Since its beginning two years ago and growing out of the work of the Futures Committee, the Rochester ISIS (Independent School Investigatory Study) Committee envisions an affordable, local school. Results of an informal poll conducted for people in attendance at an informational forum a year ago also showed strong support for a local school and support for school choice. Yet, the cost of the public school has become unsustainable. We believe that the time is now to form an independent school. In doing so, according to state regulations, we have to vote to close the public school in order to keep a local school and offer full school choice to every Rochester student.
The Rochester School has seen a steady decline in enrollment that greatly impacts a small, public K-12 school. Currently, the school enrollment for fiscal year 2013 is 150 students (including tuition students), K-12. In comparison, fiscal year 2004 saw 250 students, K-12. That is a decrease of 40 percent of the student body in nine years. The school has not been able to keep pace with this decline and the cost of educating the students has reached a high of $21,000 per pupil. At the same time, programs have been cut back to the point where there will only be a part-time secondary English teacher and the soccer teams will be consolidated with Whitcomb for the 2013-2014 school year. More cuts are inevitable as costs continue to rise.
A number of our neighboring towns have school choice. One such town is currently considering a petition that would tuition its students to the elementary schools in Ripton, Middlebury, Bethel, Randolph and Warren, thus eliminating Rochester. Further decline in enrollment at the Rochester School will drive costs up even higher as this sending town seeks “a superior education at a lower tuition rate.”
Efforts are under way all over the state to reduce educational costs and better serve our children. To this end, the Vermont Agency of Education via Act 153 is considering mandating that our supervisory union (WNWSU) be dissolved. The ISIS Committee is concerned that if this happens parents in Rochester will lose the possibility of full school choice due to the demands of consolidation. In order to achieve full school choice of public and independent schools for our Rochester students, our state regulations require that we close the public school, i.e., become a “non-operating” district. We have the option of closing it in entirety or in parts. Then, we will have more choices about how and where we will educate our children.
The transformation to an independent school could truly be a viable solution for problems facing the Rochester School. While building upon the many benefits of a small student body, the teachers and the community, we are poised to become a model independent school. We ask for your support and involvement to make this vision a reality. Please join us on April 30 at 6 p.m. in the Rochester town office to hear a presentation by Daren Houck, head of school,at the independent Mountain School at Winhall.
The Rochester ISIS Committee members include Trina Service, Dara Van Laanen, and Gretchen Cotell.