Op/Ed

Letter to the editor: ANWSD petition effort could undermine best interest of students

According to the Dec. 9 issue of the Addison Independent, residents of Addison, Panton, Vergennes, Waltham and Ferrisburgh are being asked to sign a petition to change the Addison Northwest School District (ANWSD) articles of agreement to read “school reconfiguration or closure must be approved by the majority of the voters in the towns affected by the reconfiguration or closure.” As an example of this change, only the voters in Addison would have the final voice in whether or not to close Addison Central School forever.
I urge voters to consider very carefully whether to attach your name to this petition.
Several thoughts run through my mind as I think about this effort. First of all, I have a great deal of compassion for the residents of both Ferrisburgh and Addison as far as their distress over the possible closure of their community schools. When I was on the ANWSD Community Engagement Committee, we held an event in which attendees mapped community assets in each town in our school district. I was struck by the many community activities that are held in each of these schools.
I live in a town without a community school. When my children were growing up, they were tuitioned to both Addison Central School and Vergennes Elementary School (now VUES). My family attended activities in both towns.
While I am sympathetic to the residents of both Ferrisburgh and Addison who wish to keep their schools open, it costs more to educate students in these two schools than it does at VUES. This additional cost is borne by taxpayers in all five towns of our unified school district. To change the articles of agreement, thereby giving the official authority to the voters of a single town, about the closure of a school that is being supported by the entire school district, feels to me as if all of us, in our consolidated school district could be held hostage.
These figures come from the ANWSD website: Per Pupil Expense FY20: VUES – $22,696; FCS – $26,399 (+$3,703); ACS – $27,522 (+$4,826). Look at the enrollment numbers at ACS for next year, even with shared classrooms, the entire 5th and 6th grade student enrollment will be a total of 11 students. That is well below recommended class size, and as a former educator, I have serious reservations that these low student numbers provide the kinds of peer interactions that early adolescents need.
Moreover, think about the kinds of opportunities we could provide for our students if we closed ACS and supported these students into our other community schools. Instead of cutting programs, we could consider growing opportunities for all. This petition would essentially eliminate the opportunity to make good choices for all of our students in order to maintain one small school despite ever-declining student enrollment.
A teacher once said to me that “unification has been like becoming a blended family.” What an apt description! From my observation, the newly formed ANWSD school board and the superintendent, JoAn Canning at the time, first embraced the concept of the “we” of unification. The following year it seemed that more and more teachers and staff began to feel the “we” of unification. As I observe the recent events and the actions of parents and community members in both Ferrisburgh and Addison, I wonder if instead of “we,” there is still a sense of “us” and “them.” This petition will only further cement those divisions.
Diana Morris Raphael
Panton

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