Latest set of ANwSU unification public forums begin on Tuesday

 

VERGENNES — The first of five forums on Addison Northwest Supervisory Union unification under one-board governance will be held on Tuesday at Vergennes Union High School.

The meeting on the proposal to operate the four ANwSU schools under one 12-member board will begin at 6:30 p.m. and run for a scheduled 90 minutes.

The five ANwSU towns will vote on unification on Town Meeting Day. All five towns must vote yes if the change is to be adopted.

Additional public forums will be held on Jan. 18 at Addison Central School and on Jan. 25 at Ferrisburgh Central School; each will also run from 6:30 to 9 p.m.

Under the unification plan a 12-member board — with four representatives each from Vergennes and Ferrisburgh, two from Addison, and one each from Panton and Waltham — would run, and ANwSU would own, all four union schools. ANwSU now just owns VUHS, home to about half the districts’ roughly 1,100 students.

Unification proponents generally believe there will be some cost savings, flexibility in transportation and personnel, and easier coordination of curriculum; and that one board to run four schools makes more sense than the current five-board structure.

Opponents worry about possible loss of local control and school closures, although proponents wonder if financial pressures could force smaller schools — notably ACS — to shutter without cost savings from consolidation. Opponents also point to unequal school debt loads among the ANwSU towns, while proponents counter that building maintenance costs will even out in the long run.

In March 2010 all five towns voted overwhelmingly — by a collective 63-37 percent margin — to unify ANwSU under one-board governance. That March vote reversed two unfavorable results in 2005.

But after that vote, petitioners in Vergennes and Addison called for a revote. A group of Addison residents said they were concerned that their school would be neglected or even closed, and said instead the town should take over the school and turn it into a private town academy. The second vote in Addison went against unification, and the proposal was defeated.

Then the Legislature, at state school officials’ urging, passed a law offering consolidated districts five years of tax breaks that start at 8 cents a year for residents, plus other incentives. The law also mandated that all districts at least look at consolidation.

ANwSU then held a series of forums this past fall. As well as being hammered at each by Addison critics — who held their own meeting to promote a town academy — district officials also listened to residents’ concerns about the Articles of Agreement that would govern unification and agreed to make some changes.

Changes include that no school will be closed without a union-wide vote, and that ANwSU has no plans to expand. Officials also handed out a survey that produced 2-to-1 results favoring unification, and in November the full ANwSU board agreed to hold what will be the fifth vote on unification. In December, the board confirmed the vote date as Town Meeting Day.

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


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