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Mount Abe seeks facilities proposals

BRISTOL — After putting out the word last week that it was seeking community-developed proposals for long-range planning, the Mount Abraham Unified School District received 12 responses by its March 30 deadline.
“MAUSD is developing a long-range plan to improve outcomes for students in a way that addresses the challenges of rising costs, declining student population and aging facilities,” the school board announced last Tuesday.
Strong proposals, the board said, would improve educational outcomes for all 5-Town students over the long term, be financially and legally viable, and align with the district’s values and strategic plan.
Some of the 12 responses indicated a wish to develop and submit a proposal, while others more informally communicated thoughts and ideas, MAUSD board chair Dawn Griswold told the Independent Wednesday.
The district, which serves the towns of Bristol, Lincoln, Monkton, New Haven and Starksboro, has already considered one proposal in great detail.
In December Superintendent Patrick Reen presented a two-phased plan that called for reducing the number of district elementary schools from five to two, then merging the MAUSD with the Vergennes-area Addison Northwest School District.
The school board had originally planned to vote on Reen’s proposal in January but decided after significant community pushback to delay its decision until August.
Some community-informed solutions to the district’s challenges have already been considered by the school board, according to the March 23 call for proposals, including:
•  keeping all schools open.
•  consolidating some town schools.
•  redistributing students and closing some elementary schools.
•  creating magnet schools.
•  creating public and private partnerships.
•  closing Mount Abraham Union High School and tuitioning its students out to other area high schools.
The board’s record of these and other conversations can be found online at tinyurl.com/32jvdze4.
MAUSD administrators have gathered the financial and educational information they believe will be needed by community members developing proposals.
Business Manager Floyd Davison has created a spreadsheet that allows users to change certain data points, such as student counts, annual rates of cost increases or variables in state funding formulas, and see how those changes could affect the district’s finances in the coming years.
Starksboro resident Herb Olson submitted a detailed description of the kind of spreadsheet planning tool some MAUSD residents felt would be necessary for transparency and for ease of comparison among proposals. While the administration did not formally adopt this planning tool, Reen said at the last board meeting that Davison had reviewed it and included as much of it as possible in the district’s tool.
The board planned to hold an informational meeting April 1 to offer whatever resources it could to prospective plan developers, and to give community members working on similar types of proposals the opportunity to combine their efforts.
Formal proposals must be completed and submitted to Griswold by May 4. Only those that meet the criteria listed in the district’s call for proposals will be evaluated by the board.
Over the past few months, a number of MAUSD residents have publicly called for the district to seek out and consider community-driven solutions to the district’s challenges, rather than focusing its attention just on Reen’s proposal.
The school board began kicking around the idea of seeking formal submissions from the community in early February, after it had received a proposal from a group in Lincoln.
Meanwhile, the district is considering hiring Boston-based consulting firm District Management Group to help it navigate the next several months, and possibly to help evaluate proposals from the community. Reen said last month he was hopeful a DMG representative could join the board at its April 13 meeting.
Reach Christopher Ross at christopherr@addisonindependent.com.

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