Letter to the editor: ANWSD plan rushed, savings uncertain

Editor’s note: This is a letter to Sue Rakowski, chair of the Addison Northwest School Board, in response to a letter she submitted on behalf of the board that ran in the Independent’s letters forum on Oct. 10.

I am a Ferrisburgh resident and parent of two children. On Aug. 22, the ANWSD Board held a retreat where you were presented with several options or “scenarios” to address the impending budget crisis. At the end of that afternoon, you all made the decision to move forward with Scenario 3, which closes both Addison and Ferrisburgh Central schools. This was the first time that Ferrisburgh residents had heard of our school being considered for closure. Two weeks later, the Board was to vote on those closures, with community meetings to follow. Only because the outcry was so great, did you postpone the vote to Sept 27. Again at that meeting, the public spoke. Residents from several towns said, “slow down this process, we need more information!” Again, we demanded that you wait.

Here’s why:

1. Instead of welcoming the community into conversation about these proposals, the Board has tried twice to move forward with a vote while still not having the answers to repeated questions. The Board is requesting that two towns decide to close schools, cut 36 teacher and staff jobs and move our children into a configuration that has not been planned out. In fact, we have heard from some Middle School teachers who work in the very building that will receive the greatest influx of students. From their letter Oct. 11 in the Addison Independent, “With the proposed doubling of student numbers in our middle school wing by bringing in the 5th and 6th grades, small spaces (such as the current computer lab) that were not designed as general education classrooms would hold full classes. Crucial resources for students, including space for special education services and social/emotional support, would be pushed out of the middle school wing. With no building modifications, 5th- and 6th-grade students would regularly be sharing hallways and common spaces with high school students, an issue that cannot be addressed adequately through scheduling alone.” These are direct concerns that many parents have expressed. Also, building modifications means hidden costs in your current plan.

2. Closing a town’s only school will not lower taxes for its residents. In Ferrisburgh’s case, our building will come back to us with $850,000 bond debt. Some studies show that the market value of our houses will lower if our school closes. The vitality of our town is at stake. You ask us to make the decision to change our town’s history in one month, without answering our questions.

3. In Scenario 3 there are unknown costs that have not gone into the calculation that will surely reduce the savings amount. First, any modifications to the Middle School wing. Second, moving all the children into the two buildings in Vergennes does not leave room for ANWSD administration to move into a school building as well. Admin has said they might need to “build a small structure” on the high school campus to house the administration. Build a structure after closing schools. I can’t ignore this.

This school Board has chosen to tell the community what to do, instead of ask. Now we demand that you listen. I for one will not blindly trust you to move my children away from their home school into a configuration that has not been researched and fully planned out. From your letter, “There are details yet to be finalized. We do not have final budgets developed for the next five years because our budgets rely partly upon annual decisions made at the state level. We cannot yet predict exactly how this will affect traffic patterns. We do not know which plan we are moving forward with next year because we are asking for your direct approval. While the administration has considered several options for classroom configurations within those schools, when the time comes, we want those decisions to be made by the experts who do the actual work of the schools: the teachers and the administration.” The teachers have already spoken.

The speed of this process has undermined our sense of community. I have had many conversations with frustrated parents who are talking about home schooling, private schools or even moving away. This exacerbates our problem; it does not have to be this way! Engage us, don’t tell us. To address the impending budget crisis: our district is full of creative, caring, thoughtful people, let’s get together and figure this out together. I personally have some strong ideas that I will bring to you. Yes, “We are you, you are us.” Let’s act that way.

Closing our school is permanent. In order to make this decision, we require a thoughtful, researched plan that has been presented to the community and given adequate time for feedback and consideration. You are rushing us into a plan that does not meet these requirements.

Rebekah Whitehurst

Ferrisburgh

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Addison County Independent

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Middlebury, VT 05753

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