Letter to the editor: Closing schools worsens equity

School consolidation in ACSD moves forward. One goal of consolidation is greater equity and opportunity for all of the students in the district. But there is another goal: reducing the future expense of education. It is probable that these savings will come by closing one or more schools, reducing the number of teachers and service providers, and increasing the number of students per classroom and per teacher.
Consolidating Vermont’s school districts has been a state initiated impetus, top down to the People. The People, however, have not expressed interest in school consolidation. I was a participant in the RED committees that each town assembled to consider school consolidation in 2012. Ripton was not interested. None of the towns in ACSU were interested.
It is not clear that closing down a small-town school will result in greater equity or opportunity for the students. For example, Ripton School provides after school supervision and activities for their kids until 4:30 M-Th. Will this be available to Ripton students if they are bused to Mary Hogan?
 Outlying middle and high school students who are bused into Middlebury have always lacked equity and opportunity in terms of after-school activities such as athletics, theatre, and clubs due to a lack of transportation. Unless parents can arrange to transport their children home in the late afternoon, the outlying students cannot equally participate in after-school activities. Students who live in Middlebury therefore have an advantage, and this inequity has never been addressed. There is no reason to think that it will be in the future.
The way the ACSD Board is constituted makes it likely that our small towns can lose the right to educate their children in their own school. Each small town in ACSD has one representative on a thirteen-member board. What this means for a small town like Ripton is that the board can vote our school out of existence, even though Ripton citizens have borne all of the cost of building their own school, have maintained it for decades, and Ripton has never voted down our school’s budget.
The consolidation process has improved district governance, making for greater efficiency. But now the ACSD Board is making plans to move to phase two, a consolidation of the student population across the district. The small towns in ACSD (Bridport, Cornwall, Ripton, Salisbury, Shoreham and Weybridge) risk having their schools closed and their children bused out of town each day. If Mary Hogan is to take in the outlying students, it will have to be renovated at a cost of at least $5.8 million. All of the towns in the district will share in the cost of the Mary Hogan renovation, even as their own schools are possibly closed. 
The small towns in ACSD need to begin acting if they want to save their schools. We in Ripton have already started to act. Join us. We have formed a citizens’ group. We are planning a meeting of people from all the small towns in the district. Watch for it, come to the meeting, and let’s act to save our schools.
Millard M. Cox

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