Monday, December 12, 2005

Burlington Coalition for Community Schools Statement to School Board, December 12, 2005

The Burlington Coalition for Community Schools urges the School Board not to adopt the Finance Committee's proposal to make Barnes into half a school. This proposal is simply not necessary from a budgetary standpoint. With the good news on health insurance costs, the state tax rate, and Fletcher Allen's interest in renewing its lease at the Ira Allen Building, Acting Superintendent Collins has said that the school board should be able to come up with a budget that keeps Barnes as a K-5 school for the coming school year, with either no or a minimal increase in taxes.

Turning Barnes into a K-2 undercuts the process of setting up a task force to look at achievement of students from low-income families by taking an important option (maintaining Barnes as a neighborhood K-5 school) off the table even before the process starts. Furthermore, this proposal completely fails to address the "equity" issue; if 3-5 graders from the Barnes neighborhood are allowed to attend any school in the district, wealthier parents will tend to move their children to the more "middle-class" schools which require a car to reach, while low-income families will likely send their children to Wheeler, which is in the neighborhood. Turning Barnes into a K-2 with no principal or clerical support essentially sets the school up to fail.

We are glad to see that the School Board is considering establishing a task force to look at the issue of academic achievement of students from low-income families; however, we have concerns about the process proposed by the Curriculum and Policy Committee. Under this proposal, one person (the President of the School Board) will appoint all 15 members of the task force; we have concerns that one person, who may already be committed to a particular outcome, can appoint a committee in a way that fairly and equitably represents all parts of the Burlington community. In particular, we want to make sure that both low-income parents from the Old North End, and front-line educators (teachers and paraeducators) who work at Barnes and Wheeler are represented on the task force. Additionally, we want to be sure that the work of the task force is both public and participatory, so that as many people as possible are allowed to participate in the process.

Finally, we continue to consider any proposal to fully or partially close Lawrence Barnes School to place an unfair burden on parents and residents of the Old North End, a working-class neighborhood which is the most racially and ethnically diverse in Vermont. Should such a proposal be voted in, we plan to immediately explore our options for legal action.

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