Ripton advances in bid to leave the ACSD
RIPTON — The town of Ripton’s quest to withdraw from the Addison Central School District will now advance to the State Board of Education.
This comes after the Ripton’s bid to become its own independent school district earned an endorsement on Tuesday from each of the six other ACSD-member communities: Bridport, Cornwall, Middlebury, Salisbury, Shoreham and Weybridge.
These are the results from those towns:
• Bridport — 189 yes, 58 no.
• Cornwall — 425 yes, 67 no.
• Middlebury — 1,180 yes, 312 no.
• Salisbury — 174 yes, 45 no.
• Shoreham — 210 yes, 32 no.
• Weybridge — 217 yes, 40 no.
Ripton residents — in an effort to preserve their local school, which has been targeted for closure due to low enrollment — had voted, 163-107, on Jan. 12 to leave the ACSD. The six other towns needed to ratify that vote in order for the effort to advance to the state board.
“We did it! The tears are flowing,” said Ripton resident Erin Robinson, a member of the Save Our Schools ACSD group that’s been lobbying for Ripton’s independence. “Two years of agonizing dedication to #keepRESalive has paid off. As a mother, I am forever grateful to those who voted yes to allow my children a future at their community school. This is just the beginning. The best and hardest work is yet to come and I’m so thankful to be a part of it.”
Millard “Mac” Cox is another member of the SOS group who conveyed Ripton’s independence message at ACSD board meetings and through the media.
“We are really most grateful for the support of all six of the ACSD towns!” he wrote in an email to the Independent. “We have worked hard to win the votes of the people, to win back our school and the future education of the children of our town. We will not forget the people of the ACSD and what they have done for us. Our faith in democracy, self-determination and Vermont values has been restored.”
Cox, Robinson and other Ripton Elementary School boosters will now have to convince state officials their town is up to the task of governing and financing education for its preK-12 students. If granted independence, the town could tuition its secondary-level children to the ACSD or another neighboring district. The town would be in charge of hiring staff and securing special education services for students at its elementary school, which it would be responsible to maintain.
Ripton is among many Vermont towns contending with declining student enrollment. Ripton Elementary is currently looking at 50 or fewer students for the 2021-2022 academic year.
The Save Our Schools group is already pitching ideas for how to fill extra space at Ripton Elementary. Ideas featured on saveourschoolsvt.org include offering early childcare, hosting senior services such as meals and classes, and hosting a “telehealth” site.
Boosters are touting Ripton as the “brave little town.”
“Our children’s education is more than dollar signs,” reads a statement on the SOS website. “We can offer an excellent education and spend responsibly if we work together.”
Indeed, Ripton residents will have to pay a premium to offer preK-12 education and keep their local school open. An early estimate from SOS members shows a potential 15- to 20-cent boost in local education property-tax rates.
Meanwhile, the six remaining towns in the ACSD are positioned for a slight decrease in school taxes if Ripton withdraws.
A vast majority of the 13-member ACSD board had expressed hopes Ripton would remain within the district fold. But ACSD board Chair Mary Cullinane said the voters have spoken, and Ripton has earned the opportunity to advance its independence drive.
“The votes of our six towns to support the desire of Ripton residents to create their own school district demonstrates, to me, that this process and structure can work,” she wrote in an email to the Independent. “Our smallest community’s voice was heard and honored. And while we may not always agree with each other, we can be civil in our discourse and respect the positions of others.”
Cullinane was pleased with other action on Town Meeting Day, including widespread support of the ACSD budget. District voters endorsed the a proposed 2021-2022 ACSD spending plan of $40.3 million, 2,082-668.
“This election reflected many things,” she said. “Our community overwhelming supported the district’s budget and for that strong sign of support and confidence, we are grateful. We also recognize the tremendous responsibility we hold in providing our children with exceptional learning environments, regardless of what ACSD school they attend. And we are committed to doing the hard work ahead to ensure this is true.”
Peter Burrows, ACSD superintendent, shared his reaction to the Ripton referendum.
“Yesterday’s vote provides further evidence of our communities supporting each other, as six ACSD towns approved of Ripton’s petition to withdraw from the ACSD unified district,” he said. “As the Vermont State Board of Education deliberates over the timeline for withdrawal and the assignment of Ripton to a supervisory union in the months ahead, we will continue to share information and work together to make this a positive transition for the entire ACSD community.”
Ripton School boosters will spend the coming days enjoying Tuesday’s win, but realize there’s much work ahead. Joanna Doria, another member of the SOS group, was encouraged by the support Ripton received from the six other ACSD towns.
“The overwhelming Ripton response to the vote has been one of gratitude and there is a closeness that we feel toward our neighbors for expressing their support of us,” she said through an email. “When the first staggering numbers came in from Middlebury, I realized we might actually achieve what we thought was an impossibility last summer. Surely, our town has our work cut out for us forming our own district and we will forever remember this moment as one of mutual respect and accord. We hope to maintain a strong relationship with ACSD towns and citizens as our older students matriculate to MUMS and MUHS and want to thank everyone who came out to vote.”
John Flowers is at [email protected].
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