Parents protest plan to shut down 2 Addison County schools

(WCAX)
Published: Oct. 28, 2019 at 4:49 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

Votes scheduled for next week could determine if two schools in Addison County will close at the end of the school year. This comes as a newly merged school district confronts declining enrollment and rising costs, and sees school consolidation as the answer. Our Ike Bendavid visited the towns to learn more.

The Addison Northwest School District operates four town elementary schools and Vergennes Union High School. Just a few years ago, there were 1,400 students attending those schools. Now, it's down to about 800.

To help save money and increase educational opportunities, the school board wants to shut down two of the elementary schools and merge the students into the remaining schools. The plans don't appear popular in the two towns slated to lose their schools.

Tombstones and scarecrows line Route 7 in Addison County, but as Halloween approaches, these scary signs are about saving the school.

"This is a central part of this community. This little school brings people together like no other situation," said Judith Mace of Ferrisburgh.

A vote next week will decide if two elementary schools in the district-- the Addison Central School and Ferrisburgh Central School-- will close at the end of the school year.

"It's the kiss of death for some of these small rural communities that don't have a business district," said Kate Yarbrough of Ferrisburgh.

Yarbrough has two kids in the Ferrisburgh school and one that would go next year. She feels the school board is trying to fix districtwide enrollment and budget issues by targeting the two elementary schools.

"They are using Addison and Ferrisburgh as kind of quick solutions to try to fix some of those line items in their budget," Yarbrough said.

The school board says like many small rural school districts in the state, enrollment is going down and taxes are going up.

"The situation is only going to get more difficult to address the longer that we wait," said Sue Rakowski, the chair of the Addison Northwest School District.

Rakowski says there was a nine-cent tax increase last year and that will go up again if the voters decide to keep the schools open.

"I'm talking about trying to not put out a tax increase that's double the increase from last year," she said.

But it's up to the voters and if they decide to close the schools, the students from Addison and Ferrisburgh will head to Vergennes. Preschool through fourth-grade to Vergennes Elementary School and fifth-graders and sixth-graders to the middle school.

"What the board is trying to do is maintain opportunities for our students," Rakowski said.

Vermont Education Secretary Dan French says he expects to see more votes like this one as other newly merged districts look to cut costs and improve educational opportunities by consolidating schools.

"I expect more and more of these district-type of situations to emerge and folks to have these conversations, but they are essentially local conversations," French said.

But parents are hoping to rally the polls to keep their small rural schools close to home.

"If they feel this is going to provide a better opportunity, they need to show us how," Yarbrough said.

"I'm also opposed to it because I'm very happy with our school," said Carolinne Griffin of North Ferrisburgh.

Both Addison and Ferrisburgh are scheduled to have public meetings next Monday, the day before the vote, to help answer any questions voters have.

Even if both towns vote against the closing plans, the school board has indicated it may still move some grades out of the schools.