Date set for Addison, Ferrisburgh school votes

VERGENNES — It’s official. The Addison Northwest School District has scheduled school-closure votes for Tuesday, Nov. 5, in the towns of Addison and Ferrisburgh.

The ANWSD is asking voters in those two towns to approve its plan to close the elementary school in their towns — Addison Central School and Ferrisburgh Central School, respectively — on June 30, 2020.

According to the ANWSD board, closing the schools would be the best way to preserve student programming without imposing what it assumes will be unacceptable tax increases.

At a series of informational meetings over the past month in Addison, Ferrisburgh and Vergennes, district officials cited the following reasons for closing the schools:

• declining enrollment.

• increased per pupil spending.

• greater efficiency.

• equity of learning opportunities.

• maintaining programming, especially at the high school.

School board estimates suggest the district could be facing a $955,000 spending increase for the 2020–2021 school year, due in part to increasing spending on health insurance and salaries.

According to the latest available enrollment numbers, Ferrisburgh Central, with 120 students, is the sixth-largest elementary school in the county, and Addison Central, with 62 students, is the fourth-smallest. Like most schools in Vermont, their enrollment has been declining steadily for years.

Closing both schools, ANWSD officials say, could save the district about $2.2 million next year.

If Addison and Ferrisburgh voters approve the plan, district students in kindergarten through fourth grade would attend Vergennes Union Elementary School, while grades 5–8 would attend a new middle school at Vergennes Union High School.

If voters reject the plan on Nov. 5, the ANWSD board will have the power to close the schools without voter approval in July 2021, according to the district’s 2016 Act 46 articles of unification.

But the district can’t wait that long, the board says.

“By waiting we would be forced to make significant cuts to our school programs throughout the next two budget seasons,” ANSWD board chair Sue Rakowski and the board explained in a letter to the editor that appeared in last Thursday’s edition of the Independent. “These cuts are likely to hit especially hard at the high school, where we currently offer more variety and electives for older students to explore.”

Later in that letter, Rakowski and the board suggested that “reorganization” would have at least three benefits.

“First, it keeps a healthy balance of resources going towards all levels of education,” they wrote. “Second, it brings students of the same grade together. This will make it easier for there to be consistency and equitable access to education across grade levels. Third, it allows for the creation of a distinct middle school in the grades 5–8 range; research shows that a stronger middle school is developmentally advantageous for adolescents.”

FURTHER DISCUSSION

Though the district presented its case in a series of informational meetings — at Addison Central School on Sept. 25, Ferrisburgh Central School on Sept. 26 and Vergennes Union Elementary School on Oct. 8 — some district residents feel that more discussion is needed.

Some of them have formed a group, the Rural School Alliance, which plans to present additional information to the public before the Nov. 5 vote, including information about questions it feels the school district has left unanswered.

“The Rural School Alliance is a group started by community members from Ferrisburgh and Addison in response to the ANWSD plan to close both of the elementary schools in these communities, effective June 2020,” said Caetlin Harwood (Addison), Ashley Paquette (Addison), Raïssa Venables (Ferrisburgh) and Kate and Finn Yarbrough (Ferrisburgh), who communicated with the Independent by email on behalf of the group. “The Alliance is motivated by the desire to build on the successes of our thriving rural schools rather than shutter them for pressured savings and questionable educational outcomes.”

The group’s mission, they said, is to educate themselves and the public about the crisis the district now faces and to advocate for alternative solutions to the ANWSD board’s proposed school closures. The group considers itself an advocate for the district’s children and for its rural communities.

They invited those interested in the subject to reach out via email at ruralschoolalliance@gmail.com.

For more information about the ANWSD’s school-closure plan, visit anwsd.org.

On Nov. 5, Addison residents should report to the Addison Town Clerk’s office to cast their votes.

Ferrisburgh residents should report to Ferrisburgh Town Hall.

Polls will be open in both towns from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Reach Christopher Ross at christopherr@addisonindependent.com.

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