On February 28, 2024
Letters

Working together

Dear Editor,

In regards to building a new middle school/high school, many are asking how we can all work together to meet the needs of our students now and in the future, as well as take into consideration the concerns of taxpayers who may already be at their financial limits. Here are several ideas on how to move forward.

1. As for meeting the needs of students now and in the future, I have done a lot of research and now realize that we must vote “Yes” for a new school. The current school is beyond its useful life and systems are failing (full disclosure: I have taught at WUHSMS for 20 years and see these deficiencies every day). A renovation just to meet our most urgent needs would cost upwards of $16 million and would last only 5-10 years. We would then be having this same discussion again, but the cost would be even greater. The cost of a full renovation is likely $75 million or more, would take longer to complete, and would be much more disruptive to our current students. Only a new building  meets our urgent needs, allows for total redesign for current and future educational needs, meets current codes, meets ADA compliance, reduces energy needs and meets health and safety standards for our students and staff. We can spend $99 million now or spend more (for less) later. I realize that $99 million is a huge sum, but it is spread across our seven towns and it is cheaper than what the state recommends per square foot for new construction. Neither delay nor more studies will change the need for a new building. The board has addressed every question posed to them including renovation vs. new build, the urgent need, proper size and design, the tax impact, etc. Read their FAQ’s here: Mtnviews.org/faq-wuhsms-2026.

2. We can all work to lower the total cost to local taxpayers by using our seven town and two county advantage to contact all our reps and senators to insist that the state of Vermont restart school infrastructure support at the 30% level it was at prior to its suspension in 2007. There are ongoing efforts at the statehouse to reinstate this funding. This alone could make the cost much more affordable. We must remember that the state is not considering any money to renovate schools, so should we vote “No” and opt to renovate, this money would not be available to us. In addition, we should urge legislators to make sure that second home owners are fully supporting Vermont infrastructure, including schools. This is only fair, and again, would result in lower taxes for full time residents.

3. We all understand that new students, both resident and tuition students, will bring down the cost to local taxpayers considerably. Understand that private schools and the Vermont academies (Burr & Burton, St. Johnsbury Academy, etc.) spend a lot to advertise their schools. WUHSMS is one of the best performing schools in the state, third best in the state according to U.S. News and World Report rankings. Using this information, along with a new state-of-the-art facility, we could empower the Woodstock Economic Development Commission to engage in a robust advertising effort to to promote WUHS to to surrounding “tuition” towns, as well as to families and students regionally. We could expand our effort to attract international students through the partnerships with international schools established by our excellent language department teachers, as well as through agencies who facilitate these exchanges.

4. Educate our neighbors on fixed incomes regarding property tax abatement/rebate/prebates. Some may not be aware about how this can impact them and significantly lower their taxes. This can limit the impact for those least able to pay.

5.  Empower local support agencies (the Hub, Barnard Helping Hands, etc.) to fundraise specifically to help those in need of property tax assistance. Donate to these agencies specifically for this purpose if you can.

6. Continue with fundraising specifically to reduce the overall cost of the bond. Remember that the Union Arena was built with private funds and there are donors in the area who may be willing to make very significant contributions once they see that the community is on board with a new school. Encourage smaller donations as well, to be applied directly to reduce the overall cost of the project.

Lastly, I believe it is our responsibility and that now is our time to invest in our future as a community, and to invest in the thousands of students who will walk through the doors of WUHS over the next 75 years. We need to vote yes with a sense of optimism and then work together to make sure no one in our community is burdened beyond their abilities.

Thank you all.

Stephen Stuntz,
Woodstock

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