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Addison County school officials discuss budget after vote to save schools

(WCAX)
Published: Nov. 20, 2019 at 6:39 AM EST
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Addison Northwest School District board members met this week to come up with a budget plan following a vote by residents earlier this month rejecting the closure of two schools.

In response to the Nov. 5 vote, the district released a statement that said, in part, "We trust that our community now recognizes the financial and demographic challenges that threaten the viability of our School District."

Community members and the school district both say they have to work together to come up with a compromise.

"We did make a really loud statement that no, we don't want our schools to close, and our community members don't either," said Ashley Paquette, an Addison Central School parent.

In Addison, 75 percent of voters opposed closing the town's elementary school. In Ferrisburgh, 85 percent voted against closing theirs.

"This is not just me. This isn't just a couple community members. It's a large percentage of our entire town," said Paquette.

Paquette is the parent of a kindergartner and fourth-grader at Addison Central. She's also part of the Rural School Alliance, which started as a way to save Ferrisburgh Central and Addison and grew to include all Vermonters whose rural schools are on a closure list.

"The scope isn't just us. It's really in response to Act 46, so I think there's the benefit from town's communicating about success stories, what's working, the information that we're taking in and really how we can protect our small towns," said Paquette.

Parents representing the Rural School Alliance suggest the board should adjust the district's Articles of Agreement in order to save the towns' small schools. Under the recently unified district's Articles of Agreement, which outline conditions of the merger under Act 46, the board can also still vote to close the schools without permission from residents by 2021.

"It's really kind of how I've broke down what we are entitled to, what we can do to protect ourselves, and really where this falls, like what the rules are for this kind of movement. This is really where the potential lies not only for our small town but for other small towns to really self protect," said Paquette.

And while they may have won the vote to keep Addison and Ferrisburgh Central open, the school board still has the power to move certain grades out of those buildings and into Vergennes High School.

The school board confirms it is currently considering that possibility to save money and increase educational opportunities.

Legislators say town leaders are going to have to make those tough decisions because there are 30,000 fewer students now than two decades ago.

"The majority of that goes toward education spending. So obviously Addison County in this instance wasn't ready to take that step, but we have to think about our kids and make sure we're doing it for the right reasons so they have all the educational opportunities that they have at their disposal so they can transition to a great career and opportunities in the future," said Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vermont.

Right now, the Addison Northwest School District must formulate a budget by January and that's where cuts in programs or personnel could be made. Finding the money to operate the schools may also prompt the school board to suggest a townwide municipal tax increase.

Once the board comes up with a proposal, it will present it to residents for approval through a vote on Town Meeting Day in March.