ANwSU seeks to unify boards

ADDISON — About 20 Addison residents and school officials joined Addison Northwest Supervisory Union board members and administrators at a Nov. 10 meeting that served as a preliminary forum for discussing unifying ANwSU governance under one board.
Despite the slim crowd and some disconnect about the purpose of the meeting, ANwSU board chairwoman Kristin Bristow said it met the goals of the committee, which is seeking a unification vote possibly as soon as next March. Voters in the five ANwSU towns rejected such a proposal twice in 2005, by a narrow margin the first time and decisively the second.
Bristow said some attendees at last Wednesday’s meeting for Addison residents expected a full unification discussion. But, she said, this was meant to be a listening forum, and future forums will be devoted to details of a final proposal. That proposal might be affected by what ANwSU officials hear in these preliminary meetings, one of which has also been held with ANwSU staff and two more of which are planned in Ferrisburgh and Vergennes.
“They’re meeting our goals … and giving us a little direction as to where to go from here,” Bristow said.
The forums are being moderated by a representative of the Vermont Council on Rural Development, and focus on two key questions, the first of which asks attendees simply to discuss what they value about their ANwSU schools.
“You hear 45 minutes about how great the schools are, and that’s wonderful,” Bristow said.
The second asks those in attendance to look in general at what the “benefits and challenges to unification of schools” in ANwSU. Bristow said after an earlier meeting with district staff, officials then at the Addison meeting provided more information about what a union could look like, and will probably add more at the next forum, which comes at Ferrisburgh Central School on Thursday from 7 to 9 p.m.
But at this point in the process, district officials also don’t want to bog down in specifics at the cost of listening to residents’ larger concerns, she said.
“You give too much, and then it becomes an informational meeting,” Bristow said.
In the second portion of the Addison meeting, Bristow said residents did bring up some of the expected concerns: that towns might lose control of their schools, that schools’ identities could change, that elementary students would have to switch schools, that towns would have to fund improvements to other towns’ schools, and that smaller towns would not have a strong voice on the governing board.
Bristow said those questions can and have been answered in the past, and would be addressed at the proper time in the process.
Now, she said, is the time for officials to listen, and they hope plenty of residents come to FCS on Thursday and to Vergennes Union High School on Dec. 2 at 7 p.m.
“This is a great opportunity for you as taxpayers to give feedback to the board,” she said. “We want to hear from you … so we can build our platform from what not only the facts are, but your concerns are.”

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