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Addison issues school-closure statement on eve of vote

ADDISON — In a letter mailed to town residents on Oct. 31, the Addison selectboard has outlined a number of questions and concerns about the Addison Northwest School District’s proposal to close Addison Central School next year.
“We believe the school district is rushing us into voting to close our school before the town and residents have had an opportunity to weigh all the facts and participate in the decision-making about this issue,” the letter says.
The ANWSD serves Addison, Ferrisburgh, Panton, Vergennes and Waltham, and oversees four schools — Addison Central School (ACS), Ferrisburgh Central School (FCS), Vergennes Union Elementary School (VUES) and Vergennes Union High School (VUHS). Addison and Ferrisburgh residents on Tuesday, Nov. 5, will vote on a school board proposal to close ACS and FCS on June 30, 2020.
Because of declining enrollment and increased costs, the ANWSD has warned its constituents that keeping the two schools open would require program cuts at the high school or tax increases it assumes district residents would find unacceptable.
The Addison selectboard’s letter did not explicitly urge opposition or support, but it did raise a number of issues.
“The school district’s proposed plan may not benefit our town,” the letter says. “Your property taxes will not decrease.”
The letter then lists several “unanswered” questions:
• “Why are the costs for the district skyrocketing? The annual increases far exceed — by 300 percent — the annual increases that occurred before the Act 46 merger of our district.”
• “Why has the central administrative office increased its staff numbers by 30 percent, going from 12 to 16 full-time staff? The district merger was supposed to result in administrative cost savings.”
• “Where is the proposed budget for the next fiscal year (FY 21), showing how the closure would impact the bottom line?”
• “The school board insists that the district’s costs must be cut by $1 million per year from now and well into the future. At what point do they stop cutting by $1 million? What do they aim to cut after our school is closed?”
Addison residents and the town selectboard are looking into alternatives, the letter continues, but they need more time.
“We recognize that residents in many towns in the county are very concerned and interested in doing the right thing for the children and the community,” the letter concludes. “We want our residents to feel educated and informed and empowered. We need time as a community to make this happen.”
The Independent reached out to Addison selectboard chair Jeff Kauffman for a comment but did not connect with him in time for this article.
After receiving a copy of the letter, ANWSD chair Sue Rakowski offered the following comment by email.
“Facts regarding the Addison Northwest School District reconfiguration plans, financial savings and most likely scenarios after the Nov. 5 vote were outlined on a mailer distributed by the school district. More detailed information is posted on the ANWSD.org website under the School Reconfiguration Resources tab. We encourage Addison residents who have questions about the vote to attend the voter informational meeting at Addison Central School on Monday, Nov. 4, at 5 p.m.”
A letter to the editor from Rakowski and the school board appears on Page 5 of today’s edition.
The Ferrisburgh selectboard has also mailed a school-closure letter to its town residents.
“Your Selectboard urges an ‘OPPOSED’ vote on Nov. 5,” it concluded. (See our Oct. 31 story.)

RECENT TIMELINE
After its annual board retreat on Aug. 22, the ANWSD board announced that it had “favorably discussed” closing the Addison and Ferrisburgh schools.
The board had originally planned to decide on Sept. 9 whether or not it would call for the required vote in those towns, but after many of the roughly 200 ANWSD residents who showed up to that meeting raised concerns, the decision was postponed until Sept. 27.
The ANWSD then hosted informational meetings on Sept. 25 in Addison and Sept. 26 in Ferrisburgh.
On Sept. 27 it decided to warn the Nov. 5 vote.
The district will hold two voter-information meetings on Nov. 4 — one at 5 p.m. at Addison Central and one at 7 p.m. at Ferrisburgh Central.
On Nov. 5, polls will open in both towns at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m.
Reach Christopher Ross at [email protected].

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