Ferrisburgh considers ‘one-board’ plan

FERRISBURGH — About two dozen Ferrisburgh residents and Ferrisburgh Central School parents and teachers who gathered in the FCS gym on Thursday night first talked about what they loved about the town’s elementary school. And then they talked about what they saw as the pluses and minuses about the proposal for one board to govern the public schools in the five Addison Northwest Supervisory Union towns.
The meeting was the second of three ANwSU officials are holding to learn more about how union residents feel about their schools and about the one-board proposal. Another meeting will be held on Wednesday, Dec. 2, at 7 p.m. at Vergennes Union High School. More forums will also be held before a vote.
Residents in the five ANwSU towns narrowly defeated such a plan in 2005, but the ANwSU board believes that the time is right for reconsideration because state education officials are making noise about mandatory school consolidation, and pressuring local boards to level-fund their schools.
What ANwSU officials learned first and foremost on Thursday is much the same as what they learned at a similar meeting at Addison Central School the week before: Residents truly believe in their elementary school and teachers.
Speaker after speaker praised FCS for its locally oriented food service, strong special education and challenge programs, the dedication and expertise of its educators, the welcome mat it puts out for parents, the individual attention students receive, and unique offerings that include its annual food fair, the Ferrisburgh Children’s Theater, its outdoor classroom, and volunteer knitting group.
One parent simply referred to its “very good academic program,” and another said FCS prepared students well for VUHS and beyond.
“Kids leave here ready to take on challenges in creative ways,” she said.
Vermont Council on Rural Development representative Paul Costello moderated the meeting for the ANwSU board. Costello said he was impressed by what he heard.
“I’m inspired by your school,” Costello said. “It must be a wonderful place for kids.”
The remarks about unification that followed were balanced. Costello said his organization was there because ANwSU officials wanted to learn, so that later in the process they could better answer residents’ concerns. The council will provide a detailed meeting summary to the ANwSU board, and board chairwoman Kristin Bristow also silently took notes.
Costello said the council would remain neutral on one-board unification.
“We can’t take a position on it, but we take the position that democracy is best served by conversation,” he said.
The meeting’s structure called for discussion of FCS first, and then a look at attendees’ thoughts on consolidation. Many offered both pros and cons.
Concerns raised included that:
• The food service and other programs unique to FCS could suffer, possibly due to competing union-wide priorities.
• The school’s destiny would no longer be controlled by a majority of Ferrisburgh residents.
• If something went wrong at another school’s physical plant, funds would be siphoned off.
• The district could share programs and personnel and ensure equity for all its students without full unification, thus preserving its schools as they are.
• If students and parents could choose among elementary schools the logistics could become too complex.
• Staff might have to move around too much among schools.
• The school’s size was ideal.
Possible benefits brought up included that:
• It would be easier to bring successful programs to other schools, such as the FCS food service, rather than lose them, and to import programs and ideas from other schools.
• Part-time personnel could move more easily among schools if all worked for the same employer.
• Paying for problems with the FCS physical plant would be shared.
• Paying for unexpected special education expenses would be shared by the entire union.
• Board members could be trusted to make decisions in the best interest of all children, as VUHS board members do now.

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