students, the fact that only 450 students are there at present makes potential disruption far easier to manage.

 I have rarely voted against education 
funding and find it disheartening to find 
myself in opposition to this project.

At the risk of sounding like the old guy telling you how rough he had it when he was a kid (“We walked to school in the snow, in 20 below zero weather, up hill, both ways”) my personal experience would suggest that these are specious arguments.

As a baby boomer in high school in Queens, New York City, in the 1960s, I attended a high school built before the Great Depression. Like many city schools in that era, it was overcrowded yet the administration was able to manage class size through creative scheduling. New schools were built in growing Queens neighborhoods, but existing buildings remained in use. My high school, along with most others built in the 1920s, are still in use today although they are close to 100 years old. My mother, who taught in another high school in Queens, endured a three-year renovation project in her school, and that school continues to operate today. I would venture a guess that most if not all schools of that era have gone through multiple renovations over the past 50 plus years, disruptive as they might have been in the short term, with those facilities all still currently in use. There is no known reason why the Woodstock Middle and High School buildings cannot last way more than another 20 years.

During the Killington meeting, it became clear that the cost estimate of $99 million is low by at least several million dollars as the cost estimate does not include short term funding costs that would accrue prior to bonds being issued several years out. Furthermore, the presentation minimized or totally ignored the impact that lower value properties and those with lower incomes might have as a result of a required townwide reappraisal next year. These were obvious omissions and only serve to raise more questions about the accuracy of MVSU projections.

Finally, MVSU estimates of future tax impacts and school needs are based on highly questionable student enrollment numbers. As a former member of the Woodstock School Board recently indicated in a letter to the Mountain Times, enrollment has dropped from over 700 in FY2001 to 452 today and, based on U.S. Department of Education estimates of demographic trends, Vermont school enrollment is projected to drop over 11% between 2021 and 2030. While MVSU might do better than the current trend would suggest, it is highly unlikely that enrollment would reach their projected (hoped for? dreamt up?) levels. With state education funding tied in large part to district enrollment, the 16% tax impact could skyrocket further.

As I said, my mother was a teacher. I have other family members and friends who are currently teachers or who have retired from the profession. I have rarely voted against education funding and find it disheartening to find myself in opposition to this project. However, I cannot support what I view as unnecessary spending, especially when a more reasonable option is available. I will be voting against the MVSU proposal on Town Meeting Day and I urge others to do the same.

Art Malatzky, Killington

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