ANWSD predicts little savings if schools are closed

Right now that’s the takeaway of where we were … You don’t see a lot of (financial) change no matter what the scenario is in the long term.
—Board Chairman John Stroup

VERGENNES — Scenarios prepared for the Addison Northwest School District board by district Director of Finance & Operations Elizabeth Jennings show more than $1 million in savings for ANWSD if it consolidates into two buildings in the 2021-2022 school year, but almost no up-front or long-term savings for a three-building option. 
Jennings’ scenarios, which she is careful to say “are all based on estimates” and are “not literal or exact,” suggest the ANSWD won’t generate any further impactful savings after five years with the two-building option, versus the current four-building configuration.
The current ANWSD budget is about $21.8 million after about $300,000 in cuts. Jennings projects for 2025-2026, or five years down the road:
•  A status quo budget of about $26.8 million budget.
•  Three-building budgets, one with a grades 6-12 high school and one with a 7-12 high school, at roughly $26.6 million and $26.8 million, respectively. 
•  A two-building budget with one pre-K to grade 4 building and one grades 5-12 building with a budget of about $25.5 million.
•  A two-building budget in which grades 9-12 are tuitioned to other districts at roughly $24.3 million. 
ANWSD Board Chairman John Stroup, during an interview with the Independent, outlined the major issue: Even with consolidation, it would be hard to see real savings on personnel — the major cost in any school district budget. 
With the current projection for numbers of K-6 students it would be difficult to eliminate too many more elementary school teachers, he said, nor could savings be realized at the high school level without sacrificing AP courses or extracurriculars such as athletics, even with an expected “precipitous drop” in enrollment.
“There’s just no way to cut many more teachers in the elementary schools because of our student-to-teacher ratios … even if we cut Ferrisburgh,” Stroup said, adding at the high school, “To offer the choice, to have AP Calculus, to have all the Social Studies, languages, all that stuff, we’re going to pretty much need about the same amount of faculty up there.”
That’s the message he and ANSWD Superintendent Sheila Soule and Jennings gave to board members at their Aug. 19 retreat. 
The board was surprised to hear that even tuitioning all high school students, something Stroup doesn’t favor, apparently wouldn’t be more financially favorable. 
“Right now that’s the takeaway of where we were … You don’t see a lot of change no matter what the scenario is in the long term,” Stroup said.
There remains one X factor the board hopes to discuss along with these results in a planned series of fall community forums, for which the Community Engagement Committee Chairwoman Kristina MacKulin could set dates as soon as Sept. 16.
The New England School Development Council (NESDC) is nearing completion of a study for both ANWSD and the Mount Abraham Unified Union School district on their individual demographics and capacities and on the possibility for increased collaboration and consolidation between the districts. 
The information from that study will help inform ANWSD decisions, Stroup said, and the community discussions this fall. 
“We really need to get the ball rolling, especially just reinforcing what we talked about as a board and Sheila and the administration about our really strong desire to connect and talk with people and learn from our community as we start to deal with the decisions we have to make,” he said.
Stroup said those forums will go over the NESDC study data as well as the district’s own projections, and leave plenty of time for listening. 
He said the goal is to “share with our community and learn with our community over the course of the fall so that we are prepared to make our best decisions that we can in December and January for the town meeting budget and decisions on the future of the district.” 
Certainly, the board will welcome ideas, from the public or the NESDEC study, before it prepares for what could be a pivotal vote this coming March.  
“Right now, based on what we know, reconfiguration within our district is not going to get us to where we need to be,” Stroup said. “So we’ve got to generate some more ideas and some more partnerships.”
Reporter Andy Kirkaldy is at [email protected].

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