Key issues to consider before MVSU’s new build vote

Dear Editor,

In recent discussions surrounding the upcoming bond vote for our local school district [Mountain Views Supervisory Union], a significant amount of information has been shared. However, some of it may not fully capture the situation’s complexity. This letter aims to provide a more nuanced understanding of the key issues at hand, focusing on transparency, the size and cost of the proposed building, the implications for local taxes, and relevant legislation.

Transparency efforts:

The school district has made a concerted effort to engage the community throughout the planning process. From the strategic plan that involved over 130 community members to where we are today, this has included numerous public meetings led by school board members and community volunteers. There have also been informational sessions across individual towns dating back to 2017, and they are still occurring this very week. Input from our educators has been sought to ensure the proposed building meets educational needs and standards, and advice has been given from local professionals and legislators. In addition, reports from the architect, the many engineers, the construction firm, and our owner’s representative are all public documents and are available to be seen by any member of our community. Members of our local media, including the Mountain Times, the Vermont Standard, and the Valley News, are present at the majority of our board meetings and have reported on this several times. And the school district provides updates on the website and through various social media channels to keep the public informed and involved.

Building size and cost considerations:

The proposed design for the new school has the same number of classrooms as the existing building does today, but includes adjustments to better serve current and future educational needs. These adjustments involve expanding certain areas, such as the lunchroom and spaces for middle school sports (so parents can watch their children), to align with modern educational practices, ADA compliance, and new special education standards.

Based on 80% occupancy, because not every classroom is used 100% of the time, this proposal accommodates a capacity that matches the district’s current enrollment and gives us a bit of room for growth, should it occur. Knowing that the size is correct and knowing that the building comes in at at a cost of $569 per square foot, which is below the state threshold and cheaper than five other school projects in Vermont that are priced between $633 and $726 per square foot. The school board firmly believes that this proposal continues to offer a strong education for our students and provides the best value to the taxpayers.

Tax implications:

The district’s financial planning has been robust, with a five-year capital improvement plan in place that anticipates various scenarios. We have planned to time the bond repayment to begin after the building’s completion, which provides time to fundraise, find grants, increase enrollment, and consider things like impact fees on new construction to help lessen the burden on our taxes. In the meantime, the state may pass legislation to our benefit.

Legislation and funding:

Upcoming state legislation could impact school funding, particularly with regard to the construction of new buildings versus renovation projects. The state is considering a “fewer and newer” approach and has already let us know that our building, even under new legislation, would NOT be recommended for any state funding IF we proceed with renovations. Recently, the new building being proposed, however, did receive preliminary approval from the state, meaning the new build WOULD be eligible for state funding when a program comes back online. 

Currently, the recommendation is for 30%-40% of construction costs to be paid for at the state level. It’s important to note that the board did not build this into any assumptions, and still feels the current proposal is the most cost-effective solution without these funds, but receiving them would further reduce any impact to the taxpayers.

In summary, the discussion around the school district’s plans involves a range of factors, including efforts to ensure transparency, considerations for the size and cost of the new building, the impact on local taxes, and the potential effects of state legislation.

It’s important for the community to engage with these issues thoughtfully, drawing on accurate and comprehensive information to for your decisions when you vote on March 5.

Bryce Sammel,
Barnard MVSU district board member

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