Letter to the editor: ANWSD Board rejects public input
We hear you. We don’t care. We’re doing what we want anyway.
That’s the message I heard loud and clear at the ANWSD (Addison Northwest School District) board meeting Monday night. The board seemingly refused to warn a vote on petitions to change the articles of agreement to let the towns vote on whether or not they want their schools to close.
To be clear, the board under legal advice, decided to ignore a petition representing 7% of all registered voters in the district and in their words, “save the electorate from themselves.” In five short minutes, the board decided they didn’t want to let towns have the ability to vote on whether or not to keep our schools open. They refused to allow that democratic choice.
A brief timeline from my perspective as a parent: In August, a few days before school started, we learned that the board decided to not just close ACS (Addison Central School) as many folks had expected, and begrudgingly accepted, but FCS (Ferrisburgh Central School) as well. In September, the VUES (Vergennes Union Elementary School) gym was packed so the community could find out more about why the board wanted to take this drastic step. At that meeting, each board member presented a dour and inevitable scenario that school closure was the only option.
We were told that if we attended community engagement forums, attended board meetings, and did the research, we would understand why they had decided this action was necessary. So we did.
I personally attended over 20 hours of board and committee meetings, spent countless hours diving into the minutiae of budget line items, attended meetings of community members, prepared documents, and met with board members and administrators individually to learn more.
In the October board meeting a group of Ferrisburgh residents presented a petition of over 200 names to the board simply asking for more time and that they consider keeping FCS open. That petition was immediately ignored, and the next action of the board was to issue language warning Addison and FCS of the vote on whether or not we wanted to close our schools.
This act effectively pitted towns against each other and selectboards against the school board. In November, Ferrisburgh and Addison residents overwhelmingly voted that our schools be kept open as elementary schools. The current plans aren’t to have ACS be an elementary school, as the community wished.
This board has said they want community engagement. This board has said they want input and partnership from the voters.
We heard that charge and took it seriously. I, and many others, began to dive in and learn more with the hope of engaging in an informed conversation with the board and that our perspectives and input would be valued. And what has the response been?
When we presented options to keep programs alive and cut back on administrative costs to the finance committee, the immediate feedback we received is that we had a job title wrong. No other comments other than that administrative cuts at the district level were not an option.
When I met with administrators and board members I have been told that if I didn’t like declining enrollment and the board’s actions I could either have more children or run for the board myself. This past Monday night, when the board was presented with petitions that asked only that our towns be allowed to vote on school closure, the response was: “They read like they want to do our jobs for us.” The board was defensive, insulted, and combative to their own requested community engagement.
This is not community engagement. I’m not a lawyer, I’m not a schooling expert. I’m a parent and community member who has actually deeply engaged in this process and has been shut down for wanting to engage in a way that’s different than the board wants.
I sincerely appreciate the time that some board members have given me and many others, genuinely listening, and actually changing their perspectives based on what they’ve heard from their constituents. On Monday night, some stood up for the people who voted for them to represent the will of the towns they represent. This community has engaged, we’ve followed procedure, we’ve shown up. But we’ve been stymied at every turn.
I am disappointed in the leadership demonstrated Monday night and, sadly, I have lost trust that any votes or engagement in the process will actually be acted on by this board in the future. We want to vote for a vision of our communities and schools that is compelling, vibrant, creative and fiscally sound.
None of that has been presented and this process has damaged trust we need to have in our elected representatives.
The board’s message to their community at this meeting is “we hear you, we don’t care, we’re doing what we want anyway” — and that’s not right.
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