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Ripton school independence delayed; ACSD talks urged

RIPTON — The Vermont State Board of Education (VSBE) has asked the town of Ripton and the Addison Central School District Board to re-engage in conversations to keep Ripton within the ACSD. And the board served notice that if those talks don’t bear fruit, the small town isn’t likely to be granted its wish to become an independent school district until July 1, 2023.

Addison Central Superintendent Peter Burrows described that as the consensus position taken by the VSBE at its Wednesday meeting, a position taken as the Addison Independent went to press. The Independent will provide a more detailed account of the decision, and its impact on Ripton’s longstanding quest for independence, in its Sept. 23 edition.

The state board on Wednesday had been scheduled to decide how an independent Ripton school district should receive special education, transportation, central office and other related services for its students. At least three area school districts have informed the VSBE they don’t want to absorb the responsibility of providing those services to Ripton.

Meanwhile, Vermont Education Secretary Daniel French on Aug. 25 suggested the state board designate the town of Ripton as its own school district, which would thus require the community to secure its own special education, transportation and central office services for its kids.

Residents of Ripton and the other six ACSD towns of Bridport, Cornwall, Middlebury, Salisbury, Shoreham and Weybridge have already voted to grant Ripton its independence, but the VSBE is the final arbiter. Ripton is taking this route as a way to preserve its small elementary school, while tuitioning its older students to area secondary schools, including Middlebury Union middle and high schools. The town has already formed its own school board and had been preparing to officially strike out on its own on July 1, 2022.

So the VSBE’s latest directive delays Ripton’s independence for at least a year, and encourages a rapprochement between the town and district that could keep Ripton in the ACSD. But an accord between the two entities seems remote, as it would in all likelihood require a major concession by the ACSD: keep Ripton Elementary School open. That elementary school is one of three in the district the ACSD has pegged for closure due to rising education costs and declining enrollment.

Joanna Doria is a member of the Ripton School Board, and was a supporter of the town’s independence drive. She called the State Board of Education’s directive “encouraging.”

“Throughout this whole process, we have, first and foremost, tried to communicate and engage; withdrawal was only the last resort,” Doria said through an email to the Independent.

“It’s clear, there is unrest in the educational landscape of Addison County,” she added, alluding to other independence drives in Lincoln, Addison, and potentially Starksboro. “As everything plays out, I am hopeful the state board’s desired outcome — for Ripton and ACSD to reach an accord that allows for Ripton to remain in ACSD — can be achieved.”

Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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