By Herb Olson
The Mt. Abraham Unified District (MAUSD) is deciding whether to close the Starksboro elementary school program. How did we get here?
July 1, 2018. MAUSD is formed under Act 46. The Articles of Agreement under which the new District is formed include Article 14 (a town school may not be closed without the approval of that town's voters), and Article 16 ('closing' includes closing the elementary school program, not just the building).
November, 2019. Superintendent Reen presents to the School Board a bleak financial picture for the District, driven by declining enrollment and a resulting decline in revenue under the state's education funding system.
December, 2020. Superintendent Reen presents a plan to the School Board to close the elementary school programs in Starksboro, Lincoln, and New Haven. Grades K-5 would be at the Bristol and Monkton schools. Grades 6-8 would be sent to Vergennes. Grades 9-12 would stay at Mt Abe, together with Vergennes high school students. The Superintendent claims that replacing elementary school programs with "innovation centers" in Starksboro and Lincoln, and with the MAUSD Early Education program and Superintendent’s office in New Haven, is not "closing" under the Articles of Agreement, but merely a “repurposing” which the District can accomplish without needing the approval of town voters.
December, 2020-February, 2021. Community members vigorously protest the Superintendent's plan. The School Board decides to delay a March vote on the Superintendent's plan.
May, 2021. Community members, at the invitation of the School Board, submit alternative facilities proposals that avoid closing elementary school programs.
July, 2021. First meeting of the MAUSD/ANWSD Merger Study Committee (MSC), formed to consider whether to merge MAUSD with the Vergennes district. Community members express concerns that if the MSC recommends merger with new Articles of Agreement, towns might lose their right to vote on whether to close their community elementary schools.
August, 2021. Lincoln votes overwhelmingly to withdraw from MAUSD. The Starksboro Selectboard holds a public forum for residents to discuss concerns about the MAUSD and MSC process.
September, 2021. The Starksboro Selectboard asks the MAUSD School Board to affirm, support and ensure that no town will lose its ability to vote on whether to retain its elementary school program. The Merger Study Committee decides to extend the timeline for its work to November, 2022.
October 2021. The process is still underway to evaluate the alternate proposals and solicit additional community input with the help of Nate Levenson, an education consultant - a report is expected in December. The School Board has yet to affirm the right to vote on school closure.
What are some key questions to consider?
Will the School Board close the Robinson School elementary program?
Will the School Board acknowledge that Starksboro residents have a right to vote on whether it's elementary school program is closed?
What options does Starksboro have if the MAUSD board decides to close Robinson School without the approval of Starksboro voters?
What are some financially feasible alternatives to the Superintendent's plan to close elementary school programs - alternatives that would maintain strong educational programs for our children without closing our community schools?