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Valley News – Strafford plans to teach Grades 7 and 8, cutting Newton School through Kindergarten to Grade 6

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STRAFFORD – Over the past few years, the community surrounding Newton’s school has debated what to do about his grades in college.

Now the question is being put to a vote. On October 5, Strafford will decide whether to keep his seventh and eighth graders at the city’s Newton School or reduce those grades and pay the tuition to send the students elsewhere, as Strafford does for high school.

“I believe that the school is ready to do whatever the city decides and that it will be important for them to have some sort of mandate from the people to do whatever they have to do”, Aaron Dotter, president of Strafford School Board, said Friday.

A briefing on the matter is scheduled for 1 p.m. on Saturday, in person at Barrett Hall in South Strafford and online. Ballots have been mailed to voters and can be returned to the city clerk by mail, dropped off at the city clerk’s office or in person at polling stations on October 5. Polling stations will be open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. in the city. Office of the Registrar.

The school board took no position on the issue, but sent a nine-page letter to residents explaining the educational and financial compromises and some of the history leading up to the vote.

A few years ago, in the 2018-19 school year, nine families removed students from Newton School, most of them in seventh and eighth grades, and paid school fees to send them at Thetford Academy and Sharon Academy, independent private schools. in nearby towns that have college programs.

A report released in May 2019 interviewed a representative sample of the school community and found issues with the school culture, including a general lack of respect and disruptive behavior among students. After discussing the issue at the city meeting in March, a task force met that summer to assess the issues at the college. He presented a report to the school board in October.

At the same time, the school administration overturned, with Newton principal Greg Bagnato resigning in June 2019. Tracy Thompson took over as acting principal and was hired to a permanent position a year later.

Under Thompson, and with the help of consultants from the University of Vermont’s Tarrant Institute for Innovative Education, which specializes in middle school education, the Newton School undertook a rebuilding of the college and enrollment has stabilized. The new model brings students in grades five to eight together to provide larger class sizes and greater opportunities for socializing.

“The college education offered in Newton is currently aligned with the programs, expectations and opportunities needed for a high quality college,” Thompson said in a letter to the school community.

The current eighth grade at Newton has three students, but the remaining years of college range from nine to 13 students. The eighth grade is the last class to have substantial departures to other schools, Dotter said.

Strafford students choose their high schools, and the larger college programs in Thetford, Sharon, Hanover and Hartford are attractive to some families in Strafford.

But offering the choice for college would come at a cost. While Strafford would spend just over $ 18,000 per student if he kept his college in-house, a financial analysis by the White River Valley Supervisory Union shows his cost per student would jump to $ 21,500 if he paid the fees. tuition for the seventh and eighth grades.

Strafford is currently sending high school students to several schools in Thetford, Sharon, Hanover, Hartford, Royalton and other communities. Tuition fees for these schools vary widely, ranging from around $ 17,000 at Sharon Academy to Richmond Middle School in Hanover, which charges $ 23,500. The financial analysis uses the Thetford Academy rate of just under $ 20,000.

Financial analysis predicts that Strafford’s education tax rate would increase by about 30 cents per $ 100 of assessed value if the district had to pay tuition and did not offset the higher cost with reductions in what would be then a preK-6 school. Such an increase would put Strafford above the state’s overspending penalty.

That would mean that the owner of a home valued at $ 300,000 would pay $ 900 more in school property taxes. If he implements cuts, he could keep the tax rate increase at around 6 cents, which would increase the tax bill by around $ 180.

But the cuts would include reducing the full-time director and guidance counselor to 0.6 full-time equivalents; reduce the librarian from 0.8 to 0.4 FTE; world languages ​​and outdoor education programs; an interventionist and a teaching post.

“It would affect the extra things like language, the ability to do outdoor education,” and it would increase class sizes, Dotter said.

In conversations on Friday, residents of Strafford said they were just learning of the proposal now or did not want to discuss a topic that has divided the city.

Roz Finn, a resident for over 40 years, said she feared the school might not have enough students to be viable if it dropped out of grades 7 and 8.

But Bob Johnston, a longtime former principal of Thetford Primary School, said education should be the main concern.

“If it costs a few dollars more and they have a better education elsewhere, then we should do it,” he said.

Alex Hanson can be reached at [email protected] or 603-727-3207.


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