Op/Ed

Editorial: Let’s honor Ripton’s choice

Ripton’s choice to withdrawal its elementary school from the Addison Central Supervisory Union should be just that: the town’s choice.
On Jan. 12 this year, town residents voted 163-107 to withdraw from the school district and become an independent school. After a two-year discussion — and a full-on push throughout this past year of advocating to keep its school open — residents there have taken this action with eyes wide open.
Is there risk? Absolutely. Could town taxpayers have to pay a little more in taxes to keep their elementary school open? Yes. Taxes for Ripton residents are projected to go up slightly, though because tax rebates are most often based on income the law will shield the lowest income residents from most increases. Taxes for district residents in the other six towns, meanwhile, are projected to go down slightly if Ripton withdraws.
More importantly, is it possible that academics at the school could suffer? Certainly it’s possible, simply because low student numbers limit revenue and, therefore, the number of activities that could be offered.
But it is also possible that a small school environment would work better for some families. It’s also highly probable that families of Ripton elementary students would feel a closer connection to the school compared to larger schools in different towns — which, by the way, means Ripton students will be split between the various schools they are bused to and from.
And while Ripton taxes will go up slightly, the economics is not all on the downside. It’s also probable that homes in Ripton will maintain a higher value with a town elementary school open, than if the town were to lose its school. It’s also possible that Ripton could see future growth from its current 55 K-6 students to close to the 75-or-so student maximum over the next decade, thus potentially lowering its per pupil cost (and taxes) — and in the process bring more young families into that community; families that would not otherwise choose to live there if Ripton did not have an elementary school.
Arguments have been made in earnest on both sides of this issue for the past year, and here’s the reality: both sides could be right.
It likely will be more difficult for the school to provide a comparable education for its students, than it would be integrate those students into a bigger school such as in Salisbury or at Mary Hogan Elementary in Middlebury. But it is just as likely that with the community rallying behind its school, more parental involvement and more town support will infuse Ripton students with a sense of pride and accomplishment prompting students there to excel.
Attitude, particularly among K-6 students (or K-5 once the Middlebury Union Middle School takes on sixth-graders next year), is a key component to learning, and if Ripton parents and students are motivated to work hard to achieve excellence, we’re certain that would overcome other limiting factors.
And that is Ripton’s bet.
Town residents believe keeping their beloved local school open is their best option. They believe their children will perform just as well or better academically, and they believe that the benefits of students going to school close to home in a friendly community adds greatly to their mental and social development. Not all small schools have such a high level of community support and would be so bold in their belief, but some do — and Ripton is one of those communities.
To that end, district residents should give Ripton residents, and students, the opportunity to excel. As one Ripton resident suggested, let them be the pilot case for a small school keeping its doors open and possibly succeeding in the face of long odds. Perhaps the school district, and the state, will learn something from that effort — or, if the effort fails, that lesson would be learned as well. Either way, to stay true to Vermonters’ tradition of community and independence, district residents should honor Ripton’s choice.
Vote  “yes” on your Town Meeting ballot to give Ripton its school and its voice.
Angelo Lynn

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