Education Op/Ed

Letter to the editor: MAUSD voters asked to support Starksboro’s exit

Dear Bristol, Monkton, and New Haven friends and neighbors,

I am writing on behalf of the Starksboro Save Our Schools Committee to ask you to vote yes on Aug. 9, to ratify Starksboro’s withdrawal from MAUSD.

Starksboro SOS is a group of 10 Starksboro residents with a wide range of experience. Our group includes parents, grandparents, Robinson School and Mt. Abraham volunteers and mentors, business owners, the chair of Starksboro Planning Commission, a program manager, a nurse, the spouse of a former Robinson student, current or former teachers, two former school board members, an attorney, and a former public school administrator.

We came together because we learned that Robinson School might be closed without our town having a say in the matter. Since August 2021, we have met regularly. We have attended school board and Merger Study Committee meetings, met with the MAUSD Superintendent and business manager, met with board members and with
the chair and vice chair of the board, met with Merger Study Committee members, talked with VT legislators, and spoken with community members in the five towns and in the Addison Northwest School District.

We’ve written letters and editorials and poured over budgets and spreadsheets. We’ve worked to keep Starksboro residents informed. Starksboro’s withdrawal effort is really about preserving our town’s right to vote on school closure.

There are so many great and important reasons to keep Robinson Elementary School open and serving our town’s K-6 students. But if we received clear, convincing evidence that our school could no longer meet the needs of our kids in an equitable and financially viable way, into the foreseeable future, we would vote to close the school, and we bet a majority of Starksboro residents would do the same.

Starksboro’s vote to withdraw wasn’t about keeping Robinson open no matter what. It’s about making sure that those closest to the kids and the community get to decide. It’s about preserving our town’s right to make this decision. It’s about knowing that our diverse community has the wisdom to do the right thing, whatever that right thing is.

The Articles of Agreement that govern the Mt. Abraham Unified School District guarantee that Robinson’s K-6 elementary program cannot be closed unless Starksboro votes to do so. That was the agreement when we voted to consolidate under Act 46. That was the promise to Starksboro and to each of the other towns in the school district: Bristol, Lincoln, Monkton and New Haven.

The MAUSD Board has mostly come around to acknowledging that agreement, thanks to our efforts and letters from our selectboard and planning commission, and from many other residents of Starksboro and from the other towns as well. MAUSD is working on ways to address the district’s financial issues without closing schools.

But despite our best efforts, the Merger Study Committee — the committee that has decided to recommend merging our school district with the Addison Northwest School District — has refused to provide the assurance that our five towns would get a vote on school closure if the merger with ANWSD is approved. That committee has drafted new articles of agreement that would give the new merged school board permission to close any of our elementary schools without a town vote after the first four years. The new articles of agreement would also give the new merged board permission to move whole grades or groups of grades out of our elementary schools as soon as the newly merged district begins operation.

On May 10, 2022, Starksboro voted unanimously to withdraw because our town saw that withdrawal would be the only way to make sure we retain our promised right to vote on school closure if a merger goes through.

The withdrawal process has many steps, and the ratification vote by the other towns is the next step in the process. If towns vote to ratify, seeking approval from the Vermont Board of Education is the next step in the process and will require Starksboro to prepare a thorough report and financial analysis of the impact of withdrawing on all affected towns.

The soonest a new Starksboro School District would be fully operational would be the 2024-2025 school year. In the meantime, if conditions change; if the merger is defeated in November, Starksboro voters have authorized our selectboard to terminate the withdrawal process.

We are asking voters in Bristol, Monkton and New Haven to vote yes on Aug. 9, to ratify Starksboro’s vote to withdraw. We are asking you to vote yes, because a promise is a promise.

Nancy Cornell on behalf of the Starksboro Save Our Schools (SOS!) Committee: Erin Buckwalter, Denny Casey, Louis Dupont, Margi Gregory, Neily Jennings, Susan Klaiber, Herb Olson, Chris Runcie, Chanda Rochon

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