The school board convened its Feb. 20 meeting to discuss a myriad of topics ranging from master planning and visioning to ballot items and budgeting as Town Meeting Day draws near.

Recognitions and Student Representative Roundup

Before launching into those discussions, the board recognized the dedicated service of one of its members, Steve Wisloski. Wisloski, school director, who chose not to run for re-election of the two-year seat, received formal recognition of his contributions and his commitment to the community and students over the past several years. Brian Minier is running to fill the vacant seat.

Members also heard from student representatives Arnel Husrefovic and Cole Patno, who shared current events, like the boys and girls hockey teams’ “Hockey Fights Racism” games that have been co-sponsored by the South Burlington Student Justice Union and South Burlington Athletics throughout Black History Month. On a related note, students – many from the Student Justice Union – visited the Vermont State Board of Education regarding how to be more involved in issues around racism. They also recognized accomplishments from their peers, like Diana Gregoire, who was awarded the all-around winner at the Vermont State Gymnastics Championship this month, as well as Vera Escaja-Heiss, who will be representing South Burlington High School at this year’s Poetry Out Loud competition. Escaja-Heiss went all the way to nationals last year and was one of nine finalists vying for the national title and $20,000 grand prize.

South Burlington students took the 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey last week, Patno reported. The results will not be released for several months, at which time, the board will review those statistics. Furthermore, the Agency of education conducted an Integrated Field Review last week. A team of educators from surrounding districts and Agency of Education staff met with groups of students, parents, teachers, and support staff and toured classrooms and learning spaces. The Integrated Field Review is part of how the Agency of Education monitors implementation of the Vermont Education Quality standards and is based on a continuous improvement model, Patno explained. The data focuses on five education quality standards: academic proficiency, personalization, safe healthy schools, investment priorities, and high-quality staffing.

Rick Marcotte Central School: City/School Collaboration

The city and school district are continuing to flesh out specifics around the Rick Marcotte Central School land exchange. In November, voters approved the new library/city center/senior center building project, and in alignment with this project, voters also approved the conveyance of three easements at the Rick Marcotte Central School property from the South Burlington School District to the City of South Burlington to use for parking, utilities, and present and future access to the proposed municipal building. In exchange, voters also authorized the South Burlington School Board to enter the option to lease the city hall on Dorset Street for three years, with two, three-year renewals, along with the option to buy the property. The lease would be for $10 a year. If the school district decides to buy the current city hall property, the city would sell it to the district for $10.

The city and school district are working on the associated Memorandum of Understanding and are working through some specific areas such as stormwater requirements.

Master Planning

Superintendent David Young reported that the master planning and visioning working group carved out time that day to vet eight options provided by Dore and Whittier Architects for Phase II of the process. The Master Planning and Visioning process looks at enrollment, demographics, school climate conditions, and assessment of safety and security at each facility. The first phase, which provided more of an architectural, structural analysis of middle and high school facilities, was completed last April. Earlier this year, Dore and Whittier provided an update to both the board and city officials regarding Phase II, which evaluates the middle and high school needs from an educational perspective. There are eight different configuration options for consideration, which range from a baseline capital improvement plan which would only cover infrastructure improvements to the middle and high schools another option which would involve building a new, combined middle and high school and demolishing the existing buildings.

The group has an evaluation matrix that looks at items like cost, site, education, community, sustainability, logistics, and student-centered/wellness/support faculty. The group had a lengthy conversation about what each option would do and worked on filling out their evaluations. Dore and Whittier will return with more focused next steps based off that feedback, Young said.

“Simultaneously, they’re working on cost estimates,” board member Bridget Burkhardt added. “I think they have enough information from us now, that the cost estimators are going to start working.”

She said once the preliminary evaluations sheets are in and the results have been tabulated, there will be a meeting with the community visioning group that provided initial feedback, and the eight options will be presented. After feedback from the group, there will be a wider presentation to the general public, and then an option selection process.

Ballot and Budget Communication

Young listed the articles on the ballot for Town Meeting Day. For the municipal articles, that includes Article II: the municipal budget; Article III: City Charter Amendment I, Option tax; City Charter Amendment II, Short term car rental highway infrastructure and emergency service tax; and Article V: Raising the age to buy tobacco products in Vermont. For school articles, there is Article II, the school budget.

Board member Alex McHenry has been an outspoken supporter of Article V, raising the age to buy tobacco products in the state.

“Nicotine addiction can impair the development of a young mind,” he explained. He then positioned his middle finger and thumb to cradle his forehead. “The space between your finger and thumb is the frontal cortex, and that is the part of the brain that is responsible for what psychologists call, ‘executive function,’ which means learning to think several steps ahead.”

As far as communicating the school budget to the public, board chair Elizabeth Fitzgerald and Burkhardt both stressed continued transparency beyond the frequently-asked questions that are in the budget book.

“I do think there’s some confusion, and it’s the usual confusion about how much the budget is going up versus how much taxes are going up,” Burkhardt said. “Why can taxes go up in a year when the budget’s actually flat, or why are taxes going down in a year where the budget is going up? Why is the budget going up this much and taxes are only going up this much? It’s really confusing for people. The FAQs are always good, I’m just wondering in future years if we just need to have a more spread out presence in The Other Paper or some other place where people can get exposure to it.”

Fitzgerald concurred and cited an example of where some clarification is needed for the public.

“There was an interest in getting a reconciliation comparable to the city where there are other source of revenues, but we don’t have the same phenomena,” she said. “In fact, our revenues are down. The reality is that we’re asking for something that’s making up for some offsetting revenues plus some operating expenses.”

The district will look at leveraging its new communications coordinator, Corey Burdick, as well. Burdick was a longtime correspondent of The Other Paper who had reported on school district news for several years.

The Fiscal Year 2020 city and school budget book, budget FAQs, The Other Paper Ads, budget presentation video, and a video explaining the education property tax formula are all available online at www.sbschools.net under the School Board tab.

The next school board meeting is on Wednesday, March 6 at Frederick H. Tuttle Middle School Library at 7 p.m.

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