Editorial: Would Addison's withdrawal create a stronger community?

As Addison residents contemplate how they would prefer to educate their preK-6 grade students ahead of a vote next Tuesday, July 13, there is much to consider, as well as understanding that other examples are not always good measures of possible success.

At issue is Tuesday’s vote that asks: “Shall the Town of Addison withdraw from the Addison Northwest School District?”

While a complex subject, it demands a very straightforward answer. Voters will simply check the “yes” or “no” boxes.

Yet, there is much that is unknown.

The question does not presume the Town of Addison will retain its former preK-6 school building. Nor does it presume that Addison, if it is successful in withdrawing from the district, will seek to open a public, non-secular school rather than a private, independent school that could have a religious bent, or simply tuition all of its students elsewhere. Nor is it known that the withdrawal would save taxpayers money or cost them a bundle. Estimates vary, and it’s hard to predict so many unknowns.

What is known is that the district appears to have had the legal authority to repurpose the Addison Central School as it has chosen to do; that the Vergennes Elementary School not only has the capacity to adequately handle Addison’s 60 or so elementary students, but does so while offering a wider range of academic and extra-curricular opportunities; and that Vergennes schools are located a relatively close and easy 6.7-mile drive from the former Addison Central School building.

When comparing Addison’s effort to withdraw from its district to Ripton’s successful effort to withdraw from the Addison Central Supervisory District — a common theme throughout this 18-month discussion — a few distinct differences jump out:

while the distances from Ripton Elementary to Middlebury’s Mary Hogan Elementary School or the Salisbury Community School were only a few miles further (8.7 miles to Mary Hogan and 9.1 miles to SCS), the drive is twice as long time-wise and on a curvy, hilly road between the mountain town of Ripton and the plains of Middlebury or Salisbury.

Addison’s school has about 60 preK-6 students compared to Ripton’s 48-50.

Most importantly, Ripton knew it would have its own school building facility and knew they wanted to establish a town school as a point of community pride and focus.

Moreover, the arguments for Addison withdrawing from ANWSU seem to be more focused on grievance as well as a political disdain for bigger government, including school consolidation, than the community-centric theme that focused the discussion in Ripton. While the public arguments in Addison include wanting to maintain local control, there has been very little conversation about how the town would move forward to create its own town school if the district doesn’t turnover the ACS building, and it seems doubtful Addison residents would be willing to spend the tens of millions of dollars it would take to build a new facility.

This last point, then, becomes the focal point of what Addison residents must ponder with utmost sincerity ahead of Tuesday’s vote: Why do community residents want to withdraw from the district and, if successful, how will that strengthen their community?

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We sympathize with upset Addison residents who remain aggrieved by the manner in which the district board ignored the community’s 3-to-1 vote to reject consolidation and retain its local school (see story on Page 1A) , then proceeded to close the school and repurpose the building for other purposes. Such actions were an affront to Vermont’s long tradition of local control.

But holding a grudge against a past action will not sustain long-term support for a community-based school.

To support an independent preK-6 school, Addison residents must be willing to step up to the plate with an active network of community volunteers attending events during the school day and many nights; taxes are likely to go higher, not lower, and that should be agreed-upon as a price to pay for the sense of community gained by having a local school. It should be understood that any initiative to start a secular or religious school could be divisive and lose the support of others within the community.

Finally, community members raise a legitimate question when asking if the purpose of the withdrawal is not to create a community school, what is to be gained by withdrawing only then to tuition students back into the ANWSU or other neighboring districts?

While withdrawing from the district does present more options for Addison residents, it also presents more ways to create havoc.

But, if the community pitches in to reestablish an active, community-based public elementary school, we think there are many benefits to the community, while also serving the best interests of the students.

If, however, the motivation to withdraw is to save taxpayers’ money (very doubtful), or to establish a private secular school, neither of those impulses are in the children’s or the community’s best interest and the question should be rejected.

It’s up to community residents to decide whether the motives of those pushing the withdrawal effort will, at the end of the day, create a stronger community or one that has severed relations with its closest school district and lost its local elementary school as well.

Angelo Lynn

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Addison County Independent