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ANWSD to host forum on future challenges

VERGENNES — Area school district residents wanting to understand their school’s financial and demographic challenges can participate in a Dec. 8 online presentation from 6:30 to 8 p.m. to learn about upcoming problems and options to resolve them.
That online forum will be followed by small-group discussions and will include Addison Northwest School District reconfiguration and a possible merger with the Mount Abraham Unified School District. 
The meeting, run by the ANWSD board’s Community Engagement Committee (CEC)  is open to the public and can be accessed at anwsd.org/long-range-district-facilities-planning.php.
On Nov. 16, the Addison Northwest School Board looked at a preliminary 2021-2022 (FY22) budget that would cut spending by $121,000 to about $21.7 million, preserve student programming and the existing schools, and raise taxes only slightly, if at all, according to ANWSD administrators. 
But declining enrollment, rising salaries and benefits, and possibly a major hole in the Vermont Education Fund could tell a different story in FY23 and in the years to come, ANWSD officials said.
They said major changes or cuts will almost certainly be necessary. 

CHALLENGES AHEAD
According to CEC Chairperson Kristina MacKulin, the Dec. 8 forum will open with two presentations, one summarizing this year’s New England School Development Council (NESDEC) study of ANWSD, and another focusing on ANWSD’s financial challenges and what they mean to taxpayers. 
“The study contains information about demographics, enrollment trends, the District’s facilities, and provides options for consideration for building use within ANWSD as well as shared considerations with MAUSD,” MacKulin wrote. “Part 2 of the presentation will contain budgetary information related to ANWSD’s fiscal realities and the trajectory we are on.”
After the presentations, plans for the small-group discussions will allow CEC committee members, in MacKulin’s words, “to answer any clarifying questions and receive feedback on the evening’s presentation.”
Those who attend will also “receive a follow-up survey with questions related to the NESDEC study and the long range district/facilities planning the school board is working on.” 

NESDEC STUDY, OPTIONS
The NESDEC study analyzed how the three schools now being used to educate district residents could absorb more students and programs.
It concluded the district had the capacity to educate 659 more students, not counting Addison Central School. 
The study also projected the district’s 2019 enrollment of 869 would drop to 732 by 2030.
The NESDEC study also found that district communities had little housing capacity for new families to help populate schools in the immediate future. 
It stated, “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.”
The study presented three options to reconfigure the district internally, and three for cooperating with MAUSD. MAUSD commissioned a NESDEC study that was ongoing along with the AWNSD work.
According to figures presented to the ANWSD board on Nov. 16 a full merger of the two high and middle schools, including sixth-graders moving into the middle schools, could create at least $3.3 million a year in savings to be shared by the districts. Internal options would show less savings, according to earlier ANWSD estimates.

CONSOLIDATION PLANS 
The internal ANWSD options were:
• Closing ACS and moving its alternative program and the district office to Vergennes Union High School.
• Closing ACS and another elementary school, with grades PreK-4 at one school, and 5-12 and the alternative program at VUHS.
• Closing ACS, putting the district office and PreK at one elementary school, K-4 at another elementary school, and 5-12 and the alternative program at VUHS. 
The three options the study lists consideration for cooperation with MAUSD are: 
• Closing ACS and either Vergennes Union Elementary or Ferrisburgh Central school, or just ACS. PreK-6 would attend either or both FCS and VUES, and grades 7-12 would attend either Mount Abraham Union High School or VUHS.
• Closing ACS and either VUES or FCS, or just ACS. PreK-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 third option is similar to Option B except it would divide grade levels by PreK-4, 5-8, and 9-12.

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