Population and Education Part 2: Reconfiguration

This article was written by Ari Chapin, a junior in the U-32 Journalism class.

 

This is the second article in the three part series: Population and Education, being published over the next few weeks. The first article explained the challenges education faces in Vermont. This second article outlines possible solutions presented to U-32’s administration to solve these problems. The third article will explore how the presented solutions are being received by the community and potential ways for school leadership and the community to move forward.

 

Timeline

WCUUSD is in a multi-year process of reconfiguring the schools in the district to save money and provide a better education to students. According to Lisa LaPlante, the Director of Student Services at U-32, “When they start budgeting this coming fall for the following school year, that would take into account [the reconfiguration plan], and in the 2025-26 school year we would reconfigure.” Each school year, WCUUSD prepares a budget for the following school year. For example, the budget created this past winter was for the 2024-25 school year. It was voted down on Town Meeting day.

  

The timeline for reconfiguration:

    • 2023-24 school year – Studying what reconfiguration and what outcomes each possibility could have, and deciding what plan to go with. And creating a budget for the 2024-25 school year.
    • 2024-25 school year – Not yet implementing the reconfiguration plan, but when budgeting for the 25/26 school year, the school board will take into consideration the reconfiguration plans.
    • 2025-26 school year – Implementation of the reconfiguration plans.

 

Right now, the WCUUSD school board is in the process of studying configuration plans and considering different scenarios. In addition, the original target for action was set by the board for June 2024. However, according to the board, this decision may be postponed. They will eventually pick a plan to inform future budgets, and implementation would not start until August 2025. “We’re studying configuration. There’s no decisions being made right now,” said Meagan Roy, WCUUSD’s superintendent. Meagan Roy is leaving the superintendent position soon, as U-32’s principal Steven Dellinger-Pate has been selected for the position starting this July.

 

At the April 3rd WCUUSD School Board meeting, Steven described how declining population is one of the challenges WCUUSD faces. Unfortunately, estimates project that our school district’s population will continue to decrease. Looking at a slide of the school population over time, he said “We do not see any future year in which we break 100 [students in a class] once we get to these fiscal years.” This referenced how the 7th, 8th, and 9th grades in the school year 25-26 will all have less than 100 students in them. The students in the referenced classes are currently in 5th, 6th, and 7th grade.

 

Also presented at the School Board meeting, are two major options for reconfiguring the school district. The following sections will outline the different options.

 

Sixth Grade Moves Up to U-32

This option would give U-32 a more robust middle school with three grades instead of just two, thereby expanding the population of the middle school by 50%. According to data that Meagan presented at the April 3rd board meeting, without adding the 6th grade, in the 25-26 school year, U-32 would have a student population of 685. If 6th grade was added, U-32 would have a student population of 742.

 

According to Lisa, moving 6th grade to U-32 would also have the opportunity to deviate from a schedule aligned with the high school, to a schedule more suited to the academic and emotional needs of middle schoolers.

 

This slide is referenced in the previous paragraph. It shows the student populations of each class in the 25-26 school year. The presentation was accessed through WCUUSD’s resource page for the school board in the packet column beside the date 4/3/24.

 

During the April 3rd board meeting, Steven shared the potential pros and cons of the plan to bring the 6th grade up to the middle school. The pros boiled down to what an expanded middle school would enable U-32 to do. Steven said that this expansion “will allow us to expand and diversify some of our offerings to our middle school as a whole.” These offerings would include extra curricular activities and other opportunities. In addition, more students in the middle school would stabilize the middle school teacher positions. “We have three cores of teachers and [each] can continue to teach both 6th, 7th, and 8th grade when we drop below 100 [students per class].”

 

Savings for this plan would include five teacher positions at elementary schools that would not be needed. This would save an estimated $530,000.

 

Currently, middle school teachers are certified to teach 7th through 12th grade, and would need additional certification if 6th grade moves up. According to Steven, “It’s not a difficult process but it’s something we just need to go through.”

 

Closing Elementary Schools

“The other options [other than moving 6th grade up] are various versions of running fewer than five elementary schools,” said Meagan Roy.

 

The reconfiguration committee provided two options to account for the budget constraints. These options met certain criteria given by the school board to the committee by the school board. One option was running three Pre-K through 5th grade schools. The other was two Kindergarten through 5th grade schools and one early childcare center.

 

Both options use three rather than five schools, which would be housed in the Berlin, East Montpelier, and Middlesex (Rumney) school buildings. Under these options, the students who live in Calais and Worcester would not go to a school in their home town. According to Alicia Lyford, the principal at East Montpelier Elementary, this version of consolidation would allow for fewer part time positions and the opportunity for growing a robust music and art program in the elementary schools.

 

In the option with two Kindergarten through 5th grade schools and one childcare center, East Montpelier and Rumney would act as elementary schools, and Berlin would be the childcare center. Specifically, this would allow for better special education for the youngest children. “The access to special education for three and four year olds would dramatically increase because they would be all housed in one building,” said Principal Lyford. Because of this, the childcare center option would have a very different impact on the community  than the previous option because of this added childcare.

 

In both of these options, there would be $2.6 million saved over the next 5 years because WCUUSD would not be operating two buildings (most likely Calais and Doty). To put this in context, the budgets that are being proposed for next school year are $33 to 34 million.

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