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Addison rejects bid to exit ANWSD

ADDISON — Addison residents voted by a narrow margin on Tuesday to remain in the Addison Northwest School District.

The final vote in 20% turnout was 122-106. Tuesday’s outcome is subject to a petition for a revote.

The Addison selectboard had scheduled the vote in response to a resident petition. It also followed work in 2020 by a board-appointed School Option Study Committee that questioned whether Addison should remain in the ANWSD along with Ferrisburgh, Panton, Vergennes and Waltham.

Some Addison residents had hoped to follow in Ripton’s footsteps and become the second Addison County town to separate from a unified school district.

They have cited a number of issues with ANWSD. High on the list: Many residents point to the loss of what they saw as a vital community hub when the ANWSD board repurposed the town’s elementary school; Addison’s K-6 students now attend school in Vergennes.

Proponents of separation listed as possible future options for the education of the town’s students as opening a new public or independent elementary school, while tuitioning older students to other districts, or simply tuitioning all of Addison’s preK-12 students to other schools.

Choices for tuitioning could include schools in ANWSD and other county districts or state-approved independent schools, according to attendees at a July 6 selectboard informational meeting and school study committee minutes.

Some at that meeting said those choices were better than what they called the limited option ANWSD is currently providing, held out hope the town could negotiate the return of its former school, said they were confident a new Addison school board could navigate the town forward, and criticized what they called excessive ANWSD bureaucracy and taxes.

A few pointed to a potential merger with the Mount Abraham Unified School District as further evidence of loss of local control as well as spiraling taxes and bureaucracy.

But others at that meeting questioned the point of withdrawal given that ANWSD would be under no obligation to return Addison’s former elementary school to the town. They noted Ripton owned its elementary school when it separated from its district.

Some at the meeting also wondered who would be responsible for doing all the work of organizing a possible new school and paying for it, and pointed to what they said was the likely increase of Addison’s school tax rates.

During the six ANWSD years, the town of Addison’s homestead tax rate has increased about 4%, from about $1.62 to roughly $1.69, with years of lower and higher rates between.

If Addison had voted to withdraw, voters in all four other ANWSD communities would have had to approve Addison’s separation, and then the Vermont Board of Education would have had to rule Addison could meet the needs of its students — 138 in grades pre-K through 12 this past academic year — as an independent school district.

Addison’s roughly five-dozen ANWSD elementary pupils now attend Vergennes Union Elementary School, while Addison’s grade 7-12 students attend Vergennes Union High School. Both schools are less than 7 miles north of the junction of Routes 17 and 22A in Addison.

The ANWSD board repurposed the town’s former elementary school, Addison Central School, into a special education hub that serves all of Addison County. ANWSD retained ownership of the school, although many in Addison disagree with that ownership status as well as the board decision to shift ACS students to elementary school in Vergennes.

The ANWSD board maintains it is not required under district unification articles to offer ACS back to Addison for $1, as the articles state it must if the school is no longer used for educational purposes. The board also said it has the right to move students within the district.

ANWSD board members also point out that Vergennes Union Elementary School is able to offer stronger extracurriculars and student services than the former ACS; that helps level the educational playing field for district students.

Still, many in Addison are upset by the board’s interpretations of the articles, and said the board is refusing to honor a November 2019 vote in which Addison residents cast ballots, 373-123, against a board plan to close ACS as a cost-saving consolidation measure.

Many in the town are also unhappy the ANWSD board in January 2020 rejected two petitions signed by residents across the district that called for district-wide voting to amend the ANWSD charter to give a town’s voters the right to veto a proposed school closure in their community.

The board cited a legal opinion that the petitions lacked the standing to trigger such votes.

Regardless, when the dust settled on Tuesday, residents had opted for the status quo, albeit by a 16-vote margin.

ANWSD Board Chair John Stroup said he was gratified by the result.

“The ANWSD is glad our friends and neighbors in Addison have chosen to continue our longstanding relationship so that we can work together to provide the best possible education we can for all of the children in our area,” Stroup said.

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