Master Planning and Visioning Dialogue Continues

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Thursday September 29, 2016

The September 21 meeting provided an opportunity for board members to continue the conversation that began at the South Burlington School Board meeting in early September when members presented their personal positions regarding reconfiguration. Board members revisited a range of positions, from favoring consolidation to one or two schools, to waiting to acquire more information on noise and City Center impacts prior to landing on a solid position, but it is evident that more in depth discussions will still be necessary.

Elizabeth Fitzgerald took time to clarify her prior statements proposing the development of a road map for the future of South Burlington’s schools. Fitzgerald noted that the district is seeing evidence that the delivery of elementary education is changing and she advocated for making a strategic plan for future consolidation, the execution of which would not have to happen in the short term. Her proposal would simply be to plan ahead while monitoring evidence, information, and studying outcome data. Based upon those factors, the plan could either be accelerated or decelerated.

“We need to plan for the future,” Fitzgerald said, “I’m not saying consolidation is inevitable, but to not plan for it is not good....to get to a point where you need to execute, but you don’t have a plan would be challenging.”

Bridget Burkhardt, who advocated for option 2, retaining all three schools with stewardship and upgrades, during her position statement, reiterated that she is not convinced consolidation is the way to resolve purported inequities and wants more evidence they exist. She expressed concern about the costs of planning for a consolidation that may not happen. “I need to see evidence there are inequities (between the three schools). Consolidation solves a lot of administrative problems, but that doesn’t mean that’s a better outcome for kids,” Burkhardt said.

In response, Cindy Tan, a teacher at Chamberlin School and former member of the Master Planning and Visioning Task Force said that there is always a debate, every year, over which school gets the contingency teacher when enrollment numbers fluctuate. “Across district, we have elementary class sizes of 12 to 26...there comes a point when you get too small. We struggle to get volunteers for committees...[and] since lots of Chamberlin parents work, it can be a challenge to get enough chaperones for field trips, so a guidance counselor comes–but that means there isn’t a guidance counselor at school that day.”

Director of Learning Stuart Weiss echoed that sentiment and said that balancing FTEs (full time equivalent) teachers and trying to “right size” classrooms will continue to be an issue the board faces over the next 5-6 years.

Fitzgerald added that currently, she thinks the staff and administration are doing what they need to for kids, “but is the incremental effort starting to become more difficult?” she asked, “There are alternative solutions to any of the issues we brought up, but if we just one-off solutions to problems, does the system become disjointed? And are those solutions long term and strategic in nature?”

LaLonde, who has not landed definitively on any of the options yet, still has questions about noise around Chamberlin. He has continued to advocate for the execution of a study to establish baseline noise around the school, prior to the arrival of the F35s, and added that he still thinks the priority in terms of upgrades should be on the middle and high school.
Julie Beatty, who advocated for option 3, consolidation to two elementary schools said that it would be short sighted not to think of the external pressures currently facing the elementary schools. Fitzgerald agreed, “we can’t ignore the fact that we have capacity issues...I don’t think doing nothing is an option...what drives change is dissatisfaction with the status quo or an aspirational goal the community can rally around. We haven’t given them one yet.”

The board will continue their conversation and consideration at the October 5 meeting and discuss the matter in depth with the city council at their steering committee meeting the following evening. Patrick Leduc hopes the board can bring this item to some form of resolution by November; whether that be landing on an option, deciding on a plan for the future, or even concluding that more time for consideration is necessary. After the two October meetings, the time line for a board position statement should become more clear.

SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent