Addison North Merger study committee plans next steps

“Maybe folks are unaware of the merging that’s already happened, there’s so much. There’s so many ways that merging is already in process, informally, but to help both districts.”
— Stephanie Rossier

BRISTOL — The committee studying a potential merger of the Addison Northwest School District (ANWSD) and Mount Abraham Unified School District (MAUSD) met on Tuesday for the first time since the State Board of Education approved the group’s report recommending the creation of the proposed merged district to discuss its next moves before a likely Nov. 8 public vote on a merger, especially in light of recent news affecting Starksboro and Lincoln.

At the start of Tuesday’s meeting, MAUSD Superintendent Patrick Reen updated committee members on the status of Lincoln and Starksboro as towns voting on the merger proposal. Now that Starksboro’s withdrawal process has officially ended following the failed recent ratification vote from the other three towns in MAUSD, Starksboro will vote on the merger proposal in November as part of the district, he said.

But Lincoln’s role in the vote is more uncertain. The merger proposal’s articles of agreement list Lincoln as an advisable district, one that is welcome to join the merged “Addison North” district if the proposal passes, but which is not required for the proposal to succeed.

The Lincoln School District has the choice of whether to warn the vote on the merger proposal or not. If Lincoln residents do vote on the issue in November, they will be voting solely on whether Lincoln should join the merged district and not on whether the merged district should be formed in general.

Reen told the committee it is unknown whether Lincoln will choose to warn this vote. Representatives from the district have previously said they opposed being identified as an advisable district, Reen said he believes they but may find themselves in a different position now that the district is faced with limited options for a supervisory union assignment and may benefit from the supervisory district services that would be provided to them as members of Addison North.

“To summarize, we still don’t have any idea what’s going to happen,” Reen said to committee members. The room responded with knowing laughter.

Much of the discussion at Tuesday’s meeting surrounded the committee’s next steps. Now that a significant chunk of the work done by the committee has been accomplished, the group has turned their efforts in part toward community outreach. Engaging with community members will be a big focus for the group leading up to the November vote.

“The important thing is for us to be engaged and out there for the period of time really from now until then,” committee member and Bristol representative Kevin Hanson said.

Committee members discussed ways to distribute information to stakeholders, such as sending emails to teachers in both districts and passing out flyers. However, the conversation about how to get information out to the community expanded past logistics as committee members recognized the challenges they will face in addressing stakeholders’ concerns and avoiding the spread of misinformation.

“I think that’s our goal, to get the relevant, accurate information out there,” Bristol representative Dustin Corrigan said. “There’s some stuff (on Front Porch Forum) on this topic that is just really inaccurate. Somewhere somebody has to be putting on the real factual information.”

Members of the committee agreed with this sentiment, and Lincoln representative Stephanie Rossier said a part of this work will be highlighting the benefits that have already come from collaboration between both districts.

“Maybe folks are unaware of the merging that’s already happened, there’s so much,” she said. “There’s so many ways that merging is already in process, informally, but to help both districts.”

New Haven representative Sara LaPerle agreed.

“It (the merger) doesn’t mean that in a year and a half there’s one high school and one middle school. It means that we can start by sharing more things and trying to figure it out together what we do next,” she said.

The committee will continue to discuss at upcoming meetings specific methods for community engagement, though the group determined on Tuesday that it will offer to host an informational meeting for the community on Nov. 1. The responsibility of hosting an informational meeting ahead of the merger vote falls on ANWSD and MAUSD, though committee members feel they are better suited to host this meeting given their extensive work on the merger proposal report and will notify the two districts about their willingness to do so.

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