Sunday, November 20, 2005

Burlington City Council Resolution Concerning School Consolidation (2002)

In the year Two Thousand Two
Resolved by the City Council of the City of Burlington, as follows:

That WHEREAS, the Superintendent of the Burlington School District has suggested a concept that would result in the consolidation of Burlington school facilities and the closing of a number of schools; and

WHEREAS, the School Superintendent and School Board are to be commended for their willingness to explore alternative ways of providing public education in Burlington; and

WHEREAS, the potential benefits of school consolidation include expanded opportunity for education and social development, as well as possible reductions in long-term operating costs; and

WHEREAS, the disadvantages of the consolidation proposal include the loss of neighborhood schools and the need to transport more students to school; and

WHEREAS, the City of Burlington has endeavored to create community schools, which provide neighborhood-based facilities and opportunities for education, recreation, and community activities; and

WHEREAS, certain school properties have deed restrictions or are subject to zoning regulations that would limit their adaptive re-use; and

WHEREAS, a School Facilities Report has been prepared, and this report identifies the improvements and alterations required by existing school facilities;

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that this City Council recommends to the School Board and Superintendent that a school consolidation proposal that would result in the closing of schools not be pursued; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the School Facilities Report be thoughtfully reviewed and considered, and that representatives of the School Department are hereby requested to present said report and its findings to the City Council; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the City Council supports neighborhood elementary schools as the public policy of the City and that their maintenance is our priority; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that a copy of this resolution be sent to the Burlington Board of School Commissioners and the School Superintendent.

Barnes is important to Old North End (BFP Editorial)

Burlington Free Press Editorial
Published: Sunday, November 20, 2005

Schools are more than bricks and mortar. They are village centers, the heart and soul of their neighborhoods, the place where parents catch up on local news and children discover life's lessons and friendships.

Lawrence Barnes Elementary School is just such a place for many residents of the Old North End. For the most part, they love their school. As a community, they feel a pride of ownership in the building and all that it symbolizes.

Closing Barnes would strip the center from this relatively lower-income section of the city that already feels underserved and neglected. The Burlington School Board is considering a proposal to close Barnes as part of a consolidation plan without adequate public involvement, but should withdraw the suggestion for now.

There are several good reasons for keeping Barnes open.

Virtually all the children can walk to school, which is important because many parents in this district don't own cars. Not only would closing the school require busing students to schools in other parts of the city, but their parents would be less able to participate in school events and teacher meetings because of their own transportation difficulties.

In addition, the city of Burlington has put time, effort and money into revitalizing stretches of the Old North End with improved sidewalks, lighting, streets and other quality-of-life measures. Now is not the time to undermine that message of restoration by shutting down something as vital as the local school.

Although enrollment at Barnes has been declining somewhat in recent years, it's clear that lower property values in the Old North End -- along with the revitalization improvements -- might prompt more families to move to this neighborhood. It is hoped that more children of varied economic levels and diverse backgrounds will look to Barnes for their education in the coming years.

Ultimately, the deciding factor must be what is in the best interest of the children. It's hard to believe that they would benefit from the closing of their school — being bused away from their home and friends, shipped to larger classrooms at a time when smaller is widely viewed as better, and no longer able to walk to and from school.

The parents of Barnes students have expressed a willingness to publicly debate closure of the school, a conversation that should include the role of the nearby H.O. Wheeler Elementary School, as well. That discussion should be thorough and take as long as needed to reach a reasonable consensus.

Any decision to close either school needs to follow that public debate. Now is not the time to close Barnes.

Ward 2/3 NPA Resolution Concerning School Redistricting in the Old North End

At the September 2005 Neighborhood Improvement Night, representatives of the Burlington School District assured residents that school closing were not being discussed, that the public would have a role in making decisions regarding school closings, and should school closings be proposed, that School Board members, residents and the City Council would be given multiple options to consider.

Because of the clear misinformation residents of Wards 2 and 3 received from Burlington School Board and Administration representatives at Neighborhood Improvement Night, the Wards 2 and 3 Joint Neighborhood Planning Assembly demand the following:

1. That representatives of the Burlington School District Administration with decision making power attend the December 8, 2005 meeting of the Wards 2 and 3 Joint Neighborhood Planning Assembly for the purpose of answering questions about and taking comment on the proposal submitted by Lyman Amsden to the School Board on October 25, 2005;

2. That the public be given multiple opportunities to provide feedback and comment on any proposal to close or change the use of a neighborhood school;

3. That the public be given a real and significant role in investigating alternatives to school redistricting and closings.

Old North End Community Alternative Proposal for the Schools

We are concerned that the proposal made to the Burlington School Board, to close Lawrence Barnes school, was made without any consultation with the people affected, the residents of the Old North End. We share the School Board's desire to improve the academic experiences of low-income students, but we do not believe that closing Barnes will contribute to this goal.

We propose that, instead of rushing to close Lawrence Barnes school, the School District establish a task force, in order to move towards a community consensus on how to improve the academic experiences of low-income students, and how to deal with budget pressures, and that no decisions on school closings be made until the task force completes its work.

This task force should be composed of both school board members and community members, and must specifically include:

* Representatives from the PTOs of all Burlington schools
* The Neighborhood Planning Assemblies
* Representatives of the school staff

In addition to parents and staff from the schools, participation should be invited from organizations representing various constituencies and issues pertinent to poverty and the Old North End, including but not limited to:

* City government: City Council, CEDO, or any other relevant departments
* The Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program and other organizations representing immigrant communities
* Anti-poverty organizations such as Community Action
* Youth organizations
* Housing organizations
* Government, academic and/or nonprofit representatives with experience about transportation issues

In addition to studying the issue, the Task Force must hold public hearings, which must be:

* At least one to be physically held in the Old North End
* Designed to be participatory (not just lectures)
* Open to a wide variety of viewpoints (i.e., not stacked with "experts" of a particular ideological bent)