Status of Proposed School Changes

Hi neighbors —

As many of you are aware, the School Board is soliciting comments on the conclusions of the Task Force on Building Burlington’s Future. The most important conclusion, of course, is that the School District should implement socio-economic integration in the District’s schools. The Board has been holding a series of meetings and community conversations about this issue, and is trying to answer the myriad questions that have arisen.

One constituent asked which municipal body — the School Board or the City Council — is responsible for implementing student school assignments, what timeline has been adopted for doing so, and what recourse parents have if they disagree. The following is a joint response written by Ward 5 School Commissioners Amy Werbel and Fred Lane:

“Both the School Board and the school administration have been working hard to answer the many questions that have arisen as we present the Task Force report to the public. We do understand that parents have anxiety about the assignment of their own children to particular schools. It is important to understand that the School Board has not yet crafted any implementation plans yet that would affect those assignments, nor have we adopted a timeline for doing so. At some point in late November or early December, the Board will meet to review the feedback we have received from the public and decide on its next steps.

“The short answer regarding implementation is that it is entirely within the School Board’s jurisdiction to develop and implement principles and procedures for handling student assignments. Although the Burlington School District is a department of the City of Burlington, the School Board is an autonomous body that is not directly subject to City Council oversight. Obviously, if the Board takes action that is unpopular, voters can express their disapproval by voting against the school budget on Town Meeting day or by voting to replace specific board members. In addition, parents can appeal student assignments through the District’s variance process, but again, the School Board has the ultimate authority to grant or deny those requests.

“A few other bits of information may be helpful. First, the Task Force is no longer a part of this process (apart from helping to explain their work). The Task Force held thirteen public meetings between January and June, and at the end of its work, unanimously endorsed the goal of socio-economic integration. However, the Task Force spent relatively little time considering how the goal of SEI should be achieved; the models it included in its report are merely suggestions, and not specific plans. The Board has also endorsed the goal of SEI, but again, has not selected any specific method yet for achieving that goal. Before having any conversation along those lines, the Board felt it was crucial to engage the community in a conversation about the issues and concerns identified by the Task Force.

“Second, the Board consciously chose to set up a series of community conversations instead of the typically more confrontational public hearing-style meetings. At this preliminary stage of the process, our goal was to give members of the Burlington community an opportunity to talk among themselves about the problems facing students from low-income families. This has had the intended effect of giving far more people an opportunity to offer their input (many people are reluctant to speak at public hearing-style meetings).

“Third, although the Task Force is no longer taking questions, the School Board certainly is. All of the questions and concerns raised during the community conversations are being collected and will be collated for the Board’s review on November 14. In addition, a “Frequently Asked Questions” has been prepared and is updated after each meeting to reflect the concerns that are raised. The FAQ is available online at http://www.bsdvt.org/, as are a host of other related materials and an online threaded discussion.

“As Ward 5 School Board members, we both appreciate and understand the concerns being raised by Champlain parents. We will continue to keep you and our other constituents informed of the developments in this process. Once the community engagement process is completed in early November, the Board will have a chance to determine which model (or more likely, combination of models) for achieving SEI will best serve the students in this District.

If anyone has any questions about this process, please feel free to e-mail us directly or post comments on the threaded discussion board at http://www.bsdvt.org/. We very much appreciate the interest and attention that is being paid to this important issue.

Cordially,

Amy Werbel
awerbel@bsdvt.org

Fred Lane
flane@bsdvt.org

Ward 5 School Board members

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