Vt. Yankee closure to affect school populations
By Kaitlin Mulhere
THE KEENE SENTINEL | September 09,2013
Vermont Yankee employees who choose to leave the area after the nuclear power plant closes next year could spur a drop not only in town populations, but also in local schools.
Yet administrators say it’s too soon to know how significant the effects might be.
Entergy Corp. announced last month the plant is no longer financially viable, and it will be shut down late next year after more than 40 years in operation.
The plant employs more than 600 people in Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts, with the majority of Vermont and New Hampshire employees living in Vernon, Brattleboro, Hinsdale, Keene and Chesterfield, according to an August 2012 Entergy filing with the Vermont Public Service Board.
Brattleboro Union High School doesn’t track how many students have a parent or relative employed by Vermont Yankee, but Principal Steve Perrin said he’d estimate between 75 and 100 students have ties to the plant. He also knows there are faculty and staff whose family members work there.
The high school serves students from Brattleboro, Dummerston, Guilford, Putney and Vernon, all towns less than 20 miles from the Vernon-based Vermont Yankee.
As officials begin to prepare the 2014-15 budget this fall, Perrin said schools throughout the Windham Southeast Supervisory Union will have to look at their numbers and consider potential effects. But since the plant isn’t scheduled to close until the end of 2014, he’s not expecting any large drops in enrollment until later.
In Vernon, School Board members plan to discuss the effect of the plant’s closure on the town at Monday’s board meeting. Chairwoman Mary Ann Gardner said she hopes to find out how many of the students and staff have an immediate family member employed by the plant.
Vernon Elementary School Principal Mark V. Speno said last week that 14 of the school’s 164 students have a parent or guardian who works at Vermont Yankee.
Yet the board meeting won’t only focus on what the closure means for enrollment, Gardner said. Board members also will discuss how students are feeling about the announcement and what the closure will mean for tax revenue as budget season approaches.
“We’re just trying to stay positive and move forward through it all, and to provide the best education we can for our kids,” she said.
In New Hampshire, Hinsdale Superintendent David A. Crisafulli said anytime a large employer leaves a town, there’s likely to be some aftereffects on schools. Staff in Hinsdale are trying to gather information on how many of the district’s roughly 580 students are tied to Vermont Yankee, he said.
If the district were to lose 20 or so students, and they all came from the same grade level, then it’d be easy to adjust for the drop in enrollment, Crisafulli said. That’s not how it generally works, though, and with the potential lost students spread among different ages, it’s hard to forecast how the district would respond.
N.H. School Administrative Unit 29 Superintendent Wayne E. Woolridge also said there are too many unanswered questions to have a concrete idea how Vermont Yankee’s closure will affect schools in the unit’s seven districts — Chesterfield, Harrisville, Keene, Marlborough, Marlow, Nelson and Westmoreland.
Chesterfield School, which has nine families with members who work at Vermont Yankee, could see the most dramatic effect from the closure, with a kindergarten through eighth grade enrollment of about 275, Woolridge said. He also knows there are families employed by Vermont Yankee in the Keene and Marlborough districts.
But the closure is likely to be a gradual process, and some employees may choose not to leave the region, he said.
“So, to anticipate which families might leave or when, and which might stay and whether their homes will be bought by new families moving in is very hard,” he said.
Perrin and Woolridge both said they hope Louisiana-based Entergy will keep the schools posted on a more specific timeline for the plant to close, so they can plan as much as possible when budgeting.
Potential drops in enrollment for Brattleboro, Hinsdale and Keene schools would come at a time when those districts, and many others in the region, are just beginning to see student populations stabilize after falling steadily through the late 1990s and early 2000s.