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School district merger committee delays deadline

BRISTOL — The ANWSD-MAUSD Merger Study Committee has given itself eight extra months to complete its work.

The committee voted unanimously at its Tuesday night meeting to extend its workplan deadline from Town Meeting Day, March 1, to Election Day, Nov. 8, 2022.

When it was created this past April, the committee was charged with analyzing the advisability of forming a union between the Addison Northwest School and the Mount Abraham Unified School districts.

“Ideally,” the charge says, the committee’s work would be completed in time “to allow a vote on a proposed plan by Town Meeting Day 2022.”

Tracy Wrend, a consultant hired by the committee, has made it clear from the beginning that she thinks that timeline is ambitious, and on Tuesday night committee co-chair Marikate Kelley (Monkton) said it seemed as though the committee generally agreed with her.

The Town Meeting Day timeline urged by the school districts has also drawn criticism from residents of Lincoln, which last month voted to withdraw from the MAUSD, and Starksboro, who believe the deadline does not provide enough time for a simultaneous process happening in their school district, which is evaluating a number of community-authored long-range facilities plans, none of which explicitly favors a merger with the ANWSD.

That process is scheduled to conclude at the same time the merger study committee would need to complete its work in order to warn a Town Meeting Day vote.

Wrend submitted a revised workplan to the committee Tuesday night, which she pointed out contains a number of new or more detailed items, and underscored how much work the committee has on its plate.

And she asked for some direction so she could “feel more comfortable working with the co-chairs on a more extended, more spread out workplan, where we can take the time to really have conversations about the important topics we need to discuss.”

Superintendents Sheila Soule (ANWSD) and Patrick Reen (MAUSD), who are not members of the committee, offered reasons for why a November vote would be less ideal than a March vote, chief among them the potential for negative impacts on future budgets and additional financial hardships for both districts.

But committee member Carol McBride (Addison) expressed concerns about rushing things.

“If we try to hit that deadline for the benefit of the school districts, the likelihood of the merger being passed is probably lower,” she said. “So by taking a really thorough approach, even though it’s longer, we have more time to sell it to the communities, if that’s the route we go. And I would hate to just put something out there, because it turns a lot of people off if your work is not done well the first time.”

The committee voted unanimously to extend the deadline.

Its next meeting will be held on Oct. 4 at Vergennes Union High School.

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