Op/Ed

Letter to the editor: MAUSD leader discusses plans

Dear 5 Town Community Members,
Over the last several weeks we have received numerous emails and communications from community members. First, thank you for taking the time to provide your thoughts on our current dilemma. It is encouraging to receive these letters as it points to strong community involvement, which is to our benefit. There have been some common themes shared in your emails and we have some responses to provide below which we hope are helpful. Please remember that we are always open to alternative constructive thoughts and ideas as we assess the current proposal and the alternate available paths. No one is enthusiastic about the tough decision we have ahead of us. The possibility of losing historical community connections to the local schools weighs heavily on us. Yet, we do need to solve the problem of how we best serve fewer students with fewer resources.
We have heard your many requests for more information regarding the projection assumptions used to create the recommendation. The projections used were gathered by forecasting our current finances, which are published monthly in our agendas and minutes (for those who are interested), using the various moving factors we are subjected to by Montpelier and our declining population. By definition these projections are not facts, and they are the best we can obtain from the folks we trust to keep tabs on this information every day.
While the board may understand how these factors and assumptions are woven into the current proposal from our various meetings and presentations, we understand others in the community may need help with this picture. The Dec. 7 Superintendent’s presentation and the FAQ website do attempt to provide some of this, but we understand the need for more clarification.
We have asked for more clarity on: the staffing and a financial picture for FY23 if our current structures remain the same, where we face the first large shortfall ($3.5-4.7 million), and this information is forthcoming. It’s important to also remember that staffing reduction numbers are projected to be similar if our current structure remains the same or if we consolidate. The consolidation only works by allowing the remaining staff and programs to be more efficiently delivered to fewer locations, especially the non-classroom teacher shared support positions (nurse, interventionists, music, etc.).
The state formulas that look at education spending/cost can cause a great deal of confusion. If we look at things in a simpler way and consider the operating cost of our schools vs. the number of students, the inequities are obvious. If we consider the operating costs (including transportation, food service, special ed administration, general administration, central office and district facilities) they range from $1.6 to $3.9 million per building. If you divide that number by the average daily membership per student the cost per enrolled student ranges from $16,100-$28,900 per building in our 5 town community.
How do we address this drawback? What is an equitable way to deliver services to each student at MAUSD? If we try to maintain some equity in the district, just re-distributing the current population (as proposed in some of the other options) without reducing locations simply means all locations will see reductions in available services and programs. Consolidating also allows class sizes to be kept below the maximum average we’ve set under our current guidelines, while maintaining classroom supports. If we do not consolidate, classes and age groups will need to be more consolidated within each school and will push the boundary of maximum class size, while having fewer support staff to assist classroom teachers at each location.
While the official ACT 46 report
actually only identified $140,000 worth of overall potential savings (as we were already for the most part merged), the current proposal does identify real administrative savings. The proposal does move the Central Office into Beeman to eliminate the lease, and the merger with ANWSD cuts Central Office costs in half. It is obviously easier to reduce administrative staff with fewer locations. If we do nothing we may need to reduce piecemeal or eliminate administrators at a location, and may need to ask teachers to take on administrative duties.
The administration and the transportation company have been working through initial concepts on busing, the goal is to re-organize routes to limit the ride for young children to under 45 minutes. Bus rides for older students in the merger would be longer, but would be similar to those of students in surrounding districts with similar geographic spread (i.e. Middlebury is the same width now as the new merged district).
As for educational benefits, the consolidation proposal allows us to maintain our current level of programming, and potentially provide some additional services (i.e. health and language classes for all). While innovative programming has been taking place in separate schools, this work originated at individual schools prior to ACT 46, and is unique to each school, with not all students currently having equal access to these programs. The proposed innovation centers would allow this work to be accessed by all students and the support and finances for it to be concentrated more efficiently.
We believe Montpelier is aware of the situation not only in our district, but similar problems in many others. Waiting for the situation to be resolved in Montpelier may be an option, but we do have to have a plan as soon as possible given the real possibility that help is not forthcoming from Montpelier. At the moment the current proposal appears to provide a workable plan, distasteful as some perceive it.
Once again, thank you for voicing your concerns and providing input, and we encourage you to keep informed and provide any constructive insight you feel would be helpful.
On behalf of Mount Abraham Unified School District School Board,
Dawn Griswold
Chair

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