As I consider the defeat of the Burlington School district budget on town meeting day 2014, I am concerned how the state increase in school tax rate may soon impact the community satisfaction of the city of Burlington. In my fellowship with the partnership for change this year for family school partnerships, I have come to recognize how important maintaining a strong and vibrant school is to that partnership as well as to the community as a whole. We all know that one benefit of a strong school system is seen in the property value. According to a Wall Street Journal article in 2010, at the height of the housing market slump, communities with good schools held their real estate value much more than communities that were not identified as having good schools. “Homes associated with great schools generally sell faster, in good markets and bad” (Max, 2010).
But more important than the financial reasons for maintaining good public schools is the research-based reality that “public school quality uniquely contributes to community satisfaction” (Badger, 2012). In fact, in a 2012 study of almost 20,000 adults in 26 cities across the United States, it was determined that there was a strong correlation between community satisfaction and quality schools; and there was no statistical difference in satisfaction between families with children and those that had no children in the school systems (Neal & Neal, 2012). Public schools act not only as educational institutions, but also as a community base for social interactions in the community.
The social phenomenon of a local school was fully vetted one night when the Burlington High School family school partnership (FSP) sponsored a “get connected” event at the BHS-Rice boys basketball game. As the public entered to attend the game, members of the FSP queried if they had students at the high school and if they were taking advantage of Jupiter Grades (the electronic grade book that keeps families and the schools connected). What astounded me was how very many Burlington community members that did not have students at the high school attended the game. Grandparents, community members, and parents of students who had yet to arrive at BHS were there to show their support for their local school. Burlington’s own John Dewey believed that schools must be viewed as social centers both to meet the needs of the students and to meet the needs of the communities (Dewy, 1902).
Finally, and most importantly we need to consider the students. As Vermont moves toward proficiency-based learning, the need for high quality teachers and personalized education is critical. If opportunities for students are slashed while the student body continues to grow, the net effect could be seen in lower student engagement, lower college acceptance rates and lower cohort graduation rates. There is evidence that more traditional structures that offer personalized options correspond with higher student GPA and more favorable perceptions of school (McClure , Yonezawa, & Jones, 2010). And a higher GPA is associated with higher graduation cohort rates (Balfanz & Byrnes, 2012).
As the BSD considers slashing programs, teachers, athletics and support, we need to examine how we intend to maintain a quality program. Governor Shumlin has promised tax relief in the coming year and in fact a recent symposium at St. Michael’s college looked specifically at Vermont’s funding challenges. While we are waiting to see what changes may happen, Burlington, one of the few localities in Vermont that actually has a rising student population, is looking at slashing spending. Are we shooting ourselves in the foot losing valuable teachers and programs because we are impatient for the state to “right the boat”? What will happen to community satisfaction if the deep cuts result in a less than a quality school system? Are we willing to let our home values, resources and opportunities for our students decline because of this? Burlington is a unique and wonderful community, which in the past has supported the schools. Superintendent Collins and the school board were highly mindful of the burden to the taxpayers when they proposed a conservative 3.9% increase in the budget that maintained most programs with some cuts. The additional increase on top of that was not in the control of the school board. The loss of that 3.9% will be devastating to a school system that had little fat to start with. Please consider your school as the critical community resource it is, not only for students, but also for a vibrant community, as we grapple with the March 4th vote and the future of Burlington.
Badger, E. (2012, February). Public schools good for people without kids too. Retrieved from Pacific Standard: The Science of Society: http://www.psmag.com/blogs/the-idea-lobby/public-schools-good-for-people-without-kids-too-40004/
Balfanz, R., & Byrnes, V. (2012, May). The importance of being in school: A report on absenteeism in the nation’s public schools. Retrieved from Everyone One Graduates Center: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CCsQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.every1graduates.org%2Fwpcontent%2Fuploads%2F2012%2F05%2FFINALChronicAbsenteeismReport_May16.pdf&ei=r4l-UvyeJuOpsAS3sYHgDA&usg=AFQjCNGnryfXnNpOfP4rR3PqOlLDKreF1w&bvm=bv.56146854,d.cWc
Dewy, J. (1902). School a a social center. Elementary School Teacher , 3 (2), 73-86.
Mac Iver, M. A. (2011). The challenge of improving high school graduation outcomes: Findings from a randomized study of dropout prevention efforts. Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk , 16, 167-184.
Max, K. (2010, June). Good schools, bad real estate: Despite the housing slump, house hunting in good school districts frustrates parents who often have to settle for less house. Wall Street Journal .
McClure , L., Yonezawa, S., & Jones, M. (2010). Can school structures improve teacher-student relationships? The relationship between advisory programs, personalizationand students’ academic achievement. Education Policy Analysis Archives , 18 (17), 1-20.
Neal, Z. P., & Neal, J. W. (2012). The public school as a public good: Direct and indirect pathways to community satisfaction . Journal of Urban Affairs , 34 (5), 469-485.