By John Flowers/ Addison County Independent
The Vermont State Board of Education voted unanimously Friday, Aug. 12, to issue an opinion that “there is an overwhelming risk” that Ripton won’t be able to assume full responsibility for educating its students beginning next July — either as a supervisory district or as a school district within a supervisory union.
Meanwhile, the Ripton School Board said it will hold a vote in late September asking local voters if they’d like their town to rejoin the Addison Central School District (ACSD), from which the community exited last year as an avenue to prevent its small elementary school from being closed.
But Ripton hasn’t abandoned all efforts to gain more local control over the fate of its school. Attorney Mark Oettinger, whom the Ripton School Board hired to help the town navigate its independence bid, said he’s reached out to ACSD officials in an effort to negotiate a change to the ACSD charter that would give individual communities within the district veto power over any future board proposal to close their respective elementary schools.
School boosters from several ACSD towns urged the district board around five years ago to change the ACSD charter in a manner that would require a majority of voters in a town to OK the closure of their school before such a move could take place. The ACSD board, upon advice of its attorney, rejected the charter-change request. So as it currently stands, a supermajority vote of the ACSD board (10 of its total 13 members voting “yes”) can approve a school closure.
As the Independent went to press, it was unclear whether the ACSD board would accept Ripton’s new overture for a charter change.
ACSD currently delivers preK-12 education to children in the towns of Ripton, Bridport, Cornwall, Middlebury, Salisbury, Shoreham and Weybridge. Plans called for the ACSD to maintain services to Ripton through June 30 of next year, at which time Ripton was to be on its own — or part of a new “Mountain Supervisory Union” in collaboration with Lincoln. Those plans are now in serious doubt, due to today’s vote by the state board.
The ACSD, like many other Vermont school districts, is dealing with declining enrollment and surging school costs. The ACSD board has in recent years discussed the concept of closing several of its seven elementary schools, within the context of a facilities master plan. That plan, completed earlier this year, is intended to inform the ACSD board on the choices the ACSD board will need to make as it considers which district buildings are worthy of long-term investment.
The state board’s Friday decision followed a report by a subcommittee that gave a status report on the groundwork Ripton has laid to transition from the ACSD to a Mountain Supervisory Union.
Among other things, the subcommittee tentatively found that “even if RSD obtains transitional funding, the RSD board has been largely unable to identify qualified persons with Vermont-specific experience in public education systems to inform and guide its transition planning.”