The Johnson town government has filed a lengthy argument to the Vermont State Colleges board of trustees about the importance of preventing the shutdown of Northern Vermont University-Johnson.

The letter was also sent to the governor and legislative leaders.

Here’s the letter:


The Johnson Select Board, on behalf of our citizens, community businesses, organizations, advocates for vulnerable and underprivileged citizens, and municipalities of our community — including but not limited to Town of Johnson, Village of Johnson, Lamoille County Planning Commission, Johnson Works, our public schools, Pathway students, local businesses, and many others — were called to action by the recent announcement, and later retraction, of the former chancellor’s planned closure to NVU-Johnson, NVU-Lyndon and Vermont Technical College-Randolph campuses.

As stakeholders in the future of Vermont and NVU, we strongly and passionately reject the suggestion that these VSC institutions are unsustainable and a liability to our state.

In contrast, we adamantly counter this — NVU-Johnson is a pillar to our community, an economic driver, and in many ways the heart of north-central Vermont.

The closure of NVU would directly result in the destruction of rural Vermont economies, severely limit community growth, devastate higher education opportunities for locals of all ages, and further oppress our already poor, rural communities. During a May 6, 2020 VSC Board of Trustees meeting, (chair) Churchill Hindes stated, “Host towns … are among our most important constituencies.” We hope this statement accurately reflects the views of all members of the VSC board and you earnestly listen when we tell you that NVU-Johnson is vital for the health of Johnson and Vermont.

The economic impact of these VSC schools have far-reaching effects. A recent 2020 NVU economic impact report states that NVU directly spends $8.9 million in Vermont, with $6 million to local economies.

NVU employs approximately 700 people, 400 of which are part-time faculty and staff from our local communities. NVU payroll and benefits adds an additional $32.7 million to the northern Vermont economy.

The total conservative economic impact is estimated to bring in $113 million to northern Vermont businesses and communities annually.

Municipal fees for water, sewer and electricity from NVU represent 30 percent of (Johnson) Village revenue. Loss of this revenue would drastically impact rates, affecting landlords, low-income families, and low-profit businesses, ultimately resulting in additional need for social and economic state services.

Local landlords rely on students for off-campus housing and rental income from graduates. NVU also contributes to stable real estate values.

NVU-Johnson students, faculty and staff serve on boards or as representatives of at least 13 organizations and volunteer time to serve their communities. These include recreation opportunities, environmental conservation, serving meals at the Community Church in Johnson, involvement in local politics, volunteering time to local events — and this list could go on-and-on. NVU-Johnson hosts programs such as federally funded Upward Bound, serving low-income and first-generation high school students as they prepare themselves for college.

Closing the campus will weaken our community organizations and make secondary education less accessible, both directly and indirectly, to Vermont students.

President Elaine Collins wisely pointed out that NVU is the only public residential institution in Vermont that has not borrowed in recent years to meet its budget and had reserves before the COVID-19 crisis, a key indicator of financial stability. Many well-established companies cannot claim this accomplishment, and the leadership President Collins has provided successfully demonstrates the school’s ability to succeed, given the opportunity.

Additionally, it was noted in a publication this winter that New England Commission of Higher Education does not expect NVU to be fully balanced until 2023, given the recent restructuring, and the schools need to show continued progress to keep accreditation.

The current $25 million shortfall in funds pales in comparison to the revenue generated to our communities in a single year. Consider the economic impact of closing these schools; year-over-year, the impact is exponentially higher, devastatingly higher.

In Gov. Scott’s January 2020 budget address, he spoke of the state’s declining demographics: “Confronting this [demographic] crisis is the only way we’ll be able to address other critical needs….” He went on to say, “… the Tax Structure Commission issued a report… without intervention, only the greater Burlington area is likely to grow while the rest of the state gets smaller.”

NVU attracts younger populations from other states and keeps young Vermonters in Vermont. Eighty-four percent of students from the Vermont State Colleges System stay and work in Vermont. What better way to shift our demographics than invest in and build programs that allow youth to thrive and grow into successful, educated adults through VSC schools?

NVU students and graduates commit, invest and serve those who need it most. Many students study to become mental health professionals, such as mental health care providers and counselors. They partner with local establishments, such as Partnership with Vermont Cooperative for Practice Improvement and Innovation or go on to be case workers and counselors in social and health care services.

NVU offers education which directly serves some of the most vulnerable populations in our state, the families and children impacted by substance abuse. NVU is a leader in training professionals to fight against the opioid crisis our state faces. These programs demonstrate that NVU is aware of and responsive to the challenges that Vermonters face. NVU could be the platform that future solutions are built from if we invest properly in its growth.

Without these resources, our community’s reliance on state and federal assistance is likely to increase for these at-risk populations.

NVU is a critical source of staff and faculty for our public schools and child care facilities. Local after-school programs, child care businesses, and summer camps throughout northern Vermont rely on NVU students to fill staffing needs.

Lamoille North Supervisory Union currently employs 232 teachers and 41 percent have earned either a bachelor’s or master’s degree from NVU-Johnson; these numbers do not include support staff graduates, or student teachers. This year 24 requests for tuition reimbursement have been submitted for employees of Lamoille North taking classes through NVU.

Many Vermonters would not have access to higher education if these schools are removed from the locations in which they are embedded. In addition to recent Vermont high school graduates, NVU serves many adults with families who would not otherwise have access to higher education. This access provides opportunity for career growth, and financial growth, to underprivileged families.

Exposure to the arts in rural areas is often nonexistent for obvious reasons and higher education institutions, NVU-Johnson in our case, fills this gap. Dibden Center for the Arts and Julian Scott Memorial Gallery presents live performances, music, comedy, lectures, and many more opportunities that public would not otherwise have access to locally. NVU offers collaboration opportunities with Vermont Studio Center, a world-renowned nonprofit, to offer an MFA in studio arts while working with visiting artists from around the world. NVU partners with Catamount Arts to bring world-class performances to the poorest communities in the state. Burklyn Ballet has brought ballet performances to northern Vermont for many years by utilizing the Johnson campus to train, rehearse and perform, while providing revenue to the school.

NVU-Johnson is the heart of northern Vermont. Centrally located between Burlington, Newport, St. Johnsbury and Barre/Montpelier, within 90 minutes of the Canadian border, and only a short distance to Mount Mansfield, one cannot find a better situated location for a rural state college.

The Town of Johnson, and our extended communities, understand the weight and criticality of decisions facing the board of trustees in upcoming months. We ask for unity in the protection of all that NVU brings to our state. NVU has far-reaching economic, educational, social, demographic impact on the local communities, northern Vermont, and the state of Vermont. It is short-sighted to consider closure of these institutions based on the financial challenges presented to VSC Board of Trustees and chancellor’s office, without consideration of the adverse impacts to our town, county, region, or state.

Closure of these institutions will have devastating impacts to countless Vermonters and to our government initiatives within the Agency of Commerce & Community Development, Agency of Human Services, Agency of Education, and the Governor’s Office to name a few. The Town of Johnson, and our extended communities, are committed to NVU and look forward to our continued partnerships.

Brian Story

Town of Johnson administrator, on behalf of Johnson Select Board

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