Board Digs Deeper on Consolidation Rationale

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Thursday May 19, 2016

The South Burlington School District’s master planning and visioning process is designed to explore the financial and educational implications of altering the district’s school configuration. Five different scenarios are currently being evaluated by the district. White + Burke Real Estate Investment Advisors provided financial information about the options, and community input has been sought, beginning with a large forum held March 22 at the South Burlington High School auditorium. Since then, smaller, roundtable discussions along with an abbreviated presentation have occurred at two of the three elementary schools, the library, and at a City Hall presentation for seniors.

One point on which the school board and superintendent seem to have a difference of perspective are the scenarios upon which they should be placing the most emphasis. Thus far, Superintendent David Young has been advocating for scenario 5, which would close all three elementary schools and consolidate into one new building at a location to be determined. Option 5 is the most expensive choice and the school board has not been convinced this is the best option for students or the taxpayer. The board has been shifting their focus to scenarios 1-3, which maintain the middle and high schools, as well as all three elementary schools in scenarios 1 and 2, and consolidate to 2 elementary schools in option 3.

As the community meetings have continued, the board has repeatedly heard concerns and feedback around consolidation and a desire to maintain South Burlington’s small neighborhood schools. At the May 4 school board meeting, members wondered aloud about the fact sheet, presented at the meetings by Young, that rank schools on the ease of implementing priorities. These rankings include academic excellence and consistency, diversity/equity/inclusion, safety, and interpersonal relationships. In terms of ease of implementation of these areas, scenario 5, with consolidation to one single elementary school, is ranked 18 out of 20.

Martin LaLonde looked at the score sheet and wondered why academic excellence, for example, at the current elementary schools was ranked so low. LaLonde said, “We have heard the benefits of one school, but not in a way that shows it can be four times better…this chart doesn’t tell the story of how different the five options are…we defer to you, David, in policy governance, but we need to dig down further to understand how you derived this (conclusion) and need sufficient evidence to support this.”

Young said that according to current factors, “Yes we are doing really well, but looking at factors for the future, that’s when you begin to see diminishment.” Young cited decreasing open space, City Center development, enrollment, and demographics as items of concern, especially when projected ten years out. “I own this work,” Young said, “I never try to usurp your voice…it wasn’t until I began to dig into evidence and look to the future, that I began to go down this road.”

LaLonde suggested a subcommittee of board members be developed to meet with Young to better understand his rationale for school consolidation. Patrick Leduc and Martin LaLonde will meet with Young and will present their take on scenario 5 to the rest of the board.

The next community meeting on master planning and visioning will take place at Orchard School May 24 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent