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Letter to the Editor: Addison Central cuts are going to far

Editor’s note: The writer sent this to the Addison Central School District board and copied the Independent.
I have three children currently and soon-to-be enrolled in the ACSD. I have been following the FY 2019 budget talks through recent Addison Independent articles. It is usually not possible for me to attend your Monday meetings, and we have a prior engagement during your meeting this Thursday, January 11th. Therefore, I am writing you with my views regarding this difficult decision.
I grew up in Castleton until I was 11 (in 4th grade.) Then my family moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for two years. Next we moved back to Middlebury, Vermont. From my recollection Vermont classrooms generally consisted of 15-20 students with one teacher. In Pittsburgh the ratio was closer to 30-1. The only help I noticed for all these teachers was a student teacher or, in rare instances, an aid for one student. I graduated from MUHS in 2000.
As an ACSU/ACSD parent I have had one child move from an out-of-state district to attend Mary Hogan School for most of five years, and two students attend Bingham Memorial School in Cornwall for almost one year. My oldest child is actually in a larger class in Cornwall than they were in Middlebury. I have seen this child struggle in two schools and seem to do much better in the other. I feel all these experiences provide me with a slightly unique perspective into our district’s current situation.
I feel that an ideal average classroom size for our students would be in the range of 15-20 students. I do not necessarily feel that all classes need a paraprofessional in them (especially in very small classes.) If there is a clear need for this position in a classroom, then that extra body should be there. For two years in Middlebury, my oldest child was in a class of 15-17 students and three adults on a regular basis. That ratio just seemed a little low to me.
When discussion of unifying was happening, prior to the vote I was left with the understanding that unification would allow for some consolidation of redundant administrative and supervisory personnel. This budget does not seem to reflect that very much. At least not where I thought it would. Perhaps we just have not reached that point yet. Maybe that personnel is still needed due to the Application for the International Baccalaureate program. It just seems odd to me that so many of our front line educators are being asked to sacrifice their jobs at this time.
I know we are in a very tough situation and cuts need to be made. I think we all knew some level of this has been coming for a while. When MUMS almost had to cut some staff a few years ago, I almost wrote about how when I attended MUJHS (MUMS’ predecessor) there were four educational teams. However, the make-up was different: there were two five-teacher teams, each mixed with 7th and 8th graders, one two-teacher team of 7th graders, and one three-teacher team for 8th graders when I was in 7th grade. My 8th grade year the three teacher team became four teachers for both grades. I know that the year after I left, the teams got redistributed into four four-teacher teams. I don’t know anything beyond that. The point is that changes can be made to accommodate a changing situation.
I was pleased to see in the second Addison Independent article that the amount we had to cut has been reduced. I understand that if these or some similar version of these cuts go through this year that it will likely not be the end to the pain. Hopefully it will give us some breathing room to take a closer look at our situation, talk more with all the schools’ staff, and devise some solutions that can help save money and schools. The school merger stories article left me hopeful that we can find some creative solutions of our own. I feel it would benefit us to keep an eye on and learn from what other unified districts are doing.
Looking to the future, after the current budget talk, I have one suggestion that first came to mind during the discussion about potentially moving 6th graders to MUMS. I noted how Mary Hogan is getting too full while the outlying schools have declining populations. The thought of removing another grade from the smaller elementary schools distressed some people. Being a unified district, I wonder if some Middlebury students can’t be diverted to some of the other elementary schools. To ease the potential upheaval for students, it could likely start with a particular Kindergarten (or pre-K) class.
A prime example is East Middlebury. I did some research on Google Maps. I found that there is only a 0.6-mile and 2-minute difference from the center of East Middlebury to Mary Hogan, Ripton, and Salisbury elementary schools. So maybe it would make sense to send these students to one or both of the smaller schools. I went on to check near Middlebury’s north border with Weybridge. I found that Gorham Lane is 1.3 miles from Mary Hogan, 2.7 miles from Weybridge Elementary, and a 5-minute drive to both schools. So maybe there is an option there, too. These time and distance differences are quite negligible compared to what the Otter Valley District is being asked to consider with Neshobe and Lothrop Elementary Schools. There is 9.3 miles and 15 minutes between those schools.
All of this being said, I very much value and cherish all the hard work done by all the district educators and staff who have touched the lives of my whole family. I send you a heart-felt thank you, and I feel for you all in this very stressful time.
Ian Ross, Cornwall

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