The Sharon Academy plans nearly 10% tuition increase

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 1/10/2022 9:42:08 PM
Modified: 1/10/2022 9:41:16 PM

SHARON — The Sharon Academy is pursuing a state designation that would allow it to receive state funding at a higher tuition rate.

The designation would affect several public school districts that pay tuition for their students to attend the independent middle and high school.

If successful, The Sharon Academy plans to raise its tuition from the current year’s $16,842, which is the state’s Announced Average Tuition, to around $18,500. That $1,658 increase is a 9.8% jump.

“The tuition increase reflects costs associated with budget pressures related to the pandemic, teacher recruitment and retention, and student support needs,” Mary Newman, TSA’s head of school, wrote in an email.

“We do not intend to raise tuition this much each year,” Newman wrote. “The adjustment to $18,500 sets TSA’s tuition more in line with area schools. Future tuition rate changes will be similar in percentage to the increases in the AAT.”

As an independent school, The Sharon Academy can charge what it wants for tuition. But if it wants parents in high school choice towns such as Sharon, Strafford, Tunbridge and Hartland to be able to send their students there at no personal cost, it must keep its tuition rate at the state Annual Average Tuition, which is the average of union middle and high school tuition rates around the state.

Vermont school districts that don’t have their own high schools pay tuition to send students to public or approved private schools. While Vermont law allows districts to pay the full tuition rate for a public school or a Vermont independent school that meets the state’s education quality standards, a district can pay only the Annual Average Tuition to private schools that the state hasn’t certified as meeting those standards, which would require parents to make up the difference.

For example, Vermont districts without high schools can send students to Hanover High School, a public school that charges $21,399 for the current year, or to Thetford Academy, an independent school that charges $19,965, because those schools meet the state’s requirements. But a sending district can pay only the statewide average toward an independent school that doesn’t meet those standards.

The state Agency of Education pointed Sharon Academy officials toward meeting education quality standards last spring as a way for TSA to charge more than the average tuition, Newman wrote.

“After checking with colleagues, I can confirm that Sharon Academy has reached out with regard to the process of becoming designated as an independent school meeting education quality standards pursuant to 16 V.S.A. §165,” Agency of Education spokeman Ted Fisher wrote in an email. “A response to the Academy is pending, but not yet delivered.”

Attempts to reach someone handling this process at the Agency of Education were not successful.

The tuition increase will have a significant influence on the budgets of districts that send students to The Sharon Academy.

“We are budgeting as if they are going to be setting their own tuition,” Jamie Kinnarney, superintendent of the White River Valley Supervisory Union, said in a phone interview.

Many of the WRVSU school districts offer high school choice, and 118 students across the supervisory union’s 10 towns attend The Sharon Academy, Kinnarney said.

“We’re about 85% of their student population,” he said. “That (tuition) change is significant for us.”

Strafford currently has 20 students at The Sharon Academy, Aaron Dotter, chairman of the Strafford School Board said in a phone interview. If that number remains consistent next year, it will cost Strafford taxpayers another $33,000.

“When the School Board is budgeting, they’re definitely going to be aware of that difference,” Dotter said.

The Sharon Academy also might have benefited from its lower tuition rate, as families might have chosen it in part to spare local taxpayers the higher expense of public schools, Dotter said.

“There definitely is a sense that TSA was a nearby school but the tuition was really quite low,” he said.

Last year, The Sharon Academy received $1.9 million in funding from the USDA Rural Development program to build a new wing for classrooms and science labs, among other improvements. The project also includes sprinklers, and a plan to convert an existing classroom into a kitchen.

Alex Hanson can be reached at or 603-727-3207.

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