At Town Meeting last week, The Valley's representatives to the state Legislature, Adam Greshin (I-Warren) and Maxine Grad (D-Moretown), updated residents on an education funding reform bill that would—according to an early draft—phase out grants to small schools in Vermont.
"That won't affect the town of Warren," Greshin told voters at Warren's Town Meeting on Tuesday, March 3, nor will it affect the town of Waitsfield. But the phasing out of small school grants could affect Moretown and Fayston.
Under Act 68, Vermont schools with two-year average enrollments of fewer than 100 students or average grade sizes smaller than 20 students are eligible to receive state funding. Average grade size is calculated by dividing a school's enrollment by the number of grades it has, which, in the case of The Valley's schools, is seven counting pre-kindergarten.
For FY2015-16, Moretown Elementary School has a two-year average enrollment of 117.5 and an average grade size of 16.79 and so it will receive a grant in the amount of $53,859. Also for next year, Fayston Elementary School has a two-year average enrollment of 119 and an average grade size of 17 and so it will receive a grant in the amount of $53,180.
On the other hand, Waitsfield Elementary School, which for FY2013-14 had an enrollment of 155 and an average grade size of 22.14, and Warren Elementary School, which for that same year had an enrollment of 184 and an average grade size of 26.29, are not eligible for small school grants and, therefore, do not receive state funding under Act 68.
The size of the grants Fayston and Moretown have received has varied over the past five years, from about $15,000 to $60,000. They are determined by a formula that takes into account the school's enrollment, so basically "the smaller the school, the greater the grant," Washington West Supervisory Union's (WWSU) director of finance Michelle Baker said. Last year, more than 100 small schools in Vermont received grants ranging from $16,000 to $160,000 and totaling over $7 million.
At Town Meeting on March 3, voters in Moretown approved a school budget of $2,221,773 for next year. The $53,859 grant will cover 2.4 percent of that budget and "that's significant," Baker said. Likewise, Fayston's $53,180 grant will cover 3.05 percent of the $1,741,939 school budget voters approved earlier this month.
Last year, an education funding reform bill that also included a section phasing out grants to small schools came before the Vermont Legislature, but it didn't get past the Senate. Greshin, a Warren resident, voted in favor of passing the bill, while Grad, a Moretown resident, voted against it.
"Often there are these challenges where different towns have different needs," Grad said, speaking to the discrepancies among Valley schools, some of which receive state funding and some of which don't.
In general, "The approach I use is to try to advocate for policies that support my communities," Greshin said, "however, I represent five communities and each of those has unique characteristics. ... In the times that they don't agree, then I have to think about what is the best policy."
This year, "My support has not changed," Greshin said, explaining that he is still in favor of phasing out small school grants. Regardless of where they stand on the proposed education funding reform bill, however, both Grad and Greshin make sure to point out the intricacies of the legislation.
With regard to phasing out small school grants, "There are many allowances for towns such as Moretown and Fayston that enter into discussions with other towns about sharing resources or administrative services," Greshin said, explaining that by doing so those towns could continue to receive state funding.
In addition, the proposed education funding bill includes allowances for schools that decide to merge to continue to receive grants and allowances for schools that cannot merge due to geographic isolation, so that they can continue to receive grants.
"If you look at the details of the bill, it's far less severe than you think," Greshin said.
With these allowances, Grad thinks the proposed education funding reform bill "could actually help small schools," she said, although she emphasizes that it still has a long way to go in the Vermont Legislature. "As it stands now ... there's never really a 'now,'" Grad said. "Things keep changing," she said.