Op/Ed

Letter to the editor: Ripton, step back from the brink

At a special Ripton Town Meeting on Jan. 12, 2021, Ripton residents are being asked to vote on whether to leave Addison County School District. This special election was not the initiative of Ripton Select Board or School Board, it was sponsored by a group of genuinely concerned Ripton citizens organized as SOS, Save Our School, with the objective of leaving ACSD and preserving Ripton Elementary School. On Dec. 30, Stronger Together, also a group of genuinely concerned Ripton citizens, put together a website that describes the problems of leaving ACSD and the advantages of remaining within ACSD. Their website is “Stronger Together in ACSD – Information” (tinyurl.com/stronger-together-Ripton),” where they have provided a great deal of related information. I urge all Ripton residents to visit the site and read the material provided under the information tab.
I am among the majority who are torn by the decision that Ripton will probably have to make of whether to close Ripton Elementary or go it alone. I grew up in Ripton, went to Ripton Hollow School grades one through seven, and was a student at MUHS from its opening in 1956 as an eighth-grader through twelfth grade. I see many reasons why Ripton should keep its own school, but I also remember the educational, social, and extracurricular opportunities that I and other Ripton students enjoyed once we were part of the larger Addison County educational community.
It would be my preference to preserve what we currently have but acknowledge that is unlikely to happen. However, leaving the union, now ACSD, that Ripton has enjoyed with the larger Middlebury community for sixty-four years would be a terrible solution with many long-lasting consequences that cannot be overlooked, and the damage done by leaving that umbrella may not be repairable.
Because the decision to close Ripton Elementary will not be made until 2022 or 2023, there is adequate time to develop a detailed plan and budget for a go-it-alone Ripton School District. Hopefully, sometime in 2021, we will be free enough of the COVID-19 virus that we can hold in-person meetings to thoroughly educate all Ripton residents. Given the extra time and preparation, Ripton residents should then know where sixth- through 12th-grade students could be “tuitioned,” if the State will assign Ripton to a Rutland Supervisory District, and whether Hancock and Granville would continue to send their students to Ripton. Ripton taxpayers should also be informed about the cost of going it alone, what tax penalties the State might impose, what measures could be taken to keep Ripton’s per-pupil costs in line with State averages, and answers to a host of other questions.
I share Tracy Harrington’s concerns and respect what she has to say as our school principal of many years and the person most studied in the problems of declining student enrollment and escalating costs. I believe we should heed the words she used to summarize her recent letter to this forum: “I urge us to look forward, not backwards, for ways to configure our schools and ensure all students get a high-quality educational experience while working within the spending parameters we are faced with. I believe we are stronger together —as one district, with seven towns working towards a common vision. A vision focused on saving our students, not just schools.”
I advocate that Ripton step back from the brink of leaving ACSD on Jan. 12 by voting NO while we do a more comprehensive examination of the problems we face and educate all Ripton residents about our dilemma. Only then will Ripton be able to build an informed consensus that has a chance for long-term success.
Respectfully,
Charles Billings
Ripton

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