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Lincoln votes to withdraw from Mt. Abe school district

Lincoln children carry signs supporting the preservation of their school earlier this week. Photo by Sarah McClain

LINCOLN — By a margin of more than 3 to 1, Lincoln voted Tuesday to withdraw from the Mount Abraham Unified School District.

The vote count was 525-172 in favor of the measure. 

Turnout for Tuesday’s vote was 62%, significantly higher than Town Meeting Day 2021 (38.9%) but lower than the 2020 presidential election (88%).

The MAUSD now has 90 days to schedule votes in the district’s four other member towns of Bristol, Monkton, New Haven and Starksboro. Lincoln’s exit plan has to win a majority of votes in each of those towns before it can proceed to the Vermont Board of Education, which would then decide whether Lincoln can become its own independent school district.

The Lincoln selectboard scheduled the vote during a special meeting on July 13, in response to a petition by Save Community Schools, which describes itself as “a diverse group of Lincoln parents and residents who have been working to ensure that a vibrant community school remains in Lincoln to educate the town’s children.”

LCS was one of three MAUSD schools identified by Superintendent Patrick Reen for potential “repurposing” as part of a two-phase long-range facilities plan Reen unveiled in December to address declining enrollment and rising costs in the district. Lincoln opponents of the plan have insisted they have the right to vote on whether their school is repurposed, just as MAUSD member towns have the right, guaranteed by the district’s articles of agreement, to vote on any school closure proposals. An attorney hired by the town in December has also issued a legal opinion to that effect. But an attorney hired by the district in January told the school board it has the authority to repurpose schools without a vote of the town hosting that school.

The school board set aside the repurposing phase of Reen’s plan in order to solicit and consider, via a consultant, long-range facilities plans submitted by community members, including some Lincoln residents.

But it has also decided to pursue phase two of Reen’s plan, a potential merger with the Addison Northwest School District.

That, too, has been a source of conflict between Lincoln and the district. Lincoln residents have raised concerns about the ANWSD-MAUSD Merger Study Committee, whose work is legally independent of the school boards and which has no obligation to accommodate developments that might arise from the MAUSD’s consideration of community facilities proposals–none of which explicity favors a merger with the ANWSD.

In the run-up to Tuesday’s vote, Save Community Schools and the MAUSD both released financial projections about what would happen if Lincoln withdrew from the school district, but those projections do not agree, nor do the assumptions that were used to develop them.

Save Community Schools was upbeat after the vote results were announced.

“I am gratified that the voters of Lincoln have overwhelmingly supported withdrawing from MAUSD,” said Save Community Schools member Paul Forlenza, who also sits on the Lincoln selectboard. “This is just the beginning. We have a lot more hard work to do. this is an 18- to 24-month process. But it is a great beginning to gain back local control. Unfortunately Act 46 had a good intent but was flawed. And unfortunately the tax incentives distorted the voting results three years ago.”

Superintendent Reen gave a lot of credit to the group for advocating for their town.

“They worked very hard and in the end they successfully secured enough votes to move forward with a withdrawal from MAUSD,” Reen said. “I feel good knowing SCS recognizes there will be significant challenges to overcome for a Lincoln school district. They believe, as it seems the majority of the voters in Lincoln do, that they are better off solving those challenges on their own. In the end I can only wish them the best as they work to find affordable ways to continue to provide a great education to the children in Lincoln.”

Lincoln is the fourth Addison County town to schedule a school district withdrawal vote this year. In January Ripton residents approved, but Weybridge residents rejected, separate proposals to leave the Addison Central School District. In July Addison residents narrowly defeated a bid to withdraw from the ANWSD, but the town plans to hold a revote.

 

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the vote count and to include comments from Paul Forlenza and Patrick Reen.

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