New study to guide ANWSD

The ANWSD’s board’s Community Engagement Committee plans to hold a virtual public forum on Oct. 22, at which the NESDEC study will be a featured item.

VERGENNES — The Addison Northwest School District board said it will use a recently completed study of ANWSD’s demographics, facilities and options for the future to inform both its planning for the years ahead and its work to educate district residents about the choices and challenges ANWSD faces. 
The recently completed study was performed by the New England School Development Council, or NESDEC, an independent nonprofit from Marlboro work that routinely performs more than 200 such studies a year for schools and districts around New England.
NESDEC at the same time produced a similar study for the Mount Abraham Unified School District, and some of the options to ANWSD and MAUSD include possible cooperation between the districts, including basing a middle school in one district and a high school in the other — with the choice of which goes where to be determined later.
In general, the study supported the board’s research that enrollment would decline, a trend that means financial pressure on the district by reducing state per-pupil funding, although the study did not directly address that fiscal issue.
The study also looked more directly at the school’s capacity to house programming, rather than simply looking at overall square footage, its authors told the board on Sept. 14. That analysis, the authors said, provides a more accurate picture of how many students each building could accommodate.

The ANWSD’s board’s Community Engagement Committee will hold a virtual public forum on Oct. 22, at which the NESDEC study will be a featured item. 
The ANWSD board reviewed the study at its Sept. 14 meeting and discussed it on both Sept. 14 and 21. Plans call for an ad hoc committee of the board’s committee chairs to study the results and make recommendations to the larger board on how to use the research to help budget now and plan for the long term.
Board Chairman John Stroup said the board’s Community Engagement and Facilities committees will also be doing some heavy lifting, and might also start working more closely together as the board looks ahead. 
“We generally have a pretty good plan to move forward with the Facilities Committee, in with the Engagement Committee. Our question now is what is this board going to do as we start deliberating, make some priorities, give some direction to the administration to budgeting for FY22, and also about laying out some priorities that we want to start thinking about for future planning,” Stroup said. 
“Of course we’re not going to do that before we do our community engagement, but we should be in the same process of thinking about it together.”
Plans call for more community forums this fall before the board enters into serious budget discussions later this year, and Community Engagement Committee Chairperson Kristina MacKulin said the committee also planned a straw poll later this fall. 
“We all thought that the straw poll could be useful for current budget planning as well as long-term (planning),” she said. 
Superintendent Sheila Soule cautioned that the committee would have to make sure the voters understood the potential costs and benefits of the options in such a poll.
“Just as much education needs to go into a straw poll as a regular vote,” Soule said.
Stroup summed up to the study’s authors what it meant for the district. 
“You’ve given us a lot to think about how we keep programs for our students, how we could possibly move ourselves to financial stability, and how we can try to get to some place where we have some stability in our configuration. So we’ve got a lot of work to do, and this is a really good baseline that gives us a starting place,” he said. “An outside, independent group confirmed some really important numbers for us.”

The study’s demographic information included:
• A 9% statewide decline in student enrollment from 2016 to 2020 to about 80,000. 
• A decline in ANWSD’s overall population from 7,897 in 2010 to 7,765 in 2010.
• An average ANWSD birth rate of 86 per year between 2004 and 2008.
• An average ANWSD birth rate of 69 per year between 2013 and 2018.
The authors also noted that within the district “there are currently no major single-family developments, multi-unit condo, or multi-unit apartment projects approved and under construction, approved and awaiting construction, or in the approval process.”
ANWSD enrollment dropped from 1,167 in 2009 to 869 in 2019, and the study projects it to drop to 732 by the 2029-2030 school year.
In analyzing individual schools, the study drew several conclusions, which included leaving room for unexpected enrollment growth of 10%:
• Assuming Addison Central’s current use as an alternative education school for grades 6-12, that building’s maximum capacity was 30. In the past as many as 140 students have attended ACS, although only 60 enrolled this past year. The study found no deficiencies with the facility.
• Pegged Ferrisburgh Central’s 2019 enrollment at 118 and its capacity at 218. The study listed a lack of a conference room and slow recirculation of hot water as issues with the building that needed to be addressed. 
• Noted Vergennes Union Elementary’s 2019 enrollment was 225, and its capacity was 362. The study identified as building issues the lack of a conference room, the fact some water lines need repair, and a lack of parking.
• Put Vergennes Union High’s 2019 enrollment at 454 and its capacity at 876. The study noted the roof near the music room leaks, and kitchen storage was inadequate. 
Taken together, the three schools now used to educate ANWSD students have a collective additional capacity for 659 students.

The study presented three options that would reconfigure the district, and three more options if the district were to collaborate with MAUSD.
The options and potential pluses and minuses were: 
OPTION 1:  Closing ACS and moving that alternative program and the district office to VUHS.
Advantages: the possible use of the vacated ACS by “collaborative  programs, municipal and civic organizations, savings by closing the school,”  and “potential to increase support for special education programming by coordinating programming by school.”
The challenge it listed was the cost “associated to reconfigure spaces, if needed.”
 OPTION 2: Closing ACS and another elementary school, with grades Pre-K-4 at one school, and 5-12 and the alternative program at VUHS.
Advantages: the same as above, plus “more consistent elementary class sizes and the facilitation of collaboration.” 
Challenges: The need “to ensure that there is sufficient space and staff at (VUHS) to accommodate Grade 5-6 programming;” increased travel costs and times for some students; and possible reconfiguration costs at VUHS. 
 OPTION 3: Closing ACS, putting the district office and Pre-K at one elementary school, K-4 at another elementary school, and 5-12 and the alternative program at VUHS.
Advantages and challenges are similar to Option 2, with less savings from closing only ACS.
The three options the study lists consideration for cooperation with MAUSD are: 
OPTION A: Closing ACS and either VUES or FCS, or just ACS. PK-6 would attend either or both FCS and VUES, and grades 7-12 would attend either Mount Abraham Union High School or VUHS.
The same advantages are listed for use of vacated spaces, consistent class sizes and educational collaboration, and savings from school closings.
Among challenges cited are the difficulty of deciding which high school to close, possible costs to expand one elementary or one high school to handle programming needs, travel time and costs, and the possibility some high school courses might be offered less frequently and class size minimums might need to be increased. 
OPTION B: Closing ACS and either VUES or FCS, or just ACS. PK-5 would attend either or both VUES and FCS. One cohort of grades 6-8 and 9-12 would attend VUHS, while the other cohort would attend Mount Abe. 
The new positive listed is that it “provides a structure for a middle school model.”  
The new challenges listed are a third school transition for students and the discussion necessary to determine where each cohort lands.
OPTION C: Option C is similar to Option B, except that it would divide grade levels by PK-4, 5-8, and 9-12. 
Challenges listed mirror those of Options A and B.
In the spring, the ANWSD board settled on studying the following options for the 2021-2022 school year: the current configuration, with or without “strategic” cuts; three buildings, one with PreK-2, one with 3-5, and one with 6-12; two buildings, one with PreK-4 and one with 5-12; or two buildings, one with PreK to either 4 or 5 and one with either 5 or 6 to 8, with high school students tuitioned out. 

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