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Roxbury School to Close This Fall

big white old fashioned school house blue sky white clouds, telephone pole in right foreground.
Roxbury Village School doubles as the Town Hall. Photo by Carla Occaso.
Roxbury will soon be without a school, but not a school building, after a 5–4 vote of the Montpelier Roxbury Public Schools Board to bus all Roxbury students to Union Elementary School starting this fall. The decision came on March 20, after a defeated budget on Town Meeting day. It effectively closes the Roxbury Village School for daytime student use but keeps the building as a resource. 

“This is a really, really, sad, sad position to be in,” said Rhett Williams, a board member from Roxbury.

“This process has been so rapid and ruthless there’s been no time really to include parents and children in Roxbury in a thoughtful process,” said Roxbury resident Ben Pincus. “I’m already speaking to a mom who’s decided to educate her children at home, not knowing what’s going to happen with RVS.”

Having just five Montpelier board members sway the vote “can’t sit well with anyone in the room tonight or this town,” said Emma Bay-Hansen, Montpelier resident and former board member.

“I want to acknowledge the current staff at RVS who have communicated their love for that school and their commitment to the community and those kids,” said Williams.

While the school closure ends daytime classroom use, the fiscal year 2025 budget includes $150,000 for an after-school program in Roxbury and about $70,000 to keep the bus that currently brings Roxbury students to RVS, which the bus company could reroute, said superintendent Libby Bonesteel.

Busing and the after-school programs “are two of the biggest, most fundamental pieces that are really shaking Roxbury families in terms of this transition,” said Kristen Getler, a Roxbury board member.

After voters defeated a $32 million proposed school budget on March 5, the MRPS board has been considering major cuts to the budget to bring what would have been a 23% estimated tax rate increase down to a 13.84% increase. The board approved a warning for a $30.5 million FY25 budget, which will be on the ballot April 30. 

The new budget’s nearly 14% tax rate increase for Montpelier translates to a property tax rate of $1.275, and a 3.59% increase for Roxbury, at $1.352. These rates assume a $10,000 yield, which is “a pretty safe bet,” said Bonesteel.

This is an estimated $465 more annually on a $300,000 home in Montpelier and $141 more annually on a $300,000 home in Roxbury.

“Even at 14%, we are making a big ask of taxpayers,” acknowledged Jim Murphy, board chair.

The $30.5 million budget leaves $1.6 million in the district’s fund balance for potential mitigation of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) — harmful building materials used before 1980 — as statewide testing takes place, and for other unknowns. Bonesteel said it would have used up the district’s fund balance for future years if the board had instead voted to spend those savings to lower Montpelier tax rates to a 14% increase.

The district still owns the Roxbury school building and will continue to clear snow there and take care of trash, recycling, utilities, and maintenance, said Bonesteel.

Board members charged the recently formed RVS Transition Committee to “inform and facilitate the transition process,” adding that the committee may ask the board to use some of the fund balance for transportation, school programs, and future use of the building. With Roxbury families in mind, the committee will prioritize planning transportation and the after-school program.

Sad, Rushed, and Lacking Engagement

With a decision made just two weeks after the budget was defeated, board member Scott Lewins said they haven’t had time to deliberately reach out to students, teachers, taxpayers, parents, and administrators. 

“It’s not what we had intended on doing,” he said. “The reality is that this process has damaged our community, because of the uncertainty. We cannot continue to hurt our community with another failed budget vote.”

“Let’s pass a budget,” said Williams.

“I am heartbroken for Roxbury,” said Jill Remick, board parliamentarian. “I’m not okay with having two weeks either.”

“I have no business telling this community whether they can keep their school or not,” said Remick, but “we’re out of money and we’re out of options.”

Murphy — who served on the Montpelier Roxbury merger committee in 2017 — said “it was my fear that it would come in this way.”

“In the past couple weeks, all I’ve really felt like I had control over is Roxbury: yes or no. And I’d like to learn more about the district and have input on how we configure our staff,” said board member Jake Feldman, noting Vermont has one of the lowest staff-to-student ratios in the country.

Optimism for the Transition

“We need to deal with that sadness and that hurt and that lost opportunity, but I also think we need to see this as a coming together of communities,” said Murphy. “We have to do all we can between now and August.”

Bonesteel said RVS students would be visiting UES this spring.

Mia Moore, vice chairperson, said she and Getler had reached out to another school district that had a small school closure turn into a community center. 

“Twenty years on, that little town had more town spirit and community ethos and heart than the other towns in their district,” said Moore. “I don’t have a crystal ball, but I know that there are people in Roxbury and there are people in Montpelier that care very much about small towns.”

“By voting to send the elementary school students from Roxbury to Union, we’re not technically closing the school. The school is still a resource for the district as of right now,” said Williams, and if anyone has “any bright ideas to use that space to help enhance our students’ educations, please please share those ideas with the administration of the Montpelier Roxbury Public Schools.”

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