MAUSD Board Split on Merger
MAUSD board split on merger with ANWSD
Addison Independent | October 13, 2022
By Marin Howell
BRISTOL — Mount Abraham Unified School District Board members were split on Tuesday on whether to adopt a resolution in support of the Merger Study Committee’s recommendation that the MAUSD and Addison Northwest School District merge to address declining enrollment and rising cost of operations in both districts. The board ultimately voted in favor, 6-5, of adopting the resolution, with board chair Dawn Griswold supplying the tie-breaking vote.
Board members also talked about possibilities for the future of the district’s relationship with Lincoln and discussed the merger proposal with members of the Mount Abraham Education Association, the district’s teachers’ union.
Nearly an hour of Tuesday’s meeting was devoted to discussing the question of whether to adopt a resolution expressing support for the proposed merge of the MAUSD and ANWSD. Voters in the MAUSD and ANWSD will vote on whether to merge on Nov. 8, with early and absentee voting available by requesting local ballots through town clerks.
The drafted resolution acknowledged the Merger Study Committee’s findings that a merged “Addison North” district would help preserve programming and services for students in both districts in the face of continued declining enrollment, and evoked the MAUSD board’s support of these findings. During discussion, board members split on whether to adopt the resolution.
Some board members weren’t keen on adopting the resolution, largely due to proposed articles of agreement relating to potential school closures in the merged district. Those articles of agreement provide that after the first four years of operation, a school in the merged district could be closed by a two-thirds vote of the school board and two-thirds vote of the entire district.
This is a shift from the MAUSD’s Articles of Agreement that prohibit the closure of a school without approval from the voters of the town hosting that school.
“I think that the town vote issue is extremely problematic,” Starksboro representative Brad Johnson said. “From my standpoint, I wouldn’t be able to adopt a resolution such as the one that was presented tonight.”
Some were concerned that voters don’t have enough time to weigh the pros and cons of a merger before voting. Other board members pushed back, saying there’s no time to waste in finding a solution for the issues the districts are facing.
“It’s hard to mobilize people around something that feels like an unknown,” Bristol representative and vice-chair Krista Siringo said. “But when I think about my own kids, who are all in this (Mount Abe) building right now, I see things that are missing. We already could be doing much better, and I don’t want to wait.”
Kevin Hanson, a Bristol school board representative who also sits on the Merger Study Committee, echoed Siringo’s support of the resolution.
“It (the merger) is not perfect. I haven’t experienced anything in life that’s perfect yet. And the whole merger committee recognizes that,” he said. “But at the end of the day, the benefits far outweigh the negatives. So, I would be disappointed if this board didn’t support it.”
Ultimately Griswold broke the tie in favor of the resolution supporting the merger.
MAUSD AND LINCOLN
The board also discussed last month’s State Board of Education meeting, during which the panel discussed options for providing the Lincoln School District (LSD) with supervisory union services. Among other options, the state board is considering placing the MAUSD into a supervisory union with the LSD. MAUSD officials have vocally opposed that option due to concerns of higher tax rates and less equity for students.
Another possibility the state board encouraged, but couldn’t enforce, is that the MAUSD and LSD work to find a local solution to Lincoln’s desire for control over its local school without changing any existing school governance structures. One local solution would be Lincoln returning to the MAUSD as a member town.
Reen said the board could consider adopting a resolution that formalizes their support for this option.
“There are only two possibilities for us, realistically, in terms of a relationship with Lincoln.” he said. “One of those is better for MAUSD and Lincoln, in my opinion, and one of them is worse for MAUSD and Lincoln. If we believe that, it might be in our interest to say we prefer the one that’s better for both and take action.”
The board will resume discussion of whether to adopt a resolution at their next meeting, on Oct. 25. Reen also updated the board on the district’s work to assess the financial implications of entering into a supervisory union with the LSD. District officials are also looking into the budget implications of Lincoln rejoining the MAUSD as a member down.
“We don’t have an expectation to send that to the state board,” Reen said, adding that the district has to prepare for whatever decision the state board makes. “We can’t wait until Dec. 1 to build whatever budget we have to build; we have to start building contingencies.”
MAEA MERGER DISCUSSION
Also taking place on Tuesday was a joint discussion between MAUSD board members and members of the Mount Abraham Education Association, compromised of educators throughout the district. The two entities last year agreed to meet three times a year to discuss topics of interest to both school board members and district staff. Tuesday’s topic of discussion was the proposed merger.
Staff and school board members broke out into small groups to discuss concerns about the merger, aspects of the proposal they were optimistic about, and questions they had about potential consolidation. Some of the recurring concerns shared at the meeting included:
• Transportation, particularly long bus rides for students.
• Staffing, seniority among staff in a merged district and job stability.
• Loss of identity of the ANWSD and MAUSD communities.
The group also identified potential positives for merging, notably the ability to safeguard programs for students that might otherwise be cut. Other positives included being able to share needed services like behavioral specialists, sharing ideologies, and taking on projects with a larger group of staff and students.
Staff and school board members shared the lingering questions they have about the merger. Common questions related to the logistics of transportation, school choice opportunities and staffing decisions.
MAUSD board members encouraged people to attend the upcoming public Q&As being hosted by the Merger Study Committee, where community members will be given a chance to ask the committee questions and hear more about the merger proposal.
These Q&As will be held at Mount Abraham Union High School on Oct. 18 at 6 p.m. and at Vergennes Union High School on Oct. 19 at 6 p.m.