Taxes Going Up. No Down. No Up.

I helped to found and was the first chair of the Parent Support Group at Missisquoi Valley Union High, the 7-12 public school my kids attended.

The new high school opened in Highgate, Vermont, just outside the village of Swanton in 1970. The school district is a union of Franklin, Highgate, and Swanton kids. An unusual series of interconnected circular buildings called pods with a network of outdoor paths serve about 1,000 students.

I never liked the name (we were parents supporting the kids and the school, not parents getting psychological help) and the architecture was a mistake in the frozen north, but I did like the group.

MVU was in trouble by the 1980s. Student morale was down. Teacher morale was down. And no one in the community liked the place.

Graduation rates were low. Teachers earned less than shelf stockers in Ames. And the moat around the school widened the town-gown divide.

We did a lot. We opened the front doors wide and drained the moat. Started a goal setting group and an arts council. Promoted the change from “junior high” to “middle school.” Championed pay parity for teachers and learning parity for students. Got the Gov on stage. Test scores rose. Salaries rose. Community spirits rose.

Unfortunately, test scores have fallen, salaries keep rising, and community spirit is back in the toilet.

I blame part of that on the isolationist feel that creeps into so many schools.

I blame more on salary creep. See, the average salary for a professional teacher is now significantly higher than the average wage for the taxpayer paying that average salary. Worse yet, Joe the Plumber sees immediate results when he does a job — the leak stops. Then Joe the Plumber sees that test scores at the professionally run school keep hemorrhaging.

And school taxes, now collected by invisible people in Montpeculiar, keep on going up.

Vermont Business Week reported that a Vermont House committee will “increase the statewide property tax rate for fiscal year 2015. The homestead rate will go up 4 cents and the non-residential rate will go up 7.5 cents under the House Ways and Means Committee proposal. In December, the forecast for the rate was 7 cents for homestead property taxpayers.

“The committee was able to reduce property tax rates because statewide school spending increases were less than expected.”

Lemme see if I have this right.

“The homestead rate will go UP 4 cents and the non-residential rate will go UP 7.5 cents…” but “the committee was able to reduce property tax rates.”

That has to win the doublespeak award for 2014.

Once upon a time a property tax reduction meant that your taxes (and mine) would go down. “The homestead rate will go UP 4 cents and the non-residential rate will go UP 7.5 cents…”

Good that we are teaching such fine arithmetic in Vermont these days. Must be those Common Core standards.

“Prove in 112 steps that a change from 94 cents to 98 cents is a decrease of 4 cents.”

Annie - the MusicalMVU has some great programs. The school musical, long a community favorite, is Annie this year. It takes the stage in the school’s world class theater on Thursday. Caroline Bright of Franklin, the 2010 Miss Vermont, is an MVU graduate. MVU won the large gold traveling trophy champion of the 2013 Vermont Treasury Cup Challenge, an academic challenge of personal finance and economic knowledge.

But.

I’m now an outsider looking in at the school my children invested in. What I see saddens me.

What I see is the state charging us more and more and the school giving us less and less.

The $15.7 million MVU budget would cost about $16,000/per student. That budget was defeated.

MVU has fewer students this year than it did in the 1980s. MVU has more “educators” this year than it did in the 1980s. MVU ranks 42 out of 53 Vermont high schools on the 11th grade NECAP Mathematics and the NECAP Reading assessments (we don’t call them tests anymore). Two Franklin County schools are in the bottom fifth: MVU at #42 and Richford Junior/Senior High School at #49. Enosburg Falls Junior/Senior High School almost made it at #39. It gets worse. MVU also ranks 79 out of 86 Vermont middle schools on the NECAP 8th grade Mathematics and Reading tests. That’s the bottom ten percent. Heck, even the top ranked Vermont school still has more kids falling behind than surging ahead.

I’m glad to report the outdoor paths between MVU classrooms have been moved inside. That didn’t help test scores.

It’s time to wrest our school back from the people who think rising taxes cost us less. It’s time to wrest our school back from the people who think the best way to fix falling test scores is to stop giving tests. It’s time to wrest our school back from failure.

 

1 thought on “Taxes Going Up. No Down. No Up.

  1. In my area, the property tax rate has gone down “slightly”, but the PROPERTY VALUATION has gone up significantly.

    Increased taxation is not about improving education. It is about getting more money.

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