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State board to Ripton: You’re on your own

RIPTON ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

RIPTON — The Vermont State Board of Education (VSBE) on Wednesday morning officially granted Ripton’s wish to become independent from the Addison Central School District. This came after a year-long effort that required votes in all seven ACSD towns, election of a new Ripton school board, and scores of hours spent laying the foundation for a new public education entity.

Now comes the hard part.

The state board’s decision, approved as part of a lengthy motion, designates Ripton its own supervisory district. The VSBE declined to compel any of the nearby supervisory unions to provide the special education, transportation and central office services Ripton will need to run an independent school district, so the town must now lay that groundwork. Ripton would be hard-pressed to provide such services for itself, but as already reported by the Independent, it and Lincoln are discussing a potential merger of their two towns as a new school supervisory union.

Wednesday’s VSBE decision states Ripton will continue to receive public education services from the ACSD until its official independence date of July 1, 2023. At that time, Ripton will be responsible for its own preK-12 supervisory district.

“None of the available options for providing supervisory union services to the Ripton School District is a good one. The most prudent option at this time is to designate the Ripton School District to be its own supervisory district (i.e. a single-district SU),” reads the board’s decision.

Ripton voted last January to withdraw from the ACSD in an effort to preserve its local elementary school — which is one of the smallest in the district. Voters in the other ACSD-member towns of Bridport, Cornwall, Middlebury, Salisbury, Shoreham and Weybridge endorsed Ripton’s withdrawal bid last March.

The VSBE had advised Ripton and ACSD officials to discuss reconciliation. Ripton school directors presented the district with several requests, including changes to the ACSD charter that would give member-communities more power in electing their board representatives and a final say on whether their own elementary schools should close.

A majority of the ACSD board rejected the proposed charter changes, arguing among other things voters in all district towns had OK’d the charter back in 2016.

The Addison Independent reached out by email to all three Ripton school directors Wednesday morning seeking comment on the town’s new supervisory district designation. No replies came by press time.

Mary Cullinane, chair of the ACSD board, offered the following comment (speaking as an individual board member):

“I appreciate the State Board of Education’s action in providing this decision and in doing so allowing all to determine the best steps forward in the work ahead. I am, however, disappointed that this is where we find ourselves. I believe the community of Ripton has always been, and can continue to be, a vibrant part of the ACSD. I also believe their students are best served by being a part of our district. However, clarity is important now, and we can begin to move forward in addressing the challenges we are facing.”

The Independent also reached out to VSBE Chair Oliver Olsen, specifically about the prospect of Ripton and Lincoln merging into a new supervisory union.

“There are laws that allow districts to consider unification, although I should note that the Legislature is actively looking at changes to those laws — including laws dealing with withdrawal,” Olsen replied.

Look for a follow-up report on Wednesday’s VSBE decision in our Jan. 27 edition.

Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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