3-11-15 – Education Committee Chair Spreads Misinformation About Independent School

by Rob Roper

At a legislative breakfast in Middlebury, Rep. David Sharpe (D-Bristol) was asked why expanding school choice, allowing money to follow the student, was not part of the education finance reform bill Sharpe’s committee has been working on. Sharpe responded by referring to North Bennington, a community that in 2013 elected to close their pubic elementary school and reopen it as the independent Village School of North Bennington (VSNB). The move gave all children in the district school choice under Vermont’s “tuitioning” system.

Sharpe warned, “Their per pupil costs went up $5000. They are now one of the highest spending schools in the state, and their taxes have gone out of sight in North Bennington.”

Problem: Sharpe’s claims are blatantly, flagrantly, utterly FALSE. The Village School’s per pupil costs are totally transparent at $12,938 – significantly less than the state public school average of over $17,000. (VT DATA)

In a letter responding to Sharpe’s misinformation, Tom Martin, Head VSNB, provided a detailed spreadsheet of VSNB’s costs. Far from increasing costs, VSNB has cut their overall operating budget from $2.1 million in FY 2013 to $1.8 million for FY 2015. Said Martin, “This expenditure will provide a comprehensive program for all children in our school pre-k through grade 6 including children with special needs and is $82,764 less than the previous fiscal year and $463,803 less than total projected expenditures for the public school.” He went on,

When comparing the costs to the public school district you will clearly see that the independent school costs are decreasing each year of our operation while the cost of the public school district continues to increase. Your comments asserting that the increasing costs experienced by the public school district in North Bennington are attributable to “privatization” of the school are not supported by the facts.

Sharpe was correct in asserting that property taxes are going up in North Bennington, but not because of the Village School. According to the Bennington Banner, it’s because of special education costs in the public schools and, “Also putting a strain on the North Bennington budget is pre-K for 4-year-olds, which was mandated by Act 166…. In all likelihood, there will be another substantial increase when 3-year-olds are actually integrated into the pre-K system in FY17.” (Bennington Banner, 2/22/15)

Montpelier is responsible for rising costs and property taxes. Dave Sharpe and his colleagues are the problem, and they are not really interested in a solution. If they were, they would have at least some clue about what’s really happening in North Bennington, and wouldn’t feel compelled to mislead constituents about what is a genuinely exciting and successful example of genuine education reform.


Take the EAI School Choice Survey: Agree or Disagree: The Legislature should allow all K-12 students to participate in Vermont’s school choice “tuitioning” program (currently available in 93 towns) in order to help reduce education costs, cut property taxes, and improve student outcomes/opportunities. CLICK TO TAKE SURVEY

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

forbes March 11, 2015 at 4:29 pm

It is always interesting to know where people that back or not, a particular issue, come from and that is not directed to just geographic, but education, past or present employment, associations and any other info that would tell us that person could represent all concerned in such a crucial endeavor.


Wendy Wilton March 12, 2015 at 12:44 am

Thank you Rob Roper and EAI for correcting Rep. Sharpe’s misinformation. Please share this with the Addison Independent.


Jim Bulmer March 14, 2015 at 1:54 pm

Just one more example of the ineptitude of many of the folks in Montpelier. When confronted with a potentially embarrassing question to which they do not have the answer, rather than being honest with words to the effect “I don’t know and I’ll get the answer”, they simply state whatever supports their position, regardless of the facts. Haven’t we had enough? How much longer do we have to suffer these fools?


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