Addison sets vote on ANWSD withdrawal
The upcoming July 13 withdrawal vote is … about Addison withdrawing from the ANwSD and becoming a preK-12 choice school district. It’s about the future and viability of our town.
— Carol Kauffman
ADDISON — The town of Addison is making a bid to become the second Addison County community to withdraw from a unified school district, following Ripton’s successful bid this spring to separate from the Addison Central School District.
The Addison selectboard has warned a July 13 town-wide vote on the question, “Shall the Town of Addison withdraw from the Addison Northwest School District?”
The board said in a draft pre-vote flyer it was responding to an April citizen petition requesting a vote on that question. Board members unanimously adopted the warning on June 1.
That vote will be preceded by a July 6 informational meeting the selectboard will host at 7 p.m. in Addison Town Hall, at the junction of Routes 17 and 22A.
If Addison residents choose to end the town’s relationship with ANWSD, the other four district towns must also agree to the divorce. Such a vote would have to be positive in Ferrisburgh, Panton, Vergennes and Waltham to allow the separation process to continue to the next, and final, step.
That step would be a decision by the Vermont Board of Education whether Addison could meet the needs of its students — 138 in grades kindergarten through 12 this past academic year — without belonging to ANWSD. Ripton navigated both the ACSD district voting and Board of Education process.
Addison selectboard members and the members of the board-appointed Addison School Option Study Committee suggest the town can take care of its students, either by becoming a preK-to-12 school choice district in which they would be tuitioned to the district or schools of the parents’ choice, or by creating a state-approved independent school or town academy.
But the first step is the vote and its importance to Addison, according to withdrawal supporter and School Option Study Committee member Carol Kauffman.
“The upcoming July 13 withdrawal vote is not about setting up an independent school, it’s about Addison withdrawing from the ANwSD and becoming a preK-12 choice school district. It’s about the future and viability of our town,” Kauffman said in an email. “If there is interest within Addison to set up an independent school, there are experts ready to advise.”
ISSUES WITH ANWSD
In her role on the study committee Kauffman also worked with the selectboard to write a draft of a flyer that will be sent to voters. As of earlier this week the document was a public record, but being edited for publication and undergoing changes.
Still, it summarizes issues many Addison residents have with ANWSD: It cites the “negative impact the ANwSD will continue to have on the tax burden and viability of our town.”
In November 2019 Addison residents joined their counterparts in Ferrisburgh in soundly rejecting an ANWSD plan that would have closed their elementary schools. The vote in Addison went 373-123 against closing Addison Central School.
Since then ANWSD has converted ACS into the Addison Wayfarers Experience, a special education hub that also draws students from other districts, saves ANWSD money, and technically keeps ACS open for education. But Addison’s pupils attend Vergennes Union Elementary School instead.
The ANWSD board also rejected on legal grounds a petition to amend the charter to prevent that change. Both those decisions angered many in Addison, including selectboard members, and they refer to it in the flyer.
They also take issue with the possible merger with the Mount Abraham Unified School District now being discussed, which the draft flyer refers to as “a massive consolidation” that could further increase Addison’s tax burden.
The flyer also notes the first things that will happen if Addison successfully withdraws from ANWSD are that “The Town of Addison will become a preK-12 tuition school district.” “A local school board will be reorganized (with) members approved by voters,” and “Addison taxpayers will be responsible for individual tuition for students residing full-time in the Town of Addison.”
According to figures provided by the flyer, ANWSD’s tuition rates for the coming year are $17,266 for K-6 and $18,514 for 7-12, while the state-set caps for independent schools are $15,513 for K-6 and $16,842 for 7-12.
However, independent school tuitions do not include transportation and some other costs, although the board notes “Addison voters can approve and limit transportation.”
The draft flyer also notes the town could set up its own independent school following withdrawal. It points out there is state funding for special education available to independent schools, and adds that such schools are not under the direct control of the town selectboard or school board.
The Addison School Option Study Committee and the selectboard both have discussed an independent school as a viable option for the town.
The June 17, 2020, minutes of the School Option Study Committee offered an overview of possible funding of and obligations for an independent school in Addison, something residents could choose to create — or build and create if an arrangement with ANWSD cannot be reached for the return of the former ACS building, now district-owned.
The minutes also state that “Public school choice (tuition) is the tuition rate of the individual school — no cap” if Addison students were to attend schools of their choice out of the district.
According to minutes, “The maximum rates that school districts may pay to approved independent schools are set by law: 16 V.S.A. 823 and 824 (elementary & secondary).”
That rate, minutes state, “is computed annually by averaging the tuition rates announced by all union school districts in the state. An exception: voters in a school district may vote annually to pay more than the statewide average to specific schools.”
The minutes cite the tuition for the just completed school year as “$14,859 for grades K-6 and $16,233 for grades 7-12,” while, “If an independent school’s actual tuition charge is greater, the families of the students will have to pay the difference.”
Exceptions to the standard rates, the minutes note, are “Thetford Academy may charge more because it has met a public school standard. In Bennington County, voters in some districts vote to pay above the statewide average to Burr & Burton Academy, the Mountain School of Winhall and Village School of North Bennington.”
The minutes note, “None of the tuition rates include transportation, nor do the rates include any other costs.”
The minutes also deal with “Town Academies,” which they describe as “schools that agree voluntarily to fulfill all the obligations of a public school within a defined region, usually the school’s home town or nearby towns. These obligations usually are considered to be providing a comprehensive education program with open admissions and providing special education services.”
The minutes also note that as of July 1, 2022, “independent schools will have to provide special education services on request.”
Regardless of the route Addison residents choose, Kauffman hopes they will, like those in Ripton, be allowed to chart their own course.
“It seems reasonable to allow Addison voters to vote on withdrawing from a broken education funding system struggling to exist,” she said.
Blasting ledge could begin on Monday in Vergennes as work on the $25 million Vergennes Gra … (read more)
With the holiday season underway, county Christmas tree farms have begun welcoming visitor … (read more)