- Associated Press - Saturday, May 19, 2018

RUTLAND, Vt. (AP) - Representatives from small schools across Vermont are discouraging a change to the state’s Small School Grants program, which can be as much as $100,000 and in some small schools help pay the salary costs for an extra teacher or paraeducator.

Vermont Public Radio reports that parents, board members and residents from Peacham, Marlboro, Dummerston, Barnard and Newport went before the Board of Education Wednesday to discuss how important the grants are for schools in small communities.

As Vermont faces declining enrollment and rising education costs, a state law known as Act 46 encourages school districts to consolidate by providing tax incentives to do so. In some communities schools are closing or merging and some fear that changes to the school grant policy could hit remaining small schools hard.

David Kelley, of Greensboro, said there can be far-reaching consequences when a town loses its school.

“As elementary schools close in small rural communities, there is less reason for young couples with children to move to those towns,” Kelley said. “Property values decline, tax bases erode, and more and more the heartbeat of a town flatlines.”

The Legislature has directed the state board to come up with new measurements to determine how the annual grants are awarded. The board has until June 30 to make a decision on new metrics. The board will continue to look at student-to-staff ratios, but may also consider driving distances and the proximity of the nearest school.

“Some of the changes being discussed seem designed to make almost all schools ineligible, essentially ending the grant program,” said Barnard resident Pamela Fraser. “We believe that commitments to equity and excellence require supporting some smaller schools and the students that attend them.”

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