Thursday May 17, 2018
The South Burlington Master Planning and Visioning process has been well underway for decades, although it hasn’t always been called that. Routine evaluation of the district’s enrollment capacity, including the neighborhood lines that determine where children go to school, have been drawn and re-drawn. With increasing pressures on the district’s schools from factors such as City Center development, noise, and growing concerns around safety and security, the most recent master planning and visioning initiative launched in 2015; the school board and its subcommittee have been working through their own goals to arrive at decisions that will help provide a road map to the future of South Burlington’s schools.
At the May 2 school board meeting, former district business manager John Stewart, who has been working as a consultant to the district throughout this process, along with current business manager John Aubin and Superintendent David Young, presented the board with a thick packet of information about the master planning and visioning work completed thus far. The packet, which is designed to be a working document, contained some new information such as the final report on the architectural and mechanical analysis of the middle and high schools from Dore and Whittier, as well as supporting documents around enrollment. This packet will have information added to it as it becomes available, including the results of noise testing conducted at Chamberlin School in April. Young reported that he expects those results May 11 but will need time to interpret and evaluate the findings prior to presenting them to the board and adding them to the executive summary.
Although the packet contained numerous “tabs” of information, Stewart highlighted a few key areas. Throughout conversations regarding school configuration options, classroom size and overall building capacity have been at the forefront. How many students each elementary school holds and the ideal class size, from administrators and the state’s point of view, are yet to be determined. Stewart explained there really is no hard and fast number, but pinpointing a figure involves looking at square footage and how spaces are currently being used. After considering several factors, including the perspective of principals, the district’s current G6 policy, which dictates the ideal number of students per classroom, and maps showing square footage, it was determined that the recommended range of total elementary students is 1,004 to 1,182. Currently, the district elementary enrollment is 985, creeping up toward their reference range. Stewart reviewed how many rooms each school had vs. how many rooms were being used. While each school had between one and five rooms they could convert to classrooms, those rooms are currently being used for other purposes such as assessments, behavioral coaching, and PreK. The lack of storage space was also determined to be an issue at each school.
The McKibben report on demographics was also included in the packet along with enrollment projections that indicate the best estimates of professionals. The reports project that Chamberlin and Orchard are set to hit their highest enrollment points in 2023 and 2022 respectively, with enrollment at Rick Marcotte Central School remaining relatively flat. Even with the enrollment boost, the district never comes within 120 students of its maximum elementary number.
Aside from enrollment, there are other factors driving the district’s needs for additional space, including the increasing needs of students. Stewart noted that since 2009, the number of students on the autism spectrum has gone up 124 percent, there has been a 69 percent increase in children who have a developmental delay, and a 47 percent increase in students who have an emotional disturbance. Stewart stressed that some of these increases could simply be indicative of the fact that the district has become better at identifying needs. This is one example of why the district cannot plug in a figure of “X” number of classrooms and ideal class size to determine how much space is needed for the total number of students.
While the packet also contained the interviews conducted with each elementary school principal regarding their needs and maps of each school, the board decided to continue to reflect on the information offline. Young said that as more information becomes available, he will use it to populate the threshold analysis criteria, which includes ranking levels of concern around key school safety and education elements. While updates on the master planning and visioning process will continue at each board meeting, Young anticipates having more of an executive summary for the board at their second June meeting.
SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent