On October 30, 2019

WCUD to ask voters to consider school closure


By Curt Peterson

The Windsor Central Unified School District Board unanimously added two new articles Oct. 28 for approval by district voters at Town Meeting 2020.

The articles developed during negotiations between the district and the Barnard School Board pursuant to a possible merger of Barnard Academy into the WCUD. Barnard had been resisting the merger, mandated under Act 46 school consolidation, since 2017. School closure and grade configuration policies were part of Barnard’s voters’ concerns.

Barnard representative Pamela Fraser has pointed out during discussions that the board policies on closure and reconfiguration are important to all district towns and not just Barnard.

Labeled “Articles 13 and 15,” the new documents include procedures intended to protect both the goals of the overall district and the rights of individual member towns.

Under article 13, consideration of school closure is driven by per student costs relative to the district average per student cost.

If one of the district’s campuses exceeds a cost per student 120% of district average and the superintendent recommends closing that school, and the district board votes at least 75% in favor of closure, the affected town will get to vote on the issue. Closure would require 60% approval by local voters.

A campus that exceeds 130% of the district per student cost for three years, and 75 percent of the district board votes for closure, a district-wide Australian ballot 60% in favor would be required in order to close the school.

Grade reconfiguration – moving grades from campus to campus or rearranging multiple grades in one classroom – will be based on “sustainability” or “educational aims or initiatives,” article 15 says, and will be affected only with 60% board vote approval.

The article requires specific means of community consultation.

“In considering any plan that involves grade reconfiguration at a campus or campuses, public input will be sought and considered,” the article states. “There will be not less than two Informational Meetings, including one in each town where an affected school is located.”

A public survey will be taken in each member town, “and the Board and Administration will weigh the results when deciding on the matter.”

Another issue discussed concerned school choice. One parent of a 5-year-old appealed Superintendent Mary Beth Banios’s decision that his son could not move from his “choice” school in Killington, to Woodstock Elementary, to accommodate a major change in family employment.

Kevin O’Neill and his wife Molly had applied to place their son in Killington Elementary because she worked in Rutland at the time  and could drop him off and pick him up on her way through the resort town. Now, O’Neill said, Molly is actually employed at Woodstock Elementary School and transporting their son to and from Killington every day is an extreme effort.

WCUD chair Paige Heller pointed out that school choice issues, by procedure, are left to the administration’s discretion. Careful not to discuss O’Neill’s individual case, the board discussed the procedure, its fairness and its efficacy at length, some members advocating for change, others reluctant to set a precedent of overruling the superintendent.

Banios herself said making decisions regarding individual family situations was “very hard,” and done carefully and as sensitively as possible.

The board ultimately delegated the policy committee to consider the overall procedure at the group’s next meeting in November.

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