As a taxpayer and citizen of Orwell, I’m writing to share my reasoning for supporting the district voting YES to accept Orwell into the Slate Valley Unified Union School District. I am thankful we live in a town that is extremely passionate about our school, children and community as a whole. Yet, it’s important that there is balance behind that passion.
I’m extremely concerned about the tax rate if we don’t merge; there is not a lowering of taxes in sight if Orwell goes at this alone. Much of this concern is due to the mechanisms in the education formula. There are many variables that affect the tax rate — to name a few, student numbers, which are unlikely to increase enough to lower or even level taxes, revenue, which we have very little of, and overall expenditures. Without significant changes in revenue or an increase in students, we would be looking to cut programs/teachers. We know our taxpayers don’t want to cut programs/teachers.
In addition, Orwell will lose the small schools grant, not be able to take advantage of the tax incentives and with the significant building infrastructure needs in Orwell, Orwell will be responsible for the entire bill. If Orwell joins Slate Valley, they will be able to combine our infrastructure needs with the rest of the district's.
Orwell's tax rate increased by 15 cents this year and is expected to significantly increase in the coming year again. The 2018/2019 Slate Valley (PreK-8) tax rate is $1.2805 after the 8 cent incentive for merging while Orwell’s is $1.4911 (both rates are before the common level of appraisal). I believe our school is at more of a risk of closing if Orwell continues to go at this alone. I also believe our taxpayers deserve to know how their taxes could be affected.
It’s important to note that Benson may begin to share Spanish, Health, Physical Education and Nurse positions with schools within the Slate Valley district, instead of just Orwell. As of this year, Benson no longer is sharing an Art teacher with Orwell, rather they share with FHGS. It will be difficult to fill these shared positions at Orwell, as they are not full time, yet we’ve been able to offer full-time positions over the years while working together with Benson. Let’s not overlook the fact that there would be school choice amongst all the elementary schools in the Slate Valley Unified Union. Orwell is not currently able to participate in the school choice.
The Slate Valley merger has provided both noticeable and behind the scenes benefits for the schools, staff and students of those merged districts. Administrators work with one School Board to address the priorities and issues of the whole district, which allows the administration to work as a more unified entity. The Slate Valley merger promotes and supports equity among the buildings for physical needs and student needs. Student Resource Officers are available at the merged schools every day. This has enhanced school security and enabled the officers to become part of the school community by building positive relationships with students from the Pre-K level up through the high school. They are available for support during student crisis instances and have proved to be an invaluable asset all the way around. Orwell does not have a Student Resource Officer.
Access to furniture and other supplies that may be in excess in other buildings has already saved money on unnecessary purchases. There has been a more rapid response to building and grounds issues. Students in both Benson and Fair Haven have now joined Castleton Village School for the Lifetime Activities Programming. This has opened up eight weeks of over 40 activities, including Pico, for students to experience. Benson and Castleton Village School have joined for their 8th grade DC trip to Washington to increase the pre-high school opportunities for students to get to know one another. More possibilities are being discussed every day. There is no longer the cloud of “if we only could but with our numbers or budget or staffing,” it is now, “let’s work together to make things happen.” I believe our students will have more opportunities if Orwell is merged into the district, therefore I’ll be voting YES!
Alyson Eastman is an Orwell resident.