Starksboro's Proposed Withdrawal from MAUSD

Starksboro’s Proposed Withdrawal from the Mt. Abraham School District: How Did We Get Here? A Timeline

Updated 4/19/22

July 1, 2018. The Mount Abraham Unified School District (MAUSD) is formed under Act 46.

The Articles of Agreement under which the new District was 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).

The Act 46 Study Committee had believed that the school closure article was so important, and so crucial to getting a yes vote on school district consolidation from each town, that (in 2016) it placed Article 14 on the ballot in its entirety, so that only a vote of the whole consolidated district would be able to change it.

November, 2019. MAUSD Superintendent Reen presents to the School Board a bleak financial picture for the District of higher taxes and devastating staff reductions, driven by declining enrollment and a resulting decline in revenue under the state's education funding system.

April, 2020. The MAUSD Board forms an advisory Facilities Feasibility Study Committee to explore solutions to the expected financial crisis. That committee issued a report in August 2020. Closing or repurposing schools is “on the table” in the report.

December, 2020. At the request of the School Board, Superintendent Reen presents a plan to the School Board to address the financial crisis he has described. In the plan he presents:

Starksboro, Lincoln, and New Haven elementary programs would be closed. Grades K-5 students would be moved to the Bristol and Monkton elementary schools.

MAUSD would merge with ANWSD.

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 moving the MAUSD Early Education program and the Superintendent’s office to New Haven, is not "closing" under the Articles of Agreement, but merely a “repurposing” which the District can accomplish without the approval of town voters. It later becomes clear that the plan has not been reviewed by the attorney for the school district.

December, 2020-February, 2021. Community members vehemently protest the Superintendent's plan, seeing it as contrary to the best interests of students and of towns, and a breach of trust in not abiding by the promise of a town right to vote. Community members, based on an analysis of district data, complain that:

● the Superintendent’s projections of draconian tax increases are based on unreasonable, worst-case assumptions;

● the Superintendent has not taken the time and effort to explore whether alternatives to closing elementary schools can be implemented to address the district’s financial situation by reviewing whether cost savings can be achieved in other parts of the district budget.

January-February, 2021. Reacting to community outrage, the School Board decides to delay a planned March 2021 Board vote to approve the Superintendent's plan. The Starksboro Selectboard writes to the School Board, asking to preserve the town’s right to vote before Robinson can be closed.

May, 2021. At the invitation of the School Board, community members from the 5 towns submit alternative facilities proposals, some of which provide information and analysis demonstrating that the district can remain financially viable, and continue to provide a quality education to its students, without closing elementary school programs.

The community proposals present a variety of options for reducing district costs,, including reducing administrative staff, reducing staff assigned exclusively to coaching teachers, and consolidating central office functions with the Addison Northwest School District (ANWSD), including business office functions, and HR functions (without merging governance).

May, 2021. The MAUSD Board votes to hire a consultant, Nate Levenson of New Solutions K12, to evaluate the community proposals, at a cost of around $95,000.

May, 2021. The MAUSD Board approves the formation of a Merger Study Committee with ANWSD. This is to be a committee formed under Vermont statute 16VSA 706, designed to consider whether to fully merge the two districts. The 706 process provides that, once the study committee has been created, it is an entity entirely separate from the School Boards that created it. If the Merger Study Committee recommends merger, the recommendation goes straight to the State Board of Education for approval, and a subsequent vote in the two districts.

The MAUSD Board has no authority to disapprove a merger once the Committee recommendation is made. Board members who agree to this study committee later confess that they did not realize they were giving up substantial authority to a group of unelected committee members.

The Committee hires a facilitator with extensive experience with successful Act 46 mergers. Community members from MAUSD express concerns that if the Merger Study Committee recommends merger with new Articles of Agreement, towns might lose their right to vote on whether to close their community elementary schools, and might lose the ability and standing to initiate withdrawal from the district. The Merger Study Committee does not respond at all to community members’ concerns, and has declined to address Starksboro’s concerns to this date.

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 Merger Study Committee 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.

October, 2021. The MAUSD Board states that, in connection with its facilities planning process, an elementary school will not be closed for all grades without a vote of the town. The Board explicitly excludes the moving of grade 6 students to middle school (in Bristol or in Vergennes) from the town vote requirement.

October, 2021 - January, 2022. Community members continue to urge the Merger Study Committee to include in new articles of agreement for a merged district assurances that it will not close, repurpose or otherwise terminate an elementary school program for students in any of the grades K through 6 resident in a town without the approval of the voters of that town.

The Starksboro Selectboard and the Starksboro Planning Commission join in urging the Committee to provide those assurances.

January, 2022. New Solutions K12 , the consulting team hired by MAUSD, issues its draft report, finalized in February, 2022. The New Solutions Report confirms that options exist for MAUSD to save sufficient costs to remain financially viable without closing elementary schools. The Report observes that the community is not in favor of closing elementary schools.

February, 2022. Starksboro community members, observing that the Merger Study Committee shows no intention of assuring that towns can vote before an elementary school is closed, begin compiling the information and conducting the analysis necessary for the town to determine whether it is in the best interests of students and the town to withdraw from the MAUSD District.

February, 2022. In a last-ditch effort to get the attention of the Merger Study Committee, community members inform the Committee that Starksboro will continue to explore withdrawal unless the MSC provides assurances of a town vote before an elementary school can be closed.

February, 2022. Starksboro community members inform the MAUSD Board that Starksboro will continue to explore withdrawal unless the Board can convince the Merger Study Committee to provide assurance of a town vote before an elementary school program is closed.

February, 2022. The Legislature’s House Education Committee considers legislation sponsored by the State Board of Education which, if enacted, would make it virtually impossible for a town to consider withdrawing from an Act 46 consolidated school district. Montpelier-based lobbyists support the intent of the proposed legislation that a town or city should not be permitted to withdraw, even if the town has good reason to do so. Starksboro community member Herb Olson urges the House Education to not approve the State Board’s proposal.

● Towns may have good reason to withdraw from a district. In Starksboro’s case, its effective, equitable, and treasured elementary school may be closed if the town does not withdraw from the district.

● The State Board’s proposal is fundamentally undemocratic, removing decision-making from parents and town residents and conferring more power to an un-elected, governor-appointed board.

March 2022. Starksboro, Bristol, Monkton and Lincoln vote overwhelmingly to ratify Lincoln’s vote to withdraw from MAUSD.

April, 2022. Starksboro community members petition the Starksboro Select Board to withdraw from MAUSD.

April, 2022. The Merger Study Committee considers several school closure articles and explicitly declines to provide an unconditional assurance that, if a merger comes to pass, towns would retain their right to vote before the closure of an elementary school hosted in the town.

The Vermont Agency of Education responds to an inquiry from the MAUSD Superintendent, claiming that the MAUSD Board does not have the authority to suspend the work of the Merger Study Committee. The Agency attorney claims MAUSD cannot withdraw from the merger process thus halting the merger study work.

The Chair of the ANWSD Board declines an invitation from the MAUSD Board for the two Boards to meet to define common interests and discuss merger issues.

The Starksboro Select Board warns a withdrawal vote to take place on May 10, 2022 at 7 pm at Robinson School.

May 5, 2022. We convened an informational meeting about the withdrawal issue prior to the vote on May 5, 2022. The recording of the session is available here.

May 10, 2022. 221 voters showed up and voted unanimously to withdraw from MAUSD. Voters also voted overwhelmingly in favor of authorizing the Starksboro Select Board to terminate the withdrawal if either of two specific conditions were met. Read an article about the vote in the Addison Independent.

June-July 2022. The SOS Committee is working with the towns of Bristol, New Haven, and Monkton on the next step of the withdrawal process, which is a ratification vote by those towns on August 9.