Task Force Addresses City and School: Resource and Development Issues

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Thursday December 18, 2014

Are you interested in how city and school infrastructure and facilities could change in the future? Are you curious about how the city’s changing demographics and subsequent needs will affect your life, and the lives of residents of South Burlington for years to come? If so, you share many of the same interests as the South Burlington School and Community Task Force, a group that was formed to tackle the joint city-school resource and development issues, engage the public, and present recommendations to the Steering Committee.

Over the course of a few months, the task force will have a full plate of items to work through, including reviewing current resources and civic facility needs, demographics, school enrollment projections, legislative initiatives, and fine-tuning a list of planning options to share with the public at an upcoming community meeting at South Burlington High School.

Reconvening for their third meeting on December 11, Chair Art Klugo, a parent and former Development Review Board member, called the meeting to order. At this point, task force members were able to consider information from the November 10 meeting when they were presented with an overview of city projects, viewed maps of where students live in relation to the school they attend, and were informed of a facilities assessment considered by all school principals to help develop school planning options.

Prior to the meeting, task force members received the South Burlington School District, VT Demographic Study Report, which prompted task force member and parent Monica Otsby to reference the document during “announcements.” Otsby spoke with the report’s creators, Cropper GIS and Mckibben Demographics on the phone for answers to pending questions. However, her main concern was about the study’s 10-year forecast in relation to the half-century decisions the task force will be making.

“It’s very difficult to make projections going out that far, yet we’re tasked with 50-year decisions,” she said. Task Force members shared her concern and discussed the findings. The report presents elementary, middle and high school enrollment trends, and forecasts population changes, among other items. Next up was Superintendent David Young who presented the task force’s communications process. With the help of communications consultant Cindy Weed, the task force will have a strategic plan to reach as many South Burlington residents as possible. The task force will also receive help from Paula Cope and Kate McInnis of Cope & Associates who will compile all possible advertising outlets to share a community survey of planning options which will take cues from the community meeting. The task force was initially scheduled to hold a community meeting on January 8 and review the survey results for the January 29 meeting, but members agreed to rework the schedule to allow for more time.

After a brief dinner break, education planning consultant Frank Locker, the task force’s facilitator, took the wheel and explained the purpose and parameters of the Master Planning process. The educational and community goals that the task force aims to achieve include increasing educational opportunities and supporting city life in the most cost-effective manner. The task force’s limits of purview extend to school facilities (including the Superintendent’s Offices) and city functions that are currently proposed (city library, city hall, and parks & recreation). Building upon the 2008 Educational Vision and Facilities Master Plan, Locker reviewed educational concepts and proposed school building changes, as well as the organizational factors and educational guiding principles that went into making it.

Locker segued into the school principals’ results from the School Facility Assessment. On the whole, principals would like to see Pre-K expanded, house Pre-K with elementary, and have Pre-K in multiple locations around the city. The responses from school principals also showed a preference for the Elementary school concept (K-4 or 5) over the primary school concept (K-2). Transitioning, stronger teacher-student familiarity, and having siblings in the same building, were some of the reasonings behind this conclusion. Principal results showed a mix of pros and cons regarding having 5th graders in the middle school.

Furthermore, the results listed ideal size ranges for early child Pre-K through high school (high and low number ranges for each level). Smaller schools experience higher fluctuation of class sizes and have limited management capabilities, Locker said. The results also revealed that principals generally feel that classrooms are physically too small, that office and support spaces are lacking, and technology is insufficient.

School Facility Planning Options

After taking the results from the School Facilities Assessment into account, Locker presented a series of options for the task force to review (10 options listed as A-J). Each option has a variable. All options include grade 5 in the elementary school, and the variables (A2, B2, etc.) involve shifting grade 5 to the middle school.

As the options progress, the number of elementary schools decrease; five options offer 3 elementary schools, four options offer 2, and one offers one elementary school. The options presented various scenarios, such as retaining current sites, relocating elementary schools to the Oak Creek neighborhood site, relocating elementary schools to an expanded high school and middle school site, selling the Central School property, and Pre-K opportunities, among others. Members vetted several moving parts--cost, possibility of shared resources among schools, size, etc.--and concluded that all the plans with the Oak Creek neighborhood site option need to be reworked to include updated development plans. Recognizing that there was still more work to be done, Klugo proposed to revisit these options at the December 18 meeting and consider setting a clearer foundation behind why these changes are needed.

“We should be developing something that’s part of the community based on how we want our children to be taught, not just five years from now, but 25-30 years from now, and that might change the dynamic of how we’re going to draw these boundaries.”

“I want people to remember what it is we’re looking at,” Young said, wrapping up the meeting. “It’s about opportunities balanced on cost...it’s not just about opportunities for schools. It’s about community, it’s about our seniors, it’s about recreation, it’s about education altogether...50 years ago, someone had an idea to build a high school. They probably didn’t have a lot of data, but they did it. It worked, and it’s our time to make it work again.”

South Burlington School and Community Task Force resources are available on the city website, www.sburl.com.

SOURCE: Miranda JonswolD, Correspondent