Addison to revote on ANWSD withdrawal

“Withdrawal from the Union is the only avenue to school options, such as Bridport ... (including the possible future of our own school again), school choice for grades pre-K-12th, and town viability. These are decisions that can only be made AFTER Addison votes to withdraw from the Union.”
— Peter Briggs

ADDISON — Addison residents have successfully petitioned for a revote on whether the town should leave the Addison Northwest School District.

A petition containing 135 signatures, not all of which had been verified as of late Thursday afternoon, arrived at the Addison Town Clerk’s Office that day, which was the deadline to challenge residents’ narrow July 13 defeat of a withdrawal measure. Only around 50 signatures were needed to trigger a revote.

The vote to reject withdrawal on July 13 was 122-106 against, but only 20% of registered voters cast ballots. The Addison selectboard had scheduled the vote in response to an earlier resident petition and followed a recommendation made in favor of withdrawal made by a board-appointed study committee.

The bar for withdrawal will be higher for the revote. According to Addison officials, state law requires a two-thirds majority to overturn an initial ballot result.

If that hurdle is cleared, then residents of the other four ANWSD communities — Ferrisburgh, Panton, Vergennes and Waltham — would all have to back Addison’s departure in separate votes.

Finally, the Vermont Board of Education would also have to support Addison’s withdrawal, which would also involve affiliation with a supervisory union to deal with special education and transportation accounting.

Ripton successfully navigated that process in the Addison Central School District, with one minor financial question remaining. In the Mount Abraham Unified Union District, Lincoln will vote on withdrawal from that five-town district this month, and Starksboro is considering leaving MAUSD.

The Addison petition handed in on Thursday read: “Addison Reconsideration Vote for the following question. ‘Shall the town of Addison withdraw from the Addison Northwest School District?’”

The Addison selectboard is scheduled to meet next on Sept. 7 and will set a vote date at that meeting, unless board members choose to hold a special meeting for that purpose before then. A vote can be scheduled within 60 days after a board meeting.

A group calling itself “Educate Addison” sponsored the petition drive and said in a Front Porch Forum Post that it would in September schedule a “public forum with experts in education to answer your questions.” Group member Carol Kaufmann said in an email those experts would include some from towns that now tuition their students to other districts.

The post, signed by Selectman Peter Briggs, also states:

“Addison elementary was closed on June 30th of 2020 and school choice is now limited to Vergennes Elementary School. Addison is currently a revenue stream with no options of opening another school within the town borders. 

“Withdrawal from the Union is the only avenue to school options, such as Bridport … (including the possible future of our own school again), school choice for grades pre-K-12th, and town viability. These are decisions that can only be made AFTER Addison votes to withdraw from the Union.”

The ANWSD board chose in 2020 to transform Addison Central School into a special education hub that also serves other county school districts. Former ACS students now attend Vergennes Union Elementary School, almost seven miles to the north.

The board maintains it had the right under the ANWSD charter to do so. But many in Addison believe the move went contrary to their overwhelming vote the year before not to close their elementary school, which they also consider a vital community hub.

Many also believe their children’s education would better be served if they were taught locally. Others point to more complete arts and athletic programming at VUES, however. 

Withdrawal is complicated by the fact ANWSD owns the ACS building, and there is no guarantee of its return to Addison after a separation from the district.

On the other hand, 93 towns in Vermont already tuition their elementary or secondary students, or both age groups, to other districts, allowing parents to choose which other school outside of their towns to attend.

The Agency of Education then charges tuition on a per capita basis to the towns, which must elect school boards to coordinate billing, special education and other organizational questions.

Addison could also try to organize its own independent school, public school, or town academy, as some Vermont communities have done successfully.

Those who questioned withdrawal at a July 6 forum cited the possibility of higher taxes, the potential problem and expense of dealing with special education, the lack of a school, and issues surrounding post-withdrawal organization.

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