On September 12, 2018

Reading parents protest over potential loss of school

By Curt Peterson

READING—The Windsor Central Modified Unified Union School District Board (WCMUUSD) voted to remove one full-time teacher from Reading’s faculty, necessitating grade reconfiguration and inspiring several teachers and parents to protest at the board’s August meeting.

Reading voters, notoriously ambiguous about joining the consolidated district, first accepted, then rejected, then accepted the merger in three very close balloting exercises.

School Board members Justin Sluka and Donna Martin were vocal in their merger opposition, warning Reading would probably lose its school if it joined the new consolidated district.

Sluka believes removing the teacher is a precursor to closing the Reading Elementary School (RES), and violates district representatives’ promises to maintain staff and resources according to the voter-approved budget.

The unified district budget is the conglomeration of all six participating towns’ individual budgets, including assumed teacher staffing and grade configurations, approved by voters at 2018 Town Meetings.

According to Superintendent Mary Beth Banios, town and district budgets were also based on the number of students in the individual schools.

During the first round of school choice, RES lost four students, while Woodstock Elementary gained eleven. But, he said, a second school choice process and first-day enrolment resulted in an increase of students at RES.

As a Reading district board member, Sluka had voted against adopting district-wide school choice.

“Choice came with a danger that a few families could switch schools for convenience alone to the detriment of those students left behind,” Sluka wrote. “In the small schools in the district, removing just a handful of students greatly changes the numbers in each grade level and decreases the educational opportunities.”

Sluka accused district representatives of reneging on their guarantee that there would be no loss of faculty and no grade reconfigurations.

Banios believes Sluka is referring to a budget discussion meeting between the Reading board, teachers and principal, and Richard Seaman, WCMUUSD director of finance and human resources. She told The Mountain Times her recommendations to the consolidated board to move one teacher to Woodstock Elementary School were partially based on the decrease in Reading student population following the choice exercise.

“After the first round of choice,” Banios told The Mountain Times, “Reading class sizes had decreased, WES had a substantial increase in the number of students and needed another teacher. Also, we needed two teachers to cover the new learning laboratories.”

Banios said the Board decided to take one teacher each from Killington, Prosper Valley and Reading to fulfill their needs within budget constraints.

“The resources in Reading’s budget are now shared within the district,” Banios said. “Neither Prosper Valley nor Killington objected – only Reading objected.”

“The superintendent originally recommended removing Grades 5/6 from RES and moving the RES Grade 1 teacher to WES as a kindergarten teacher,” Sluka wrote. “After public outcry, the [district] board did not [remove] Grades 5/6, but stuck with the superintendent’s plan to move the RES Grade 1 teacher to WES. Consequently, RES’s principal was forced to reconfigure the classrooms to teach all students with one fewer teacher. The best she could come up with was to create a grades 2/3/4 classroom with one teacher.”

“No other school in the district has three grade levels to one full-time teacher to my knowledge,” Sluka wrote. “As far as I know other classrooms with two grade levels have two full-time teachers assigned.”

Sluka also questions spending up to $200,000 of district funds to remediate a serious mold problem at Prosper Valley, while using budget constraints to justify removing a valuable teacher from the Reading School.

“Where it is abundantly clear that there is a move being made to close RES in the not-too-distant future, the thought of putting $200,000 into [Prosper Valley], only to close RES later, is illogical,” Sluka wrote.

Banios reviewed the order of events leading up to Reading’s loss of one teacher. By her count Reading still has three full-time regular teachers, one paraprofessional, one Title-I licensed teacher and a pre-kindergarten teacher, and RES enjoys shared services from physical education, music and Spanish instructors who travel the district.

The superintendent said the Reading protests may have misunderstood what consolidation of resources might bring.

“I think it’s just a case of ‘growing pains,’” she said. “Consolidation is all new territory, and there has to be give and take to make it a success for the kids. If we find it isn’t working later in the fall, we can always address the issue again.”

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