Addison school board seat contested in open race

ADDISON — On March 1, Addison residents will have a choice in an Addison Central School board race between a current board member who was appointed to her position in April 2010, and a former board member who stepped down in the 1990s.

The incumbent is Michele Kelly, who worked for 40 years as a college professor, 18 at the Community College of Philadelphia. A married mother of four and grandmother of six, Kelly said her ties to Addison go back 30 years.

According to the election flyer Kelly supplied to the Independent, she has served as a hospice volunteer, eucharistic minister and academic tutor, and has the support of the four other members of the ACS board in her election bid.

Her challenger is Carol Kauffman, who has been a leading critic of the move to unify Addison Northwest Supervisory Union schools. Kauffman said her husband and family, now including five birth and three adopted children, moved to Vermont from Arizona, to allow her husband, Selectman Jeffrey Kauffman, to pastor a church.

She said, “Over 10 years ago, I sat on the ACS school board and left my seat to home school our special education children.” Kauffman said she has served as the co-chairwoman of the Vergennes Union High School Friends of Music program “for many, many years.”

The two candidates were supplied the same series of questions via email on Feb. 10 and given a week to respond. Their answers are printed here:

1. Why did you choose to run?

Kauffman:“To make a difference and carry out the responsibilities in Title 16, Chapter 9 on behalf of the Addison taxpayers by creating education reform with the fewest tax dollars.”

Kelly:“I am running ... to complete the work of the last year. We, the board, worked very hard to contain costs while ensuring that the educational program retained factors necessary to provide our children with a quality educational experience. Witness the ACS scores on the latest NECAP (tests) and an 11 percent school budget decrease over the last two years. The board also worked to promote the Unified Union. I believe that a quality local public school is essential for our children, the community, and for the future of property values in Addison. Young families will not consider moving into Addison or staying in Addison if we can not offer them a good public school.

“With our declining enrollment, the sensible course for retaining the opportunity for local public education in Addison is to join with our neighbors and form a Unified Union. We are given until 2014 to do this voluntarily. I don’t know what options or partners we might have if the state mandated our unification at a later date. If the state is sincere in its plans of reducing 290 separate school districts to 50, our future options might be very limited.”

2. What do you consider to be the most important issues at ACS, short- and long-term, and what are your views on them?

Kelly:“The most important issues are: a) declining enrollment, b) escalating costs, and c) maintaining a quality public school for the children of Addison. Short term, the declining enrollment will force per-pupil expenditures to remain in the penalty phase no matter how much we cut the budget. The budget has been cut to the bone and further cuts will gut our educational programs and deprive our children of the essentials of a good education.

“Even so, costs will escalate putting a horrendous burden on the Addison taxpayers. This is why unification is so essential. In the long term, if we unify, I expect our educational programs to be enriched, costs to stabilize, the penalty to disappear and that Addison will retain a viable public school with local control.”

Kauffman:“Education reform — education reform comes by giving the schools back to the principals, and classrooms back to the teachers while having a good working relationship with the parents.

“Cost containment — by creating interdisciplinary positions, Addison can downsize without cutting programs.”

3. What would be your highest priorities if elected?

Kauffman:“First, to get Addison out of penalty. Currently, Addison is entering their fourth year of dollar-for-dollar penalty. I believe there are interdisciplinary positions that can be created to downsize Addison without cutting programs that would eliminate the penalty.

“Next, I would work on giving the school back to the principal and classrooms back to the teachers. Outside mandates can interfere with educating our students. The principal in collaboration with teachers should have total control of the classroom, with the exception of standards.”

Kelly: “If I were elected my highest priority would to be sure that the transition into the Unified Union would proceed seamlessly. At the same time, I would continue to work with the ACS board, and the school principal to ensure that our students continue to receive the best education possible.”

4. Given the financial pressures at ACS, how can the school maintain services, and are there any possible areas for savings?

Kelly: “There is little left to cut. Further cuts would erode the core educational programs we have managed to retain: Faculty would have to be cut and, perhaps, grades would have to be combined. Our school principal would have to assume teaching responsibilities ... We would lose our supplementary math teacher, technology specialist and what little we have left of a music curriculum. The integrity of the school and its curriculum would be decimated. Eventually, we might not have a school which provides the minimum standards of education and it would have to close. I do not want to see this happen. The people of Addison need their local public school.”

Kauffman:“Absolutely, ACS can begin to downsize with their declining enrollment. Without cutting programs, ACS can begin to create interdisciplinary positions. Currently, ACS has a $84,000 principal position over 100 students. This position could become a principal/teacher position. This is just one example.”

5. Simply put, why should Addison residents vote for you?

Kelly: “I have never missed a meeting and have spent many additional hours doing research for the ACS board. As a school board member I was faithful to my mandate to enhance student performance and do what is best for our public school. I value the Addison Central School and have worked tirelessly to improve and preserve it. I am passionate about the value of education and have spent my whole professional and personal life working to promote science literacy and general love of learning. As I see it, there is no real school choice if there is no public option.”

Kauffman: “I will be transparent with Addison voters, and will insist that a report from the auditors be submitted yearly in the town’s annual report according to law. I will welcome all voters’ opinions, comments, frustrations and questions with respect and dignity. I will educate myself and represent Addison’s best interest fiscally while carrying out the duties under Title 16, chapter 9, even if I have to go to Montpelier.”

Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at andyk@addisonindependent.com.


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