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Mt. Abe school board starts building budget

BRISTOL — The budgeting process has begun at Mount Abraham Union High School.
Acknowledging that funds are tight and increases in spending loom, Mount Abe school board members at their meeting Tuesday evening focused only on the budget priorities for next year, and left the actual numbers for a future meeting.
The core subjects of reading, writing and math topped the list of the board’s priorities in mapping out a budget, with assessments to identify struggling students and mark students’ progress following close behind. The continuation of the Pathways Program was also a focal point for the group.
The Pathways Program, Mount Abe’s new alternative education program, began its trial run last spring with 14 students. This fall, the enrollment doubled to 28 students who are participating in the self-directed learning program.
Pathways will continue to be funded by the original $250,000 grant from the Nellie Mae Foundation, and the board hopes to extend the program into the spring by combining a state grant with the Nellie Mae award.
Mount Abe is one of the only schools in Vermont that is in the “continuation” category for a grant — meaning that its funding was extended for an additional period of time. That’s a good sign, Chairman Lanny Smith said.
“They like what they’re seeing,” he observed of state education officials.
The next step in the Pathways program is to begin expanding the role that the individual school departments play in providing guidance for Pathways students. But the board is wary of teachers’ limitations.
“What we don’t want to do is create so much stress for the department folks that they aren’t free to try new things or be available for the students,” Superintendent Evelyn Howard said.
Other issues that cropped up while discussing the goals for the budget included the school’s online database, Edline, and also, state-mandated guidelines for class sizes.
Teachers’ use of Edline, board members said, needs to be consistent across the board. The electronic system allows students and parents to monitor assignments and grades over the course of the semester.
“Edline, if used well, can be such a powerful tool for parents to see what their kids need to get done,” said school board clerk and Monkton resident Jane Low.
Board member Kim Farnham of New Haven agreed, saying that teachers need to “raise the bar” and make sure they are logging into the system regularly.
When the board transitioned to discussing the state guidelines for class sizes — which limit most classes to between 18 and 22 students — board member Dick Merrill of Bristol moved to amend the guidelines by slightly bumping up the maximum numbers for each class.
“I think that this is another one of those cases of something that doesn’t do a damn thing for education in Vermont,” he said.
Merrill eventually retracted the motion, recognizing that the guidelines must first be set at the district level. An all-district board meeting will take place at Mount Abe on Oct.19, following the 6 p.m. Mt. Abe board meeting, to discuss and vote on these mandates.
“I may have been wrong in my motion, but I have made my point,” said Merrill. “You can tell the Legislature to go fly a kite.”
Tamara Hilmes is at tamarah@addisonindependent.com.

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