Withdrawal

Q & A

Questions and Answers about Starksboro’s Proposed Withdrawal from the Mt. Abraham Unified School District (MAUSD)

Overview

Want to review this information in video format? 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.

At a special town meeting on Tuesday, May 10 at Robinson Elementary School, 221 voters showed up and passed Article 1 and Article 2 (below). Article 1 passed unanimously (!), and though Article 2 passed, some voters did not support it, naming a desire to withdraw regardless of the outcome of the merger process. Read an article about the vote in the Addison Independent.

Article 1. Shall the legal voters of the Town of Starksboro, Vermont withdraw its membership in the Mount Abraham Unified Union School District and be reconstituted as the Starksboro town school district.

Article 2. Shall the Select Board of the Town of Starksboro be authorized to terminate the withdrawal process commenced by an affirmative vote on Article 1, above, if either of the following two conditions are satisfied:

Condition #1. The Merger Study Committee (formed by the Addison Northwest School District and Mount Abraham Unified Union School District) includes in expressly warned Articles of Agreement a statement in substantially the following form:

“A town elementary school program shall not be closed, repurposed or otherwise terminated for any students in each of the grades K through 6 resident in the town without the approval of the voters of the town.”

OR

Condition #2. The proposed merger of the Addison Northwest School District and Mount Abraham Unified Union School District is not approved by the voters.

Below is a series of Questions & Answers that our committee publicized in advance of the vote.

Why is Starksboro considering withdrawing from Mt. Abraham Unified Union School District (MAUSD), and why now?

Our town is considering withdrawing from the Mt. Abraham Unified School District because this may be the only way to protect our right to vote on whether Robinson Elementary School will continue to serve the children of Starksboro. The Mount Abraham Unified School District, of which Starksboro is a member town, unveiled a plan to “re-purpose” the elementary schools in Lincoln, New Haven and Starksboro back in 2020. The plan was temporarily shelved because of the outcry of concerned citizens that “repurposing” would amount to closure.

There is a Merger Study Committee currently looking at merging MAUSD with the Addison Northwest School District (Vergennes and its surrounding towns). If this committee recommends merging the two districts in one form or another, and if voters in both districts approve, there would be 1 board and 1 superintendent’s office for all 10 member towns. If this were to happen our town (and other towns in the current MAUSD) would stand to lose the final say on the fate of our elementary school. Despite asking this committee to add clear language to the merger proposal protecting this right, the Merger Study Committee has been unwilling to grant our request. If this merger is recommended and approved, it is quite likely that Starksboro would lose its right to decide on the future of Robinson School.

These events, coupled with efforts at the state level to dissuade towns from bucking the consolidation trend begun by Act 46, have deepened our concern that Starksboro’s right of determination over the future of Robinson, a right that is clearly described in our MAUSD Articles of Agreement, may be nullified by forces beyond our control. We are doing our utmost to make sure that this does not happen. After exhausting other options, we have determined that the only way to retain Starksboro’s right to vote on Robinson School’s future is to withdraw from MAUSD before it merges with ANWSD.

For more detail, review the timeline of how we got here.

Why is a Robinson School so important for students and the town?

Robinson Elementary School is extremely important to students because of the extraordinary principal, teachers, and support staff, including facilities staff and cooks. In addition, community members’ involvement in the Robinson Mentoring Program, the Four Winds program and sports programs run by parents and caring citizens are invaluable to the development of students and give them a strong sense of community. There are many more examples.

Our school faces special challenges. More than 45% of our population is at or below the poverty level. There are many children with special needs in our school. Our Food Shelf, Share-On, and Bites in a Bag programs serve more than 40 Starksboro families each week. Thanks to our much-loved principal, exceptional teachers, and a dedicated staff, all children develop new skills, and find peace, hope, caring adults, food, stability, possibility, and love inside its walls.

How do we measure the value of our small school? Do children from our small schools measure up? We’ve known children from Robinson School who attended and graduated from RPI, Brown University, Harvard, Dartmouth, Williams College, Brandeis, Skidmore, Olin College, and UVM, to name a few. They received the preparation they needed to be competitive with students from across the country. Or should we look at success in sports? Robinson School’s Ryan Cochran Siegle won a silver medal in the Olympics this year. Three others were on the US Ski Team, and others were state champions in baseball, field hockey, or basketball. Perhaps a better measure would be community service and engagement. At this time three of the five members of our Selectboard graduated from Robinson School, as well as twenty members of our First Response and Volunteer Fire Department. Others are mentors and community volunteers. By any of these measures, our small school is doing very well for our children, meeting their needs and helping them to become healthy, caring citizens.

While Robinson School is important to Starksboro’s children, it is also important to the Town in so many ways. Parents, grandparents, friends and neighbors are able to share the accomplishments of the students at school plays, musicals, recitals, awards ceremonies and graduations, to name a few. Families new in town get to know their neighbors as they come together for school events. Sporting events are well attended as well. These events enable people to interact with one another to build a more cohesive community.

Small town schools are the heart of democracy in Vermont. In Starksboro, as in most small Vermont towns, the school is the place where town meeting is held, where town and school budgets are voted, where neighbors come together once a year to do the business of the town. Participating in decision-making at the local level is how we Vermonters learn to be engaged citizens at all levels of government. Representatives on small, local school boards learn skills that often help them move on to become district school board members or state legislators.

If Robinson School were closed, it is unlikely that young families would choose Starksboro as a home. It is likely that some families would leave Starksboro, moving to towns that have an elementary school. The inevitable decline in Starksboro’s population would be a huge detriment to attracting new small family businesses to our town.

Much of the Starksboro Planning Commissions work is centered around Robinson School. Some examples of plans currently in the works include:

  • Elderly housing in close proximity to promote learning from one another.

  • Recreation park to be shared by school and community.

  • Compact development within walking distance of the school and park


In short, as folks at a 5-town community forum put it: “Our local community schools are the glue that holds our communities together.”


See also: The Hobbit Effect: Why Small Works in Rural Schools

What would be the tax impact on Starksboro if the town withdraws from MAUSD?

We believe the most concrete way to estimate the potential tax impact of withdrawal is to compare the actual FY22 budgeted cost to operate Robinson Elementary School (RES) as part of MAUSD with the estimated cost if Starksboro had operated as its own district in FY22. Some costs can be directly attributed to Robinson such as salaries, utilities, and supplies while others are shared across the schools in the district. Some of those shared costs include Special Education, Transportation, Food Service, and Central Office expenses. Since some costs (and revenues) are shared across schools in the district the following should be considered “best estimates”. Data for expenses attributed directly to Robinson as well as estimates for Robinson’s share of expenses shared across all MAUSD schools were provided by the MAUSD Business Manager.

After MAUSD provided those data, we ran multiple scenarios, with different assumptions, to project an answer to the question: “IF Starksboro had been withdrawn from MAUSD as of THIS school year, what would our town’s education tax rate be, compared to the actual tax rate for Starksboro in FY’22.” Since some costs (and revenues) are shared across schools in the district the following should be considered “best estimates”. The FY22 Starksboro tax rate is 1.7486; the estimated FY22 tax rate if Starksboro had been withdrawn in FY22 is 1.7914. The following charts show a comparison of two FY22 scenarios, one based on Income and one based on Assessed Housesite Value.


Financial impact: Projected difference in tax rate and cost if Starksboro had withdrawn from MAUSD in FY 2021-2022

If Starksboro withdraws from MAUSD, where would Starksboro students attend school?

Starksboro students would still attend Robinson school for grades K-6. Robinson would continue as a K-6 public school, open and free to all Starksboro children, and governed by our own school board.

Middle (7&8) Students would attend Mt. Abraham.

High School (9-12) Students would either:

  • All attend Mt. Abraham OR

  • Choose between attending Mt. Abraham OR another nearby high school (Champlain Valley Union in Hinesburg, Vergennes Union High School, or Middlebury Union High School might be options.)

To clarify, for grades 9-12, students would most likely attend Mount Abe. They might also have the option to go to CVU, or another nearby high school, depending on whether another high school is interested in accepting tuitioned students from Starksboro, and depending on whether Starksboro could afford to transport 9-12 students to more than one high school. Based on our conversations with the MAUSD superintendent and with school board members, we believe that MAUSD would very much welcome Starksboro 7-12 students and accompanying tuition at Mount Abe.

Would there be any changes for Starksboro students in terms of education programs?

Quality educational programming depends on adequate funding, great professional and support staff, and instructional models and practices that address the needs of all students and teachers. If Starksboro withdraws from MAUSD, or if it does not withdraw, funding and staffing will depend on many factors, including enrollment, state funding policies, and Robinson’s ability to build school budgets with a cost-effective mindset.

If Starksboro withdraws, our town will elect a local school board for Robinson that creates school budgets developed by the principal, in consultation with teachers, other staff, and parents. We believe that because this local board will be less removed from the school than the consolidated board currently is, it will be better able to provide funding that is responsive to children’s needs. In electing a new Starksboro School Board, Starksboro would be aiming to establish school practices and budgets that:

  • demonstrate fiscal responsibility;

  • demonstrate respect for the expertise of the principal and teachers;

  • provide staffing that includes reasonable class sizes;

  • provide staffing that supports a model where students who require extra help in both math and reading can receive it; and

  • enable scheduling that supports collaboration among special educators, interventionists and classroom teachers in planning and implementing curriculum, instruction and behavioral interventions.

How would special education, transportation, and other services currently administered by the MAUSD central office be provided?

These services are provided by Superintendents’ Offices across the state and Starksboro would need to contract with a superintendency to provide these services. There is the possibility that we could get these services from MAUSD or we could contract with another district in the state, or we might join with Lincoln and Ripton in creating a new Supervisory Union that provides these services for students from our three towns.

What would change for the remaining towns of MAUSD?

At this time we don’t know what the financial effect would be on the remaining towns as we don’t yet know how the superintendent's office services would be provided; there are a number of possibilities. It is likely that if Starksboro voters vote to withdraw, the MAUSD Superintendent will provide an analysis of impact to the MAUSD Board soon after the vote takes place. As for effects on class sizes in the middle and high school, there should be little to no effect since all or most students would go to Mt. Abraham.

The elementary school sports programs would be able to continue as usual since it is independent (run by community members). Transportation would be unlikely to change for remaining towns. Sharing of teachers between schools (e.g. art, music, librarians) might change somewhat for remaining towns. We would hope to continue to have the same close relationship with the schools in all of the 5 towns: sharing innovative approaches to teaching and learning, celebrating our kids' successes and enjoying events together at Mt. Abraham.

How would staff at Robinson School be affected?

If Starksboro withdraws from MAUSD, Robinson teachers would have the option to apply to work in the other MAUSD schools. Robinson teachers who have seniority (based on how long they have worked in ANESU/MAUSD) would have automatic “bumping rights” to assume similar positions in the other elementary schools in MAUSD.

For teachers and other staff who decide to remain at Robinson after withdrawal, salaries and benefits would be based on the salaries and benefits of the school district that Starksboro joins (or forms with Lincoln and Ripton); most likely a contract similar to that of MAUSD and ANWSD and ACSD.

What are the steps and timeline of the withdrawal process?

Please note: In the timeline described below, the earliest that Starksboro would operate as an independent school district would be the 2024-2025 school year. However, this timeline is subject to change for a whole host of reasons, including changes to the withdrawal process via a bill currently being considered by the VT Legislature.

  • May, 2022: Starksboro town vote

  • August 9, 2022: The other 4 MAUSD towns vote to ratify

  • November, 2022: State board conditionally approves

  • March, 2023: Starksboro elects school board

  • March – June, 2023: New School Board negotiates exit agreement, joins or forms SU, develops school budget

  • June, 2023: The other 4 towns approve exit agreement

  • July, 2023: State Board grants final approval

  • March, 2024: Starksboro votes on school budget

  • April, 2024: New School Board identifies staff

  • July, 2024: Robinson continues as a new school district

What’s happening in the Legislature?

The Vermont Legislature, supported by the State Board of Education, is considering legislation (Bill H.727) on whether towns should be able to withdraw from a school district. Under the latest version of the legislation, assuming the other town in the Mt. Abraham Unified School Districts ratify our withdrawal, we will ask the State Board of Education to approve our withdrawal, and we will start as a town school district on July 1, 2024, and operate Robinson School for students beginning September 2024.

Additional Information

Do you have additional questions about the proposal to withdraw Starksboro from the Mt. Abraham Unified School District?

Please feel free to contact any member of the Starksboro Save Our Schools (SOS!) Committee:

Erin Buckwalter: erin.buckwalter@gmail.com

Denny Casey: denniscasey21@gmail.com

Nancy Cornell: ncornell7@gmail.com

Louis Dupont: louis@starkmountain.com

Margi Gregory: margigregory@gmail.com

Neily Jennings: neily.jennings@gmail.com

Susan Klaiber: seklaiber@gmail.com

Herb Olson: herb.liz@gmavt.net

Chanda Rochon: crochon15@gmail.com

Chris Runcie: runcie@gmavt.net


Thank you to all who worked with our committee to help us answer our many questions about how withdrawal might work!