Thursday September 10, 2015
After reading through the full report from the Master Planning and Visioning Task Force, school board members returned to the table August 31 with their takeaways and discussed next steps.
The task force first presented its final draft report and recommendations for reconfiguration and consolidation of the district’s schools at the June 3 steering committee meeting. One of the two options being recommended, Option O, proposes two elementary schools, a kindergarten through grade 2 school, and a grade 3-5 school, using either Orchard or Chamberlin in addition to a newly-built school (high school and middle schools remain unchanged). Option Q recommends one newly-built consolidated elementary school for kindergarten through grade 4, grades 5-8 in the middle school and 9-12 in the high school. Central School was not included in the task force recommendations.
Board members acknowledged the wealth of knowledge, research and time that went into whittling the options down from 24 to two, but they also recognized that student opportunities, careful planning regarding transitioning, phasing, and identifying costs were factors that make the vetting process far from over.
“One of the comments I hear from community members is that the options are too narrow,” said Martin LaLonde. “I don’t want to reopen the whole thing, but there were six options that the task force voted on, and I think those six options provide a broader range on which we should get the community input.”
LaLonde said that there was not much explanation for why the other four options were rejected. Therefore, he recommended that the board could look at the six options again, look at the criteria the task force used, and measure each option against criteria the board feels is necessary for making the decision, and then come out with the board’s preferred alternative. Community input would then follow.
“I feel like we need to take an aspirational goal that might be phased,” Chair Elizabeth Fitzgerald said. Such a transparent process with careful consideration “would allow us to calibrate where the community is relative to the balance of the education we currently provide and the baseline and expense of providing that with what’s feasible going forward.”
“My view is that we should look at consolidation of elementary schools, efficiency, and equity,” board member Dan Fleming said. “I do have growing concerns that all five of our buildings are getting old, and when we’re looking at the next 25 years do we really want three buildings that are 75 years old?”
Though board members unanimously agreed that programming and the atmosphere that educators, students, and parents create are what drive the excellence of the school system, the buildings are, as Fleming noted, aging. All members were in agreement that with enrollment projected to decrease and resources needed to maintain all five schools, some consolidation is a step in the right direction.
In relation to consolidation and possibly a location for a newly-constructed school, task force member Monica Otsby asked about preserving the culture of community-based schools. Though the community has valued the neighborhood school scene, future planning will have to evaluate the sustainability of such a configuration, Fitzgerald said.
On the financial front, South Burlington School District Business Manager John Stewart, has been working with the task force and Annette Hardon, financial analyst, on providing associated costs. Currently, to get to a baseline, Stewart explained to the board, the financials will need to be updated to include the recently-changed state spending cap and projections. Stewart also presented updates to be added to the stewardship plan and noted deficiencies. Recommendations on funding options in terms of debt versus operating expense will need to be made.
Finally, in regards to Rick Marcotte Central School, even though the board did not accept Saxon Parters’ $7 million proposal to purchase the school, board members would like to see a Central School option on the table for consideration.
Superintendent David Young will have a full recommendation for the school board at the September 16 meeting. In the meantime, Fitzgerald asked board members to think about what questions they would ask the public to help inform more community feedback. The final report is available on the city and school websites.
SOURCE: Miranda Jonswold, Correspondent