Education News

ACSD plan won’t focus on school closure

MIDDLEBURY — A group is restarting its work on a plan that will help the Addison Central School District prioritize which of its buildings it should keep and upgrade and which it shouldn’t, in light of declining enrollment and rising education costs. The ACSD board’s Facilities Committee is due to deliver its Facilities Master Plan (FMP) by Dec. 13.

In a major change in approach, the master plan will not include any recommendations for specific school closures.

Based on ACSD board feedback, a review of student population trends and the layout of the district’s current seven elementary schools, the committee had been preparing a plan that envisioned closing preK-5th grade elementary schools in Ripton, Weybridge and Bridport. The remaining elementary schools in Middlebury, Salisbury, Shoreham and Cornwall would have been asked to absorb students from the three closed schools.

The committee paused the facilities master planning process this past January, citing the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the meantime, circumstances at the local and state level have changed the dynamics of master planning, Facilities Committee members told their ACSD board colleagues on Monday. The ACSD board will share that, and other pertinent information, in an upcoming letter to the community.

“Given current uncertainty around the state’s new education funding formula and how updated pupil weighting factors will impact the ACSD’s budget, we do not have enough clarity around the district’s financial forecast to support any specific recommendations regarding the exact configuration of the elementary school footprint at this time,” the letter states. “In addition, the FMP process has identified a number of equity concerns between some of our schools that the board intends to probe further with its upcoming Strategic Plan for Equity. As a result, the FMP will not be as prescriptive as some may have anticipated.”

So the Facilities Committee is now working on the final aspects to the FMP, including identification of facility investment priorities, solidifying a vision for sustainability, and outlining some guiding principles for capital bonding.

“The final report will provide a summary of the board’s findings from data compiled and analyzed during the master planning process, and will outline the board’s priorities regarding student equity, what a model school looks like, sustainability and energy efficiency, and responsible investment in shared resources to provide the programming and services that all ACSD students deserve,” the board’s letter to the community states. “It will not be a prescriptive report that identifies the exact instructional footprint or configuration of specific district schools, but will outline a framework for our values and priorities.”

The new Facilities Master Plan emphasis should come as a temporary relief to those who’ve opposed the notion of closing local elementary schools. It could also inform ongoing talks between the ACSD and the town of Ripton, which has been pursuing an effort to leave the district in order to keep its elementary school open and tuition its students to area middle and high schools. That transition has hit a roadblock, however, as Ripton has been unable to partner with a bigger school district to provide the transportation, special education and central office support it needs to become independent.

Per request of the Vermont State Board of Education, Ripton and ACSD officials are engaged in talks that could keep the small town in the district.

The Facilities Committee has spent the past month re-immersed in the master planning process. The panel explored intra-district school choice at its Nov. 3 gathering, with plans to discuss the parameters of a potential schools-improvement bond at its Nov. 17 meeting before handing its finished work to the ACSD board on Dec. 13. The board will then begin its review of the master plan.

“As always, the board welcomes the community’s involvement in this important process, and invites both written feedback through email and public comments during our board and committee meetings,” the ACSD’s letter to the community states.

A complete retrospective of the ACSD’s facility master plan process — with links to related documents — can be found at tinyurl.com/mvz7pf4z. A list of current school board members with their email addresses can be found at acsdvt.org/Page/4578.

Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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