Addison to revote on board unification

 
VERGENNES — Addison residents will be joining Vergennes citizens in voting for a second time this year on proposed one-board governance for the Addison Northwest Supervisory Union.
Residents in both those communities on Town Meeting Day backed a proposal for one board to own and operate the four ANwSU schools, but now will reconsider that support in a second vote.
If the Unified Union (UU) proposal survives both upcoming revotes, it would be the first significant consolidation move in Vermont.
Addison Central School board chairwoman Kathy Clark received the Addison petition on Monday and turned it into the ANwSU office. ANwSU Superintendent Tom O’Brien said town officials confirmed the petition — which was filed by town resident and vocal unification opponent Elizabeth Armstrong — had 66 valid signatures, enough to meet the legal threshold of 5 percent of the town’s electorate.
O’Brien said on Tuesday the Addison Central School board will meet as soon as possible to schedule the vote. The board will almost certainly pick May 17, the date already chosen by Vergennes aldermen for city balloting.
The votes in Addison and Vergennes will be not only the second of 2011, but the sixth in each community in the past six years.
The five ANwSU towns voted no twice in 2005, but then backed a similar plan in March 2010. But a May 2010 revote in Addison reversed Town Meeting Day approval of the UU proposal and derailed unification.
Residents in all five ANwSU towns — Addison, Ferrisburgh, Panton, Vergennes and Waltham — must back unification for it to take effect. As of Wednesday, ANwSU officials said they knew of no petition efforts in Ferrisburgh, Panton or Waltham.
This year, the Addison tally on Town Meeting Day was 177-150 in favor of the UU, or 54-46 percent.
On March 1, Vergennes residents supported unification, 191-124, or almost 61-39 percent.
The overall March ANwSU vote in favor was 764-466, or roughly 62-38 percent. In four of the five towns at least 60 percent of voters favored the measure, with the exception being Addison.
In May 2010, Addison reversed what had been a 197-138 Town Meeting Day vote in favor of unification. The second vote against went 191-148.
Vergennes residents also in 2010 petitioned their 232-142 vote backing unification. A majority said no to the governance switch, 139-127, on May 11.
But state law requires that in a revote the number of votes to change an outcome must equal at least two-thirds of the original opposite tally. That threshold in Vergennes stood at 155, and the city vote would not have dealt unification a setback.
This year in Addison, both 119 no votes and a majority would be needed to overturn the town’s March vote in favor of ANwSU unification.
After this March’s 191 yes votes in Vergennes, both 128 no votes and a majority no vote will be needed to defeat unification on May 17.
ANwSU officials made some changes in the Articles of Agreement they presented to voters in 2010, including promising to return schools to towns if they were no longer used to house students and adding language to clarify their intent that no school would be closed without a union-wide vote.
Also, since the 2010 votes, the Vermont Legislature passed Act 153, which gives consolidated districts a one-time payment of $150,000; promises to retain small-school support payments, a measure that will benefit ACS; forbids consolidated districts from closing schools for at least four years; and offers homeowners four years of reductions in the statewide tax rate.
Assuming level budgets after unification, ANwSU officials expect lower school tax rates in Addison and Ferrisburgh for the next few years. But after a dip in the first year in Vergennes, Panton and Waltham, officials expect a slight increase in those three towns. After five years, rates in all the towns will be the same before common level of appraisal (CLA) adjustments.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at andyk@addisonindependent.com.

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