Education

In a close vote, Addison voters decide to stay in school district

Residents of the town of Addison voted Tuesday whether to withdraw from the Addison Northwest School District after months of discussion. Photo by Abigail Chang/VTDigger

The Addison Town Clerk’s Office counted 228 residents’ votes on Tuesday. The ballot had just one question: Shall the Town of Addison withdraw from the Addison Northwest School District?

With 122 residents voting no and 106 voting yes, the town will remain in the unified school district that also includes Ferrisburgh, Panton, Vergennes and Waltham.

A majority of “yes” votes would not have been the final say on withdrawal, as the other towns in the school district would need to vote in favor of Addison’s departure too. But with the “no” votes in the majority, the withdrawal decision process has ended.

John Stroup, chair of the district school board, said he learned of the results of the vote Wednesday morning.

“I’m really glad that the people of Addison want to continue to work with the people of Vergennes and Waltham and Panton and Ferrisburgh to try to figure out how to provide great education in this area,” he said.

The withdrawal discussion has lasted for months. The Addison Selectboard unanimously accepted a petition for withdrawal in April, and in June the board set July 13 as the date for a vote.

The withdrawal proposal was driven by several concerns, including the dearth of schools in Addison, the possibility of future district consolidations and the impact on property taxes.

In 2019, Addison and Ferrisburgh residents voted against an Addison Northwest School District proposal that would have closed their elementary schools, according to reporting from the Addison County Independent

But all of the elementary schoolers in Addison now attend school in Vergennes, according to Stroup, and the district turned Addison Central School into Addison Wayfinder Experience in 2020. Wayfinder “exists to serve the unique academic, physical, social, emotional and behavioral needs of students,” according to the school website.

A flyer from the selectboard also claimed there could be tax increases if Addison Northwest merged with the Mount Abraham Unified School District, an idea that’s being explored. Enrollment is dropping in both school districts, Stroup said.

“Our chronic issue here in this area — and it’s not just our area, it’s all across Vermont — is that we are going to continue to lose a number of students, and that subsequent decrease in revenue makes it really hard to keep all of the programs,” he said.

Stroup said a merger study committee will begin meeting July 19 and will recommend whether consolidation should be pursued.

A large sign emblazoned with the words “vote yes,” seen in the background, was displayed across the street from the Addison town clerk’s office, where voting took place Tuesday on withdrawing the town from its regional school district. Photo by Abigail Chang/VTDigger

In an interview before results were released Tuesday, selectboard member Rob Hunt told VTDigger that some Addison residents were frustrated with the district’s central office. He said the number of administrative positions has increased, despite a consolidation of the number of budgets handled by the office.

He also said he does not think the school board listens to the town of Addison.

Hunt said he was on the school board when the five towns formed Addison Northwest. He said they were promised that unification would bring savings, but he was skeptical.

“When we unified, the five towns were already, you know, they were buying toilet paper in bulk, buying fuel, buying everything as one group,” he said. “So, I knew there wasn’t going to be a lot of savings, and taxes never go down.”

Hunt said he voted Tuesday to withdraw from Addison Northwest.

Addison is not the first town in the county to consider withdrawing from a unified school district. Ripton voted to leave the Addison Central School District, and all the other towns in the district went along with that choice. The Vermont State Board of Education has also approved.

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Abigail Chang

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