Lincoln remains confident in school district plans

LINCOLN — Despite the recent and decisive determination from the State Board of Education that the town of Ripton will not be ready to provide educational services to its students by July of next year, officials of the Lincoln School District remains confident in their ability to do so.

Jennifer Oldham, advising chair of the Lincoln School Board, said the state board’s opinion on the Ripton School District (RSD) was one that Lincoln had anticipated.

“In general, we have always had to be prepared for different eventualities,” Oldham said. “It’s disappointing, but it doesn’t surprise us that this was the outcome of their decision, and so we’ve always been planning for the possibility that that could happen.”

The full subcommittee report on the Ripton School District’s preparedness approved by the state board on Aug. 12 highlighted concerns that RSD did not have plans to secure sufficient funding or staffing for operating a standalone supervisory district, or a school district within a potential supervisory union or within an already existing supervisory union.

This determination has raised questions for Lincoln, a town that has been on a similar trajectory as Ripton in working to create its own viable school district by July 1, 2023.

Oldham said within the Lincoln School District, there is no concern over whether they will be able to find the funding and staffing that Ripton could not.

“As our own district, we’re very confident in our ability to staff it and to financially support it,” Oldham said.

The school board will discuss some of the district’s potential funding options at an Aug. 18 Lincoln School District meeting. As for staffing, Oldham said board directors have reason to believe Lincoln Community School staff will stay with the school once the town begins operating its own district.

“There’s certainly a high level of support with the staff and the faculty to want to stay with the school,” she said.

While operating its own school district seems within reach for Lincoln School Board directors, the town still needs to figure out which supervisory union structure Lincoln would prefer to be assigned to by the state board.

Lincoln had previously advocated for the formation of a Mountain Supervisory Union with Ripton to provide supervisory union services to students in both districts. Now, with Ripton planning to hold a vote in September on whether the town should rejoin the Addison Central School District, that potential supervisory union structure is no longer an option.

Oldham said the Lincoln School District was prepared for this possibility and is not discouraged by it. She and her fellow board members are currently figuring out what their preferred supervisory union assignment is, a decision they will present to the state board in September.

“We’re doing research on that and just following the course of events with looking at multiple pathways and how we can plan for whatever eventualities might occur,” she said.

Following Lincoln’s request, the state board is expected to make a supervisory union assignment for Lincoln at its September meeting, though state board members discussed at an Aug. 12 meeting the lack of options they see when making this assignment.

The Mount Abraham Unified School District has vehemently opposed being forced back into a supervisory union with Lincoln. And other area supervisory unions (such as the White River Valley SU and the Rutland Northeast SU) have also voiced their opposition to having Lincoln placed in their existing supervisory union, severely limiting the state board’s options for what supervisory union structure to assign Lincoln.

“Our toolbox is pretty empty at the moment,” state board Chair Oliver Olsen said, adding that he believes this is a situation the state board will not be able to resolve on its own. “This is going to be something that we need to refer to the legislature. This is going to require legislative action to deal with because we simply don’t have the tools.”

Unlike Ripton, Lincoln denied provisions offered to the town through a carve out of bill H.727, which was signed into law earlier this year and changes the process for towns withdrawing from existing school districts. Without these provisions, Lincoln cannot delay their start date of operations another year or use an “off-ramp” for reentering MAUSD should they find they are unable to operate a school district on their own.

Olsen said denying these provisions was a poor choice on Lincoln’s part, as it now leaves the town in a make-it or break-it position given their limited SU options and lack of an off-ramp recourse.

“That move earlier this year was reckless and irresponsible,” Olsen said. “I don’t know how this is going to end but there’s not much we can do.”

Oldham said Lincoln was forced to navigate a lot of variables when it decided to deny that carve out, and she and her fellow board members stand by the town’s decision to do so.

“We all feel very confident despite the short time frame, that given all of the things that were going on, the change in the legislation and the way some of these things could have been drawn out, if we really wanted to achieve our independence and be able to have more control over what happens with our kids and our school, that it was better to get out sooner rather than to wait,” she said.

Moving forward, Oldham said the Lincoln School District remains optimistic about its ability to begin operating in July of next year and is continuing to work toward its goal of doing so. The district will host a town-wide meeting on Aug. 18, where financial options will be discussed and the town will vote in two new members to the Lincoln School Board.

Former school board member Paul Forlenza also announced recently that he was leaving the board for personal reasons. At its Aug. 4 meeting the school board appointed Mary Gemignani to serve a one-year term in Forlenza’s place.

“We’re still just excited to have become our own district and know that our school will be in our town. We have a principal and teachers that are on board and so the structure is important, but we’ve achieved an important goal already,” Oldham said.

Reach Marin Howell at [email protected].

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