Sunday, December 18, 2005

Open Letter to Burlington School Board

The final version of this letter was delivered to the school board on January 3rd, 2006

We are writing to implore you to carefully examine your own top board priority:

Remove obstacles to the success of students from low-income families.

With this in mind, you may recall that at each of the recent public hearings, the board heard from countless Burlington residents from all wards who clearly and unequivocally expressed that removing any services from the Lawrence Barnes School would be in direct and irreparable conflict with this priority. The Barnes School serves an already disadvantaged and under-privileged student population. The recent board decision to further cut vital positions (the principal, social worker, and librarian) from this school would be to essentially place these students at even greater risk for academic and social failure. We as a community cannot afford to cut any services from a school that is already precariously stretching limited resources to meet the diverse and ever-changing needs of its unique student population.

We believe that cutting essential services to the Lawrence Barnes School in fact introduces numerous obstacles into the lives of its students, ultimately creating widespread barriers to their overall success. We therefore encourage that the board reinstate services to Barnes through a moderate further increase in the tax rate or an equitable re-allocation of current resources across the board that would allow for all schools within the district to bear some of the burden for these cuts, and not solely Barnes, the school whose students can least afford any loss of services.

The Barnes School has already sustained significant cuts, although these were seemingly done quietly and without immediate public knowledge. In the last budget year, this school has lost a full-time behavior specialist and a full time registered nurse. Barnes students personally pay the price for those losses every day and can ill-afford further assaults to their already diminishing support system. Their academic success depends upon bolstering their support network, not slowly destroying it.

Particularly while children are in school and on the premises, Barnes requires the leadership from an on-site principal to make those executive and often emergency decisions needed in times of a personal or school-wide crisis. Sharing a principal places Barnes students in jeopardy should such a scenario arise.

Similarly, the social worker at Barnes reaches out not only to individual students but to their families and caregivers as well. Barnes families have a greater and more concentrated need for social work services than other schools serving children from more middle income families. Barnes was, in fact, the first elementary school to employ a school social worker. Cutting the social worker alone invariably unleashes an avalanche of obstacles to the success of Barnes children and their families. To tinker with their safety net is to undermine and devalue their potential for success.

Barnes students additionally require the services of a degreed librarian to truly champion and promote life long reading. Gains in literacy have consistently been much-lauded focal points of academic success. If we as a community truly believe this, then why would we cut the librarian from those students who inarguably need her services most?

Finally, with the recent ribbon-cutting of the North Street Revitalization Project, the neighborhood around Barnes School is, in fact, just beginning to truly feel good about itself. Let's support that positive momentum by strengthening our North Street school and thereby drawing more middle income families to relocate into the region. All Burlingtonians are ultimately stakeholders in ensuring that we get the full return on those millions of invested federal dollars, and a fully-supported Barnes School is integral to that success. Doing so creates a win-win situation for Barnes students, its surrounding community, and all of Burlington.

The current budget proposal is a slow and undignified death to Lawrence Barnes School and half of the children aged 5-11 living in the old North End. Restoring essential services is crucial for a school board truly committed to removing obstacles to success for lower income students. Community support for this is widespread across the city and is snowballing exponentially every day. The societal costs of not restoring services for Barnes students is undeniably far greater than $205,000. We ask that you not make the mistake of valuing a small cost savings over the ultimate success of Barnes' kids. The potential consequences are not worth it.

Naomi Almeleh
Kit Andrews
Kym Asam, LICSW
Tim Ashe, City Councilor
Lindol Atkins, President, Vermont AFL-CIO
David Bardaglio
Katherine Berkman
Cheryle Bilodeau, LICSW Burlington School Social Worker
Terry Bouricious
Kathy Bouton
Burlington Community Land Trust
Sharon Bushor, City Councilor
Betsy Cain, LICSW
Colin Campbell
Cara Caparelli
Ian Carleton, Burlington City Council President
Dave Cavanagh
Rabbi Joshua Chasan, Ohavi Zedek Synagogue
Mary Clay Thomas, Champlain College Adjunct Professor
Wendy Coe
Joanna Cole
Dean Corren
Andrew Crawford
Liz Curry
Tamara L. DiVasto
Johanna Leddy Donovan, State Legislator
Karen Donovan
Doug Dunbebin
Dr. Vivian Esparza, MD
Laurie Essig
Phil Fiermonte, City Councilor
Jules Fishelman
Paul Fleckenstein
Jim and Barbara Flint
Jason Ford
Mike Furze
Ginger Gillman
Lucy Gluck
Dr. Ann Goering, MD
Charlie Gottlieb, MSW
Tracy Greene, Spectrum Youth & Family Services
Jerry Greenfield
Arnie and Margaret Gundersen
Abby Hale, P.A.
Tom Hart, Baird Social Worker
Laban Hill
Wanda Hines
Doug Hoffer
Sharron Hopper
Dan Justice
René Kaczka-Vallière, Baird School Social Worker at Edmunds Middle School
Jessica K. Kell
Richard Kemp
Bob Kiss, State Legislator
Jane Knodell, City Councilor
Gary Kowalski
Connie Krosney
Catherine Lamb
Jim Lantz
Mark Larson, State Legislator
Lisa Lax
Michelle Lefkowitz
Jason Lorber, State Legislator
Erica Lustgarten
Erhard Mahnke
Nina McDonnell
Cheryl McDonough, City Councilor
Chris Meehan, Executive Director, Peace and Justice Center
Ralph Montefusco, Vice President, Champlain Valley Labor Council AFL-CIO
David Nestor
Erika Nestor, Past PTO chair of Edmunds Elementary
Networks, Inc.
Roddy O'Neil Cleary
Meghan O'Rourke
Allen Parker
Melissa Parker, Barnes PTO President
Megan Peek
Brian Pine
Barbara Prine
Gail Rafferty, LICSW, Director of Early Childhood Services, Baird Center for Children and Families
Jennifer Reay
Julie Richards, UVM Department of Social Work
Colin Robinson
Nick Robinson
Bob Sanders, Director, Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program
Lisa J. Schnell, Associate Professor of English, Director, Undergraduate Advising (English), Acting Director, John Dewey Honors Program, UVM
Judy Scott, Coordinator of Volunteer Services, Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program
Lila Shapero
Rachel Siegel
Erica Spiegel, ONE resident
Dr. Chris Staats, M.D.
Andrew Strauss
Rebecca Taylor
Zephyr Teachout
Fran Toomey, Ph.D., Developmental Psychologist, Speech and Language Pathologist, Special Educator, Professor Emeritus, St. Michael's College
Jim Trybus
Matt Trybus, Learning Services Specialist at University of Vermont
Tracey Tsugawa
Stuart Weiss
Tim Whiteford, Ph.D., Assistant Professor in Education, St. Michael's College
Elise Whittemore-Hill
Women of Color Alliance
Michael Wood-Lewis
David Zuckerman, State Legislator


Philip said...

Well written letter-- nice job. I'm happy to sign on. Phil Fiermonte Ward 3 City Councilor

Anonymous said...

It's a privilege to add my name to this letter. Rabbi Joshua Chasan, Ohavi Zedek Synagogue.

Anonymous said...

I am pleased to co-sign this letter.

Ian Carleton
Burlington City Council President

Anonymous said...

I too am pleased to sign this letter.

Tamara L. DiVasto