Ripton school weighs rejoining district after splitting a year ago

The school opted out of joinging the Addison Central School District but there have been complications since they began operating independently.
Published: Sep. 21, 2022 at 9:28 AM EDT
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RIPTON, Vt. (WCAX) - The town of Ripton might be the first in Vermont to merge back into a school district after it voted to leave just last year. It’s the latest struggle surrounding Act 46, the 2015 state law that forced school districts to merge and centralize their operations.

Ripton Elementary School is a focal point in the small community. Townspeople opposed a plan that closed their school and bused students elsewhere in the Addison Central School District (ACSD). So, they voted to drop out of the district.

“There was no plan and there was no plan to plan, and when we specifically asked about a plan, or even a plan to plan, they indicated that it would take some time to pull that together,” said Oliver Olsen with the Vermont State Board of Education. The board doesn’t think Ripton’s tiny school can sustain a stand-alone district of around 80 students.

“Our town has always supported the school and it’s a robust, beloved school where we all feel safe and really part of a community and our children thrive here,” said Ripton School Board member Molly Witters. “And so for, for them to assess us to be unsustainable as our own entity-- it’s hard to take.”

Now, the Ripton School Board is warning residents of another vote on Thursday, Sept. 29 that gives residents the option to rejoin the ACSD.

A major reason Ripton decided to leave the district was because ACSD’s articles of agreement give the power to close a community school to the district school board without individual towns getting a say through a vote. Rejoining the district could mean Ripton Elementary closes.

“How do we stand before our community and say, in any one of these choices, we’re going to end up failing, either out of control -- democratic control of a school that we so value -- or alone, in a state system that doesn’t support us, and having to then choose to close our school ourselves,” said Witters.

Rejoining or not rejoining ACSD is a hot-button topic in town. Some say they want local control but add that it’s a difficult position to be in. “I think the town is being treated unfairly. But on the other hand, we’re very independent and we’re very strong,” said Millard Cox., a Ripton resident.

Others say they wish they had more information and think it’s time to rejoin the district. “I am not in favor of the separation that has taken place,” said Tom Smith, a Ripton resident.

The town meeting is Wednesday at 7 p.m. in the Ripton Community House. If the town votes no, the State Board of Education says its work with Ripton is complete, meaning Ripton would have to continue on the path to independence.

Ripton School District’s lawyer, Mark Oettinger, says he’ll be advocating to be placed in a supervisory union. He also says talks are underway with ACSD about what the future holds for their articles of agreement and if towns could get a say in when schools close. “What we are asking for as a possible off-ramp is that if Addison Central Supervisory District would have us back, and in the process, change their articles so that the closure of any elementary school within the geographic perimeter of ACSD would require an electorate vote of the affected community,” said Oettinger.

Victoria Jette, ACSD’s school board chair, says an ad hoc committee has been formed to look at how other school districts have addressed school closure in their articles of agreement. The committee will report their findings to the board and they will then consider if and how to change their articles. “Ripton voters will have to decide if they truly want to be a part of the ACSD educational community or not, independent of a final decision regarding a change to ACSD’s charter,” Jette said in a statement.

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