Master Planning and Visioning Community Forum: March 22 from 6:30 to 8:30

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Thursday March 10, 2016

The much-anticipated next-step in the master planning and visioning process has arrived. A community meeting will take place March 22 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. in the high school auditorium. Although the agenda has not yet been finalized, community members will have the chance to hear from school administrators as well as representatives from White + Burke Investment Advisors about the school configuration options they were tasked with evaluating.

Last year, a 13 member volunteer committee made up of residents, educators, and business leaders from the community were part of a master planning and visioning task force who studied the future of South Burlington’s schools. The task force worked for 8 months along with consultants Frank Locker, Dore and Whittier Architects, and Cope and Associates to examine the configuration of the district schools, financial implications, demographics, and safety, among many other factors. The task force presented their final report, along with a minority report, to the school board in June of 2015, but many in the community expressed feeling uneasy and as if they had been left out of the dialogue. While it was the committee’s intent to conduct a survey as well as a follow-up community meeting, these items did not take place.

Since the task force presented its report, the board has been doing its due diligence, considering the recommendations, talking with stakeholders about how to move forward, and commissioning White + Burke Investment Advisors to evaluate five different configuration options. These options include the status quo (keeping 3 elementary schools), keeping 3 elementary schools and upgrading the facilities, downsizing to 2 elementary schools (using 2 existing schools), 2 elementary schools (1 existing and 1 new build), and closing all 3 existing elementary schools and building 1 consolidated school.

At the March 2 meeting, the board discussed ideas for the community forum. Martin LaLonde envisions more than a single opportunity for people to participate. Superintendent David Young agreed, and suggested the idea of creating a format that could be repeated at senior luncheons and other venues, for example, in order to ensure a wide swath of the community has a chance to provide input. Elizabeth Fitzgerald said, “I’m not sure if we’ll ever get robust diversity (at the public meetings), but we can have the dialogue in different locations.”

Fitzgerald said she envisioned a “download” session where information is presented along with the financial analysis, without revealing confidential information, then receiving informal feedback in a small roundtable format. Fitzgerald also noted that she thought the topic of alternative school uses should not be part of the discussion at the moment since the sale of a property(s) is speculative. “That doesn’t play to the quality of public education,” Fitzgerald said.

Young also mentioned a potential partner in the board’s work of evaluating scenarios: the Vermont Department of Health’s health index assessment. The department approached Young, interested in the master planning and visioning work. The assessment would be free of charge and would provide statistical information on the health of South Burlington’s schools. “When we look at a healthy community, the education system is a big part of that,” Young said.

As the board moves toward finalizing the agenda for the March 22 meeting, you can refresh your memory on the master planning and visioning process and read the task force’s majority and minority reports on the school district website.

SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent