A recent social media post asked the question whether consolidation would "actually have any material financial effect on what we all are paying?" Here are the numbers. You decide if it’s material or if it’s worth the risks.
It’s important to remember that the information presented by the school board lumped together operating cost savings from closing Fayston with operating cost savings from reconfiguring the middle schools. Many people believe that the estimated savings are all from closing Fayston. That is incorrect.
On the personnel side: As the surviving schools need additional staffing to accommodate Fayston students, closing Fayston eliminates a principal, two K-4 teachers, one grade 5-6 teacher, one and a half maintenance employees, one admin assistant, and one-half of a food service worker. Seven employees total.
On the operating and maintenance side board packet says we save $132,000 by closing Fayston Elementary School. Based on the school board’s annual cost of $75,000 per full-time equivalent (FTE), there is a $657,000 total savings from closing Fayston.
For the median house in the district, that is a $104 annual tax savings. Factoring in income sensitivity, the savings per median district household is around $60 to $70.
But here are the risks:
Would property values, particularly in the town without a school, go down? Empirical data and common sense both say yes. What is the impact on the equity in your home? How does the decline in assessed value shift the tax burden to others?
Closing a Valley school puts the other schools very near their capacity. The board’s consultant has concluded that none of The Valley schools, including Fayston, can be expanded. So the district’s ability to increase enrollment and reduce cost per pupil is very limited. That means The Valley now has about as many families with children as it will ever have. Not good if you have a child-oriented service business.
If a school closes, we will obviously lose some enrollment. How many will we lose and what is the economic impact? If we lose 40 students districtwide because of consolidation, the increase in the cost per pupil would wipe out any savings from consolidation.
What would happen to Fayston’s approximate $100,000 Small Schools Grant if it’s closed?
Fayston has drawn a lot of ire in this process. That has not been a good thing for children or for teacher morale. So please keep these points in mind when you think about the information that has been presented:
Fayston’s cost per equalized student was $15,460 in FY 2017, lower than all but Warren. Now it is reported to be $23,756.
In 2017, Fayston gained two students from Intradistrict Choice (IDC). Over the next two years, IDC cost Fayston 17 students. It is impossible to deny that Fayston’s present enrollment, and the eye-popping cost per student, is the result of anything other than the repeated and focused threat of closure, not a declining birth rate. And who knows how many families didn’t move to Fayston, or The Valley, because of the uncertainty?
Pick whatever measure you want, Fayston is among the very top schools in the state. Removing the cloud of closure might very well change the IDC trends 180 degrees in Fayston’s favor, thereby changing the cost per pupil by school comparison a similar 180 degrees. Why deny the district’s kids the great educational opportunity and the unique small school experience that is Fayston Elementary School?
Michl lives in Fayston, Vermont.