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Ripton gets extension on school deadline

RIPTON ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

MIDDLEBURY — The Vermont State Board of Education (VSBE) is giving Ripton a two-month extension to negotiate an agreement that could avert the town’s planned exit from the Addison Central School District.

Ripton and ACSD officials had been scheduled to update the VSBE on Nov. 17 about their talks toward a compromise that could keep the town in the fold. Ripton has already met statutory requirements to withdraw from the ACSD, a path the community has charted as a way to keep its local elementary school open. The ACSD has flagged the Ripton School as a candidate for closure in light of declining enrollment and the rising costs of education.

But, as the Addison Independent reported in Oct. 28, preliminary talks between the ACSD and Ripton have failed to bear fruit. Ripton officials will soon meet with the ACSD board’s executive committee in a further effort to find common ground.

Meanwhile, Ripton’s withdrawal effort has also stalled. Nearby supervisory unions have declined to partner with the town to provide it with the transportation, special education and central office services it will need if it’s to achieve independence. Ripton would be hard-pressed to provide those services for itself as an independent school district.

All of this has led to Ripton requesting an extension of time to report back to the VSBE on the progress of its re-integration talks with ACSD. Oliver Olsen, chair of the VSBE, announced on Oct. 31 that the board will grant the extension, leading to a VSBE review of Ripton’s case on Jan. 17.

Achieving an agreement will be challenging. Ripton officials lament the town’s lack of power in controlling its public education destiny. The town has in the past pushed for changes in the ACSD’s articles of agreement that would allow townspeople final say on school closures, and more of a say in how their school board members are elected.

As it stands, the ACSD board can close a school by supermajority vote — at least 10 of total 13 members. Board members are currently voted on by district residents at-large, as opposed to by their respective communities.

The ACSD board late last month affirmed its commitment to maintain the district’s articles of agreement as written.

Olsen, in his letter, said other communities considering independence bids should keep an eye on Ripton’s case. Locally, Lincoln residents have voted to withdraw from the Mount Abraham Unified Union School District, with Starksboro considering such a move.

“Other communities contemplating similar activity should view Ripton’s experience as a cautionary tale and should consider postponing any withdrawal actions until the (Vermont) General Assembly has had the opportunity to consider updates to the statutory framework governing withdrawal and re-assignment of school districts,” Olsen said.

Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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