Master Planning and Visioning Task Force, a joint city/school venture, presented its recommendations for future school reconfigurations and next steps at the June 3 steering committee meeting. Above: the public outreach session held March 31.

Consolidation and Reconfiguration Recommended for District Schools

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Thursday June 11, 2015

After eight months and 18 meetings, the Master Planning and Visioning Task Force, a joint city/school venture, presented its recommendations for future school reconfigurations and next steps at the June 3 steering committee meeting. The Frederick H. Tuttle Middle School (FHTMS) library filled quickly with residents and parents anxious to hear from Chair Art Klugo and task force member and former superintendent Bruce Chattman.

Klugo provided background prior to delving into the recommended options, giving thanks to the 13 member volunteer committee as well as their consultant team, which helped them evaluate volumes of demographic, structural, and cost implication information throughout the process. The team included Cope and Associates, McKibben Demographics, Frank Locker Consulting, Dore and Whittier Architects, district Business Manager John Stewart and financial analyst Annette Harton.

The school configuration options had been whittled from 27 scenarios to the six most viable, and finally, to the two which were most favored and confirmed by a majority vote of 8-3 (two members were unable to vote due to conflicts). In addition to the two favored options, a minority opinion was developed by task force members Abby Crocker and Monica Ostby. It is available on the city and school websites along with the 100-page task force draft report.

The Options

The options were presented as option “Q” and option “O.” Option Q involves one newly constructed, consolidated, K-4 elementary school, with grades 5-8 in the existing middle school, and 9-12 in the current high school. This option would involve Chamberlin and Orchard schools either being sold or being re-purposed for city use.

Option O involves two elementary schools, K-2 and 3-5, with one newly built school and one existing (Orchard), grades 6-8 in the current middle school, and 9-12 in the current high school. In this option, Chamberlin would be sold or re-purposed by the city.

Rick Marcotte Central School was not recommended for future use in either option.

Minority Opinion

Crocker and Ostby had concerns surrounding these options and drafted an in-depth report to highlight the reasons for their trepidation. The pair expressed concern that the least favored option, as voted on by residents at the community meeting (one consolidated elementary school), is being moved forward. They also identified that numerous transitions for children in the K-2, 3-5 scenario could pose issues. In addition, they consider the elimination of the two K-4 schools option to be premature. Their option, they argue, would retain the feeling of community schools that many South Burlington residents value.

Other Recommendations

In order to move forward in the process, the task force recommended establishing a number of committees, each with a specific purpose and deadline. A 21st century learning committee (to develop educational goals for South Burlington along with cost analysis), a transition committee (to develop a migration plan for students if consolidation moves forward), a high school committee, and a community vision committee (to determine how vacated school buildings would best be re-purposed for community use).

City Center Vision

Although the task force seemed to focus primarily on schools and education, they could not ignore the vision the city has for City Center, and the impact that could have on schools. In order to consider this relationship further, the task force recommended developing a Central School redevelopment committee and issuing a request for proposals for the redevelopment of the school. Gene Beaudoin, of Saxon Partners, who made an offer to purchase Central School for $7 million a year ago, was present at the meeting and re-iterated that the offer is still on the table, in writing.

Cost Factors

Although precise figures on costs of the recommended options were not presented at the meeting (they are available in the draft report), if the district were to sell any of their schools, there would be a financial obligation to the State of Vermont. For example, if Central School was sold for $7 million, $2.1 million would be due back to the state (the school has received $2,741,366 in state aid since 1970, but there is a cap of 30 percent of the sale price which would amount to the $2.1 million figure). If the building was sold for $10 million, the amount due back would be the entire $2,741,366.

Why Keep Orchard?

Councilor Helen Riehle wondered about the rationale behind keeping only Orchard School. Chattman explained that Chamberlin is facing a number of issues currently, including a decline in neighborhood population due to home demolition, airplane noise from Burlington International Airport which frequently disrupts learning, and costly upgrades to the aging boiler. Klugo also pointed out that students who go to South Burlington schools do not just come from nearby neighborhoods. Students from Dorset Farms, South Village, and the Cider Mill, are all bused to schools that are not within walking distance.

Community Reaction

After the school board and city council had an opportunity to ask questions, a few members of the public offered their thoughts. Resident Cathy Sheffield said, “I’m not sure if these options are best for students...they serve City Center the most...the plan seems like it’s being pushed through without community feedback.” Another resident and former school principal, Cheryl Hooper-Feeney wondered if the task force had consulted other towns in Vermont that have gone through the consolidation process with their district schools, such as Barre, Berlin and St. Albans. Chattman said that they had not and Klugo added that although South Burlington has great schools, it is important to “measure ourselves against schools outside of Vermont,” as well.

A suggestion about the inclusion of Pre-K in the configuration options also came up and Chattman explained that although a lot of time was given to that topic in determining configurations, ultimately the district already has a partnership to implement state initiatives by offering Pre-K in Orchard and Chamberlin. He also noted that a number of local providers are meeting that need.

What’s Next

The task force asked the school board and city council to submit their questions and comments regarding the report within the next two weeks. The report will be refined and a final document will be published. The community survey and public process, is now in the hands of the school board.

The draft report and the minority report are available for viewing on the city and school websites.

SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent