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Stratford citizens concerned about school costs

January 26, 2011
STRATFORD — What does the future hold for the students and taxpayers of Stratford? The answer to this question could lie in the form of a warrant article at the upcoming Town Meeting.

A newly formed group of concerned citizens feel that it is in the best interest of the Stratford students, as well as the taxpayers, to close grades 6-12 at the Stratford school. The stance has been prompted by a projected loss in State Education Aid revenue to Stratford of around $300,000. This is reported to have a massive impact on the school district's budget sending it soaring by 6.5 percent and increasing the town portion of the school tax rate nearly 75 percent from $8.77 to $17.16, according to the Colebrook News and Sentinel.

Representatives of the group spoke publicly at last week's Northumberland School Board meeting. Stratford resident and group spokesman, Dan Smith, explained that they feel that Groveton schools can offer a better quality, more diverse curriculum to the Stratford students than what they are currently being offered through the Stratford school system. Their group's current goal is simply to act as a conduit to open a line of communication between the two respective school boards. The group made a request to the Groveton board to allow the Stratford board members to meet with them, in a public forum, to discuss the situations that currently exist and to weigh the available options. "We'd like to see a warrant article on the agenda at Town Meeting to tuition the Stratford kids to the Groveton schools." Smith added.

Groveton School Board chairperson, Sally Pelletier, got the nod from the members of the board to agree for the board to meet in public session with the Stratford board, but the she stipulated that the Stratford board would have to initiate the request for the meeting. Pelletier also suggested that the citizens' group get together with Pierre Couture, the high school Principal, to get a copy of the school's information packet.

The Northumberland School Board and Budget Committee had discussed the issue at the previous night's school budget work session on Wednesday, and noted that there was a huge revenue potential for their district, by helping Stratford alleviate their budget woes, if the voters wanted to do so. While they noted that Stratford is looking at Colebrook and/or Groveton schools as possible alternatives, Groveton's tuition rate is $12,900 per student at the high school level, while Colebrook's is $15,000. Groveton could also absorb the Stratford High School students at no additional cost since the staffing levels are adequate to add the small number of students.

Stratford resident, Jim Brown, said in an interview, "It only makes perfect sense for the Stratford board to at least meet with the Groveton board and take a look at what Groveton can offer and, if nothing else, open the door for future communication. It can only make any potential transitions that much easier, regardless of what the outcome is this year."

"The main focus here should be on the kids and what's best for them," he said.

Bruce Blodgett commented in a phone interview, "When I was on the Stratford board last year, you could sort of see this coming. Several of the people who lobbied then to keep the kids in Stratford are now in favor of tuitioning them to Groveton. This group is not trying to complicate things. We are looking for input and we want to get all of the facts out to the public. I'd like to see a survey done of what the Stratford students think about all this and what they'd like to see happen."

Stratford School Board member, Mike Lynch, said, "People need to understand that the taxes are going to rise significantly even if the school closes. We know we will be losing some Vermont tuition kids and that means a loss of revenue. Not to mention that we're losing over $300,000 in state funding this year." Lynch added, "I personally feel that it does not benefit Stratford to close the school, but I will move ahead with whatever the majority of the taxpayers want. "

Steve Sanborn, of Maidstone, Vermont, will be attending a public meeting with the Groveton School Board on January 31 at the school library to make a presentation regarding the potential reorganization of the local SAU. He would also like to discuss some things he feels the school board could and should do to attract more Vermont tuition students to the Groveton High School.

Martin Lord Osman
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