Letter to the editor: ACSD board member: Let Ripton decide its fate

I would like to share my perspective on Ripton’s withdrawal from the ACSD District. I have been actively following the ACSD school consolidation discussion and have attended every ACSD Board and facilities master plan committee meeting since late 2019. I will be voting “yes” to ratify Ripton’s town vote.
From firsthand knowledge, I know that Ripton is not making this decision lightheartedly. Over the past year, I have had the opportunity to personally meet several Ripton families and I can attest to the fact that their decision to withdraw from this district is what they believe will be best for their children. They have done a tremendous amount of research and they genuinely believe that they can establish a successful community school in Ripton. Furthermore, they will be held accountable by the Agency of Education to ensure that they meet the high educational standards in Vermont.
Beyond withdrawing from the district, their only other option is to allow their school to close, which has many downsides. I recently traveled several of the back roads of Ripton. For me, this reinforced how difficult it would be to have a young child travel by bus to Mary Hogan and/or Salisbury, especially in the winter. It would also greatly diminish the ability for their children to participate in afterschool programs and for parents to take an active role in their children’s education.
I sincerely do not believe that the other uninformed ACSD towns should be the ones to control how the town of Ripton educates its children. When I look at Ripton’s withdraw from a fiscal perspective, it will not have a negative financial impact on the remaining towns. In fact, according to a recent ACSD Ripton school withdrawal assessment, the district’s cost per equalized pupil would be less than it is today. The ACSD financial assessment clearly shows that Ripton’s rural school is not the root cause of the district’s year-over-year budget increases.
This same assessment goes on to show what the district’s potential financial benefit would be should Ripton not be allowed to withdraw so that the district could benefit from closing its school. Unfortunately, this assessment is not an accurate portrayal of the actual savings that would result. The primary focus is limited to unsubstantiated staffing and facilities cost reductions. It does not consider budget areas where costs will increase, such as transportation. And it does not consider the socioeconomic impacts that may result.
As with the 6th-grade move to MUMS, there is no guarantee that the district will be able to realize the staffing reductions suggested. Initially, we were told that the 6th grade could be absorbed with no additional MUMS staff. Clearly this turned out not to be the case as documented in this year’s annual report. Even though several staffing positions were eliminated others were increased. The MUMS FY22 proposed budget includes an increase of 2.4 staff to support the 6th-grade move.
We must have accurate fully substantiated data available before we as voters make any decisions about something as critical as closing one of our rural elementary schools. And for me, the thought of holding Ripton’s children hostage just so that the district can close their school to offset excessive spending elsewhere is inequitable.
Closing the Ripton school would, at best, only offset one year of healthcare coverage increases. What happens the following year? And then the next? As a district, we must redirect our focus holistically on the entire ACSD budget to ensure that we fully understand and document the process and criterion by which school consolidation and other cost-cutting decisions are being made.
Concrete financial assessments that clearly identify the anticipated financial and socioeconomic impacts, both positive and negative, must be the foundation on which all decisions are made. As a newly elected ACSD Board member, one of my commitments is to advocate for the level of detail required to make the difficult decisions that we as a district are being faced with.
I strongly urge you to vote “Yes” to allow Ripton to withdraw from the district to pursue what they believe is best for their children.
Barbara J. Wilson

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