Education News

Ripton commits to leave school district in 2023

RIPTON — The Ripton School District board last week voted unanimously to stick to a path that would make the community’s new preK-12 school system operational during the summer of 2023, rather than waiting until 2024.

On June 15, the board considered the option of extending its timeline for another year, as it continues to crunch numbers, weighs staffing and works with consultants to help map out a local public education system that will meet state standards.

Ripton and Lincoln officials are working together to form a new Mountain Supervisory Union that would deliver preK-grade 12 services to children in both towns in a manner that would allow each community to keep its elementary school open while tuitioning their older children to area high schools.

Both Ripton and Lincoln are in the process of withdrawing from their respective school districts — Ripton from the Addison Central School District, and Lincoln from the Mount Abraham Unified School District. They’ve already held the requisite town votes necessary to withdraw, and Lincoln elected its local school board on June 21.

Meanwhile, Starksboro is also in the process of withdrawing from the MAUSD.

Ripton, Lincoln and their consultants are now doing a lot of research and planning in hopes of earning approval from the State Board of Education (SBE) for their proposed joint education system, called the Mountain Supervisory Union. With that in mind, SBE Chairman Oliver Olsen on June 15 released a report listing the tasks — and timelines to accomplish them — for each of the Addison County towns that are looking to establish independent supervisory districts or unions.

Based on Olsen’s directives — which are influenced by the recently enacted Act 146 that updates the ground rules for school district mergers and dissolutions — Ripton must provide the SBE a progress report on construction of its school system on July 20. This would put the state board on course to issue an advisory opinion on Ripton’s status in August, a precursor to a September decision on Ripton and Lincoln’s bid to form a Mountain SU.

A September SBE decision is important, as it would give Ripton and Lincoln officials either the confidence to build a firm budget for the 2023-2024 academic year, or send a strong signal to the towns that they should instead consider rejoining their respective union school districts.

After reviewing Ripton’s and Lincoln’s progress reports, the SBE could prescribe the following steps, according to Olsen:

  • Create a new supervisory union and assign Lincoln and Ripton.
  • Designate Lincoln as a supervisory district (with Ripton as separate supervisory district).
  • Deconstruct MAUSD (or its successor) into a multi-district SU and assign Lincoln and MAUSD as member districts, or assign Lincoln to another SU.

Olsen notes, however, that MAUSD is already on record as opposed to being deconstructed into a multi-district SU, and the state Legislature has “identified the supervisory district configuration as the preferred governance structure, wherever practicable.”

There are currently only two SUs in the region: Rutland Northeast and White River Valley. Such alliances are permitted among non-contiguous willing partners, “but Ripton and/or Lincoln would need to bring them to the table,” according to Olsen.

A majority of the state board has, since passage of Act 46 seven years ago, taken a position of discouraging towns from seeking educational independence from their union school districts. Olsen described some of the potential risks in his June 15 report:

  • Students — particularly the most vulnerable — “will be most negatively impacted by any instability during and after these transitions, especially in the smallest districts.”
  • There is limited time “between now and the start of budget season to analyze options and make critical decisions (i.e. SU creation and/or assignment).”
  • “We are in uncharted territory with many unknowns relative to process.”
  • “Significant workforce shortage (particularly acute in key SPED areas) is a serious threat to the viability of any small system would need to rely on fractional staffing.”
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