Home Commentary The Case For Closing Roxbury Village School 

The Case For Closing Roxbury Village School 

By Richard Sheir

The Montpelier Roxbury Public School (MRPS) District was established after a prolonged period of negotiation in 2017, when the state sought to merge costly small school districts. To encourage larger districts to merge, the state offered generous property tax incentives for a transition period of several years to cushion the impact on local residents. In the agreement, Montpelier allowed Roxbury to run its own costly elementary school for fewer than 40 students for the three years that Montpelier taxpayers received state property tax relief. After three years, in 2021, the state property tax subsidy ended and the initial agreement for the tiny elementary school expired. The sizable transfer of Montpelier taxes to subsidize some thirty Roxbury families didn’t. 

These are the numbers according to the Vermont Agency of Education and MRPS superintendent Libby Bonesteel:

  • Montpelier Roxbury Public Schools students — 1,250.
  • Students residing in Roxbury — 83 (7% of all students).
  • Students attending Union Elementary School — 454.
  • Students attending Roxbury Village School — 39.
  • District allocation for Roxbury Village School — $1.2 million per year (five full-time-equivalent staff positions).
  • Average per pupil spending for the MRPS District — $18,037 per student (50th percentile).
  • Average per pupil spending for the Roxbury Village School — $30,769 per student (171% of district average) (the most expensive cost per student elementary school in the entire state).
The net impact of integrating 39 Roxbury Village School students into Union Elementary:

  • Absorbing 39 students, class sizes at Union would increase on the margin but remain within the maximum class size without having to hire new teachers.
  • Assuming the cost of 39 Roxbury students at Union at the district’s $18,037 per student — $703,443.
  • The net savings, were the $1.2 million, 30-family subsidy to end after the current school year and were the district to integrate our entire student body — $496,557.
The state school funding agreement of May, 2022 leaves the district facing a nearly $600,000 budget gap.

The new school funding formula was signed into law on May 23, 2022. The Montpelier Roxbury Public School board has had 18 months to figure out how to adjust to the new realities of state school funding. 

In the past year and a half our school board has done nothing to address the most obvious district spending inefficiencies. It literally took a massive flood for them to finally pull back their promise — made to another small handful of families — of a $3 million state-of-the-art track (located in a flood plain). In the shadow of a large budget gap our board now frantically searches for spending cuts that will impact Montpelier students as well as Roxbury students attending schools in Montpelier, doggedly refusing to even consider addressing the obvious. End the costly subsidy to some thirty Roxbury families and there are no cuts required and the district actually nets almost $100,000. 

The argument — raised by residents of Roxbury — that the school building is essential to the town of Roxbury was discussed during merger negotiations. Embedded in the 2017 agreement between Roxbury and Montpelier is a stipulation that when the school closes, the 10,000 square foot building on 2.3 acres would be sold to the town of Roxbury for $1. It is a valuable asset in the present and future Roxbury. It can be repurposed into a community center, a recreation center, housing, anything voters see in their vision of Roxbury’s future. This was anticipated when the merger was first under discussion. The deal offered and accepted by Roxbury was reasonable, generous, and quite fair.

The promises to Roxbury have been kept. Now is the time for the school board to finally honor the intent of the consolidation agreement made to Montpelier residents after the state subsidy ends. 

The school board’s talk of shifting contingency funds and shifting capital funds to operating to help shape next year’s budget is avoidance; gimmick budgeting. Our board should instead be getting real with both communities. In a Town Meeting that will be dominated by talk of significant state and local tax hikes, the school board presenting a gimmicked budget that continues substantial subsidies to a handful is wholly irresponsible. Its fate is predictable. Its controversial budget will likely be soundly defeated by Montpelier voters. A special election will be held 30–45 days later, at a cost of $4,000. Voters will likely overwhelmingly approve a revised school budget containing no programmatic cuts and no gimmicks. Union Elementary will then begin to prepare to greet some 40 odd new students come August 2024. 

The material presented here represents the opinion of the author and does not reflect the opinions of The Bridge. Commentaries may be submitted to editor@montpelierbridge.com. Preference is given to submissions by those who live in central Vermont. Submissions are encouraged to be 500 to 750 words in length.