Weybridge eyes school’s future

WEYBRIDGE — Weybridge residents on Sept. 13 will gather for the first of several upcoming community forums to offer their views on how their local elementary school should be governed and managed during a future that will likely be marked by continuing low enrollment.
The meeting will be the first in a series of discussions in all seven Addison Central Supervisory Union towns on whether the district should consider consolidating its governance structure and/or more effectively share resources in acknowledgment of growing expenses and fewer students.
Eben Punderson, chairman of the Weybridge school board, said the local meetings will represent a community effort to outline taxpayers’ core values for their school to guide future policy and funding decisions. The community, he said, might decide not to change a thing in the way the school is currently being managed, or it might decide it would make sense to merge the local school population with a neighboring town.
“The range of outcomes is really broad,” said Punderson, who is part of a local steering committee that will convene the Weybridge meetings and record the feedback with the aid of a consultant, Sue McCormack of Everyday Democracy. The meetings will kick off Tuesday, Sept. 13, from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Weybridge Elementary
“It’s not about whether we consolidate with Cornwall or not; it’s not about whether we close our school or not,” Punderson said. “It’s about ‘What do we know about our school, what do we know about our community, what do we know about these larger external pressures?’ and based on that, do we want to do anything?”
Weybridge residents clearly have some food for thought, in terms of student numbers.
Current projections call for an enrollment of 56 students at Weybridge Elementary this fall, noted Punderson. That number is expected to decrease to 38 total students for the 2012-2013 academic year, based in large part on the graduation next spring of a particularly large  22-student sixth-grade class. Enrollment is then expected to remain in the 30s for the foreseeable future, Punderson said.
The Sept. 13 gathering will give the steering committee a chance to explain the process and to encourage people to sign up for ensuring meetings that will focus on:
•  Expectation for Weybridge students and the role the local school should play in the community.
•  The notion of what makes a good education, and what the community should expect of its students once they graduate from school.
•  The costs of providing education and declining enrollment trends that might force the community to ultimately make changes in the way it delivers services to students.
At the end of this process, the steering committee will determine whether the feedback received warrants asking townspeople to take some sort of action.
“It could be nothing; it could be to talk to other schools about a merger; or it could even be to build a new playground,” Punderson said of hypothetical suggestions that could come from townspeople.
Weybridge is the first of seven ACSU towns expected to follow this same process, with assistance from the ACSU Governance Study Committee. Dates for meetings in the other towns have not been set.
The ACSU Governance Study Committee was formed last fall to meet one of the deadlines prescribed by Act 153, a state law that provides incentives for school districts to voluntarily consider mergers. Act 153 allows individual school communities to consider merging into a “Regional Educational District (RED)” governed by a common board. The state is offering up to $20,000 to RED study committees to defray consulting and legal services. The state is also offering financial rewards to voter-approved REDs.
The neighboring Addison Northwest Supervisory Union has mounted several ill-fated attempts to try and consolidate governance of its four schools.
If the notion of school governance wins support in the ACSU-member towns of Middlebury, Cornwall, Shoreham, Weybridge, Ripton, Salisbury and Bridport, voters could face a referendum as soon as March of 2013.
McCormack credited the ACSU Governance Committee with taking a grassroots approach to its study.
“It gives each town an opportunity not just to make recommendations to the committee, but to recommend other (school improvements) right away,” McCormack said.
She is hoping for a big and diverse turnout at the upcoming public meetings.
“The only way this can work well is if we get a lot of different people to make an investment,” McCormack said.
The governance committee has scheduled a “coalition building meeting” for Monday, Sept. 19, from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., in the Middlebury Union High School cafeteria. More information about the process can be found at http://acsustudycommittee.org
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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