Opinion: VUHS cuts would hurt kids, school, property values

As a Vergennes Union High School faculty member, local taxpayer and parent, I find myself in a very awkward situation. As a faculty member I support my school and my community. I want to make it clear that my job is not in jeopardy from the proposed cuts. As a local taxpayer and parent, I feel an obligation to write this letter to inform the public on some of the details of the proposed budget and some of my thoughts on this process.
First of all, I am just as appalled at how much we pay in property taxes as everybody else. I think it is outrageous that the state and federal government asks so much us and the only venue they give us to voice our concerns is through the school budget. We should be picketing and marching in Montpelier and D.C. instead of cutting our educational programming.
When I looked at the 11 percent increase proposed in the last budget vote, my heart sank, both because of the tax increase, and because I knew that most voters did not have enough information to feel justified in passing this budget. I feel that many voters do not know that the budget increase was due substantially to past fiscal management-related mistakes, state mandates, and prior commitments made during the budget process, not by overspending in the school.
More importantly, many voters do not know that the 2015-2016 budget already included significant reductions in both faculty and staff that will negatively impact the educational opportunities students have here at VUHS. The proposed reductions that were already included in the initial budget proposal total to 4.9 full-time employee cuts and include a 0.33 reduction in Art, a 0.33 reduction in Music/Chorus, a 0.66 reduction in Science, a 0.5 reduction in World Language and a 0.5 reduction in English.
My daughter who is in seventh grade was very excited to join the Art Club, and now that is no longer an option. After several visits to Montreal and learning about our state’s history from our excellent social studies teachers, my daughter wants to become fluent in French, and it looks like that may no longer be an option as well. And I don’t even want to think about how devastating it would be for our school if we lost one of the most renowned choral teachers in the state.
My wife hears this and says we have to move or do School of Choice because and I quote, “Your job and your belief in the public school system will not interfere with our children’s opportunities.” What am I supposed to say to that?
There is all this talk of declining enrollment even though we have the largest eighth grade that we have had since 2001 and one of the largest fourth grades and kindergarten classes at Vergennes Union Elementary School that they have seen in a long time; however, there is one way to guarantee a declining enrollment and that is by lowering the quality of our children’s education at the high school level by continuing to make these cuts.
I have personally seen one School of Choice form in the past month and have heard of several others from students leaving VUHS for schools that pass their budgets and have more opportunities for their students. I love it here and I want my kids to go to a school where students have different perspectives and value systems and everyone can learn from each other, but I also agree with my wife and do not want to limit my children’s opportunities because of my belief system.
And I know I’m not the only one. The first thing that young couples look at when deciding where to raise a family is the quality of the school system. Cutting school programs to save money on property taxes is extremely short sighted.
When I moved here 15 years ago, this was known as a district that passed budgets and the school system was on the up and up. If we continue cutting teachers and programs, this will no longer be the case and we will have a lot more to worry about than a few-hundred-dollar tax increase. We will be worrying about our property values dropping thousands and even tens of thousands of dollars because we will no longer have an educational program that is of a high enough standard to attract new homeowners and future students.
Reducing the budget any further would have an even more devastating impact on our programming and, in turn, the education of all students. We need to put the same budget up again for a re-vote with one small change. Instead of “reducing” some of the most qualified teachers in the state which will likely lead to their departure, we should spread out paying the $150,000 deficit that we owe for hot lunches that was created by poor fiscal management. Our children should not be suffering because of these types of mistakes.
We need to pass this existing budget not just for the future of this school and the well being of our students, but for the financial stability and prosperity of this entire community.
Christopher Wyckoff
Panton resident and parent of two up-and-coming high school students

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