ACSU hosts workshop aimed at consolidation
MIDDLEBURY — Residents in six of the Addison Central Supervisory Union’s (ACSU) seven member-towns will be asked on Saturday, Jan. 14, to begin charting the future operations of their schools during this era of declining enrollment and dwindling resources.
On that day a special workshop titled “Sustainable Education in a Changing World: Engaging Community, Achieving Excellence, Managing Costs” will run from 9 a.m. to noon at Middlebury College’s Axinn Center. Coordinated by the ACSU Study committee with the help of education consultants, the workshop is designed to jumpstart discussions about possible school governance consolidations — and perhaps eventually school consolidations — among the towns of Middlebury, Cornwall, Shoreham, Ripton, Salisbury and Bridport.
Weybridge, the seventh ACSU town, has already held a series of community forums on the future of its school and its residents have agreed on four potential courses of action to deal with declining enrollment. They include exploring ways to make Weybridge more affordable for young families; considering ways the school could share resources with schools in neighboring communities; evaluating additional uses for the local school building to make it more financially self-sustaining and useful to the broader community; and advocating for change, at the state level, in the way local schools can be funded and operated.
The ACSU Study Committee now wants the other six towns of follow Weybridge’s lead. To that end, the Jan. 14 workshop will train interested parents and community members within ACSU to form organizing committees that will plan community forums to discuss critical questions about the future of their school.
The ACSU Study Committee was formed in 2010 to meet one of the deadlines prescribed by Act 153, a state law that provides incentives for school districts that voluntarily consider mergers. Act 153 allows individual school communities to consider merging into a “Regional Educational District,” or 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.
Amy Gibans McGlashan is a Ripton school director, ACSU Study Committee member and a coordinator of the Jan. 14 workshop. She said participants will return to their communities after the workshop and spend the coming months gathering local input on challenges affecting their respective schools. The ACSU communities will present their findings at a summit meeting in late May. Those findings, according to McGlashan, will reveal whether there is enough support to warrant further study of school governance consolidation and/or mergers. If so, interested communities will develop specific plans — and potential ballot questions for voters — during the summer.
But if there is no broad support for change, the matter could be dropped after the summit, McGlashan said. Still, the process will also enable each town to generate local actions for short- and long-term school planning, McGlashan noted.
The ACSU governance study is “based on the premise that the world is rapidly changing and it is important that our students have the knowledge and skills needed to succeed,” said Study Committee Chairman Rick Scott of Bridport. “At the same time, we need to make sure that what we invest in our schools is financially sustainable. In order to do a good job addressing these challenges, we need to tap into the best thinking of everyone in our community.”
For more information, McGlashan can be reached at 388-7080.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].
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