May 17, 2007
By JOHN S. McCRIGHT
HANCOCK/GRANVILLE — After casting votes on Town Meeting Day that appeared to doom the Granville-Hancock Village School, residents in the two Addison County towns at separate meetings on Wednesday night reconsidered their March 6 decisions and voted instead to fund the school for another year.
“I’m very pleased,” said Granville school board member Kristi Fuller. “If I learned any lessons it’s that you need to hang on to your school as tight as you can and you need to get the people in Montpelier to understand that Vermont is a rural community and we’re not going to consolidate all the schools in the state.”
Granville and Hancock merged their separate village schools three years ago and teach about 36 children in kindergarten through sixth-grade at two buildings, one in each town. Many in both towns have defended the unique education that their children get in this setting.
A revised budget proposal for the 2007-2008 school year was presented at the Wednesday meetings. It lowered the overall spending projection by about $65,000 to $389,360. A budget presentation at the Hancock meeting showed that if the school remained open then Hancock would need to raise a total of $840 more in taxes on homesteads compared with closing the school. For Granville, the number was closer to $1,300.
A man in the audience in Hancock pointed out that that worked out to about $15 on a $150,000 house in his town.
The $65,000 savings came from small cuts — $2,190 less for art supplies and an art teacher because kindergarten was going to a half day and $1,650 less for books and periodicals for the library, for example — and from some big cuts.
$30,000 was saved by taking busing out of the Village School budget and putting it into the town school budget (which covers both primary and secondary age students). Because the costs of running the Village School are apportioned to each town based on the number of students they send — 67 percent of the cost will be borne next year by Hancock with 24 students and 33 percent by Granville with 12 students — Hancock would have paid for two-thirds of the $30,000 busing bill. With the item moved out of the Village School budget, the expense will be split 50-50, meaning Hancock will pay about $5,000 less for busing.
In addition, $17,500 was saved by cutting a pre-kindergarten aid, which was deemed not to be needed because of enrollment, and from things like Spanish instruction and cross-country skiing, which some people at the meetings lamented because they said those made the Village School unique. Don Crickard, who presented the reworked budget at the Hancock meeting, said people were trying to get grants to reinstate some of the cuts.
The new budget proposal also reflected an $11,500 cut in the expense from the superintendent’s office, which was said to have been the result of an earlier miscalculation. Unlike the Town Meeting Day budget plan, the new one also accounted for $16,860 in tuition that would be paid to the Village School if it kept its doors open, and $52,500 in Small Schools Grants from the state.
At the Hancock meeting questions fell into several categories. Some people wondered how residents on fixed incomes were going to be able to pay continually rising school taxes. Others asked what good would it be to keep the village school open if the board was suggesting cuts that took away many of the programs that made it a unique school. Still others wondered why the numbers presented at Wednesday’s meeting could be trusted when the school board previously had said it could not cut any more.
At the Hancock meeting on Wednesday, Bob Long made an impassioned plea to keep the Village School open.
“I was a teacher for many years in Brattleboro, and other parts of Vermont, and outside the state, and I was a part-time teacher (for 10 years) at the Village School here,” Long said. “The difference between the youngsters I’ve seen here (and the ones in Rochester and Brattleboro) was like night and day. The youngsters care about each other here and you don’t see that in bigger schools. It was phenomenal. That’s why I say we’ve got to keep this school open.”
Crickard made the point that by having a local school, the towns would have more flexibility so that if, for instance, a family with child moved to town that new student could be easily be absorbed without much added expense, while if the town tuitioned all its students to other schools then a new child in town simply meant another $9,000 in school expenses.
Sending all the children to schools in other towns means “a real loss of community,” said Crickard, who went to the Hancock school as a child and has two children in the Village School. “Kids go to different schools and don’t know each other. Parents are spending time driving kids around and they don’t get to see each other.”
At the Hancock annual school meeting in March voters rejected a proposed school budget by a vote of 39-29, a move that signaled to the school board the public’s wish to close the Village School and tuition the children to schools in neighboring towns. Voters in Granville, who met after the Hancock results were known, decided that they couldn’t go it alone with fewer than a dozen children and also elected to tuition their students.
But petitions in both towns sought reconsideration and a committee of residents from both towns intensely scoured the budget numbers and presented the plan at each of the meetings Wednesday.
As a procedural matter, residents at each town’s meeting Wednesday had to vote to reconsider the Town Meeting Day decision. This proved to be a close vote at both meetings — 35 yes, 31 no in Hancock, and 43 yes, 39 no in Granville.
When it came time to vote on approval of the new Village School budget, Hancock’s tally was 34 yes, 28 no; and in Granville it was 56 yes and 27 no. Hancock then approved total K-12 school spending for 2007-2008 of $771,014 and Granville OK’d a K-12 budget of $761,301.
Both towns saw high voter turnout, with Granville having more votes cast on Wednesday than on Town Meeting Day.
The Granville-Hancock Village School Board will meet on Thursday evening at the Granville school to assess the impact of Wednesday’s voting. Board members from both towns said the two months since Town Meeting Day have been consumed with budget planning and they will be glad to get back to other board business. For one, they have to formally offer the four Village School teachers contracts, which they couldn’t do until now.
Granville’s Fuller, considering the outcome of Wednesday’s votes, reiterated a theme of local control that was heard at both meetings.
“I think we made a point in Granville that if we don’t have a school then we don’t have anything to talk about, it’s just pay the tuition bill.”