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ACSD will evaluate a system of 4 schools

MIDDLEBURY — The Addison Central School District board will ask its transportation consultant to focus his research on how bus routes could best serve an education system with four elementary schools — in Middlebury (Mary Hogan), Cornwall, Salisbury and Shoreham.
Board members have also asked Superintendent Peter Burrows to provide them with more information on how the ACSD could allow “intra-district school choice.” If ultimately endorsed by the board, that option would allow residents of the seven member-towns to choose which of the three or four elementary schools left in ACSD they’d like to send their children.
The board reached these consensus positions at its Monday, Nov. 23, meeting after reviewing a transportation study submitted by Tim Ammon of the Maryland company Decision Support Group. Ammon was charged with reviewing potential busing scenarios for ACSD children within elementary school systems containing three, or four, buildings.
Currently each of the ACSD-member communities of Bridport, Cornwall, Middlebury, Ripton, Salisbury, Shoreham and Weybridge has its own elementary school. But the ACSD board is looking to trim the seven elementary schools down to three or four in recognition of declining enrollment and rising public education costs.
Officials had been leaning toward consolidating into three elementary schools, a move that another consultant claimed could save ACSD taxpayers an estimated $3.3 million in year one, and $41.5 million over 10 years. Downsizing to four elementary schools could reduce costs by around $33 million over a decade, the consultant found.
Ammon, through his transportation study, issued findings that favored a four-school model over a three-school system. It largely has to do with the increased time some students would spend on a bus if the ACSD were to transition to three elementary schools. The district has a guideline of students not spending more than an hour on the bus (each way), and the board doesn’t want to see that time increased.
Board members also want to make sure that school mergers don’t create socioeconomic hardships for families. For example, they noted not all parents can afford to drive longer distances to attend parent-teacher conferences and chauffeur children to extracurriculars.
Ammon found that:
•  The three-school option (Mary Hogan, Bridport and Salisbury) offers the least flexibility and would be the most difficult challenge from a transportation perspective.
•  The four-school options provide increased flexibility to manage grade alignments and reduce the negative transportation impacts of the three-school model.
•  The Mary Hogan Elementary School, Bridport Elementary School, Cornwall Elementary School, and Salisbury Community School option requires more student movement and would likely have a greater negative impact on transportation.
•  The Mary Hogan Elementary School, Cornwall Elementary School, Salisbury Community School, and Shoreham Elementary School option provides greater geographic balance and mitigates some negative transportation impacts.
Ammon’s findings give new hope to residents of Shoreham, who feared their school was on the chopping block along with those in Ripton and Weybridge. Instead, Bridport Elementary could join the list of potential school closures, if the ACSD board agrees with Ammon’s opinion that a Middlebury-Cornwall-Salisbury-Shoreham system would work best — at least from a transportation perspective.
ACSD Board Chairperson Mary Cullinane and district Facilities Committee Chair Victoria Jette stressed the board hasn’t decided on a whittled-down elementary school system. They said Monday’s vote was simply to develop more transportation information on what appears to be the most promising four-school possibility.
Ammon’s report, according to Jette, will “help frame the discussion so we can move forward. This continues to be a work in progress.”
The board continues to work on a facilities master plan that will help the panel decide which of its school buildings will be essential to the district’s educational mission, and which should be closed in order to reduce expenses. The ACSD board can, through a supermajority vote if its members, close a school.
Shoreham resident Barb Wilson is pleased to see her community school get a new lifeline.
“I was heartened to hear many board members agreeing to the importance of assessing socioeconomic impacts of the school consolidation models they are considering,” she said.
“Based on my analysis, a more socially equitable solution can only be achieved with a minimum of four schools, one of which is Shoreham. Shoreham’s inclusion in a socially equitable solution reflects both its high sustained enrollment and the high number of students eligible for free-and-reduced lunch services.”
At the same time, residents of Ripton, Weybridge and now Bridport are increasingly fearful their schools won’t make the cut.
Ripton resident and parent Joanna Doria reiterated her belief that the board shouldn’t be pursuing school closures during the ongoing pandemic, when people can’t easily network in person. And she urged the board to creatively look at ways to preserve and enhance the rural schools, which often serve as community hubs that are magnets for new residents.
“Please, look, entertain, process the creative ideas that have been suggested to you,” she said. “For the record, some of them are: Stipends for families to replace certain bus routes, telehealth visits at schools during the school day and a full-time nurse’s budget outside of the schools’ spending, video conferencing for student support teams to bring everyone together, designing behavior plans that include a virtual interface component, expanding pre-K in all schools to include 3-year-olds, and allowing schools to start childcare centers for birth-2. There are great models out there for you to look at. Reach out to the other districts in our county that are struggling in the same way we are.”
John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com

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