Op/Ed

Editorial: At town meeting, each vote matters; ACSD candidates Whelan-Wuest, Buck stand out

ANGELO LYNN

Next Tuesday, March 7, is Town Meeting Day. Many towns have their official meetings on Monday evening March 6, with Australian balloting the next day. 

In today’s Addison Independent, we’ve researched the issues, budgets and races and written up concise previews of each of the county’s 23 municipalities — it’s all there for readers to pore over these next few days and be ready to cast your votes next Monday and Tuesday.

One of the more complex races in the county features 10 candidates running for five open seats in four races on the 13-member Addison Central School District board. The races feature:

• Chris Kramer, Jeffrey Taylor and Ellen Whelan-Wuest, who are competing for a one-year spot representing Cornwall. Whelan-Wuest is the current incumbent, having been appointed to the spot following the January resignation of longtime ACSD board member Peter Conlon.

• Patricia Allen, Jason Chance, Laura Harthan and Ron Makleff are competing for two available seats representing Middlebury.

• Incumbent Suzanne Buck faces competition from Hilda Stone for Bridport’s three-year seat on the board.

• A fifth spot on the panel, for a three year-seat representing Salisbury, has but one taker — Ellie Romp.

When forming the district and writing the district charter, the ACSD specified that all candidates will be elected at-large, meaning votes for all races will be cast by residents in all seven ACSD towns: Bridport, Cornwall, Weybridge, Shoreham, Salisbury, Ripton and Middlebury. Most districts restrict voting to just the candidates representing a voter’s town, but the decision at ACSD was to encourage voters to think of the district as one unified school with all towns acting as one.

It’s a good theory but knowing all the candidates can be challenging. The good news is that the district has an abundance of talent seeking the five available seats, and all seats are challenged, except the lone Salisbury seat, which, barring a successful write-in candidate, will go to Ellie Romp.

For the other four seats on the ACSD, two of the nine candidates stand out: 

• In the three-person race for the one-year seat representing Cornwall, Ellen Whelan-Wuest has the skills and talents that would serve the district well in the years to come. A graduate of Middlebury College, a Cornwall resident, wife and mother of two young children, she is already active on several greater-Middlebury area boards, and has recently helped established a new childcare center at Middlebury’s Congregational Church — the Red Clover Children’s Center.  Importantly, in her professional career she works resolving complex problems using data to understand the issues and collaborative processes that bring all parties together to reach the best possible solution.

“I love working on complex issues, using data to formulate possible solutions, and then bringing all the parties together to come up with workable compromises,” she recently said in an Addison Independent interview. As importantly, she believes in keeping an open mind, and being transparent to all stakeholders (especially voters). 

In the candidate questions poised in the Addison Independent last week, she was articulate, specific and right on the money. She doesn’t waffle when she knows an answer, and when answers aren’t apparent (like how the district should approach a recent study that revealed an immediate need of $11 million to fix critical shortcomings at ACSD facilities and up to $100 million to make school facilities shine) she lays out the process by which the school board should break down the issues in bite-size pieces and get to work.

As an appointee to the board for the past month replacing Cornwall representative Peter Conlon, after he stepped down to pursue a heavier workload in the state Legislature, she has the support of Conlon and other board members, as well as many others who have shown their support through letters and other measures. 

She would make an excellent board member and has our support.

• In the two-person race for the one-seat in Bridport, Suzanne Buck’s vast amount of experience on education issues is impossible to top. She has spent several terms serving the district on many ad hoc committees not only locally, but also at the state level. She’s also a teacher and understands the realities in the classroom as well as the needs of the community. She’s articulate, intelligent and a diehard believer in public education who seeks to make the ACSD the best district possible. With the tasks of replacing a superintendent and principal at the high school, plus facility planning, consolidation questions, the pros and cons of the district’s International Baccalaureate program, and improving student outcomes post-pandemic, having a steady voice of experience on the board for the next three years is well-advised. For those reasons and more, she has our vote.

Of the four candidates running for the two Middlebury seats, all would bring fresh perspectives to the board with varying degrees of experience. To our eyes, Patricia Allen, who has worked as the children’s librarian at Ilsley Library for the past decade, has a leg-up from that unique experience. 

But don’t take our word for it. We encourage all voters to review each candidate on their own, and take the time to go to MiniBury’s preview of the election, which also features the MCTV interviews (each about 14 minutes long). It’s a valuable resource (https://minibury.com/get-to-know-the-acsd-school-board-candidates/) and gives voters an opportunity to hear the candidates talk one-on-one with a MUHS student interviewer. 

The questions facing the ACSD board, and all school boards, over the next several years are complex and crucial to our school’s success; it behooves us all to spend the time needed to make informed choices.

Angelo Lynn

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