The South Burlington School Board, in addition to twice monthly meetings, holds works sessions semi-annually, during which they delve into one or two issues in depth. At the July 12 session, the primary focus was master planning and visioning and the board subcommittees’ work.
The district has been engaged, for over a year, in a master planning and visioning process designed to explore the financial and educational implications of altering South Burlington’s school configuration. Five different scenarios have been evaluated by the district along with White + Burke Real Estate Investment Advisors. Community input was received through various formats including a large forum held March 22 at the South Burlington High School auditorium. Smaller roundtable discussions along with an abbreviated presentation also occurred at the three elementary schools, the library, and a City Hall luncheon for seniors. During this process, there has been much discourse over the benefits and drawbacks of maintaining the schools as they are or closing some or all in favor of consolidation, which is the option most favored by Superintendent David Young.
In order to better understand Young and his administration’s rationale, two subcommittees of the school board were developed to discuss the educational value and opportunities of each option. Martin LaLonde and Patrick Leduc took on the educational value component while Elizabeth Fitzgerald, Bridget Burkhardt, and former board member Dan Fleming took on the financials review.
Burkhardt gave an update on financials. She touched upon issues such as how class sizes could be equalized across schools with different consolidation scenarios. Her subcommittee has also been looking into how many flexible classroom spaces (rooms used for occupational therapy, etc.) currently exist at each elementary school; at Orchard and Central there are three and at Chamberlin there are two. One of the factors the White + Burke report did not study is the division of students into classrooms. While the total number of students can be accomodated in the buildings themselves in the various configuration scenarios, when they are divided into classrooms, the district does not have enough classroom space.
If the district moved from three to two elementary schools and the fifth grade moved to the middle school, there would be a shortage of seven classrooms. In scenarios four and five, which involve consolidation and a new school, the district would save an average of six classrooms.
Next, the board heard from LaLonde and Leduc who have been evaluating the educational value of the various options. LaLonde said they have been asking questions such as “what is the best way to continue the level of education we have right now? What are the added benefits of consolidation in scenarios three, four, and five, and what are the current pressures to schools such as City Center and noise?”
Thus far, they have found the benefits to consolidation to be the addition of 21st century learning spaces as well as language and music learning opportunities. Team teaching, diversity, and equity (in terms of class size) were also noted as benefits. Leduc added that they have been evaluating the challenges associated with consolidation and have further research to conduct prior to presenting their final report.
Subcommittee reports will be presented to fellow board members and the community at an August 23 meeting.
SOURCE: Corey Burdick,Correspondent