Superintendent’s Message

January, 2012

Some might wonder why the ANWSU Board of Directors continues to pursue this change for our schools. Simply put, it is the most fiscally responsible and educationally sound alternative available to us. Without this choice, each of our schools risks the likelihood of becoming “too small” to sustain its programs and the certain inability to overcome the intrinsic challenges of “going it alone”. (Superintendent’s Message, January, 2011)

What makes the Addison Northwest Supervisory Union one of the best, if not the best, SU in Vermont?

Maybe it’s just the luck of the draw, part of a plan, the roll of the dice, or the uncanny good fortune of being in the right place at the right time.

Perhaps it’s the geography – no mountains or rivers dividing town from town, community from community; a natural commingling of people, ideas, activities and enterprise.

More likely it has something to do with the character of the five towns that comprise the SU - the proximity and commonalities they share.

Or is it the fact that each of its schools is regularly lauded for the work of its teachers, support staff and administrators, the progress and performance of its students, or the support of its parents and members of the larger community?

The probability is that what makes it the best, if not the best, is a mix of all of the above coupled with a history of dedication to providing an excellent PK-12 educational program for its children.

When the Union High School was authorized in 1956, the majority of the five town voters clearly recognized the wisdom of a venture that would serve all of their children. Maybe it was as simple as the realization that there were benefits in forming a union that they would not realize on their own.

The “Vergennes area study committee” had “been studying the problem…for twenty months with the participation of responsible representatives of neighboring towns”. After considering and eliminating other possibilities (overcrowding the Vergennes HS; forcing pupils of “outside towns” to seek secondary education elsewhere; construction of a new building by Vergennes alone), “the conclusion was reached that only through the cooperative effort of a union school district could the future secondary education of these boys and girls be assured”.

Sound familiar? Fifty-five years later and after approximately six years of study, the five towns of the ANWSU voted unanimously – by a 2-1 margin on 2 separate occasions - to form a PK-12 unified union. In concept, a unified union is very similar to a union high school; the only exception is that it would include pre-school and elementary school grades and create a single school district in lieu of the several that currently exist.

The reasoning behind the unification proposal and the twice successful votes on subsequent Town Meeting Days is essentially the same conclusion reached 55 years earlier, i.e., that only through the cooperative effort of a union school district (can) the future (elementary and) secondary education of these boys and girls be assured”. The circumstances, however, are not the same; in fact, they are quite the opposite.

Rather than an increasing student population and a shortage of space, we have seen K-12 enrollment in Vermont decrease 18% in the last decade, approximately 19,000 students.

In fiscal year 2012, Vermont will spend an estimated $1.353 billion to educate approximately 85,000 students in 307 schools operated by 277 districts through 46 supervisory unions, 12 supervisory districts and 2 interstate districts. This spending amounts to approximately $17,000 per pupil

When combined with the decline in student enrollments, the result is that Vermont has the lowest teacher to student and staff to student ratios in the country.

The reduced teacher and staff to student ratios are a major cause of the state’s increases in per pupil expenditures

Despite the motivation and logic in support of forming a single school district, the proposal to form a unified union was, through a petition to re-vote, defeated by one of the five towns in each year it was presented - effectively nullifying the will of the other four towns in the supervisory union.

Although the ANWSU Board of Directors has no immediate plans to reintroduce the unification proposal, in September of 2011 they did reach consensus for their continued support of the process. As in 1956, the opportunity to assure the students of ANWSU receive an excellent education in the future will only be accomplished through the cooperative effort inherent in a PK-12 unified union.

Thomas F. O’Brien

Superintendent of Schools


1 Vergennes Area Study Committee; May, 1956
2 “An Evaluation of Vermont’s Education Finance System”, Executive Summary, Lawrence O. Picus and Associates, LLC, Working Draft, January 4, 2012