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Editorial: School district consolidation shocker — take a deep breath, exhale, repeat

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Posted on October 2, 2017 |
By Angelo S. Lynn



School consolidation is going to take just a bit of getting used to.

Consider the headline on today’s front page, about Addison Central School District schools needing $31 million in facility improvements over the next five years. Know, too, that sum will be shared by all district residents — that is, each resident of Ripton and Weybridge will help pay for the renovations and upgrades at Bridport or Shoreham, and vice-versa; just like they have always done for MUMS and MUHS facilities.

That could be a particularly grating notion, however, when residents of Ripton, Salisbury, Shoreham Weybridge, Bridport and Cornwall compare their elementary school’s needs to Middlebury’s Mary Hogan Elementary School. As the pie chart on Page 3 in today’s paper shows, Mary Hogan’s needs over the next five years amount to $5,854,638, while the combined needs of the six other elementary schools amount to $4,682,752.

Now, that may roughly reflect student numbers and on a per capita basis make a lot of sense. Indeed, on a per capita basis, the facility at Mary Hogan Elementary should be able to operate on a more cost effective basis than any of the smaller schools.

Nonetheless, to a Ripton resident, it might seem like putting a lot of bucks into a basket that doesn’t do them a lick of good.

So, take a deep breath, exhale, repeat.

Like I said, this consolidation business is going to take some getting used to — but let’s try.

**********

For starters, let’s look at the pluses of this particular effort to research and document the district’s facilities’ needs.

First, it’s great that the school board commissioned the study and now has a detailed document full of data-rich information from which to work. That’s the first step in understanding the district’s assets and how best to use them in the most cost-effective and productive ways.

Second, whereas a town like Salisbury might not have thought local residents would approve $439,580 in renovations, that’s not a lot when shared between seven towns. New possibilities exist — not to spend money, but to improve the education of all of our students.

Third, doing collective assessments like this provides the opportunity to think of bigger ideas: like developing a district solar farm to provide power — a strategy that could yield big dividends over the long-term for district taxpayers; furthermore, the data will be extremely useful, as ACSD board chair Peter Conlon said, “in long-range planning as we begin to address significant demographic, financial and educational changes.” Some of those needs might include PreK and early childcare, as well as post-secondary professional or vocational programs that cater to specific job markets.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Better coordination between schools should yield a smoother transition from elementary school to MUMS and MUHS; students in smaller schools should benefit from foreign language classes, more art choices, more advanced level opportunities and remedial as well. What may not necessarily be affordable for 40 K-6 graders at a small school, can be affordable for 1,000 K-6 students within the district.

It’s not going to be all roses and cream, but it’s not necessarily a poke in the eye either.

Just one last note about that $31 million: it’s a rough estimate based on several standard assumptions. While it was a detailed report and may have hit the nail on the head, it’s also very likely to have listed everything that’s in need of repair — even if some of those things might last seven, eight or even 10 years. That is, the actual cost could be less,  and probably will be. Let’s also put that number in perspective: the proposed bond for renovations at Mount Abraham Union High School is $35-plus million — just for the high school facility to be renovated.

For the total assets the ACSD has, over $117 million, the $19 million that’s needed in the short-term, and the $31 million over five years, is well within reason.

Angelo S. Lynn

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