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Addison and Ferrisburgh vote no on elementary school closings

ORGANIZERS OPPOSED TO closing Addison Central School put up this sign not far from the Addison Town Clerk’s Office on Tuesday. Voters overwhelmingly defeated elementary school closure proposals in Addison and Ferrisburgh.

All of this discussion has been about money, and yes that’s a concern, but we are Vermont … We maintain (Vermont’s) independence by how our children see the community function. And I don’t want us to lose sight of that.
— Karlene DeVine, Ferrisburgh resident

ADDISON & FERRISBURGH — On Tuesday voters in Addison and Ferrisburgh, by large margins, rejected the Addison Northwest School District’s proposal to close Addison Central School (ACS) and Ferrisburgh Central School (FCS) on June 30, 2020.
In Addison the tally was 373 opposed and 123 in favor.
In Ferrisburgh: 884 opposed–160 in favor.
Voter turnout was 46 percent in Addison and 45 percent in Ferrisburgh.
“Our towns have spoken through (this) vote — both strongly opposed to closing Addison’s and Ferrisburgh’s schools,” wrote Addison resident Ashley Paquette in an email on behalf of Addison’s chapter of the Rural School Alliance, which opposed the proposal. “The ballot asked if we wanted to close ‘For use as an Elementary School.’ The answer is that we want to remain intact and vital.”
Ferrisburgh resident Raïssa Venables expressed similar sentiments.
“Ferrisburgh and Addison residents sent a resounding message to the ANWSD school board, superintendent of schools and our state representatives: Residents value their local schools and mandate that they remain open,” she wrote in an email on behalf of RSA’s Ferrisburgh chapter.
ANWSD educates about 850 students in four schools — ACS, FCS, Vergennes Union Elementary School and Vergennes Union High School. In addition to Addison, Ferrisburgh and Vergennes, the district also teaches children in Panton and Waltham.
Like many school districts in Vermont ANWSD is facing rising costs and declining enrollment.
Earlier this year district officials warned residents that it needed to cut $955,000 from its upcoming budget in order to remain under the per-pupil spending limit and avoid associated penalties imposed by the state. The ANWSD board had hoped to achieve significant budget savings by eliminating the fixed costs associated with operating ACS and FCS. Otherwise, it told district residents, program cuts would have to be made at the high school.
The district also said that moving Addison and Ferrisburgh students to Vergennes would lead to greater educational equity.
At a voter-information meeting in Addison the night before the vote, Carole McBride, who lives in Addison but sends her children to VUES, agreed.
“I removed one of my kids (from ACS) because it just wasn’t a great fit for her,” McBride explained to a gathering of about 35. “And then my other two (children) found out what they were missing out on, and they decided that they wanted to leave (the school). We love Addison, we love the teachers, we love the environment, but the kids really wanted the choices and opportunities that were available elsewhere.”
McBride’s daughter was the only girl in her fifth-grade class at ACS, she continued — a time of life when she really needed peers.
“I have to say that my vote tomorrow, as much as I love Addison, will be to close the school. And it’s not financially driven. It’s because I think that’s what’s best for the kids.”

IN FERRISBURGH
Later that evening, at the Ferrisburgh voter-information meeting, Karlene DeVine, who was a member of the first class to go through FCS, expressed different reservations.
“I am very concerned about taking our children out of these communities before the fifth grade,” she said. “Those children come to this place or Addison or VUES, the parents are involved, the kids see the commitment of the parents and they see how people can work together. All of this discussion has been about money, and yes that’s a concern, but we are Vermont. We are known as an independent state. And we maintain that independence by how our children see the community function. And I don’t want us to lose sight of that.”
Now that the proposal has been defeated in both towns, the school district must find alternative cost-saving solutions. It must also decide what students are going where next year.
According to information distributed by ANWSD before the vote:
• PreK–4 or 5 will attend FCS.
• K–4 or 5 will attend VUES.
• 5 or 6–12 will attend VUHS.
• K–1 or K–12 alternative education students will attend ACS.
In an email statement to the Independent, ANWSD board chair Sue Rakowski thanked Addison and Ferrisburgh voters for their strong turnout and for participating in difficult conversations around school district reconfiguration.
“We trust that our community now recognizes the financial and demographic challenges that threaten the viability of our school district and we remain committed to providing the best possible education and opportunity for all of our preK–12 students at a cost that is sustainable for our community,” she wrote on behalf of the board. “The results of these votes will inform the district’s upcoming budget work. We look forward to continued collaboration with all stakeholders to ensure a passable budget that maintains the health of the district and provides a robust educational experience for our students.”
That budget will be developed at school board meetings over the next three months, Rakowski explained, then presented for voter approval on Town Meeting Day in March.
“We urge all stakeholders to remain engaged with the school board to support our students,” she wrote.
The RSA says it plans to remain engaged.
“We will continue to stay educated and inform our communities, while advocating for alternative solutions and savings, holding the ANWSD school board accountable for equitable solutions,” Paquette said. “Our work here has only just begun.”
Venables agreed.
“The RSA’s objective as a community-based group is to work collaboratively with the school board on developing creative, lasting solutions that will best serve all of our children, our towns and our district while keeping our schools open.”
Reach Christopher Ross at christopherr@addisonindependent.com.

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