The board also welcomed Dr. Richard McClements, who was recently hired as Windham Southwest Supervisory Union Superintendent. McClements moved to the area from his previous superintendent job in Oklahoma, to serve as the supervisory union’s interim superintendent. The position is considered interim because Twin Valley is currently in the process of exploring more than one governance option that could lead to a change in the supervisory union boundaries.
Construction on Twin Valley Middle/High School at the Whitingham site is underway, after a groundbreaking ceremony held on Friday, August 2. The middle school students will continue to use the facility during the construction project, and Twin Valley School Board Chair Seth Boyd said initial work on the driveway at the school should be completed in time for the first day of school, allowing buses to drop students off at the former elementary pod. “The driveway will at least be laid out by then, although we don’t know yet if it will be gravel or pavement.”
Board members said they were nervously monitoring the project to ensure the costs stay within budget. “It’s a $9 million project, compared to a $3 million project at the elementary school,” said Boyd. “But we have a lot of add/alts in the project, so we can decide at the end if everything will fit in the budget.”
Board member Phil Taylor said there’s a sufficient contingency amount included in the middle/high school construction budget, but at this point, he said, it’s the potential unknown costs that are a concern. “We feel like this is a tight budget, so we’re going in nervous, and I think nervous is a good place to be,” Taylor said.
Board members said the elementary school project was on target to finish within the budget and in time for the beginning of school in September. “We did an initial look at the budget, and it looks like we’re in the range of $30,000 to $50,000 under budget,” said Taylor. “There are things we might add back in, like drainage in front of the parking area, but not until we feel secure about the budget.”
The board also discussed a request from Jessica Rizio, of Wilmington, to pay a portion of the tuition for her daughter to attend Stratton Mountain School. Rizio told board members her daughter, now a sophomore, has attended the school for several years because it has allowed her to compete as a top Nordic skier. “She’s doing really, really well,” Rizio said. “She’s nationally ranked, and ranked fifth in New England.”
Rizio said her daughter’s participation on the team includes travel to places as far away as Alaska, and the program at Stratton Mountain School can accommodate her sports absences. “I don’t think her needs can be met at a public school, so I’m asking you to consider paying the average state tuition,” Rizio said. “My other option is to move out of town (to a town with school choice) and I don’t want to do that.”
McClements said he contacted the state department of education, and learned that the board could choose to grant the request. But he advised the board against paying the tuition. He said that, although Twin Valley has a school choice policy, it only includes other public schools. Under the policy, the school may accept students from other public schools and Twin Valley students can attend public schools elsewhere, however there is no tuition payment under the policy. “We provide an academic education, and a good one,” McClements said. “I recommend you reject the request based on the state’s guidance.”
Taylor said he was open to the idea, but he was concerned about the precedent that might be set if the board approved payment of tuition to an independent school. “She’s a top-rated Nordic skier and we don’t have a Nordic team,” Taylor said. “But my question is what does that mean in terms of precedent? Does it have to be guided by a policy, or can it be at the discretion of the board?”
“Unless you have a policy that says otherwise, what you do for one you must do for all,” McClements said.
Dwight Williams suggested that the board might consider a “happy medium” and pay the per-pupil amount received from the state. The school’s “average daily membership,” upon which the per-pupil block grant is based, includes Rizio’s daughter even though she attends an independent school.
But board member Aimee Reid called the idea “a slippery slope,” noting that anyone’s kids could excel at a sport or academic subject that another school specializes in. “When one of my kids is excelling in math and another school has a superb math program, who’s to say I can’t come to you in two years and say I want him to go to that school.”
“We could lose some of our higher performing students that way,” added McClements.
“We have parents who send their kids to Charlemont Academy,” said Boyd. “What would keep them from coming to us and saying they want us to pay for that?”
Reid compared the situation to one in Dover, in which a request to pay the state average tuition for students attending Burr and Burton Academy was approved at Dover’s Town Meeting two years in a row. “I don’t want what happened in Dover happening to us.”
Rizio said that, if she had to move, Twin Valley would end up losing more revenue than the amount she was asking for. “I would be taking three more kids out of school,” she said. “They love it here, and I don’t want to move, but I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do.”