School Commissioner Update

Dear Neighbors —

The School Board met on Tuesday evening at the Lyman C. Hunt Middle School. The lead item on the agenda was the delivery of the final report of the Burlington School Board Task Force on Removing Obstacles to the Success of Students from Low Income Families. An executive summary was read by the Task Force’s chairman, Stu McGowan. The complete report is available online on the Burlington School District website (the direct URL is http://www.bsdvt.org/Board/TaskForceReport.pdf). Following Mr. McGowan’s presentation, Chairman Paul Hale offered a resolution thanking the Task Force members for their service and congratulating them on their work. The motion passed unanimously, and the Board gave the Task Force a standing ovation. I’d like to offer particular thanks to our neighbor and South End resident Lynda Siegal, an ESL teacher at Wheeler.

Now that the Task Force has completed its work, the burden shifts back to the School Board. Over the next few weeks, the members of the Board will review the report and assess its findings. At the Board’s annual retreat in August, we will have a lengthy discussion about the Task Force’s recommendations to pursue socio-economic integration in all District schools. The Board will also determine what the next steps should be to move forward on the Task Force’s vision. It will be an interesting and exciting fall.

Following the presentation of the Task Force report, the Board continued with its regular business. Superintendent Collins reported that a committee of teachers and parents is conducting a search for a new assistant principal at Edmunds Middle School. She expects to select a replacement for Kevin Barber within the next couple of weeks. That will give the new administration at the Middle School a good chance to settle in before the start of school in the fall (just 11 weeks away … enjoy summer!).

Superintendent Collins also reported that the renovation of the BHS high school field has been delayed by permitting difficulties and the incessant rain that we’ve experienced this spring. However, all of the necessary permits are in hand and equipment is on the field, so work should start shortly. Overall, the project is a couple of months behind schedule, but it is unclear right now how that will affect the fall sports schedule. Updates will be provided to the Board over the summer.

As Finance Chair, I reported to the Board that Food Services Director Doug Davis asked the Finance Committee to recommend an increase in the cost of school lunches in the District. Mr. Davis’s recommendation was to increase the cost of school lunches in grades K-8 from $1.50 to $1.75, and in grades 9-12 from $1.75/2.00 to $2.00/$2.25. Even with the increase, the District’s school lunch prices are below those of most other districts in Chittenden County. The Board approved the cost increases.

I also reported to the Board that the Finance Committee awarded a bid for the installation of a woodchip boiler at the high school. The work will include the renovation of an access road, construction of a new outbuilding, and installation of the woodchip boiler, all of which should be completed by early to mid-March, 2007. Once the woodchip boiler is online, the District should see average savings of $30,000 per year in heating costs, which will enable us to break even on our costs within 12-15 years. The estimated lifespan of the boiler is 30 years, so this will be a savings in the long term for the District.

Commissioner Pillsbury, the chair of the Curriculum and Policy Committee, presented a number of policies for the Board’s consideration. Most were non-controversial, but two proposals dealing with the structure and governance of the Board were tabled until our retreat in August. The first proposed expanding the number of committees from 3 to 4, and the second proposed creating an Agenda Committee to supervise the creation of the Board’s monthly agenda.

Commissioner Pillsbury also reported that Burlington High School is considering a policy change that would eliminate the class ranking system (including the valedictorian and salutatorian awards) in favor of the traditional honors categories summa cum laude, magna cum laude, and cum laude. Commissioner Pillsbury said that all of the high schools in the County are considering implementing this change simultaneously. The consensus is that it is a fairer system that reduces pressure on individual students. The high school and District administration will be soliciting input from the parents of high school students about the change.

The Board concluded its meeting with an Executive Session to discuss the ongoing contract negotiations with the District’s teachers. The details of the conversation are confidential, but readers are undoubtedly interested in where matters stand. Earlier in the spring, the two sides formally reached impasse, a point at which the two parties agree that they cannot resolve their differences. An attempt at outside mediation was unsuccessful, and the parties agreed to submit their positions to a factfinder.

In the interim, the teachers and the District have been meeting, but those negotiations have not produced an agreement.

The meeting with the factfinder will occur at the end of this month, and his decision will be made 3-4 weeks later. The factfinder’s decision is not binding on the parties, but is instead a recommendation based on a number of different factors. Once the factfinder makes his decision, the parties have a 10-day period to discuss the recomendations privately and then the report is made public.

The key date to keep in mind is August 31, which is when the current teachers contract expires. If the District and the teachers are unable to reach agreement by then, the teachers can choose to either work without a contract while negotiations continue (which has happened in the past) or call a strike. Although neither side wants a strike, parents of school-age children should start considering the possibility of a fall strike now. One suggestion would be to talk to other Five Sister parents about the possibility of sharing child care during a strike.

As much as possible, the Board will keep residents informed of the progress of negotiations. If you have any specific questions, please do not hesitate to contact me or your other Ward 5 Board member, Amy Werbel (awerbel@bsdvt.org).

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