Thursday July 19, 2018
Transitioning from one school to another can be a stressful time for students. The South Burlington School District is hoping to help ease the transition for some middle school students who may be faced with changing schools more than once in their middle school years. Due to the Act 46 merger which goes into effect in FY 2020 for Grand Isle and will eliminate their middle school, the Grand Isle School Board has requested that several Chittenden County School Districts including South Burlington, Colchester, and Essex-Westford consider allowing the incoming seventh grade students, 20 in total, the opportunity to exercise school choice beginning in FY 2019, a year earlier than planned. While Colchester has agreed to accept one to two students, Essex-Westford has declined due to capacity. Young recommended at the July 11 board meeting that South Burlington accept up to 10 students.
If 10 seventh grade students were enrolled to attend Frederick H. Tuttle Middle School (FHTMS) for the 2018-19 school year, it would bring the projected enrollment to 200, giving the eight core seventh-grade teachers an average of 25 students per teacher, which is the maximum average not to be exceeded per the district’s G6 policy.
Although the board received preliminary information on this item at their last meeting, action was delayed due to questions regarding the financial impact since the suggested tuition of $4,000 per student is less than the announced tuition rate for the middle school. Young responded that in terms of the tuition, because the early transition was not budgeted for by Grand Isle, the amount of $4,000 was arrived at by all three districts. If all 10 students came to FHTMS this year, the tuition would bring in $40,000. A bus already travels to the islands daily for the students who tuition into the high school and there is room on the bus for 10 more students should they decide to exercise this option. Young emphasized that although he felt the district could absorb 10 students, they would likely only get two or three. In addition, any middle school students arriving the year following would be charged the full announced tuition rate.
Board member opinions on the matter varied. Steve Wisloski was in favor of the recommendation for many reasons. As Young pointed out in his recommendation, students who attend the middle school next year would likely continue their eighth grade year there, as well as their high school years, which would both be at the announced tuition rate. Wisloski saw this as a great marketing opportunity for the district, potentially an avenue to allow for more and varied course offerings, as well as a way to stem the tide of declining enrollment statewide.
Wisloksi made the motion to approve Young’s recommendation and LaLonde seconded, but the motion ultimately failed with “nay” votes from the other three board members. Fitzgerald said her concern lay in bringing the maximum capacity right up to its limit; which did not leave room for flexibility in enrollment should families move into the district over the summer. Burkhardt agreed and said she would be more comfortable capping the potential enrollment at a lower number. Due to board concerns regarding the possibility of all 10 students arriving at the middle school next year, Burkhardt proposed capping the number at six, LaLonde seconded, and the decision was unanimous.
SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent