Voters Share Questions, Concerns About the Merger

Voters share questions, concerns about merger

Addison Independent | October 20, 2022

By Marin Howell

BRISTOL — Potential school closures and consolidations were among the concerns voiced by attendees of a merger study committee meeting held at Mount Abraham Union High School earlier this week. The public Q&A attracted nearly 100 Addison County residents, many of whom will be asked on Nov. 8 whether to embrace the panel’s recommendation that the Addison Northwest and Mount Abraham Unified school districts merge to address shared issues of declining enrollment and increasing overhead costs.

“This committee believes that a (merged) governance structure would provide more opportunity moving forward,” MAUSD-ANWSD Merger Study Committee member Troy Paradee said. “It is up to all of you and your neighbors and your friends to decide if you believe that’s true.”

The meeting began with a presentation from the committee that was led by Paradee. He outlined the work the committee has done since April of 2021 to analyze the feasibility of a merger between the two districts.

Paradee explained the rationale behind the committee’s recommendation to merge, which is that consolidating districts would, create a more cost-effective structure for taxpayers and better educational opportunities for students.

The committee believes that given the issues both districts face, maintaining programming at its current state without a merger could require a 13-15% education tax increase by Fiscal Year 2027, or a reduction of 40 staff positions in the ANWSD and 66 in the MAUSD.

Committee members stressed that while a merger wouldn’t eliminate all the issues the districts are facing, it would allow for increased cost efficiency, shared resources and more time for the districts to tackle common challenges together.

“We felt that the best course of action for all of the communities involved, and for all of our students and the taxpayers, would be to form a new governance model,” Paradee said. “One central office with one governance model where we could find efficiencies, save costs and then have more ability to collaborate and plan proactively in the future.”


The presentation also addressed some of the concerns raised by community members, notably the issue of local control over school closures. The articles of agreement drafted by the committee specify that after four years of operation, a school in the merged district can be closed with approval from two-thirds of the school board and two-thirds of voters in the entire district.

This article is a shift from MAUSD’s articles of agreement, which prohibit the closure of an elementary school without approval from voters in the town hosting that school. It’s also a shift from the ANWSD’s articles, which don’t have such a provision and in 2020 allowed for the termination of the elementary program at Addison Central School.

Paradee said the article in question is the result of committee members seeking to find a compromise for two districts that land differently on the issue of school closure.

“We tried to put in a scenario where it (a school closure) would have to be so obvious and so agreed upon by the community and the board that it would be sort of a nonfactor, everybody would agree that this was the right thing to do,” he said.

Some community members pressed the committee on the article, asking how voters could trust that a local school wouldn’t be closed or repurposed in a merged district.

Carol McBride, an Addison representative on the Merger Study Committee, said the hope of the articles of agreement is to support schools in the district and to avoid circumstances where a school closure would be on the table.

“We really put so much effort in putting together articles that would support the schools and make all communities feel like their community schools were safe and provided for,” she said.


School consolidation was another major topic of discussion at the meeting. Multiple attendees raised concern over the potential merging of the middle and high schools in the districts. There was also some confusion expressed on this issue, as some community members said they thought the consolidation of the physical middle and high schools is what the merger vote entailed.

Ferrisburgh resident Chris Hill asked the committee if those who vote “yes” on the merger will have any say on the issue of these schools merging in the future.

Committee members said voters’ best course of action is to elect school board directors who they feel best represent their views on consolidating schools, as that is an issue that the new school board and community would evaluate later on. Voters will be electing representatives from their towns to serve on the school board at the same time that they vote on the merger and were encouraged to speak with the fellow townspeople running for these positions.

The committee also acknowledged that consolidating middle and high schools is a potential outcome of a merged district, something future board members could act on if the larger community felt that was the best way to proceed. The committee has looked into transportation studies to examine the feasibility of merging middle and high schools, though that consolidation is not what voters will be deciding on Nov. 8.

“The merger would not immediately combine any schools. That will be up to a new board and the communities speaking to that board,” Paradee said. “There are other examples around the state of school districts that run multiple high schools; we would not be alone in that.”

Community members also asked why alternative forms of collaboration between the districts couldn’t be implemented instead of a merger, such as sharing teachers or busing students to different schools for certain classes. The committee explained the districts have collaborated when possible, such as with food services and sports teams, but teachers’ contracts make it impossible for teachers to work in both districts and that limits collaboration.

“There are a lot of logistical and legal issues that prevent that sort of deep, curriculum collaboration,” Merger Study Committee member Keith Morrill said. “Part of the point of merging a governance structure is to break those barriers down and allow us to participate in some deeper collaboration.”


Community members asked how the merger would impact a key stakeholder: students. In its report, the committee identified that an increased ability to maintain high-quality educational opportunities for students is the most significant benefit of merging. They continued to stress this point at Tuesday’s meeting.

“We’ve been using the lens of what is best for students, that has been our primary, driving question,” Paradee said. “And on the second level, what is best for taxpayers, because if we can’t afford what we’re doing then it will ultimately not be what’s best for students.”

Monkton resident Bailee Layn-Gordon asked how merging would benefit students beyond safeguarding certain classes.

“I’ve been hearing a lot about extra opportunities for students including AP classes, second languages,” she said. “My question is more for students on a very different end of the spectrum, maybe kids who need more years of high school for their educational development and who might need extra services and support.”

Committee members said a merged district would allow for cost efficiencies, potentially allowing for more spending on services needed in different schools.

“Anytime you have cost efficiencies, you have more money to spend. And that more money to spend can be spent on programming that the leader of that school decides needs to be spent on,” Paradee said. “We would have potentially more funds to use as needed.”

Community members with further questions were encouraged to reach out to members of the committee or attend one of the informational meetings taking place on Nov. 1 at 6 p.m. These meetings will be held at Holley Hall in Bristol and at Vergennes Union High School. Voters can find contact information for the committee at

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